New York is fertile ground for cinematic disaster, forever laid waste by meteor or flying saucer, or trampled by French Godzilla. In our most recent run-in with Crysis 2, the Big Apple was plenty wrecked by alien invaders even before the level finale, in which a devastating wall of water surged down a skyscraper-lined street at us--something like The Day After Tomorrow, but in place of Jake Gyllenhaal, the improbably named Crysis 2 protagonist Alcatraz: a futuristic supersoldier in skintight nano-armour who could topple a Cloverfield monster in a pinch.
Not that Alcatraz is overpowered. In this sequel, Crysis remains a first-person shooter for first-person shooter fans hardened by the steepness of the original's learning curve. Except for some cockroach-like bugs, the armoured alien foes are variously fast and tough, equal to Alcatraz's extensive arsenal and super-suit, and the game is quick to punish you for underestimating the enemy. As for the legacy of Crysis' PC-pwning graphics, Crytek's Nathan Camarillo tells us the game, powered by the still-fresh CryEngine 3, is locked at 30 frames per second on the consoles. (Of the prospective Crysis 2 console players, the Xbox 360 contingent has already had access to a multiplayer demo, while Crytek has said PC players will get a demo on March 1.)
The level we played ran from New York's City Hall subway, through infested and flooded tunnels, out into large, sunken arenas of collapsed roads and smashed vehicles, with huge metal spines--indeterminate alien technology linking our three objective nodes--stuck into the ground and arching up high. The open, sandboxy areas crawling with alien forces demanded a tactical approach, as did the several pointed reminders to activate our tactical visor: a visual overlay that tags distant precious ammo crates and mission objectives. Other visual overlays add Predator-like heat vision to your view. Exploration with Alcatraz's nimble ledge-grab move revealed some sinkhole-type areas had sniper nests from which to pick off targets, and even the relatively linear tunnel segments provided multiple approaches, such as overhead walkways.
We ventured into the wrecked subway tunnel with a plan to locate a friendly team with whom command had lost contact. After finding the team had been disintegrated, our plan broadened into assaulting the enemy hive core--that is, fighting through a host of armoured, tentacle-headed aliens to "interface with" (punch out) vital panels in the spiny alien infrastructure. The fast, agile tentacle heads were especially good at evading our aim, and picking off their armour plates to expose squishy flesh was tricky. Other enemies were bulkier, tougher mecha-types that required blasts from a guided missile or several sniper rifle hits to take down.
The SCARAB assault rifle and automatic pistol were sufficient elsewhere, coupled with the powers of the extensively upgradable nanosuit--among them the key stealth cloaking mode and armour boost mode. The upgrades, with which suit properties such as mobility and stealth are tweaked and improved, are bought with a collectable "nanocatalyst" resource and accessed via a menu overlaid on one of Alcatraz's gloved hands--a menu that doesn't pause the game, but lets you add in suit upgrades on the fly. The upgrade options arranged along the protagonist's fingers include, for example, a mobility upgrade that reduces the energy drain of sprinting and jumping. These nanosuit perks correspond to the suit modules previously encountered in our multiplayer hands-ons.
With the crucial nodes in the giant spine structures good and punched, we struck out to destroy the central alien edifice, but nothing goes right in disaster-movie New York. As the level ended, we were racing for a helicopter on a skyscraper-lined street, a wall of water tearing towards us, invaders unvanquished. Look out for New York City taking a further pummelling in the full single-player campaign, out from March 22.