We sent Cara Ellison to EA to play some Crysis 3. We would like to formally apologise to Crytek and EA for having sent Cara Ellison to play some Crysis 3. Here is why:
Crysis games have always been beautiful. The Crysis series is a handsome, well-buffed man with grace and presence, one you’d never say no to being photographed with, one you’d proudly say you’d dated. You probably keep all the photos of him in a drawer, ready to pull out when your friends come over so that you can say that you hit that once and wow he was amazing. But the secret is that whenever he opened his mouth he told jokes so embarrassingly unfunny and garbled it was never worth taking him to meet anyone, and your utter confusion at what he meant by anything was the final nail in the relationship coffin. Though sometimes you gaze at his face from afar and remember that time you went to space because of reasons.
From what I played, and it wasn’t for very long (less than an hour, I’d say), Crysis 3 is voluptuous as hell in the looks department. The feeling of richness and closeness and dare I say it - verisimilitude - in the environment remains unrivalled. The New York of 2047, 20 years after the events of Crysis 2, is in a big mad bio-dome, and you are dropped into a jungle-covered Chinatown at one point to have a sit down dinner with your girl and attempt to make her laugh at your interpretations of the fortunes from fortune cookies.
I’m joking - you’re there to murder stuff.
At some point after asking Michael Read, the producer of Crysis 3, about the plot, I realised I'd stopped listening. Luckily I had a recording of the explanation. It came out something like this:
“We’ve taken on a whole new form when it comes to storytelling with this one. One of the new things that actually ties into it is a new piece of technology called performance capture. We actually released a video online of Psycho. We have a new writer - we had Richard Morgan for Crysis 2, now it’s a British writer by the name of Stephen Hall who has done some sci-fi writing, he’s been working with us on Crysis 3. We have Prophet - the leader of the squad in Crysis 1, had a small cameo role in the beginning and the end of Crysis 2, and now you’re playing him in Crysis 3. So you also have another character called Claire Fontinelli, she’s one of the leaders of this rebel group that’s operating inside the dome fighting Cell and Psycho fights alongside her in this quest to basically shut CELL down. Prophet’s goal ties into this as he’s having visions of the future and things that are potentially going to happen -”
My brain somehow thinks that he has said “Prophet’s goat” which I immediately perk up at: I imagine this goat having visions and attempting to draw them in Crayola with its tiny goat hooves for this high-tech douchebag Prophet in ten kinds of body armour waiting arms crossed - “What, goat, what?”. Fifty infinitely customisable weapons lie behind Prophet, totally pointless as this is a scene about a goat and its dreams.
But sadly this is not about a goat. It is about this guy we seem to have little reason to give a shit about, because the game industry spits out dudes like Prophet every day and they land on my front lawn and make a mess. I shouldn’t have begun asking about the story, because I really quite liked the shooty-killy parts.
“He’s trying to explain to the rebels that there’s more to what’s going on than just, you know, CELL fighting for these energy resources and what they’re doing under the Dome to do this.”
God I wish there was less to what’s going on. I really do. I’ve become horrifyingly more aware in the time it took me to play the Crysis 3 single player demo that videogames seem to borrow meandering, convoluted features and terms from genre fiction in order to have more weird missions to go on, and more outlandish stuff to do, without ever actually giving you a reason to do them. There is a complete lack of narrative focus. I don’t care that the planet is melting down right now, because you told me that last time and it was just a set of deus ex machina and some nice looking trinkets.
Look at that game affectionately known as Portal plants you into an easy to understand situation that immediately compels you to explore - and to escape. It then proceeds to tell you a more detailed story gradually through every facet of its environment - level design, audio, decals on the walls, even the glimpses of Chell’s body via a portal. Because the information comes in small doses, you have time to let it dissolve slowly in your mouth like a really piquant cola cube. Sometimes at night I would dream of those brand new sugary doses of story scrawled on the wall of a test chamber. But it seems like Crysis 3 will just jack open your mouth and hose down your gullet with thousands upon thousands of Jelly Babies until you’re sick on your mum’s brand new cream carpet. We’ve got to the third installment of this and it is still having us bowf up disembodied jelly heads.
“There’s a lot of character interactions that happen in this game, more so than previous games.” I hope this means that there will be a god damn you Psycho! line somewhere in the game. “I’ve been asked to sum up this Crysis in the past and the word I’d use to describe it is human.” That’s interesting - perhaps this will be the departure from Crysis 2 to story. But from what I’ve seen, it still has a little way to go. Gruff cockney men called Psycho seem suspiciously familiar to me.
Prophet has a nicely pressed Nanosuit and apparently thinks a lot of himself what with the name and everything. The suit makes you godlike, as in the previous instalments, and it seemed from the demo that far from being about story or characters, this game is primarily about the relationship between your Nanosuit and Prophet’s extremely limber Predator Bow. Throughout the demo I got a lot of purchase and satisfaction from that bow - cloaking and arrowing people in the face was my signature move. The bow was a pleasure to use - pulling an arrow back was such a viscous tease, and the arc of the arrow would appear before you release your finger, sending the arrow THUNK into an eyeball. The one thing I couldn’t figure out though, was exactly why I could click at any time to mod any number of stats on my bow. I haven’t got time, I thought. I don’t want to spend all day fiddling with the string on this thing when I am getting shot at. “You’ve got under-barrel attachments you’ve got scope attachments, different clips, you’ve got different types of ammo - the bow itself you can change the draw range, you can have a different tip type...” Mike elaborates. You can insta-mod pretty much any weapon in the game, which I think is a nice touch if you’ve got the time to sit around like Psycho who kept telling me to do stuff in the demo instead of doing it himself. Lazy sod.
