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.