Crysis 3: a first-person shooter set in a post-apocalyptic, alien-invaded New York, in which you wear a Nanosuit which enables you to temporarily become invisible, damage-resistant or able to leap moderately-sized walls in a single bound. It has a lot of graphics. It's out now in the US, and tomorrow in the UK. Here is an opinion.
"Shit fuck pussy," says the man. "System X Nano Alpha Ceph Mindcarrier," says the other man. The stupidest games are so often the ones which take themselves most seriously, aren't they? Crysis 3, a game about being a flightless Superman with lots of guns and a rapidly-depleting energy meter, takes itself very seriously indeed. Wearing its Modern Warfare influences on its nanofibre sleeve, it gangster-growls and buzzword-babbles without even an iota of self-awareness.
It says much that the Crysis series' only memorable character,
Cyborg Ross Kemp, cockney hardnut Psycho, is here transformed from merry misanthrope to lovelorn sulk, separated from his Nanosuit and relegated to moany cutscenes, radiocomms and COD-aping follow-the-leader sequences. I'm usually all for character development, but Crysis: Warhead's half-mad star now comes across as a chubby binman who's in a piss because Arsenal just lost at home. He's there to be the game's attempted heart and soul, a mouthpiece for pompous discussion of what it means to be human, but couldn't some other character have taken on that role, instead of sacrificing the only source of levity and humour to shoegazing and soapboxing? In fairness he regains a little something of his old spirit very late in the game, but waiting several hours to hear him finally call someone a bell-end isn't quite enough to redeem him.
You, meanwhile, play as returning Crysis 2 protagonist Prophet, who by this point is a memory of a man haunting a half-cyborg, half-alien and faceless body. Every line of his dialogue involves exclaiming "the Alpha Ceph!" in some form. (The Ceph are the aliens. The Alpha Ceph is their leader. You'd like to kill it. It's a shame the game couldn't be similarly brief about explaining it). We're expected to feel very sorry for this tireless saviour of humanity and how much he's sacrificed, but a pair of talking hands intermittently yelling "the Alpha Ceph!" isn't really a good enough reason to do so.
But hey, who's in this malarkey for the plot anyway? Crysis games are about making our PCs bleed, for chaining our graphics cards to sex-crucifixes and whipping them into a state of agonised euphoria, right? I'd entirely agree, were the game not as determined as it is to force its lore-lost scifiballs into my face. Everything takes a back seat to the self-involved, end of the world x1000 storyline, to the point that the game's overall concept that New York is returning to nature and is trapped within a giant dome (much like The Simpsons movie, only more ridiculous) sort of disappears. What had promise for big ideas (silly or otherwise) is drowned out by talking heads. It seems implausible now that this series' origins were as a bunch of soldiers with cool armour galloping freely across a paradise island and playing frisbee with turtles: now it's all wormholes and telepathy and ghosts in the shell and "shit fuck pussy."
As for freedom of movement within the dome, that's a mixed bag. Half-Life 2 is a (superior) comparison, and a game which Crysis 3 draws clear sci-fi urban overlord inspiration from, in that some of the environments are large and offer multiple paths of approach, but with the exception of a few optional side-objectives and scouring map corners for upgrade points, we're talking strictly A-B fare. That's the route the Crysis series chose with the last game, and that's because it's apparently much more interested in being sci-fi Call of Duty than Far Cry with superpowers.
While some maps are impressively large in terms of total area (which is to say seas and forests and mountains made of crumbled buildings positively loom in the background), and loading screens are few and far between, relentless and blatant deployment of rocks and walls which are a half-metre too tall to power-jump over prevents going too far off the beaten, bombed and gauss-scourged path to the next cutscene. You're outdoors most of the time though, with very little of the game spent in corridors or underground, and the inevitable on-rails buggy, tank and VTOL sequences are all present and correct.
Early promotional talk of the post-apocalyptic New York being split into distinct climes comes to little, as the reality is flooded bit, foresty bit, rocky bit, totalitarian fortressy bit or usually a mix of all four. The size of the maps is impressive and there is variation, but so much of the game is spent in semi-darkness that the diversity doesn't much make itself known. The dome, meanwhile, is simply a super-detailed graphic painted on the horizon, something that's mentioned almost in passing but plays no real role. Plus it gets trashed in the early hours of the game, so it's pretty academic anyway.
Graphics, then. My current system, toting a not-unrespectable GeForce GTX 670, sadly isn't up to the task of Very High settings at 1080p. It can manage about 25FPS in the quieter sections, but playing like that makes me feel like I've eaten too much French cheese. I'm trying to lay temporary hands on a big-boy graphics card so I can do some more benchmarks and comparison shots, but for now the reality for me is playing on High with FXAA on and a few advanced settings (e.g. textures, motion blur, anisotropy) turned down, which averages about 55 frames per second at 1920x1080. If I want it to run well at native res on my 1440p dodgy-but-lovely Korean monitor, I have to drop down to the dreaded Medium. My impression is that Very High doesn't make a huge amount of visible difference from High while you're busy playing, but on Medium things certainly start looking a bit Xboxy.
