Keeping cool in a Crysis
Way back in 2007, Crysis represented the very pinnacle of technological achievement in desktop gaming. Sure, to get the best out of it, you needed a beefcake rig, but in truth, it was so much more than a mere tech demo; it was an unashamed statement of intent that the industry had come of age, leaving its 8-bit roots in the dust of digital history.
So what was all the fuss about? And why has it taken four years to reach the consoles? If you’ve never played this game, or its sequels, Crysis 2 (2011) and Crysis 3 (2013), I’m going to try and keep the following as spoiler-free as best I can.
You step into the ample boots of Nomad, US special forces operator par excellence and part of the five man “Raptor Team” sent in to a mysterious Pacific island to investigate a distress signal from an archeological expedition that has apparently run into difficulties and needs urgent extraction.
No sooner than you have leapt from the capacious bowels of your transport aircraft, the situation you find yourself in starts to take a radical departure from the script. One of your squadmates meets with an unexplained accident on the drop in, and you quickly find yourself hurtling earthwards as a result of a sudden and catastrophic failure in your Nanosuit’s systems (did I just say Nanosuit? More on this shortly). Hardly an auspicious start to the mission, but things can only get better, right?
The Nanosuit – a solution to (most of) life’s problems
Once you hit the ground, and boy do you hit it hard, you are given a quick primer on the functions of your Nanosuit. The suit in question is a marvel of military technology, turning its wearer into a veritable über soldier through the series of awe-inspiring powers it confers. Mastering all of these will mean the difference between success and failure as you progress through the game’s 11+ hour campaign.
First off, there’s near-invisibility (think a certain Predator, or possibly a cloaked Klingon Bird of Prey), which allows you to creep about the battlefield undetected, locate enemies and then dispatch them without their even knowing you were there in the first place. If stealth is less your bag, then why not engage “Maximum Armour”, go loud, and watch hapless foes’ bullets bounce harmlessly off your hardened carapace?
The benefits of nanotechnology go further still with the addition of a serious boost to physical prowess – “Maximum Strength” is all about the ability to jump further and higher than ever before, as well as presenting the opportunity to fling heavy objects about the place with the greatest of ease. Want to sneak up on an unwitting enemy, grab them by the throat and toss them into the distance? Not a problem. Tempted to dig out that heavy calibre marksmanship rifle and pull off the perfect long distance takedown? With this mode enabled, you can devote less time to worrying about the effects of muzzle climb, and more on placing your shots. What’s not to like?
Carrying out important tasks faster hasn’t been forgotten either as “Maximum Speed” is on hand to ensure you can zip about the environment at a fair turn of pace (always handy for evading a legion of pursuers), and furthermore, in the heat of a firefight, reload a dry weapon quicker and get back into the fray.
Of course, there is a trade-off for harnessing these miracles of scientific advancement, and one of the consequences is that considerable power is used in the process, which in turn, depletes the energy available in that most iconic of outer garments. Thankfully, the engineers behind the suit took this into account, and saw fit to base its systems on a rechargeable power supply, which will replenish over time when exhausted. Needless to say, this also works in the interests of overall game balancing; after all, where would the fun be in having such powerful augmentations to play with if they were available on a permanent basis?
It’s all gone a bit Kim Il Sung
It quickly becomes evident that Raptor Team is not alone on the island, and that there is something very wrong in this verdant paradise.
Before long, you are encountering elements of a sizeable force of North Korean mechanised troops; one can only imagine that their despotic masters have their own nefarious reasons for mounting such an invasion and it’ll be up to your squad to investigate and deal with the unfolding situation on the ground. In time, you’ll come to understand why they’re so interested in this particular location as the stakes grow ever higher.
As you slink through the varying (and beautifully rendered) terrain of idyllic beaches, isolated hilltops and dense jungle, you’ll come across a series of DPRK army patrols and installations. How you tackle these is left entirely up to you; for instance, you can follow a stealthy approach, shadowing your quarry until the optimal moment arrives to strike them down. Alternatively, soften up a large facility by going for headshots with your trusty sniper rifle and then launch an all-out assault on the position once enemy numbers have been sufficiently thinned out. It is this awe-inspiring marriage of freedom of choice and truly phenomenal levels of graphical presentation that elevates Crysis head and shoulders above so many of its FPS peers even now, nearly six years after its launch.
Perhaps the only thing that prevents Crysis from attaining a state of pure gaming nirvana is the fact that the latter stages of the campaign eschew the sandbox in favour of the large scale set-piece. Thankfully though, these sections do offer some highly-charged and memorable moments, so this change of pace really shouldn’t be enough to ruin what is otherwise a top-tier experience.
Crysis also excels when it comes to weaponry, with the various guns on offer looking, sounding and handling great – everything feels “just right” and this makes the perfect counterpoint to the high-tech augmentations conferred by the Nanosuit. Crytek’s addition of on-the-fly customisation is the crowning glory, providing you with the ability to create your own take on the SOPMOD boomstick as conditions on the field of battle evolve. A plethora of accessories are available, from suppressors through taclights, to a suite of scopes and underslung grenade launchers – these can be mixed and matched depending on the prevailing tactical situation and to suit your style of play. Without doubt, this has been nothing short of a stroke of genius, and ups the levels of fun to an all-time high.