Your suit has also been upgraded so that you can toggle to see where enemies are situated and how best to take them out - a sort of threat detector system, which I did like - although I have a bit of a weird aversion to being told what to do by a HUD, so I only used it a minimal amount. I’m stubborn like that. And the suit can hack towers, which is new. But there’s a combination chart for that too, you can pick and choose the highlights of your suit just like you can with the weapons. It’s about customising the way you approach things.
The only thing that’s really new here is a slight tweak to clothes and some new accessories and how it looks shinier. It’s a hollow shell of glamour, where you boot it up to render a ridiculous sandbox kill arena full of brocessories. Bro bling. This game is crawling with brotrinkets and brotrinketmongers. Nothing to do but kill bros all day, in a very stylish way, and at the end of it you go to bed having learned absolutely nothing at all about anything, but it was very nice to look at and kill bros. If Arnie had a wet dream about some armour and a bow this’d be it. It’s just bro central.
So little did I have to ask about Crysis 3 after playing the demo that I got rather antsy. Craig Pearson was floating about being point man for PC Gamer that day, and had just finished interviewing Michael, the producer I’ve already quoted above. But the poor guy didn’t know what was about to happen to him. Craig tapped me on the shoulder as he left the interview room, in the manner of what I now understand was a signal that we were in a good-cop bad-cop scenario, and tipped me to ask him why he is into PC BDSM, as he didn’t have the time. Oh yeah? I think. I will.
So I went a little off track down a path that is quite shady and is probably populated with headcrabs.
“Why do you hate PCs so much,” I ask, darkly.
“I don’t hate PCs!” he says, and bless him, I really like him, but he has no idea who has the wheel now.
“You hate them so much because you make them work really hard,” I say.
“That’s the ‘cry’ part in Crytek, right,” he smiles, slightly uneasily. I mentally give him points for the pun.
“I was going to say, I don’t know if you know that you have misspelt ‘crisis’ again,” I say, with a straight face.
“Uuuuuh yeah,” he says, “Just a little bit. But that ties in with ‘Crytek’ you know.”
“Yeah?” I say. I look expectantly at him.
He carries on. “So.... with PC gaming itself, when Crysis 1 came out we were known for this game that melted PCs, and it wouldn’t run, and... you know, but underneath all that, underneath the graphical abilities of what this game pushed I mean there was still a fantastic game in behind it. For Crysis 2 it was a whole new learning process - it had a new engine that we were iterating on for the Cry Engine 3, and in addition to that we were also developing for consoles, something we had never done before. So now we learned from those experiences, through Far Cry, Crysis 1 and Crysis 2, and really compiled all that together, and go okay how can we make this development process go smoothly but still push it out. So you start off looking at it and going, well developing for consoles is the baseline, and when you build up to a certain point you can separate the two out and really focus like - how hard can we push PCs. And we wanted to make that future-proof as well, not only for the game, but also for the engine and our licensees and all of these things that tie in together on that front.”
“So... you want to push PCs as far as they can go,” I say.
“Well you know, our CEO came out and said ‘Crysis 3 will melt your PC’ and it does push it very, very hard. We are pushing really on the boundaries of the consoles as well and what the capabilities were and what we were able to do for PS3. The amount of detail that our art guys - we have one guy who is really dedicated to lighting and any time he asks for something in the engine he typically gets it. Lighting has really become a big focus in a lot of the engines... trying to achieve that realism and pushing the graphical qualities. It also enables our designers to do more with the levels.”
“With all this customising and pushing the PC as far as you can go this really sounds a lot like PC BDSM,” I say. “Like you are fetishising technology.”
I think Mike was sort of flustered by this statement so he rambled about the engine sort of repeating himself for a little while in a bit of an adorable way. I wait until he peters out.
“Are you into BDSM?” I ask.
“But you have a... relationship with your PC at home?”
He sort of smiles, and hesitates. “.......I beat my PC up a lot.”
My eyes begin to glint. I HAVE DONE IT, I think, feeling victorious. Oh press junket sheen, I have messed you all up!
“You know, occasionally you have to throw your PC across the room,” he continues, with a sly grin, “and be like work and then it magically works again.”
“I bet your PC is very sexy because it has to deal with Crysis all the time,” I say.
“It’s about me dominating my own PC,” Mike says. He’s taken a flying leap into Cara territory now. I am eating him alive.
“How good is your PC at home?” I ask, rubbing my hands together.
“Uh... it’s okay. I think I’ve got a Core I7 with a 460 in it, and like 12 gigs of RAM.”
I nod. “How big is your screen?” (Oh come on it is the obvious question.)
“Uhhhhhhh 24 inch screen.” 24 whole inches. “Yeah.” He nods, because he knows he just said it in a context he never wanted to even dip his toes into. “I’m happy with it,” he says, slightly apologetically. I try to nod understandingly. “I’m just waiting to upgrade it to the next level.” Upgrade huh. “You know... even on the low and medium settings [Crysis 3] still looks fantastic.”
I ask him why I can’t play a girl hero in it. “There was actually a female Nanosuit designed,” he said. “That’s a big secret. Nobody’s seen it and I probably shouldn’t say it. ...It actually looks really cool.”
“Does it have special boob padding?” I ask.
“Well of course.”
He got his own back. A few hours ago Crysis friendzoned me.