Asserting their negative influence, EA seems to have convinced stalwart PC supporter Crytek to give in to consolization.
In between all of this macho posturing and ill-informed criticism, many failed to see the significance of a game released in 2007 that not only had full Directx 10 support but also had a stable 64 bit executable as well. They also neglected to notice that the game allowed for a tremendous level of user tweaking and had an engine that was very open to player modding. Crysis wasn't just a benchmarking tool or a shooter that you bragged about running at 60 frames-per-second, it was actually one of the most full-featured PC games ever released and earned its place on hard drives for that reason alone.
So you can imagine how harshly the PC gaming community reacted when it was announced that the sequel would be a multi-platform release. After all, consolization had killed several series already and the last thing anyone wanted was for the eagerly awaited Crysis sequel to become the next Deus Ex 2. The thought of a hideous GUI, scaled back visuals, missing engine tweaking options, and console-inspired design decisions that would limit the gameplay were real fears that PC gamers hoped wouldn't find their way into Crytek's next game...
...and yet they did. Every single one of them.
European developers such as Germany-based Crytek studios aren't known for being very compassionate to the plight of consoles gamers. Made up of three Turkish brothers who earned their place within the industry by making impressive (albeit hardware-taxing) graphics engines, these men grew up working with and around PCs. Like most coders who learned their trade while out of the sphere of influence of Japan and America's unhealthy fixation with consoles in the 80s, these men were only exposed to IBM PCs and their pedigree comes from motherboards and monitors, not gamepads and gamepaks.
Unfortunately, with the rise of the consoles and the lust for easy money it didn't take long for the blood in the water to attract a hungry shark...and EA was there to sink their teeth into another promising young team.
If my method of using gaming industry esotericism and bitter conjecture fails to convince you that Crysis 2 isn't worthy of its predecessor's name then perhaps Crytek's blasphemous demo of the game will. As much as this review will soon tell you, nothing helps destroy the image of Crysis 2 being both a proper sequel and a proper PC game more than the demo itself. Whether it was the scaled back graphics options or the fact the game was stuck on directx 9, there was little reason to believe the game was nothing more than a sloppy console port.
Amazingly, the full game retains this feeling.
The nanosuit was the previous game's core feature and its usage was both mandatory and fulfilling. The game gave you unique powers that were easy to activate and fun to experiment with, something a lot of shooters nowadays seem to struggle with. With strength, speed, stealth and armor all independently activated it created a very small but noticeable amount of strategy that I hadn't seen since Deus Ex or the Jedi Knight games. Couple the "One power at a time" activation and the fast depletion of your suit energy when they were activated and you have a pleasing little system that helped create tension while also rewarding the player for clever thinking.
Crytek claimed in the previews for Crysis 2 that we would be able to combine two powers at once and that our strategies would increase as a result...
What they conveniently neglected to tell us was that both Speed and Strength were no longer "activated powers" and were now just permanently enabled abilities.
In Crysis 2, the "speed ability" of your suit is simply your shift-key run toggle and even that is rather slow. It's about the same speed as the normal running speed in nearly every other FPS and had me laughing so hard when I discovered this fact that I choked on my drink. Combine this with the reality of your "Strength" power being merely the act of holding down the melee button and you might wonder why they even gave you a suit power "menu". I suppose that's why the once useful menu now contains your skill list and the binoculars since they need *something* there to make those two solitary powers look less lonely and the menu not so spartan in appearance.
That being said, They do make an attempt to re-insert some strategy by giving you skills that can be unlocked within the suit by collecting shimmering little nanite fields that form around the bodies of dead aliens. While it sounds similar to System Shock 2's own power upgrade feature, it's not. It's essentially a mechanism that exists only to give you another reason to hit the menu button and click on something. Simply killing every alien you come across will net you enough experience to get the basic abilities, none of which really appear to be necessary since the game isn't nearly as difficult as its direct competition *or* its predecessor. The majority of these unlockable effects only increase the length or effectiveness of your suit's already overpowered abilities, which is hardly what I'd call a well thought out addition.
Those nanites aren't the only thing you'll be collecting either, since the console influence and Xbox/PS3 achievement system has infected Crysis 2 as well. From car keys and kitschy New York City souvenirs that unlock concept art to emails that show you repeated cinema scenes from the campaign story there is a lot here that simply exists to pad console player's "Gamerscore" and makes the PC version look silly as a result. This is especially apparent when you casually walk past a certain point in every level and a big message pops up saying "NEW MUSIC UNLOCKED".