At High, and in my limited experience of Very High, it does look a nose better than most anything else on a purely technical level, but I can't say that I was truly wowed. There's an awful lot of visual fidelity in there, and it's very good at showing huge swathes of world at once, but not to the point that it feels like a statement, as Crysis 1 did. In motion (still images are another matter), as the bullets fly, it doesn't look dramatically better than Black Ops 2 did with everything ramped up - and that ran a whole lot better on the same PC than this does.
It might be that a different game on this version of the engine would be better able to forcibly remove socks from feet, though. C3 shoots itself in the armourclad-foot by sticking stubbornly to twilight half the time, for being a bit too fond of textbook ruined-city greys and browns, and for the ongoing Michael Bay approach to enemies and technology - that increasingly prevalent style of indistinct spiky bits and desaturated neon piping.
Also, the FOV is set to an oppressively low level, but tap cl_fov 80 into the dev console and it gets a bit better. Sadly, it won't go higher than 80, though I'm sure someone has managed to get around that. [Apparently this affects vertical FOV instead.]
However, the character faces in its cutscenes especially, and to a lesser extent in weapons-free play, are genuinely incredible. Psycho might be a depressed lorry driver now, but his perfectly round face of scowls and scars is a sight to behold, very nearly trading blows with CGI cinema's best efforts. I could swear he's even got a bit of ear hair.
Unfortunately, the tiny named cast and the decision to stick every human enemy in a generi-helmet, speaking generi-shitfuckpussy dialogue, means you don't get to see many other faces at all. As with the wasted geodome concept, Crysis 3 weirdly holds itself back on what could have been its finest aspects. And for a game that bangs on so often about the importance of being human, there sure aren't many humans in it. Indeed, I struggled to grasp why anyone was remotely bothered about saving New York from further destruction, given it was apparently inhabited only by some squid-faced horrors from planet x or whatever and a couple of hundred sweary members of an evil private army you were casually murdering yourself anyway.
I've saved the best for last: the combat. It's a derivation of the last two Crysis', which means a choice between up and at 'em warfare and stealth, and in either case you're aided by your nanovisor's ability to mark and keep track of targets. On the power fantasy front, it's this constant awareness of who's where which does more to support the feeling of superhumanity than the bullet-soaking and cloaking does. You won't be surprised by what's around the corner, because you've already hidden behind a demolished bus, scanned the landscape and setup handy glowing triangles which identify exactly what's around the next dozen corners.
Pair that with a vaguely frightening and definitely confusing number of weapons, all of which can be customised on the fly with the likes of silencers, scopes and alt-fire modes, and it's not a bad game for planning a plan, picking a preferred strategy and either sticking methodically to it or immediately donning your blood for the blood god hat in the event you fluff it, or just get bored of creeping about.
I personally tended towards an invisibility and sniping approach, clearing areas from afar while the enemy struggled to get a bead on me, as well as indulging myself in the hacking of turrets and mines to thin my opponents' numbers remotely. This hacking involves a simple quick-time event minigame, which is neither exciting or infuriating, and it definitely adds to the sense of Crysis 3 being Deus Ex: Human Revolution as a pure combat game. Energy use and recharge is a little more lenient than in the early Cryses, but not to the point that it'll get you out of all trouble, and naturally it's still taking an extended holiday from all logic. Throwing large objects and power-jumping plays less part than it used to in my experience: they're there, but the constrained environments and surfeit of ridiculous weapons means there isn't much call for them.
Oh, there's the bow too, of course. It's a good bow. It has different types of arrow. It's basically a sniper rifle with a bunch of alt-fires and annoyingly limited ammo capacity, and it's entertainingly devastating. I relied on it in the earlier hours of the game, but the ammo limitations meant I was spending too long painstakingly collecting my fired arrows from corpses, so I eventually settled on a standard sniper rifle, with a preposterous range and a silencer, instead. Each to their own, though. It's a fine and entirely welcome addition to Crysis' arsenal, and more satisfying than Far Cry 3's equivalent, but I'm not sure it's a vital one.
There you go, then: it's Crysis keepin' on keeping on, choosing to keep on going down the Crysis 2 fork in the road rather than the Far Cry one. Its love of its own laughable plot, its determination to control your gaze at almost all times and its perpetually angry men suggests it's very deliberately trying to be the sci-fi COD, and treated in that spirit it does a decent if forgettable job, and in much bigger spaces too. While even a hint of traintrack isn't what we ideally want from Crytek, it's an infinitely better singleplayer shooter than any COD since Modern Warfare 4, and I reckon it could stand up to repeat plays so long as you can stomach the blithering, unsmiling nonsense of the plot. Freedom of playstyle, even within the strict confines of making things die, counts for a lot and, y'know, it looks pretty good when it remembers to turn the lights on.