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Crysis: Who's The Star Of The Show?

I’ve just been reading Raven Software’s Manveer Heir over on GameSetWatch. He’s talking about how games that allow you to make choices are generally the more interesting experiences, with specific reference to how the early parts of Crysis are better than the final act. The suit powers, he argues, are a neat way of giving the player distinct choices. However…

This choice virtually went away with the new enemies. They could often see through my cloaking and it became almost useless. I played the rest of the game barely using my special abilities, which changed the way the game felt and played. Couple that in with the more linear levels, and it becomes evident that the end of the game offers far less choice than the beginning.

He’s dead right, the opening few hours of Crysis are incredible, but then Crytek seemed to lose sight of what they’d invented: the Nano Muscle Suit.

The Crytek designers had made the gaming equivalent of the Predator movie. The joy of Predator is only partly in Arnie’s homo-erotic superfriends, and the main event is in watching the actions of the Predator itself. It’s a great concept and, similarly, the combat suit in Crysis is the star of the game. It’s even the most potent iconography of the game: the cover art is a shot of the suit, and anything we recognise comes from references to that stylised body armour. It seems clear that the Nano Muscle Suit should always be centre-stage and, as Heir points out so eloquently, the last-third failure of Crysis comes down to not maintaing that focus.

In fact it surprised me while playing the game that Crytek didn’t make all that much of a fuss about the powers of the suit. Most other devs would have set up a bunch of contrived situations to teach you exactly what it was capable of: like Valve’s series of physics puzzles leading up to the tutorial game of gravity-gun catch with Dog in Half-Life 2. Beyond making sure you understood the super-jump strength thing, Crysis basically ignored its primary asset.

A superior ending to Crysis have been one in which we faced a series of challenges that demanded clever use of the suit: a strength puzzle, a stealth puzzle, and a speed puzzle, culminating with a great big fight to finish: but not the fight we had. Instead they introduced a new weapon for the end: some kind of atomic rocket launcher, which seemed like a colossal cop out at the time. I remember after the game had finished I spent some time fantasizing that Crytek had played Shadow Of The Colossus, and made that final boss into a walking, laser-blasting giant puzzle – one in which we had to use stealth to hide, superjump to get on the beast and cause him damage, and speed to escape his wrath.

Of course it’s all too easy to sit in my ivory tower and say all this, but the fact is that Crysis had a Best Game Ever status in its grasp: the toolkit is right there in the suit. I enjoyed Crysis enormously and it was one of my favourite games of last year: but only when it allowed scope for the Nano Muscle Suit to come into its own. If there was to be a sequel it’d be this invention, rather than the game engine, or the setting, or the fiction of thing in the mountain, that I’d like to see brought to the fore.

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Jim Rossignol

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