After more than 18 months of anticipation, Crysis is almost here. If all goes according to plan, this highly-awaited first-person shooter will go gold in a matter of days, meaning that it's finished and headed for duplication and manufacturing. On Saturday, October 27, the single-player demo will be released, letting you play the entire first level of the game. We didn't have to wait that long, though, as we got the opportunity to play the first three levels of the game. We'll describe our experience below, but please note that what follows contains extreme spoilers to the plot. So stop now if you wish to enjoy the story unspoiled. Seriously.
Crysis begins with a radio call for help from a science team on a remote island. A female voice on a radio reports that the North Korean military has seized the island. There's more, though. "We found something buried in the rock," she says. The date is August 7, 2020. During the radio call, the screen shows images of something strange, almost alien. At the end of the transmission, the screen goes black and the words "Seven days later" appear on the screen. Then a C-17 transport appears high over a large, mountainous island. It's the Lingshan Islands in the Philippines Sea. Inside the transport are five members of the elite Raptor Squad, all clad in high-tech nanosuits. Everyone goes by a call sign here. The squad leader is Prophet. The guy with the Australian accent is Psycho. There's also Jester and Aztec, though they don't say much. And then there is your character, Nomad. The ramp opens, and the team jumps out of the plane at 30,000 feet. The mission: parachute into the island and rescue the science team.
The freefall is a pretty cool experience. Condensation actually appears on your nanosuit's visor as you pass through the clouds, and you can stare at the island rushing toward you. When the parachutes open, however, something goes wrong. Some strange force causes the team to scatter, and your chute collapses on you, sending you hurtling toward the water. Thankfully, the nanosuit absorbs much of the damage, but you find yourself separated from the team. You've got to swim ashore, where your suit reboots, and link up with Jester, who landed closest to you. As you'd expect, this opening level serves as a tutorial of sorts, slowly introducing you to the many aspects of the game. You'll need to crouch and jump to navigate around the rocky beach, activate night vision to help see better, use stealth and silenced weapons to take out a lone North Korean soldier, and use binoculars to locate a North Korean patrol. You can choose to ambush the patrol, or bypass them. We chose the former, and using the nanosuit's cloaking ability we hid in plain view while the patrol stared right at our location. When they got close enough, switch to full auto on your rifle and take them out.
When you link up with Jester the next goal is to help out Aztec. His parachute got tangled in trees and he's helpless, plus there's a North Korean patrol near him. However, there's something else, too. As Aztec is screaming for help the sounds of battle erupt in the distance--and the sound of something unearthly, as well. You rush to his location, only to find the North Koreans and Aztec all killed. There's no time to mourn, though, and Prophet over the radio activates the self-destruct button on Aztec's nanosuit. Aztec and his suit disintegrate; the latter is far too valuable to allow the North Koreans to get their hands on it. You've got to move on and reach the next rendezvous point, which involves another long overland trek.
You parachuted in at night, but now the sun has slowly come up and morning has arrived, which complicates things a bit, since your next goal is to knock out a GPS-jamming beacon at a small beach village, and then get across a bay to the next rendezvous point. We played this part of the demo back at E3, and it's just as impressive now as it was then, as you can try to take the long route and sneak around the many North Korean soldiers in the area, or you can engage in a hectic running battle. The beauty of Crysis is that there are so many different ways to get through each situation. For example, we fought into the village, blew up the jammer, jumped into a pickup, and screamed down a dirt road. Then we encountered a North Korean roadblock, so we jumped out of the moving pickup, then shot at the gas tank on the back of the pickup as it rolled up to the North Korean transport blocking the road. The pickup exploded, sending the wreckage hurtling into the North Koreans.
After you get past most of the North Korean resistance, you'll get a secondary mission objective to knock out an enemy command post. It's optional, and since we were in a hurry, we bypassed it and went straight to the rendezvous point. The team has found the location of the distress beacon from the science team, and the kicker is that while the beacon was on a boat, the boat itself is now sitting in the middle of a frozen patch of jungle. Jester and Psycho start to freak out at Prophet, demanding to know what exactly is going on, since the North Koreans obviously don't have freeze rays. However, an unearthly roar erupts nearby, the earth starts to shake, and a giant mechanical thing bursts out of the trees, grabs Jester, and darts away. The team runs after it, but it's too late. Jester's body is located and Prophet hits Jester's self-destruct button.