While most new entrants to the PC gaming hobby may think this is all needless nit-picking, we veterans find this kind of silly console-influenced collection and notification element to be very "Kiddie-like". Especially since it penetrates the very GUI itself and gives no menu option for removal.
Further lending validity to the "This was a console game first and a PC game second" theory, Crysis 2 has incredibly linear and claustrophobic levels that stand in stark contrast to the open world areas of the first game. Unlike Crysis 1, which seemed to revel in letting you get lost and roam around the game's deep jungles, Crysis 2's levels are very straightforward and are played mostly the same way no matter how hard you try to deviate from the assigned route. That is, if you can even find room to "Deviate" from your goals when you are stuck between two unclimbable buildings and forced to walk a straight path through an empty street.
Though the game does put a few "Enter the sewer to sneak by" options in the street levels, it does so in such a comically obvious way that it feels like they designed the levels around their goals instead of simply designing their levels without any compromises. They make it even worse by clearly labeling every single sewer grate, ledge and sniping position as if you need to be told where to fight. I realize that the tactical visor is meant to point out these things, but it feels so insulting to have a game paint big yellow markers over every ledge and sewer grate. It became so bad that after the first few stages I stopped using the visor altogether because it took the dynamic feeling and "tension" out of a game that desperately needed it.
It seems fair to blame the small levels on the Xbox and it's paltry half a gigabyte of RAM, since it has already been labeled as the cause of Unreal Engine 3's infamous texture pop-up glitch and looks to be the reason why stages are so tiny in Crysis 2 as well. When the lead platform has 512mb of 700mhz DDR3 ram and is bottle-necked by its need to stream data from the disc (Unless you don't have an "arcade" system and have a hard drive to install the game on) then the PC version obviously has to suffer the same limitations. Unless of course you take the time to create the PC version independently, which is something a company like EA has never allowed their developers to waste money on.
Also hitching a ride from the consoles is the lack of manual saving and the forced checkpoint system. Unlike nearly every other PC FPS released since the mid 90s you have no option to save your game and must rely on Halo-esque checkpoints to record your progress. To their credit, Crytek put in a fair amount of checkpoints, but there were several times when I lost 10-15 minutes of "work" by dying before I hit the next one, resulting in me having to decide whether I want to be late to work and make up my time or shut the game down and re-do the entire level when I get home. Once again, it sounds silly to non-PC gamer veterans, but to my kind this is absolutely unforgivable. If our $2,000+ machines afford us anything, it's the right to play our games when and how we want to. Forced checkpoints and lack of manual saving was a console leftover caused by their non-standard hard drives and the possibility that a console player may not have the free space to save an unlimited number of games. There is no reason to have this "Feature" present in the PC version.
The multiplayer portion of the game may seem like a great refuge from these problems, but it just presents even more of an obstacle than the campaign itself.
First of all, the game is woefully underpopulated. On a Saturday Afternoon I counted 180 populated servers out of 1270 available with the rest being completely empty, plus only 35 of the populated ones were full. Considering the game has been out for just over a week it's pretty disheartening to see such a small number of players. Granted, the early beta leak may have something to do with the drop-off in interest, but with a game that has such a well-known name behind it you'd expect the server population to be considerably larger than your average run of the mill popcorn shooter.
Secondly, and perhaps most befuddling is that you cannot start a server until a bare minimum of six people have entered it. So if you enter a server with less than six you had better grab a magazine to read since the sparse population of the game's online world will conspire to make that wait a lot longer than even the most arduously long and patience-thinning MMORPG queue.
Though many claim otherwise, there is one very large aspect of Crysis 2 that can't be brushed off as nit-picking or whining and that is the lack of tweaking options and the antiquity of the engine itself.
Crysis 1 was a fully compatible Directx 10 application that also had a fully functioning and remarkably stable 64 bit executable. Amazingly, the sequel, which is said to be built on an even more advanced engine, includes neither of these once default features of the previous game. Instead, Crysis 2 runs in directx9 and has no 64 bit executable. Obviously, this engine *is* far away from the first Cryengine, only in the *opposite* direction Crytek assured us it would be.
