Talk to anybody at Crytek about Crysis 2 and they'll quickly start explaining things. Eager to be helpful, they'll tell you about the game's move from the "open sandbox" of the South Pacific jungles to the "choreographed sandbox" of a ravaged Manhattan. They'll speak to you about the changes made to the Nanosuit 2.0, which arranges its powers in tiers now, allowing you to select either stealth or armour first, before augmenting it with the likes of speed, strength, and the new tactical option that lets you eavesdrop on distant enemies and get a better sense of your surroundings.
Go deeper, and they'll start to discuss things like anti-aliasing, audio occlusion and deferred rendering, and then you're really boned. But none of this matters, to tell the truth. Watch 15 minutes of Crysis 2 in action and you start to understand that some things simply don't need explaining.
Manhattan? Kicked in by aliens. That's the starting point for the company's latest, and that's the reason why we fade up on an artfully mangled train carriage, hanging from an elevated railway line somewhere around midtown.
There's a voice in Nomad's ear giving him some kind of order or objective, but we're too busy looking at the sky to really listen. Soldiers running back and forth in the burning street below are talking about shelling of some kind, and sure enough, that's what we're watching: fizzing little trails of light streaming down from above, getting larger as they hurtle towards us, impacting in a nearby skyscraper.
Switch to tactical. Suddenly, the Nanosuit is highlighting dozens of targets around us - friendly infantrymen cowering at street level, and something more villainous lurking in the building opposite. Zooming in reveals huge bipedal aliens decked out in metal and weird gooey horns, shooting up an abandoned office suite, but it also gives us a chance to just take in the level of detail: the texture of the stonework, the way that ceiling lights swing with each muffled explosion, the manner in which flames lick around the edges of the train carriage, suggesting that it was time we were moving.
Speed next: bound across the train tracks, luminous HUD wobbling about in an exciting manner as we zip along. We're stopped halfway between carriages by one of those horrible alien things that's appeared below us and is hitting us with heavy artillery, but all that takes to sort out is a switch to strength, just long enough to boot the smouldering carcass of a yellow taxi down off the bridge and onto them, followed by a few rounds to the gas tank to turn it into a bomb.
Into the building, and things are looking pretty nasty. Huge aliens stalk the narrow hallways, and each one's a genuine battle to take down. You need to think about your powers when moving in - creep past them when you're invisible, or bulk up with armour and strength and hope you finish them quick enough? - but you also need to take into account the surroundings, too, remembering whether or not you've got room to back away if things get nasty, all while a distractingly beautiful Manhattan is burning outside.
An objective pops up - something about getting charges or some kind of item from the corpse of a nearby soldier - and as we turn to do that, we're caught in a scripted moment, albeit a fairly stylish one, as a monstrous alien appears from nowhere and punches us out of the window. Reeling in the street below, with the alien hopping down to finish us off, there's just time to think, "Cor, that building I was just in looks very pretty as it explodes," before the extra-terrestrial menace that was about to blast us into oblivion is squished by a very familiar falling train carriage.
Off across the street - the levels are linear, but fairly roomy as they funnel you from A to B - and into Grand Central Terminal, which has, to put it kindly, seen better days. It's missing a roof, and most of its internal passageways are on fire, filled with staircases that collapse at the last minute, and elevators that snap their strings and fall through the empty shafts the moment we pass them.
Finally we're into the main area itself - still not sure why we're here, as it's too easy to just take in the surroundings and ignore the radio chatter - and we've arrived just in time to see a double-sized boss alien of some kind leap in through the massive arched windows, scattering glass and ironwork in every direction, and stand arrogantly at the opposite end of the massive room, near that over-priced oyster bar which is always empty.
The boss is also a rocket turret, by the looks of it, which means it's time to ditch the punchy assault rifle we've been using and pick up the conveniently-placed grenade launchers the army has left lying around for us. Delightfully-lit destruction ensues for the next few minutes, and then it's time to get out of this particular world-famous New York landmark - because another one is about to fall on it.
Back on the street, the huge, lovably unlovable Met-Life tower starts to judder and sway. Lights flicker, cracks bound up through the exterior walls, and then it's down in a shower of particles and rubble, totally engulfing our vision, and undermining a little bit of pathos Crytek was trying to get going with a family trapped inside the train station and struggling to get out at the last minute.
Screw pathos, though, eh? Pathos doesn't run at 60fps. Pathos isn't sleek and Nanosuited, and riddled with artillery. Pathos isn't buildings exploding and incoming aliens boiling down out of the night sky and landing, with a thrilling inelegance, in a bus shelter. Crysis 2 isn't just looking brilliant because it's, well, looking brilliant: what's truly great is that Crytek's finally nailed the third point of triangulation, creating frightening, distinct alien villains to go along with the sandbox environments and endlessly satisfying suite of super-powers. It's time, in other words, to start getting excited about this one.
Crysis 2 is due out for PC, PS3 and Xbox 360 this Christmas.