Crytek have a lot to live up to when it comes to their latest game, Crysis 2. Being the kings of crushing PCs the world over with their eye-shattering CryEngine, CryTek first revealed themselves fully with the release of FarCry way back in 2004, which was one of the first games to show off just what Direct X 9 was capable of alongside Half-life 2. Then in 2007 Crytek went even further beyond with the release of Crysis, the critically acclaimed PC shooter that even now is still considered a benchmark for visual fidelity and measuring performance, and was literally the pioneer of some industry-standard visual effects in the gaming industry today. So with so much history in technical wizardry, the PC community is both excited and incredibly worried about Crysis 2, the reason being that it's now multiplatform. Burned from previous companies with many horrible ports, the PC community can rest a little easy with Crysis 2, as indeed it is quite a stunner, albeit with some obvious setbacks.
The story is set three years after the events of Crysis where the alien invasion of the Ceph is now in full swing and its first target is New York. You play as the character Alcatraz, who early in the game is wounded but is swiftly saved by Prophet, a character from the original game who was one of the bearers of the Nanosuit. Prophet puts the Nanosuit onto Alcatraz and then ends his own life due to being infected with the Ceph illness, leaving the message behind to 'find Gould'. From here on in you venture onwards equipped with the Nanosuit, and slowly uncover the stories plot and purpose as you progress through the 12 hour campaign.
While the story can be fairly interesting at points, it tends to fall flat a lot of the time as it feels disjointed from the first game and can be very confusing due to the way it's told. Newcomers to the series will be a bit dazed with whatever is happening at points, with mentions of characters and events from the first game that they'll have no idea about. The game also ends on a bit of a cliffhanger but this isn't too much of an issue as the game overall does feel complete in its progression; it just very blatantly sets itself up for a big sequel. It has moments of sheer brilliance though with scenes that are both impacting and full of adrenaline, and goes by the philosophy of having more empathy for the silent protagonist. A few times you'll realise just how fragile the human body can be, and how powerful the Nanosuit truly is, with it holding together much of the chaos that is thrown at you at almost every angle.
And the Nanosuit is essentially what keeps the entire game together too. Gameplay is similar to the first, in that your Nanosuit gives you multiple superhuman abilities that give you several options in approaching situations. The suit is more streamlined this time round though, where in the first you had seperate selections for Strength, Speed, Armour and Cloaking. In Crysis 2, your two primary abilities are Armour and Cloak, which can be activated with the press of buttons. Speed and Strength are still there too but are integrated into your natural movement; sprinting activates Speed, and Strength is activated when your melee button is held down for a powerful punch, when you want to stabilise your aiming, holding down the jump button for heightened leaps and other such abilities. New abilities have also made it into the game that weren't in the original, such as power sliding across the ground and power kicking heavy items such as cars, which can be awesome tools for use in combat. While streamlining most of it was a good thing, some of the abilities feel noticeably underpowered compared to the original game. Speed mode, while nice, feels pretty much like a normal sprint and nothing more, which was immensely different to the insanely big boost that it gave you in the first. Super punches are a bit awkward in their utilisation as well, but it makes little difference in the greater scheme of things. Crytek did most of it right, but a few things feel too 'ordinary' to feel like true powers. Nonetheless however, with further customisations as you progress through the game with modifiers in the Nano Catalyst, and then adding in the expansive weapon customisation that was also in the original, you have a game that rewards creativity and allows you to shape the enemies behaviour around yours, which is the core of what made Crysis so incredibly good.
The game has its mishaps however, notably in its AI and to a lesser extent, some of its environments. The AI for the most part is actually quite excellent, especially when facing the Ceph, but at other times can be comparable to that of an orange rolling down a hill. There are moments where the AI has literally sprinted head first into walls and not stopped, completely ignoring our presence, and sometimes not even responding to bullets penetrating their bodies. It's not a common occurence but when it does happen it's pretty bad, and it's a bit weird that Crytek haven't alleviated this as it was somewhat of an issue in the first game too. Next up are the environments which for the most part are designed superbly. And while most of it is good and dandy, there are moments where the game becomes more on-rails and extremely linear, which while sometimes fitting, also feels off with the style of the game. Crysis as a whole has always been known for its more expansive, non-linear approaches to situations, so seeing such heavily scripted, claustrophobic and linear sections in Crysis 2 feels jarring, and also limits the possibilities of what you can do with the Nanosuit. It's a minor hindrance however, as for the most part the gameplay and single player campaign is absolutely superb, with better variety and progression overall than the first.
