Last year, I went to Frankfurt to see a man who could make water flow from a rock. He could do it with a couple of clicks, actually, and then all it took was a couple more to turn the rock into a pile of rocks, and then a small mountain. Finally, he set the mountain on fire. After that, I probably asked if he had a "spawn helicopters" dropdown handy because, y'know, that's just how I roll.
That was my first glimpse of CryEngine 3, and while it was nice to see a piece of middleware so powerful you could edit levels and playtest at the same time - at one point, my guide was dropping little modular jetties into the water as I moved a character across them - the real focus was on what was happening outside of the PC monitor. Two flatscreen televisions were showing the same scene, as CE3 pumped every tweak and amendment to PS3 and 360 devkits simultaneously.
Crytek, one of the biggest names in the PC market, was pretty serious about going cross-platform, then. Somewhere, in the sheltering gloom of a distant valley, I heard Mark Rein cry out like a wounded boar.
A few days ago I went to New York to see what Crytek built with their new tech, once I'd stopped titting about with boulders and helicopters. They've built New York, as it happens, and after that - this being a videogame - they've trashed it rather artfully, sending seams running through tarmac in a variety of rakish angles, buckling skyscrapers in several attractive ways and filling the air with thick ash-clogged smoke, all the better to bring out the jarring bloom of an oversaturated sunset.
You could argue that Crysis 2 takes the battle to Manhattan because tower blocks and shattered concrete, with their sharp, angular edges and friendly heft, are easier for consoles to handle than the unpredictable curves and gossamers of the previous instalments' jungles.
But there's still no getting around the fact that this is one of the prettiest titles you're going to see this hardware generation - certainly on the consoles, and probably on the PC too. The developer's not getting into specifics as to how the game will differ across the three platforms, but Crytek seems to be aiming for parity.
And the results are unlikely be too upsetting for high-end PC gamers, even though I was initially so affronted at the idea of Crysis on an Xbox that I snapped my mechanical pencil plain in two. The areas Crytek's ready to reveal so far - all running on 360 code, apparently - are large by the standards of most FPS games, and filled with brilliant detail.
Blades of smoky light halo the glittering mooring mast of the Empire State Building (ever the uncompromising aesthetic perfectionists, Crytek's designers have stubbornly shifted the landmark south a few blocks, so that it can share the skyline more comfortably with the best side of the Flatiron), while the finials and upper-most masonry of even the most distant buildings look sharp no matter how far away you view them from. City streets are filled with tatters of newspapers and the dust-streaked corpses of taxis, and curbside foliage shreds delightfully under heavy gunfire, busying the air with little twills of green confetti.