Jungle WarfareWith two squad members down, the mission is rapidly coming to a crucial point. Intel indicates that a member of Dr. Rosenthal's science team is being held in a nearby village, and a rescue is planned. It won't be easy; it's a fairly large village, and the North Koreans have had time to fortify it with minefields, machine gun nests, and a fence. Even approaching it won't be easy, as the surrounding forest is crawling with patrols. We will note that seeing the village for the first time is one of the "wow" moments of Crysis, as the village is in a lush valley. It's just an incredible vista looking down into the valley and seeing everything going on through your binoculars.
A direct assault on the village is difficult because the main entrance is heavily guarded. So we threw caution to the wind, used the nanosuit's speed to rush up to a relatively unguarded stretch of fence, and then used the strength boost to leap over the fence. That was a bit unwise, as it was basically the equivalence of jumping into a lion pit, only there are about 30 lions and they're all heavily armed. The ensuing battle was just frantic as we rushed from cover to cover, desperately trying to buy time for our nanosuit's armor and health to regenerate. The AI is challenging because it doesn't simply just stand and shoot at you or run straight at you. Enemies move, use cover, throw grenades, and make your life pretty difficult.
The main structure in the village is where the prisoner is being held. Get to that building and Psycho uncloaks next to you (thanks for the lack of help, dude), and you storm into the prisoner's room and take out her interrogators. It turns out that the attractive young researcher is a CIA operative who tells you that the situation is catastrophic. She's so shaken that she refuses to accompany you further. But there's no point to arguing, because at that point a whole bunch of North Korean reinforcements arrive, including a couple of tanks. And while the assault rifle in your hand makes short work of infantry, you're in for a whole other problem against heavy armor. It's time to find the North Korean arsenal in town and liberate some antitank missiles, though that means another running battle, dodging fire from the tanks while you find something to use against them. And here's one of the unnerving things about Crysis, as you may find yourself using what looks like a nice, solid building for cover, only to watch it collapse and disintegrate around you due to weapons fire. Yeah, that happens.
OK, survive that battle and time to move on. Next objective is to work your way to the excavation site. There's even more scenic trekking through mountainous tropical terrain, and battling a ton of North Korean patrols. These encounters are a lot more difficult than earlier ones, as the North Koreans are on alert now, so what used to be two- or four-man patrols are now eight or 10-man patrols. You'll link up with Prophet, only to watch as yet another one of those huge, metallic things bursts out of the jungle and flies off with him. At this point, friendly air units are looking to evacuate you, but you call them off, saying that you're in pursuit of the aliens. What follows next is a battle in a large tropical plantation, and then you'll work your way up to the toughest challenge in the game yet, an attack on a North Korean base that's located atop a small butte. There's just no easy way to approach the base, and to top it off, there's a North Korean helicopter gunship lurking around.
At this point you're probably about two or three hours into the game--but wait, there's more. Next up is the dig site itself, a small installation that is also heavily defended by the North Koreans. There are so many huge battles that even the most aggressive of players might want to start playing with stealth a bit more; it's far easier sometimes to bypass some of the smaller fights. Getting in a battle only raises the alarm, and that makes your job even tougher. Another option is speed; if you're in the middle of a huge battle, there's no shame in running away to fight another day. Switch your nanosuit to speed and get the heck out of there, find a place to hide, turn on cloak, and wait for the heat to die down.
Regarding the graphics, we finally got to play using full DirectX 10 graphics, and the game looks phenomenal. The system we played on was using the recommended system requirements, which are a dual core processor (in this case, a Core 2 Duo) and an Nvidia 8800-class video card. We were also using the 64-bit edition of Windows Vista, which is supposed to offer better performance. The frame rate was smooth throughout the entire session, and the only noticeable stutters occurred during save points.
We could keep going, but you're probably getting a good idea of what the early levels of Crysis are like. There's tons of intense tactical action, but also lots of depth. We could probably replay the opening levels over and over again, each time using different approaches and methods. If we had more time during our play session, we would have definitely spent a lot more time skulking around in the jungle, sneaking up on North Koreans and dispatching them quietly. As it was, we took a very aggressive, run-and-gun approach due to time limitations. Thankfully, though, with the game coming out in a matter of weeks, we'll have plenty of time soon enough to explore the many possibilities of Crysis.