And the excellence doesn't stop there either, as the Multiplayer is, to describe it, Call of Duty styled gameplay done right. Perk systems are seperated into three modules: Power, Stealth and Armour, and with each power corresponding to the module used in game and effectively, you gain experience points for the module and eventually level up, unlocking more perks for you to use for that particular module. While it sounds like a typical excuse to allow perks into a game, it actually fits into Crysis 2 almost perfectly as the game relies on super powered abilities to succeed. Each perk and ability is well balanced against the other and has a counter (eg, Cloak can be countered with Cloak Tracker perks and the Nanovision mode), so there's no obscene feeling of an overpowered ability unlike that of Modern Warfare 2, which was a mismash of terrible design decisions that essentially ruined the game. Killstreaks are also in the game but require you to collect the dogtag from dead bodies, so campers whoring up killstreaks is virtually non-existent. It's overall well done and a significant improvement over the original game's Multiplayer, which although good in a lot of areas fell short of what it could've been. There are plenty of modes to choose from as well, ranging from Deathmatch to team based modes such as Crash Site (essentially king of the hill but team based), so there's plenty of variety and incentive to play. The only downside however is Multiplayer is currently filled with a fair amount of bugs, such as random disconnections from servers and sometimes not even being able to connect to a server at all, so the fun will only really begin when the frustration of finding a game is over. Hopefully this'll be patched by Crytek soon as well, as it's quite an annoying couple of issues that require a fair amount of patience to deal with.
Now onto the presentation side of things, which although absolutely phenomenal in most areas, also has some shortcomings to boot for some (likely controversial) reasons. As a whole, Crysis 2 looks incredible. Artistically Crytek have absolutely nailed New York, and it is very easily the best rendition of the famous city ever. The lighting model in use looks stunning and makes everything reflect and look very realistic, and visual effects such as volumetric sun rays, ambient occlusion and motion blur are all apparent and look extraordinary. This applies to both the consoles and PC too, so it's no doubt that Crytek absolutely know how to build an engine and make it scale phenomenally across all platforms.
With that said however, we played Crysis 2 on PC (both on a very high end setup and a mid-range setup), and while Crytek have claimed no compromise for the most powerful platform, there are some obvious setbacks here and there which are quite disappointing to see. There is no procedural destruction; or in english, proper destructibility, which was a huge thing in the original Crysis. It allowed you to punch through buildings and also throw people through walls. Texture work is also noticeably degraded, and a lot are noticeably rehashed from the first game but downscaled. And finally, the game only runs in Direct X 9, which is quite shocking considering that even the first game, which is now coming onto 4 years old, supported Direct X 10. While Crytek have said they will support Direct X 10 and 11 in a later patch, it's quite disappointing to see such things scaled back so significantly with Crysis 2. What should have been the absolute benchmark when it came to PCs is not even higher than its prequel, when it should be the other way around. We definitely don't think Crysis 2 is a bad looking game; quite the contrary really, it looks amazing. But it's obvious there have been setbacks because of multiplatform development, and it's disappointing as it's lost much of the scope and ambition of the first, and with some proper optimisation and support for later hardware, could've been a whole lot more given the time. Most will not be disappointed however, as the game does look beautiful and plays very well too, where maxed out in extreme resolutions our high end setup packed with a HD6990 ran the game effortlessly at over 60 frames, while the mid-range setup sporting a Radeon 5850 ran quite well too at around 30-45 frames in HD resolutions. Not to mention the music and sound effects are also fantastic, with Hans Zimmer taking the lead with the score, and you have a package that is presented beautifully, albeit with some obvious setbacks on the PC side at least.
If you want to know which version is the best version, it is the PC without question. Not only do you get a better looking game, but also better performing and easier to control. With that said however this assumes you'll have the funds for a PC built for such a game, and in many cases people do not which is completely fine, as the console versions are also superbly made. Crytek have accomplished something which everyone said was impossible in 2007; and that's to get Crysis to run on consoles. They've proven the naysayers wrong and done a wonderful job with Crysis 2, as it's not only a very, very good game, but a unique experience that only Crytek can deliver. Console gamers can finally see what the PC side was raving about a few years back and enjoy it just as much, and PC gamers finally get the sequel to their beloved benchmark title, albeit with a few setbacks to boot. Though the game has a few bugs to iron out still and some of the ambition of the first game was lost, Crysis 2 is still a magnificent game that won't soon be forgotten. Recommended.