CES 07: Crysis Hands-On

We finally get some hands-on time with one of the most anticipated action games on any platform this year.

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LAS VEGAS--At this point, Crysis is the poster child for Games on Windows, Microsoft's big new push to reinforce the PC as a gaming platform. The highly anticipated first-person shooter was featured in the video that Microsoft showed at its keynote address on Sunday, and the game is available to play at the Microsoft booth at the annual Consumer Electronics Show. Senior members of the development team were on hand to help guide us through the demonstration level built for the show.

The demo level sees your US Special Forces character in a battle to seize a village from North Korean forces, and it starts off in the jungle. It's not an exaggeration to say that Crysis is causing many attendees to stop and gawk at the game's incredible graphics, which were being displayed for the first time taking advantage of DirectX 10. The visuals are incredible, and Crysis is certainly going to sell a lot of hardware as gamers upgrade their systems to play the game at maximum detail level. Surprisingly, the systems at the show weren't too unreasonable. We were told the game was running on a single-core high-end CPU with the latest Nvidia graphics card, and the frame rate was smooth for the most part. Crytek CEO Cevat Yerli told us that the game still has plenty of optimization work to go through.

Crysis looks amazing when in motion. The game is stuffed with all sorts of graphical technologies that, when combined together, create the sensation of being in a tropical jungle under fire. In the demo, we stealthily approached the village and used an assault rifle to start picking off North Korean soldiers. With the alarm raised, the battle began in earnest, and we used the environment so that we could lean from cover and cut down enemy troops. Crysis takes place in a near-future setting, so we used our nano suit to switch power to various systems. Dumping energy into speed let us sprint at superhuman speeds over large distances. Directing power to strength let us pick up and toss heavy objects, knock down doors, and leap onto the roofs of village buildings. Diverting energy into armor made us effectively invulnerable to the small arms of the North Koreans. The downside is that using any of these abilities drains the power of the suit, which means you have to ration their use. Energy slowly regenerates if the suit isn't being used.

The most common weapon we used was the assault rifle, which can be modified on the fly with various scopes and attachments, depending on your need. One thing you can also do is divert suit power to strength and pick up enemies by the neck and hurl them 30 feet in the air, effectively killing them. We played hide-and-seek with the North Koreans, leaping onto rooftops and sniping down on them. The artificial intelligence showed some imagination. We saw the enemy soldiers try to use cover, and in one instance a soldier leaped over a fence to try to get out of our line of fire.

While picking off soldiers was fairly easy for our Special Forces operative, things got a lot hairier when the North Koreans brought in a helicopter gunship. Trying to shoot one down with an assault rifle is very difficult, since you'll probably run out of ammunition before you can inflict enough damage. Still, we were able to use location damage to take out various components on the gunship, such as the rocket pods, which crippled the helicopter's firepower. We then engaged in a running battle as the gunship used its weapons to try to kill us, shredding buildings and trees in the village. Fountains of dirt kicked up from near misses all around us as we scrambled for cover. One way to kill the gunship is to leap into a nearby vehicle and use the vehicle-mounted machine gun to shoot down the helicopter. Another way is to find a missile launcher in a building and use it to down the chopper. The problem was that in the demo we played, the designers purposely disabled the missile guidance system, which meant that the gunship could dodge many of the incoming missiles. Still, we were able to eventually score a hit by running beneath the helicopter and shooting up, minimizing the distance and the amount of time the pilot had to avoid the shot. The destruction of the helicopter ended the demo.

Throughout the entire demo all the graphical features of Crysis dazzled us. The use of motion blur and depth of field made any kind of sudden motion seem more realistic. Trying to use the iron sights of a weapon is also cool, as sun glints on the metal and the depth of field blurs objects that aren't in focus. The high dynamic range lighting and extensive shadowing made the level feel sun-drenched. In terms of sheer fidelity, the DirectX 10 version was noticeably better than the DirectX 9 version of the game that we've seen on previous occasions. Both versions look amazing, but DirectX 10 simply looks better.

Meanwhile, the demo gave us a taste of what to expect in the full game, though Yerli pointed out that it represents only a fraction of what Crysis will have to offer. We didn't get to see the alien invaders in this demo, or any of the interesting environments that are promised later in the game. As to when we can expect it to ship, Yerli said that they're currently on track for a spring release, though he also said that Crytek will not rush the game if more time is needed.

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