To complicate matters even further the initial retail release of the game had the console completely removed, preventing anyone from using CVARs to tweak the engine. Though a fanmade configuration utility recently came out that accomplishes the same thing, it isn't something we should need...especially from a company that was responsible for creating one of the most easily tweaked and modifiable FPS games of all time.
So if the disappointingly vague set of 3 default graphic options in the menu and the fact that they had to issue a patch to remove the auto-aim and add back the console wasn't already enough, you have a good portion of the CVARs that were discovered in the early build removed just to make the game even more of a cumbersome port than it already was in its incomplete form.
Still with me? Wonder if there is anything of worth left in this digital equivalent to vulture carrion?
Other than being a remarkably stable game (If you don't count the bug where you occasionally lose your total suit modules during a reload) Crysis 2 actually tells a much more cohesive and interesting story than the first game. Instead of treating the aliens like a last minute addition and never fully explaining them, you get to learn more about them and what their connections are to the technology you use. While I would have liked to know why the Cell troopers were trying to kill me when we BOTH wanted the aliens dead I was at least happy with the core narrative and felt it had a much more robust plotline than the previous game.
Another check in the positive column would be way the game goes out of its way to give you a stealth option in every level. With a much slower draining stealth field than Crysis 1, the sequel makes you feel much more confident while cloaked and allows you to avoid the vast majority of each level's fights...
...Which could also be seen as a downside as well.
While I enjoyed the improved stealth power I will admit that it is almost cripplingly overpowered. You can easily walk through the majority of the game ignoring your enemies and creeping through while invisible. Though the enemy intelligence is a bit better at seeing you cloaked than the first game it isn't so drastically different that a veteran can't easily sneak their way through entire stages in record time.
Another positive addition to the game would be its music, which is simply phenomenal. While the first game had some great sci-fi themed tracks, they were very few and far between. The sequel, perhaps due to its higher budget, is instead chock full of them. Even the music that plays in the menu is addictive, and once time permits I intend to find a track list and hunt down high quality versions of the background music.
Lastly, and perhaps Crysis 2's only saving grace, is the gunplay itself. While the designers have made no shortage of missteps in this sequel there is one thing they didn't screw up and that is the combat itself. Enemies are still rather stupid and can be distracted with silenced shots at the pavement nearby but at least they now immediately seek cover and lob accurate grenades this time. They are still a few dozen IQ points away from the telepathically gifted enemies found within the STALKER series but at least they don't bump into each other for five minutes the way the soldiers from the first game frequently did.
All things considered, Crysis 2 isn't a terrible game, it's just a very lackluster PC port that suffers from serious consolization and seems to have fallen victim to a loss of game features. Though the gunplay is fun and the graphics are better than most games it simply fails to hit the level of the previous game. It's bad enough that Crysis 2 lacks a majority of the features that made the first game in its series more appealing, but when you compare it to the new "kings" of the PC FPS genre like Metro 2033 and Call of Pripyat it's really hard to find a reason to defend Crytek's work here.
I've been seeing a few articles lately that mention how Steam is poised to steal momentum away from the consoles and put the PC back as the prime money maker in the industry and when you see companies like Crytek fleeing the hobby and compromising their beliefs for easy console money it makes me wonder if anyone out there is reading the same RSS feeds that I am. PC gaming seems to be a dirty word to Electronic Arts and Crytek has bought into this antiquated reasoning in much the same way BioWare did during their development of Dragon Age 2. While it breaks my heart to see Crytek give in so easily and quickly, I can't feel any pity for a company that willingly bit the hand that fed them. PC gamers brought them to the top of their industry and it will be the lack of their support that brings them down as well.
I can only recommend Crysis 2 to diehard fans of the first game who, during a future Steam sale, find the game at half price or less. At a rather steep 60 dollars Crysis 2 simply isn't worth the price of admission. With the game being nothing more than a half-hearted console port it doesn't seem like you'd get your money's worth. Especially since last year's best shooters, Pripyat and Metro 2033, can be bought for less than $20 at retail.
Unless you feel comfortable paying a console price for a console port, than you'd do well to ignore Crysis 2 until it is properly discounted and sufficiently "Fixed" by the fan community who are still proudly and steadfastly supporting it in spite of Crytek's ambivalence towards them.