September 25 is a big day for shooter fans. Not only will Halo 3 finally arrive for the Xbox 360, but PC fans can finally look forward to getting their hands on the demo for Crysis, the eagerly awaited first-person shooter about a tropical paradise, North Korean soldiers, and alien invaders. Crysis promises to raise the bar for graphics, of course, but developer Crytek also wants to prove that its 2004 hit Far Cry was no fluke. The demo will feature the first level of the game, Contact, but with the release of Crysis set for November 16, EA and Crytek gave us a glimpse at Ice, one of the later levels in the game where the aliens transform the environment.
First, we've got some interesting updates about the story, which has changed quite a bit from what we were originally told a year ago. Crysis was originally going to be the story of how a mysterious object crashes to Earth on a remote Pacific island. When the US and North Korean militaries investigate, aliens emerge out of the object, putting the fate of the world at stake. Well, the US and North Koreans are still in the game, but nothing's crashing to Earth, at least not in the time span of this game.
"We change the fiction more for the terms of the future extensibility, and I wanted to add a bit of primal evil and play with the haunting aspects of islands. And so we said the ship did crash in the first ice age and the mountains actually encapsulated the ship. We don't know how many are on the Earth" said Cevat Yerli, Crytek CEO and director of Crysis. This fits together with what Yerli told us last month when he said that the story is designed to be a trilogy of games. However, he was also very clear that you can expect an epic finale in Crysis.
Ice begins with a tantalizing glimpse of tropical sunlight. Without spoiling things too much, in the mission prior to Ice, you find yourself trapped deep underground. At the beginning of Ice, you've finally made your way back to the surface where you see blue sky and the emerald green of the jungle, but then everything changes. The aliens unleash their cold technology and flash freeze the island in seconds. So instead of finding yourself on the warm surface, you're suddenly stranded in a frozen paradise that's crawling with aliens.
There's a vertical nature to this level that's going to be a change of pace from the large landscapes that you'll explore early on in the game. That's because you find yourself near the top of a ridgeline and must work your way down the steep, rocky slope. Thankfully, you' won't have to worry about slipping on all the ice. However, you do have to worry about the troopers, which are alien vehicle units that hunt and collect survivors in the ice. These troopers are reminiscent of the machine sentinels seen in The Matrix, from the way they fly about to their metallic bodies, which have streaming tentacles. They're also pretty smart.
"The difference between trooper combat and human combat is that troopers are agile, fast, [and] they learn how you negotiate the environment," Yerli said. "They negotiate the environment like you, start jumping around things. They essentially are almost like a nanosuit soldier, in a sense, without the weaponry power of you, of course. But they're intelligent. They work in group packs. If you go cloak, one of them checks out where you are. The others stay back. Then when one finds you, he starts communicating and all the aliens try to support him."
How you get through this level is up to you, which is pretty much the motto of Crytek's design. You can be aggressive, using run-and-gun tactics to get past the aliens. You can also try to be sneaky, using your nanosuit's powers to cloak out of sight and run from cover to cover. Or you can employ a mix of both brazen action and stealth caution.
All this happens in a frozen environment that's as believable as any we've seen in a game. The sensation of cold is there and quite possibly the best we've ever seen. It's not just the frost-covered terrain, but it's the beautiful, softly falling particles drifting through the air. Even the light seems cold.
Ice is an example of Crytek showing things that we haven't seen before. The jungle environments of the early part of the game are nice but also familiar to those found in Far Cry. However, while many of us have seen and been in snowstorms, how many of us can say the same of being trapped in a tropical jungle that's frozen through? When you throw in what promises to be some of the toughest and most alien foes that you'll face in a first-person shooter, you can see why we're so eager to get our hands on Crysis. At this point, November can't come early enough.