But it is a world whose intricacy and realism will cause you to stop and stare long after the first drop of the jaw. The sway of tree-tops; the spray of a decorative fountain; the flames erupting from a burst gas pipe: incidental details that grab your attention for their quiet, shocking realism. Who knows how Crytek managed to squeeze Cry Engine 3 onto the consoles while maintaining such extraordinary level of detail? But this world sits next to Uncharted 2's as the most detailed and well-expressed yet seen on our TVs.
[Editor's note: Digital Foundry reports that frame rate takes a hit on the console versions of Crysis 2, so PC is the version to go for if you have a capable machine. Look out for a Face-Off soon. However, we reviewed from the 360 version and were plenty impressed regardless.]
It's not just window dressing, either. Shotgun blasts bite chunks from thin concrete, meaning that every time you duck behind cover you're weighing up its thickness and durability. Abandoned New York taxis will disintegrate under attack, doors falling off to reveal meticulous interiors. A cloud of dust from a fallen building – and the alien presence in New York only just manages to distort the echoes of 9/11 – forces the use of the suit's thermal imaging, all graphical flourishes that have tangible effects on the game.
For all its realism, there are graphical bugs: tree textures that stretch across a courtyard, Cell soldiers standing poised with their finger on the trigger of an invisible gun. But bugs aren't the main negative on Crysis 2's copybook. Rather, it's the characterisation and story that drag the game back from being a bona fide classic.
Crysis 2 lacks a single character you can like or relate to. The gruff robotic voice of the suit is characterless: cold, efficient, but without charisma. As a result the narrative has an unemotional, technical feel. The closest you come to a companion is the middle-aged professor Gould, whose dialogue never comes to life despite a valiant effort from his actor.
Nobody needs to know why you are fighting the army and aliens to enjoy the ride. But without character, you really are just left with a suit and a set of rules. It's possible to fall in love with a rule set, but it's harder to reminisce about one.
A generous online mode (developed by Crytek UK, formerly Free Radical Design) sees most of the single-player suit abilities remain intact. While you might expect the stealth and armour suit modes to upset the balance of the game with eight players, the opposite is true, injecting deathmatches with fresh depth and interest.
The now-mandatory Modern Warfare experience system is present, but you also earn Power, Armour or Stealth XP depending on which way you use the suit's abilities in a firefight, as well as XP for the specific weapons you used. As with any FPS that incorporates RPG levelling into its online mode, there's a danger that more advanced players quickly overwhelm newcomers, and while each of the online modes can be played with other 'new recruits' (players under level 10), already the gulf between levelled players and newcomers is a marked one.
Each enemy player you kill will leave behind a set of dog tags. Collect three sets before you die, and you'll be able to use a new ability, much like Modern Warfare's kill streak rewards. Whether these designs can sustain the online portion of Crysis 2 for months remains to be seen, but it's certainly a strong first impression.
Story aside, Crysis 2 is a hell of a video game about shooting stuff. It's challenging, facilitates and then demands the use of tactics, and is more generous in scale than almost any other first-person shooter of the past few years. Even on the default difficulty setting, this is a challenging game, and the sparsely spaced checkpoints force careful consideration of every scenario.
The long road through the game, winding its way towards Central Park, lacks variation, but then it was never intended to be a Bond-style rollercoaster ride around diverse global tourist locations. Rather, this was always intended to be a game about a suit, and what that represents. In almost every way that matters then, Crysis 2 is dressed for success.
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