Crytek is aiming to explore new ground in more ways than one. The German developer originally made a name for itself with 2004's Far Cry, a gorgeous first-person shooter that used its lush tropical setting to push the levels of modern PC graphics into truly impressive territory. It was a similar story three years later with Crysis, another critically acclaimed shooter that combined postcard visuals with free-form sandbox gameplay. But rather than go for a hat trick of PC shooters largely set in wild jungles, Crytek is taking a different path with Crysis 2. This sequel will take you to the streets of New York City, and beyond that, it will also mark Crytek's cross-platform debut.
At a press event held last week, Crytek CEO Cevat Yerli answered the evening's big question right away: he would be demoing a stage from Crysis 2 on the Xbox 360 to give everyone a look at what his team has done with this generation's console hardware. Anyone who played the original Crysis knows what a tall order approximating those visuals on consoles was going to be, but after seeing protagonist Nomad tackle aliens and private military contractors on a devastated vision of Wall Street circa 2023, it was hard to be anything but impressed. The sun peeking through the distant haze above crumbled buildings, the bits and pieces of concrete and glass erupting from stray gunfire, and the vibrancy of the oddly lush rooftop gardens were just a few ingredients combining to make for a very pretty demo.
We could go on about the sort of tech running beneath the surface--and Yerli was quite keen to point out specifics--but the simple fact of the matter is that console owners are going to be impressed with Crytek's debut outing on non-PC platforms. Having not seen the PC version, we can't yet say what the visual disparity is going to be between the various platforms, but Yerli told us later on that the PlayStation version is nearly identical to its Xbox counterpart and that the PC is still very much the lead platform. Basically, Yerli told us to expect every bit of the hardware-devouring ambition that Crytek displayed with the original Crysis for those planning to pick up the sequel for the PC. We'll wait and see how things turn out on that front, but it was reassuring to see how well the game ran on Xbox 360.
The iconic nanosuit has undergone some changes in Crysis 2. In the first game, this high-tech exoskeleton allowed you to toggle between maximum strength, speed, stealth, and power--but all four options were mutually exclusive from one another. In Crysis 2, those abilities have been shuffled a bit to allow for more mixing and matching between power-ups. This time around, the four options are strength, stealth, power (which has had speed folded into it), and a new vision mode similar to the previous game's binoculars, which layers tactical information onto your field of vision. The big difference now is that strength and stealth are the two either-or base options (which Yerli describes as choosing between a "predator" and a "tank"), while power and tactical vision can be simultaneously used on top of either of those two for a total of three at once. All these abilities will once again drain over time, but now there's a lot more flexibility with how you use them. On top of that, Yerli also teased the ability to customize upgrades to your nanosuit over the duration of the game to allow for more personalized skills. We're intrigued by this new feature, but it seems smart to avoid holding out hope for a Modern Warfare level of perks and upgrades.
The power ability was the first one we got to see in action, as the demo began with Nomad standing near the edge of a skyscraper's blown-out wall, exposing Manhattan in all its "catastrophic beauty"--to borrow a catchphrase frequently used by Yerli. Switching to the power ability in the nanosuit allowed Nomad to deftly leap from this building to the rooftop of the next one over. Here he took on a squad of PMCs using a contrasting mix of stealth tactics and loud weaponry. Like in the original Crysis, you can grab enemies by the throat and toss them from high perches (in this case, entire buildings) while in power mode. But now imagine being able to do this while quickly speeding to your next hapless victim without toggling between abilities, and you've got a decent idea of what to expect from some of these new nanosuit abilities.
The demo eventually moved from the rooftops down onto the streets, where Nomad traded in his shotgun and assault rifle for a grenade launcher to take on the robotic-looking humanoid aliens patrolling the sidewalks below. The big intersections and partially destroyed buildings offered a large battlefield for this fight. On a similar note, Yerli also mentioned the verticality that these Manhattan skyscrapers offer as another reason to believe the gameplay will maintain a similar level of open sandbox exploration as the original game. Either way, the combat looked impressive, with realistic damage going on all over the place and frequent switching between nanosuit powers showing how quickly you can adapt to a given situation.
There's a very deliberate reason that Crysis 2 is set in New York City. Yerli is the first to admit that Crysis may have been a beautiful game to look at, but its story was sorely lacking any sort of "emotional buy-in." Crytek has chosen to set the sequel in New York to add more emotional resonance to the game's alien invasion story. "If I could pick one city to protect, it would be New York," says Yerli of their decision to set the game in a city widely regarded as one of the great triumphs of humankind. To help flesh out that story, they've hired award-winning sci-fi novelist Richard Morgan as lead writer on Crysis 2. Morgan arrived on the project during what he described as a "storm of creativity" between artists, animators, and programmers. But despite that, he's focused on adding a twisting narrative that explores some moral gray areas during the game, with the invasion having become something of a "vexed political issue." Morgan also talked a lot about the nanosuit playing a big role in the story, going to the point of "becoming a character in its own right…with its own [story] arc."
At this point, it's pleasing to see just how nice the Xbox 360 version of Crysis 2 looks. It would have been nice to see more game, as the presentation we saw was heavy on tech demo reels and light on gameplay. But for the 10 or so minutes of the game we saw in action, there was a lot to like. Now we're eager to see just how ridiculous the PC version looks, as well as how that "verticality" of leaping between skyscrapers figures into the game. We should have more on Crysis 2 leading up to the game's release later this year.