With 2007 entering its final months, PC gamers are looking forward to one game in particular more than the rest: Crysis. The eagerly-awaited shooter is due out in November, and with the game's completion nearing, EA and Crytek gave us a chance to play a never-before-seen level from the single-player campaign that shows off what Crysis' gameplay is all about. On top of that, we got to play an intense game of the power-struggle multiplayer mode and check out two new levels. So let's get on with it, though we'll warn you that what follows contains spoilers.
The single-player level that we played is called assault, and the name describes it all. The mission takes place after the opening levels of the game, in which you and your Special Forces team attempt to infiltrate a North Korea-held island. However, the infiltration attempt falls apart, and you have to return in force for an old-fashioned aerial assault. You begin in the belly of a transport aircraft surrounded by fellow soldiers, at least one of whom is wearing a high-tech nanosuit like yourself, but the rest of your team are outfitted in more-conventional body armor. After a short amount of chitchat and bravado, the transport does a combat landing, and you emerge onto a battlefield where artillery is exploding everywhere. It appears that the assault has bogged down, US forces are trying to advance, and it's up to you to turn the tide of battle.
Assault is basically a giant sandbox, and it's a great showcase for what you can do in Crysis. Your goal is to take out three antiaircraft platforms that are located throughout the level, and then destroy the radar jammer aboard a docked North Korean warship before laser-designating it for destruction. How you do it is entirely up to you, and judging from the discussions we had with others, there are countless ways of attacking the level. For instance, you can take a stealth approach by trying to sneak around the map, or you can engage in running battles with the enemy. You can try navigating the long way around, or swim across the harbor, or steal a vehicle. That's just a simple description of what's possible, given that there's plenty of room to maneuver and hide on this level.
However, what elevates Crysis above its predecessor, Far Cry, is what the nanosuit can do for you. The nanosuit is high-tech body armor that can temporarily boost your strength or speed, grant you a personal armor bonus, or cloak you from plain view. Whatever you select changes the conditions of the battle, and you can do amazing things when you balance its abilities. For instance, we stuck to the beach for the first part of the mission and used the suit's super-strength to leap up small bluffs and over large obstacles. Once we got in position to snipe at enemy machine-gun posts, we used the strength ability again to steady our aim through the weapon scope. When the machine-gunners were killed, we dove into the water and used speed to swim quickly to the next spot, where we switched back to strength to leap up the cliffside. At that point we battled it out with the defenders, who threw grenades in an attempt to flush us out from cover. However, when we spoke to another player, he mentioned that he had used speed to quickly dash up to the heavily-defended antiaircraft gun, plant explosives on it, and then dash off and detonate them before the defenders could properly react.
Later on in the mission, we engaged in a brutal dockside battle against a squad of North Korean soldiers backed up by a helicopter and a vehicle. Using the suit's armor and speed, we retreated to a nearby warehouse and battled it out with the defenders in there. With the intent to attack the warehouse another way, we leapt onto the roof and went through an office window, eventually clearing out defenders. At that point we used speed and armor to advance on the dockside defenders, and then used strength to leap aboard the North Korean warship tied next to the dock. Considering that the gangway had been removed, there was no way for the dockside troops to get to us.
To say that the battle was intense would be a bit of an understatement. The hairiest moments came when North Korean helicopter gunships arrived on the scene, which forced us to find a rocket launcher to take the things down. We should note that we didn't realize until after the battle was finished that we began the fight at night, shortly before dawn, and that the time of day had actually advanced through the battle. That was a pretty amazing thing. One helpful piece of advice: Quicksave, or F5, is going to be your best friend in this game. Use it, and use it often, because if you die without quicksaving, you'll have to start a mission at the very beginning. And it probably took us about an hour to get through this level.
On to multiplayer, which let us play the power-struggle mode that's featured in the multiplayer beta, though we got to play it on a different map. Power struggle is Crytek's attempt to create a Battlefield-style virtual battle with objectives, and it's a pretty interesting mode. You play as either the North Koreans or the Americans, with the goal of destroying the opposing team's base. However, to do that you need alien weaponry created at the prototype center. Furthermore, to create weapons at the prototype center, you need alien energy that's harvested at crash sites where alien wrecks lie. So, basically, you and your team need to control at least one crash site and the prototype center long enough for it charge. You can then use points, which are accrued by killing the enemy or helping your team, to buy powerful weapons that can be used to destroy the defensive turrets that protect the enemy base, and eventually the base itself. On top of that, there are weapons factories you can seize that let you build tanks and other vehicles, as well as bunkers that give you forward respawn points, and places where you can purchase new weapons and equipment.
Power struggle is a fairly involved mode. There's a lot of teamwork required, but our session was a blast; the tide of battle turned several times before we ultimately lost. For a different type of fun, we jumped into a regular deathmatch mode on the Armada map, which takes place entirely aboard a Nimitz-class aircraft carrier. This mode is just very cool because you can run around the hanger and guts of the ship, or on the flight deck itself.
It goes without saying at this point that Crysis looks amazing. We played on dual-core and quad-core PCs that had a single 8800GTX video card, and the performance was fairly smooth, though there were slight pauses at the beginning of each mission as textures and assets were loaded into the game for the first time. Although we were running machines capable of DirectX 10 graphics, EA and Crytek had us playing the DX 9 version of the game, and it still looked amazing. There are too many cool little optical effects to even mention. It's a bit puzzling why DX 10 isn't being shown off, though we suspect that Crytek is waiting for the video-card manufacturers to finalize drivers. Crytek was, however, running DX 10 on a machine that had the game's built-in editor on display, and the big news is that the demo that will debut later this month will include the same toolset that Crytek used for development of the game. This will give players a chance to start creating mods and levels.
When we spoke with Crytek CEO Cevat Yerli, he sounded relieved that the game was almost done (he mentioned that it was within days of completion), and also a bit wishful that he could have kept more of the game under wraps. Crytek wants to unleash surprises on gamers with Crysis, from the game's wondrous visuals to the gameplay, along with the nature of the aliens and alien threat. Judging from what we saw, it's safe to say that the game has plenty of surprises left in store. We'll see for sure when Crysis ships on November 16.