A far cry from corridor crawling
Crytek’s founder, the illustrious Cervat Yerli, when considering the direction that could be taken with his development house’s debut offering (the original Far Cry, published by Ubisoft in 2004), identified that an alternative to the linear level design of most shooters at the time was called for.
Having seen the successes of open world “Sandbox” gameplay in the rejuvenated Grand Theft Auto series or Battlefield 1942 and its successors, he made the case that this could be a golden opportunity to adopt a similar approach to the traditional story-driven FPS, and in one fell swoop drive a seismic shift away from the classic corridor crawling style. Why force players down strictly defined paths to completing objectives when you could offer them vast maps to explore and a myriad of potential methods to get whichever task was currently at hand done and dusted?
It is unarguable that both Far Cry and Crysis were so much more than proofs-of-concept
To Yerli, creativity not only lay in the craftsmanship and meticulous attention-to-detail of his crack team of assembled modellers, texture artists and coders, but in also serving up a veritable smörgåsbord of solutions to tactical problems users might face within the digital worlds they were conjuring up. The realisation that the huge leaps in computing power that had been made would allow players hitherto unseen levels of choice in tackling the missions they were engaged in proved to be just too important to ignore.
It is unarguable that both Far Cry and Crysis were so much more than proofs-of-concept released to the game playing public in those oh-so shiny DVD cases. They represented the non plus ultra of entertainment software, helped define a genre in their own right, and marked significant milestones in the evolution of the video game. Yerli and his team had simultaneously given us a tantalising glimpse of the future of the industry and cemented their position slap bang in the middle of it all.
In 2007, “Will it run Crysis?” had become something of a mantra on the lips of desktop gamers with a love for shooters given the hardware firepower that would be needed to experience it in the way its creators had intended.
“Will it run Crysis?” had become something of a mantra on the lips of desktop gamers
I for one was no exception to this, and remember dropping in the region of £1700 (a small fortune in PC terms back then) in a desperate bid to fill my beloved Lian Li aluminium case with as much CPU/GPU/RAM as I could possibly shoehorn into its svelte frame for this very purpose. The result of this not inconsiderable investment was a gaming rig that could run Crysis, and run it well to boot. Was I disappointed? Had it all been a waste of time and hard-earned funds? Absolutely not is the truthful answer; it was every bit as glorious a game as had been promised and Crytek had delivered the goods on all fronts – the ability to crank things up to the highest visual settings was just the icing on the cake.
Fast forwarding five years, the whole landscape of entertainment technology has immeasurably changed with the dominance of relatively cheap consoles, casual browser-based gaming and the inexorable rise of mobile devices of all shapes, sizes and colours. In the “Post PC” world, gamers are experiencing content on a bewildering array of platforms like never before. The austere times in which we find ourselves have also had a strong part to play too, as consumers look to get the best possible levels of bang for their precious bucks.
Amidst this maelstrom of economic chaos and technological development, Crtyek have understood the potential of bringing one of the true classics of the shooter pantheon to a generation of players who may have missed its heyday in the desktop arena and give them the chance to see what all the fuss was about for themselves.
No longer is it necessary to plough money into a rig that can take the pressure; a modestly priced console (the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 at the time of writing) will do the job nicely, and the whole thing has been lovingly remastered and rebuilt for these machines. The delivery method has been brought up-to-date too in that this is a download-only title, available from the Xbox Game Marketplace and PlayStation Network respectively.
One important point to note is that the multiplayer component has been dropped from the release, though as many veterans might tell you, that’s probably not that big an issue as Crysis was always more about delivering superlative offline kicks anyway.
So, should you give the console version of Crysis an airing? Absolutely.
Overall, Crysis has made the transition to the consoles extremely well. Lighting effects have been reworked, upping the levels of presentation in the visual department. Adjustments have also been made to the game’s already-impressive audio with the reports of your weapons and environmental sounds tweaked and considerably beefed up, and the improvements in both areas go a long way to bringing the world around you to life.
In the heat of battle, there are a few moments where the framerate can sometimes let the side down a little, but in all honesty, these are few and far between, and by no means enough to mar what is otherwise a truly fantastic gaming experience. In some ways, it is perhaps fitting even that current-gen consoles can still feel momentarily strained under the weight of Crytek’s masterpiece, though as previously mentioned, it’s certainly not a dealbreaker.
So, should you give the console version of Crysis an airing? Absolutely. If you’ve never played the desktop iteration, think of this as the perfect method of witnessing one of the defining titles of the shooter genre at first hand. If you sampled its numerous delights back in the day, then another go-around will serve up the delicious chance to remind yourself why you probably got so excited about it all in the first place, or to seek ever more creative methods of tackling objectives. Either way, we’ll wager you’ll enjoy the journey.