Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Crysis 3 Review: Power Trip

Throughout my time with Crisis 3, I couldn't shake the feeling that I was trapped inside of a Hollywood film. This became especially true during the more predictable moments of the script. At one point in the campaign, my partner and I, a man called Psycho, quietly snuck through the sewers as we attempted to evade C.E.L.L. -- a private military outfit ordered to find and capture us. Pyscho was formerly a Nanosuited military bad boy like me, but he had his outfit surgically removed by force somewhere between the last Crysis game and this one. Relegated to a life as a regular soldier, Psycho tugged at a rusty crank to open a set of sealed double doors until he felt fatigued; a loud creak reverberated through the environment -- a sure sign to anyone in earshot that they weren't alone.

"Do you think they heard that?" Psycho said as he turned to me.

Of course they did, I thought as I sighed to myself. I then ripped the doors apart with my hands and got ready for a firefight, as Psycho silently slinked up a ladder away from danger.

When we met up again later on, he walked a few paces ahead and stated the obvious, "I guess they heard that." It's typical Hollywood schlock, but I enjoy it for what it is nonetheless.

When video games get compared to Hollywood-caliber films, it's important to provide a clear definition of what that actually means. Hollywood films focus more on spectacle and action over subtlety. They're movies rife with explosions and pretty visuals, and though a writer can try to hash together memorable exposition, ultimately the action trumps everything else. Crysis 3, much like the rest of the series, lives up to this style of high-production value, popcorn entertainment, as it melds together distinct genres into a blockbuster game filled with big explosions, impressive graphics, and science fiction jargon.
Most importantly, Crysis 3 knows how to generate a sense of empowerment. As the player, you'rethe guy inside the powerful Nanosuit -- an expensive piece of military hardware that gives you access to super-human abilities. Impressively, said powers tie into different approaches that a player can test out across seven missions. You can sneak by unsuspecting C.E.L.L. soldiers or intimidating aliens called Ceph in stealth mode, or you can take a direct approach and fire up your maximum armor mode to sustain yourself against heavy enemy fire. As players use abilities, a power meter keeps their actions in check, but it regenerates fairly quickly whenever you're in normal mode. Thanks to Crysis' comfortable console control scheme, you have easy access to everything the Nanosuit has to offer, from powerful melee attacks to high jumps. And the abilities and weapons -- like the sublime bow and arrow introduced in this entry -- empower every decision you make within its large environments.
With Crysis 3, developer Crytek, makes progress in marrying the open sandbox environments of the original Crysis with the more directed and straightforward level layouts of Crysis 2. This approach let's Crysis 3 bounce between the two distinct styles well, and the results fit in line with how the Halo series handles the same setup. Of course the set pieces here present much larger playgrounds to trek through, but -- at least for the console versions -- these spaces come at a price.
Crysis has built a reputation on delivering immersive visuals that create a sense of wonder around the technology behind video games, yet such high fidelity presentation works as a double-edged sword. Obviously many of the environments look incredibly accurate, or as accurate as you can assume given the context of a decayed, overgrowth-filled NYC occupied by aliens and private military. However, when you witness bizarre lighting changes or a few up close blurry textures, they can appear more jarring than they should because of the high quality work on display. Of course, there's a lot more to Crysis than detailed graphics and lighting models -- and Crytek's works stands as a testament to the future potential of rendering technology -- but prepare for a few eyesores along the eight-hour campaign.
Poorly designed vehicle segments resemble a more significant stumbling block by Crtyek in Crysis 3. These segments -- which don't present themselves until the last chunk of the campaign -- drag the experience down to unexpected stages of tedium. Handling can seem difficult, especially if you're not comfortable with first-person driving -- a skill that understandably some players possess over others. But more frustratingly, the vehicles themselves give the impression that they're made of high fidelity paper since they explode pretty quickly under enemy fire. Even tanks can't stand up to Ceph technology, leaving me to wonder why Crytek thought it best to leave them in the game. Perhaps paper-thin vehicles are a staple of Crysis, but they leave a terrible impression. Although it's tempting to go out on foot, the scale of the battleground where they appear makes traveling on wheels necessary.
For a long time I always described Crysis to friends as a strange What If scenario. What if Halo, Half-Life, and Metal Gear Solid could have a baby? That spawn would be Crysis. By all accounts this is one cute kid and Crysis lives up to the pedigree of all three potential parents well. I only wish I had more positive things to say about the story. Sadly there's not much here to reference outside of the occasional twist. I appreciate how well the narrative integrates characters across three games into one cohesive tale, but it still feels largely forgettable compared to other sandbox action games like Dishonored. But I guess that's the nature of Hollywood for you. Either you go big or go home. Leave morality tales to someone else.

If you go in understanding that Crysis 3 delivers blockbuster entertainment and multiplayer that iterates on Call of Duty's perks system, you'll be fine. But if you want Crysis to stake a claim all its own, you might be disappointed. But don't let that stop you from enjoying a solid action sandbox like this one. Crysis 3 might not reinvent itself into a grander vision, but like a good Hollywood sequel, it sticks to what it does well and iterates its formula into an impressive video game.

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