Rain hammers down on the streets of New York City's Times Square. Upturned police cruisers spit fire into the night as the top half of a giant skyscraper lay crushed over the back of an 18-wheeler. A NYC police station is a few feet from my location, but I'm hardly safe. A State of Emergency's been declared, ordering the "Evacuation of Manhattan," and cement barricades lined with razor wire alongside heavily armoured military vehicles choke off the famous intersection.
I clench a Joint Anti-Tank Weapon in my hands, remembering my orders to defend this chopper evac site at all costs, as something stomps towards my location: A hulking mechanical killer built from nearly indestructible alien technology, inaptly named the "Pinger." This is just one of many missions packed into Crysis 2's meaty campaign (which takes a good 10-12 hours to complete), but it provides a clear image of what it's like to actually play the game, all of which takes place in various real and fictional locations in and around New York City.
Crysis 2 picks up after the events of the original game, dropping you in the middle of a near-future NYC, which is stricken by not one, but two disasters: a viral pandemic and an alien invasion. At the beginning of the game you inherit the new and improved Nanosuit 2, which the game describes as a piece of combat technology so complete that "the divide between man and weapon disappears." Crysis 2's science fiction feels a bit familiar at times, but the experience itself is really what makes Crytek's multiplatform sequel stand out amongst others in its class. It's an exhilarating action game, both in single player and multiplayer, that sets a new standard for sci-fi themed shooters.
I played the original Crysis in 2007, but like many gamers I'm not convinced that I really played the game... at least, not the way Crytek intended it to be experienced. I played it on a pig of a PC hardly ideal for gaming, which means I had to crank down the quality to prevent my computer from imploding. With that in mind, Crysis 2 is my first "real" taste of the visual spectacle the original was known for delivering. And I don't think I'm alone in that, considering the first game only released on PC, requiring high end PC hardware to run properly.
While I wasn't necessarily a Crysis "expert" heading into playing the sequel, console first person shooters are my genre of choice. I play everything from realistic military shooters like Call of Duty and Battlefield, to sci-fi themed offerings like Killzone and Halo. Interestingly, Crysis 2 doesn't exactly fit into either group.
While it has aliens, futuristic weapons and other sci-fi elements, the universe Crysis 2 presents is more grounded in realism than shooters with similar subject matter like Halo or The Conduit. The game does such an exceptional job of combining real-life (New York City, existing weapon technology) with fantasy (aliens, fictional weapons, skintight suits that grant superhuman abilities), that I think it'll appeal to a lot of shooter fans in both camps.
One of the biggest things I walked away from Crysis 2 with was how much I've enjoyed the multiplayer. With many FPS games I usually have a better time with the single-player experience, but Crysis 2's multiplayer is absolutely electrifying. What really sets it apart from other online shooters is how (in most multiplayer modes) everyone is battling in Nanosuits, unlike the campaign, where you're the only one taking advantage of its unique abilities. Multiplayer matches become frenzied and intense due to the limitless ways you can adapt to and take advantage of your own Nanosuit. And the more you play you begin to develop new tactics to engage the enemy with, who likely have their own unique style of Nanosuit fighting.
On top of your basic Nanosuit features like Predator-like cloaking and the ability to temporarily bolster the strength of your armour, there are a number of multiplayer modules, or perks (21 in total), that you can assign to your Nanosuit. These include everything from a proximity alarm that signals when you're near enemies to my personal favourite: the "air stomp," where you jump up into the air and (hopefully) land down on an enemy with all the force of a freight elevator dropping 30 floors and slamming into the ground. The modules, which you unlock with experience points, add another layer of strategy to multiplayer matches.
Playing Crysis 2 on a 3DTV is another highlight of my experience with the game. It doesn't necessarily use 3D in ways we haven't seen before, but the game's jaw-dropping visuals and its imaginative vision of a post-alien invasion New York City really pop in 3D. Moments like one where you're exchanging rockets with an enemy helicopter through the shattered windows of an abandoned office building are intensified as smoke, debris, and bullets are flying directly into your face. Once you batter the chopper sufficiently, it crashes into the building, nearly decapitating you with its rotors.
Crytek does a good job of balancing the depth of 3D, too. Most of the game's 3D effects are subtle, which makes moments that aren't, like my chopper fight, more impactful.
There's a laundry list of things I like about Crysis 2, but the game is not without its faults. The most glaring issue I have is that the campaign loses steam about 4 hours in. Granted, it's a long game: 10 hours if you blast through it, 12 if you're like me and repeatedly get your ass handed to you and need to take beer breaks to rethink your battle plan.
But there's a noticeable chunk of the game halfway through that just isn't very fun, where you're exploring bland environments and engaged in tedious missions, like defending location after location from onrushing attackers. Keeping the momentum going through a 10+ hour game surely isn't easy, but this takes away from the otherwise exceptional campaign, which does pick up at the end. In fact, without spoiling it, I have to admit the final mission is pretty damn cool.
Another more minor quibble I have with the game is the uninspired creature designs. For a game that really carries itself on its often mesmerising visuals, Crysis 2's aliens don't look very interesting, or even that different from things we've already seen in other sci-fi games. But aside from the temporary lull in the campaign and the generic aliens that mar the otherwise gorgeous presentation, there really isn't anything major I didn't like about Crysis 2.
This review is primarily based on my hands-on time with the Xbox 360 version of Crysis 2, but I did get the chance to play other versions. I played the PlayStation 3 version, and it looks and plays virtually identically to the 360 build (although I only played the single-player mode on PS3). It's really more a matter of console preference than any one particular version having a perceivable advantage over the other.
The PC version, however, is an entirely different beast that shows off the incredible level of detail Crysis 2's capable of delivering. Granted, I played it on a ridiculously fancy gaming rig with the game spread across 3 separate monitors in a quasi-IMAX fashion, powered by two GTX 580 GPUs in SLI mode on an X58 motherboard, with an Intel Core i7 and 6GB of memory. I honestly have no idea what any of this means, but this is certainly not a cheap gaming rig, and it gives an idea of how insanely good you can make the game look if you're playing on PC.
After playing Crysis 2 for 20+ hours in the span of just two days, I'm still not sick of the game. Crysis 2 is a riveting first person shooter I highly recommend to fans of the genre, as well as those looking for something to showcase the might of their 3DTV. It ain't perfect, but Crysis 2 has plenty to offer both fans of multiplayer and gamers who prefer a well crafted solo campaign.