With the demo for Crysis coming out next week, as well as the game itself in November, EA and Crytek have begun to reveal more of the game to us. This eagerly awaited first-person shooter promises to raise the bar for graphics fidelity to all new heights, but Crytek wants to also prove that the excellent gameplay in 2004's Far Cry was no fluke. To that extent, we got to delve through a level that appears midway through the game that shows off the alien environment and zero gravity combat. So read on for some details, but please note that what follows contains spoilers for the game.
Crysis is set in the near future and deals with an alien invasion. However, while these aliens are from outer space, they arrived on Earth thousands of years ago and remained in hibernation until scientists discover one of their vessels on a remote Pacific island. You'll play as a member of a US Special Forces team sent to investigate and you'll encounter the North Korean military, which is also racing to secure the island. We went into the ancient alien vessel ourselves in a level called Core. Without spoiling the entire story, your character, clad in a high-tech nanosuit, will find himself stranded inside an old mine shaft. However, as you explore the shaft, you'll discover it's an alien vessel, and you're all alone and cut off from outside help.
One of the major points of Core is the sense of exploration and discovery. In fact, there's no real objective to this mission, we're told. After all, you suddenly find yourself in an alien environment and have no idea what to do. Thus, your job is to watch the aliens to go about their business, trying to decipher what's going on around you. "The game effectively tells the story of the aliens" through such observations, Crytek CEO Cevat Yerli said. It's all part of what he calls the game's "ambient storytelling" at work. It's an effectively eerie storytelling technique because you'll find yourself in an environment that is both alien and perplexing at the same time. If you shoot out some of the crystal formations on the walls, the shards float through the air instead of fall to the ground. Little particles flow through the organic corridors of the ship, looking like the detritus that floats around at the bottom of the ocean. The lighting is also muted and diffuse, making it feel like you are underwater. Incredibly, we were playing the DirectX 9 version of the game, so the DX10 version should look even better.
While Crytek won't let us show the aliens, we can discuss them, and they look like nothing seen in a game. The developers told us early on that they went through an entire game's worth of concept sketches to come up with the single alien species in Crysis, and it has paid off. These aliens aren't bipedal like humans. Instead, they're aquatic in nature, with thin, ghostly tendrils for appendages. They're almost like phantoms, in a way, because up close you realize that their skins are translucent, and you can actually make out their skeletal structure through the light. Yerli noted that they were inspired by marine life, and it shows. Seeing them is like watching documentaries of deep sea life that has never seen sunlight. The aliens dart through zero gravity the way fish swim through water. One second they're floating serenely, the next they're zipping around with great velocity. One tactic is that they can swarm you, racing all around your field of view, forcing you to spin around to track them. Then, suddenly, one will dart head-on at you, like a shark going for the kill. The impact of such a collision hurts, and then the alien darts away just as quickly.
We were armed with the standard assault rifle during this mission, and you've got to be careful about how often you use it because we didn't see any extra ammunition scattered around the alien ship. Thankfully, you can load up on ammo shortly before you enter the alien vessel, but from that point on, you need to conserve. Getting in a firefight with the aliens can be dangerous, because they're so quick that you can burn through a lot of ammo just trying to hit them.
Navigating through a zero gravity environment sounds like it could be difficult, but we found it fairly easy and only got turned around once. It didn't take long for us to realize we had backtracked, so we headed back in the right direction. Yerli said that this bears out in the company's focus testing because almost everyone gets through the level properly. There are all sorts of subtle hints of where you need to go, from flashing lights to the "flow" of particles around you. There are also some environmental puzzles that we encountered, such as a device that strengthened the flow of particles through the corridor, making it impossible to progress forward. We were told that all environmental puzzles in the game will have at least two solutions; one involves using weapons and the other involves your nanosuit's abilities. You can use your rifle to take out the device, which slows down the flow of particles and lets you pass. In this situation, you can also use your nanosuit to boost your speed, which lets you swim past the device.
One thing that we haven't covered yet is just how amazing the game sounds, which is something that cannot be conveyed through screenshots. But being inside the Core level is an incredible audio experience. If you don't have a surround-sound setup or really good headphones, invest in them because they'll pay off just as much as a new video card. Throughout most of the level, there's just a layer of sonic tension conveyed through the ambient sound effects. The alien ship also "moans", which has a big significance in the game as well. It's like listening to the sound of humpback whales singing. One of the cooler moments we encountered was when we found out that by using our nanosuit to cloak, it actually muted the ambient sound. This will play a role in the game because some sounds are loud enough to actually hurt you.
The music for the game is also very haunting and powerful, coming from composer Inon Zur, a noted video game veteran. Zur's credits include SOCOM II and Prince of Persia. But just because Crysis is a big-budget game, it doesn't mean that EA and Crytek went out enlisting top-notch Hollywood talent to provide voices in the game. "I was opposed to the idea in the beginning," Yerli said. "Crysis needs to stand on its own...without the point of having famous composers or actors or writers." From what we saw in the Core level, it's a safe bet that Crysis will be more than able to stand on its own.