What you already know is that Crysis was relentlessly designed to press even the most modern PC hardware to extremes. In the years since the game was first announced, coverage of Crysis has overwhelmingly paid attention to its steep future-proof requirements, and become, as Doom III once did, the upgrade mile-marker for enthusiasts eager to perch themselves on the sharp and bleeding edge of PC gaming. Developer Crytek showed off stunning field-of-vision, motion blur, volumetric and HDR lighting, real-time ambient maps and many other technobabble buzz words that mean nothing to me but make affordable computers the world over wince and whine. And, in the end, the CryENGINE2 is everything Crytek promised, an absolutely mind-blowing visual experience that is commonly breathtaking in its seemingly limitless capacity for rendering unparalleled environments.
But, Crytek was also making a game, a spiritual follow-up to their successful if inconsistently good freshman effort, Far Cry. In fact, at times it seems as if Crytek was not merely creating a new game as an extension of Far Cry, but was in many ways trying to remake Far Cry itself in a new image. Taking place in a similar environment, with a similar free-form structure and style, Crysis' callbacks to Far Cry make Bioshock's similarities to System Shock 2 look subtle by comparison. And, as unlikely as it seems with so much attention paid to creating a stellar visual product while rehashing familiar material, Crysis is, in the end, a surprisingly fun and inventive entry into the FPS market. For those with the system to run it, Crysis offers a tense and cinematic shooter that will challenge your skills as much as it challenges your video card.
I ran Crysis on a Windows XP machine with a Core 2 Duo at 2 Ghz, a GeForce 8800 GTS (320 MB) and 2 GB Patriot DDR2 800 RAM. At a resolution of 1280X1024 and all settings set to High I enjoyed a usually steady framerate of 25-35 FPS with occasional but largely unobtrusive stutter during the most intense firefights. Frankly, it ran better than I expected, and the good news for those with less heft under the heatsink is that the ability of the engine to scale down while still looking phenomenal is surprising. Even at 800X600 on low settings the game looks better than virtually any other PC game on the market, and can be played reliably on systems at the lowest end of the game's requirements.
And, with that I unceremoniously end the discussion of Crysis' visuals. Frankly, anything short of jaw dropping would have been completely disappointing considering how much hype the game received in the months and years to release. It is simply enough to say that the game lives up to its billing as a visual powerhouse, and let's let that be the final word, because I am a firm believer in the necessity of game first, visuals second (and occasionally third, fourth or one-hundred and eighty-second).
When I set out to critique Crysis, I did so completely aware of how the dog and pony electric light show could be designed to distract me from mediocre gameplay, but was instead pleasantly surprised to find an open-ended structure, complicated AI behavior, a smartly presented story and interesting environments. Crysis isn't a one-hit wonder, and is perhaps one of the best titles out there at presenting the player with a series of goals and then really leaving the details of how to complete that goal to you. The gamespace is rarely confined, and the variety of approaches you can take toward assaulting, tricking, bypassing or wounding your foes is staggering.
What is perhaps the best surprise is that where Far Cry began as an outstanding shooter that lost its way once the mutants showed up, Crysis actually becomes better as the game leaves its mercenary trappings for something decidedly more sci-fi. The game ramps up the tension steadily toward the revelation of your true foes, and rather than losing the thread that had made the game worth playing until then, Crysis instead enters a whirlwind pace deserving of the name and becomes even more engaging with some truly inventive and complex level designs and enemies who offer entirely new challenges.
If it seems like I'm being obtuse, it's perhaps because I don't know where exactly the spoiler line exists. I take it for granted that the alien presence in Crysis is well known, but I hesitate to go into detail. Suffice to say that rather than being the loose thread that unravels the whole tapestry, Crysis actually maintains its quality with their presence.
The fundamental gameplay of Crysis revolves around your ability to use your surroundings and a high-tech combat suit to overcome typical overwhelming forces. Your suit offers you stealth, armor, speed or strength, and switching between the four during the heat of combat becomes second nature while opening up the playbook to decide how to kill your enemies. The environment too becomes part of your arsenal, and can be used to create distractions or, better yet, traps, and outsmarting your AI opponents feels like a victory, as they use tactics, cover, suppression fire and flanking maneuvers to sneak up on and behind you. As much as I hate to admit, the enemy more than once managed to outmaneuver my position as I waited to unleash some elaborate trap and I'd frequently find myself flushed out with a grenade or a shotgun blast. Without ever being unfair, the AI is impressive.
That's not to say this is the perfect game. While the later enemies do display some complex behavior, they do tend to take a few of the combat options off the table and force a more traditional straight-forward combat. In fact, the third act of the game can feel like some of the free-form nature of the previous two-thirds has evaporated as you drive to the inevitable final battle. Think of the gameplay as shaped like a funnel and you might begin to get a rough idea of the play experience.
Further, North Koreans apparently have skin made of some kind of advanced bullet-soaking polymer, and you'll need to bring all your bullets to the party. And, unlike the ground based enemies, helicopters in particular seem to be able to spot you even when stealthed and under heavy cover, which can make the sound of choppers coming in over the hills an unwelcome addition.
Crysis also packs some passable multiplayer under the hood, featuring its power struggle mode which is pretty easily recognizable as a Battlefield clone with Quake Wars tendencies. Though you do bring your suit powers into this mode of play, they are considerably muted, leaving traditional vehicle combat and gunplay as the familiar centerpiece. A satisfying enough experience, Crysis multiplayer doesn't particularly stand-out nor drag the overall game down. It's the sort of thing you may try a few times before going back to better multiplayer games.
What Crysis does offer is an engaging single-player experience wrapped in a pretty package. Its requirements are no joke, and if you have a borderline system there is a demo available that may offer a nice benchmark for what kind of performance to expect. However, the CryENGINE2 is a stable beast that offers consistent framerates with the right kind of hardware. With engaging enemies, a well-enough told summer popcorn flick plot, surprisingly varied environments and gameplay that actually improves as the game enters its final acts, Crysis proves to be far more than a pretty face. An intense and fun game from start to finish, Crysis is an easy recommendation for gamers looking to show off their beefy system.