You'd be hard-pressed to find any jungle around Frankfurt, the sleek German city that's one of the major financial centers of Europe. But if you know the right building, you'll find a lush tropical isle infested with aliens and North Korean soldiers, not to mention one of the most up-and-coming development houses in the world. We're talking about Crysis, the next game from Crytek, the developer of 2004's acclaimed Far Cry. Since its debut earlier this year, Crysis has become one of the most anticipated games coming out on any platform thanks to some incredible visuals, though there's more to Crysis than just a stunning graphics engine. To learn more, we visited Crytek's offices to meet the developers in person and get a closer look at the game.
So, what is Crysis? First, it's in no way related to Far Cry, and it's not a follow-up or spin-off of that game. Instead, it's an original alien invasion story set in the Spratly Islands, a small group of islands that actually exist in the real world and whose ownership is disputed by various nations, though the island in the game is far larger than any of its real-world counterparts, which are more reef than island.
The story begins with a mysterious meteor falling to Earth from space and "landing" on an island. Since meteors typically burn up in the atmosphere or explode on impact, the nations of the world know that there's something extraordinary about this meteor. However, the North Korean military gets there first and declares the island off-limits to everyone else. Your character is part of a US Special Forces team that's deployed to the island to find out what's going on, and the first part of the game will have you battling the North Koreans. Things take a change for the worse in the second stage, however, when the alien object opens up, "flash freezes" the island, and messes with Earth's weather. With a global climate crisis building, enemies will unite to try and stop the alien menace. And that will lead to the third part of the game, which is being kept tightly under wraps for now, though we can tell you to brace yourself for some zero-gravity combat at this stage.
If you played Far Cry, then you know that Crytek is a company that believes in open-ended gameplay. The beauty of that game was that you were plopped down on the edge of a huge island and you could pretty much go anywhere, which meant that you could also play your own way. If you felt belligerent, you could follow a straight path and go guns blazing, but if you were low on ammo and health, you could skulk in the jungle and take the long way around. The sense of immersion was incredible in Far Cry, and there were times that we really felt that we were in a jungle. Crysis offers to build and improve on that experience in a number of ways.
To understand Crysis better, it helps to understand Crytek--a studio founded by three brothers. The studio now has about 120 employees from around the world who attempt to bring different perspectives to their game development projects. Three of those employees, Faruk, Avni, and Cevat Yerli, had always dreamt of making games, particularly Cevat, who went from playing his Commodore 64 to collaborating online with others in college--collaborations that eventually resulted in a tech demo called X-Isle.
In an inkling of things to come, X-Isle featured a lush jungle island, though one populated by fearsome dinosaurs. Armed with this demo, the Yerli brothers took off for the 2000 Electronic Entertainment Expo having never been there before and with no idea what to expect. ("I guess we were the only people in the history of E3 who paid the entrance fee there," Cevat said.) Cevat barely knew any English back then, mostly cobbled together from American games and movies, and most of that consisting of swear words. Still, in a colorful way he managed to get someone at Nvidia to look at X-Isle, and Nvidia ended up using it as a tech demo for its newly introduced GeForce graphics cards. That led to a publishing deal to develop Far Cry, and the rest is history.
Paradise FrostCrytek is quite a large studio, with enough room for multiple development teams. Not surprisingly, after having established itself with Far Cry and Crysis, Crytek is pushing ahead with a number of projects, each of which we're told will be substantially different from one another. That's right--the company doesn't want to be known as just a first-person shooter maker, but rather a developer of great games in general. That's all in the future, however. For now, the company is getting Crysis done this winter for the PC. (And yes, before you ask, Crysis remains a Windows-only game, a fact that was again confirmed by the company during our recent visit.)
The beginnings of Crysis came about during the late stages of development of Far Cry in 2004, when Cevat challenged the design team to take the jungle landscape of that game and freeze it, in essence transforming it into "a frozen paradise." This wasn't just a technical challenge, but also a storytelling one. The frozen jungle would have to have different properties than a normal jungle, as trees and other objects would need to shatter due to the extreme cold. Yet they also needed to explain what would cause jungle to freeze like that. What evolved from that idea is a tale of alien invaders causing environmental havoc on a monumental scale. (Ironically, Far Cry was originally envisioned to have not one but two different alien factions, as well as dinosaurs, but those were eventually dropped in favor of the mutants in the game.)
In a way, the developers knew even before Far Cry was finished that they wanted to take another crack at making another Far Cry-style game. For one, Far Cry was Crytek's first game, and it was something of a learning experience. However, there was another important reason. While Far Cry was in development, Crytek knew that it was in a race to beat Doom 3 and Half-Life 2 to the market. As the products of world-famous design houses id Software and Valve, those two games were like two 800-pound gorillas on the horizon, and Crytek realized that as an unknown and upstart studio it would have no chance if Far Cry shipped behind either game. So Far Cry was a rushed project, though Crytek made sure the game met its own internal quality standards. Still, the team knew that it could have done a lot better.
With that said, Crysis isn't just Far Cry with a much more advanced graphics engine. It promises to be a bigger, deeper game in a number of ways. The story promises to offer plenty of replayability, as there are many possible outcomes to explore. For instance, if one of your teammates is killed early on, he won't be around later in the game to give you a valuable piece of information that might make your life easier. You'll still be able to beat the game, but you can go back and explore the different story possibilities afterwards. The gameplay will be more tactical in nature, as well, and you'll make decisions continually throughout the game. For instance, the nanosuit that your character is clad in has special powers that you can use in different ways. If you're under fire, you might want to boost the armor so you're harder to kill, or boost the speed so you're harder to hit. The choice is up to you.
It's taken for granted that graphics technology advances at a steady rate, so of course Crysis will have more advanced tech than Far Cry. The game will not only support DirectX 9, the current standard for Windows-based games, but it will also support DirectX 10, which will be included in Windows Vista. But Crysis will also benefit from a more realistic look for other reasons. For example, take the jungles of Far Cry. While incredibly lush, the jungles were also dinged by some for looking a bit too "plastic" in appearance. That's because the aritsts couldn't find any real jungle in the heart of Europe to study. The best they could do was look at a lot of photos and visit a tropical greenhouse in Germany. This time around, Crytek dispatched a team of artists and programmers to Jamaica to study the foliage and terrain up close (a tough job, we know). The result is going to be more lifelike jungles in Crysis, something seen in the early gameplay movies as you see leaves bending realistically, or gunfire chopping down trees.
There's a lot in Crysis to discuss, and we're going to have more on the game in the coming months, such as a look at the technology behind the game (and what sort of machine you'll need for the graphics options to be maxed out), the story, the artificial intelligence, and beyond. Make no mistake that this is one of the biggest games on the horizon. We have plenty of time before it ships, though, since Crytek says it won't be ready until winter. So make sure to check back with us regularly for the latest updates on Crysis.