It was about two hours into Crysis when I began to realise just how good it might be. The first couple of hours had been fairly unremarkable - there were some predictable first-person cut-scenes, a linear intro level, some spooky goings-on, US military deployment, you know the sort of thing. I had watched the sun come up across the island and seen the kind of tropical Far-Cry-revisited scenes that we'd all been expecting. I had even barrelled through the first of the villages and used some of the suit-powers (which your buffed up future marine has at his disposal from the start) to kill off some enemies. But it wasn't until a little later that I sat back and actually looked at it.
Crysis is much more than a highly accomplished graphics engine, to be sure, but let me just get this across to you for a moment. Playing on a high-end PC (for Crysis runs best on a Quad Core beast with a DirectX 10 card) it was so good that I had almost failed to notice the sheer immensity of visual information it was delivering. The Crysis environments are so naturalistic, so close to realism, that you find yourself thinking: "of course, because that's how things are supposed to look." It takes a few moments to step back and really look. I was in a stretch of a forested valley. The sun was shining down on the rocks across the valley, reflecting light with that certain stony gleam that long-polished rocks have about them. Those same sunbeams were filtering through the trees and casting dappled shadows across the exquisitely detailed forest floor. This is that HDR stuff deployed as it was meant to be - with a slight haze that jungles have about them, with the yellow sun dropping beams of light through the waving branches overhead. The jungle was alive. Ahead of me vegetation flicked and moved: enemies approached.
And that's pretty much where my eyebrows went up and I muttered mild obscenities: I was playing a game where (at least some) vegetation moved as people passed through it. The fronds of a palm tree bent and flicked well before I could see the soldier who approached along the path. In the firefight that followed I levelled a great swathe of greenery as the bullets flew and grenades detonated. Branches fell from trees and saplings collapsed into the undergrowth: it was my own little re-enactment of the minigun scene from Predator. But it got better - thanks to the capacity of the nano-suit to give me a temporary cloaking field - I stopped being Arnie [surely Bill Duke - Predator Ed] and became the Predator in the space of about ten seconds. I reached out and grabbed a soldier by the throat. I took a few moments to examine his horrified, dying face in all its incredible detail before hurling him backwards into the undergrowth.
I just need to say something about Crysis's fiction and functions at this point. You're a super-soldier sent to a Pacific island to investigate dodgy business perpetrated by the apparently invigorated North Korean army. You're equipped with a suit of hi-tech armour that can be configured into various modes, and you rely on it for almost all situations. Even if you run out of ammo, the suit can get you past the enemies. The nanosuit has a constantly recharging reservoir of energy, which means that you can use any of the powers for a brief period before you'll need to rest up for a few seconds. The default is armour mode, which allows you to soak damage and also rapidly heals you. That's the the mode the suit will revert to if you decloak. Then there's strength mode, which reduces your defence but allows you to punch people to death, to punch Humvees to death (although I never managed that car-flip thing from the trailer), and to leap on top of buildings like a superhero. Speed seems to to be the least useful mode, allowing you to dash a short distance at a stupendous rate. Best of all though, is the cloak itself. This allows you to move a short distance invisibly, and allows you to effectively disappear from pursuing enemies for a few seconds, or to close in on them for sudden, close-quarters violence. It's not the first time we've seen this kind of thing - Halo 2 did it - but the implementation in Crysis is impossibly entertaining.
Anyway, back to the wooded valley. As the first stage of the firefight subsided, I realised there was a second enemy patrol closing in. They were wading across the nearby river towards me. I crouched and killed a couple of them at range - headshots are a boon - but I was soon out of rifle ammo. I would need to scavenge more. Crysis' group AI kicked in and the soldiers fanned out through the jungle to try and surround me. I cloaked again and headed further into the jungle along the valley. I'd seen some snipers hiding in rock formations on the far side of the valley, and I wanted to get behind them rather than face the main patrol up-close. Using the strength-mode jump I bounced across the rocky waterfall at the far end of the river valley and then, after hiding to briefly recoup energy, I cloaked and closed in on the snipers. I finished them off with a couple of close-range shotgun blasts, before taking their weapons to attack the patrol on the far side of the valley. Unfortunately, because I hadn't taken the time to watch the valley a little more carefully, I was jumped by a second group. They hit me hard at close range. Killing one, I backed up and cloaked as I passed behind a rock, losing them for a moment. I lobbed a grenade into where I thought they'd go, before closing in to kill two more by the water's edge - grabbing the first by the throat, I threw him into his buddy, killing them both and sending the bodies sprawling across rocks and into the water.
I took a moment to watch their bodies bob and then gently float away in the current, pushing aside reed-like water plants as they went. Reflective mood past, I closed in on the final, retreating soldier. He splashed across the river, trying to get to cover. A few freshly scavenged rounds from my rifle saw him tumble and take his last splash. Serenity returned to the wooded valley and I spent a while staring at the light in the trees, before I bounced away up the hillside towards the next objective.