If you play first-person shooters on your PC, the very mention of the original Crysis brings to mind lush jungle beauty brought to life by a graphics engine so impressive and flexible that it remains the visual benchmark to which all other PC games are held. Crysis 2 does an admirable job of living up to the original's reputation of sheer technical prowess, though the visuals aren't as immediately impressive as you may expect. But this sequel still looks great and plays that way too. The jungle is now of the urban variety--New York City to be precise. You make your way through office buildings, across crumbling bridges, and around broad city squares, where robotic aliens infest hallways and swarm across rooftops. Large environments give you room to maneuver and grant you freedom to approach battle in a number of ways, which makes Crysis 2 a great alternative to the plethora of first-person shooters that usher you down corridors on your way to the next action movie set piece.
Crysis 2 does an excellent job of portraying a city under siege without indulging in constant action-film cutaways. There is still plenty of cinematic excess here, though it's delivered organically. Yes, there are a few scripted moments in which you are more of an observer than a participant; and, yes, you might be able to hold a button to peer at the imposing alien structure towering in the distance. But rather than wrest control away from you to highlight every falling skyscraper, collapsing passageway, and hovering alien ship, Crysis 2 allows these events to simply happen. And, because they are often so momentous, your attention is drawn to them. The few occasions when the game stops to consider how the average citizen might be affected by an alien invasion lend humanity to your militaristic actions. Familiar landmarks are defaced, lay in ruin, or explode as you watch. There's an eerie contrast between the untouched trees of Central Park swaying in the wind and the rubble stretching behind them. The visual design eschews artistic flair in favor of authenticity, and it mostly succeeds at providing a frightening real-world backdrop for large-scale shoot-outs.
You play as a marine known as Alcatraz, and like Nomad in the original game, you are outfitted with a nanosuit. This suit makes you the soldier of the future; it allows you to jump to great heights, temporarily cloak yourself, and scan your environment. You can also activate a mode that boosts your armor. You receive this suit in dramatic fashion from the original game's Prophet, and the nature of this technology figures heavily into the story. Someone wants that suit. Thus, you aren't just fighting off an alien invasion, but you're also fighting ground troops that would be happy to see you dead. You won't find much of interest in the characters, and the meandering plot takes a while to find its rhythm. But once it does, it carries you along properly, delivers a few twists, and comes to an intriguing conclusion that you won't see coming. How refreshing it is for a game to set up a sequel without resorting to cheap cliches.
It's a shame that it takes several nondescript hours of FPS action before you get to see the spectacular devastation. In fact, if you haven't played the original Crysis, the first few hours of the sequel might make you wonder why it is so beloved. You spend the early going pitted against relatively dumb human enemies who run past you but fail to shoot, stand around staring straight ahead, and otherwise act as if they don't know you are standing right there pumping them full of lead. The troublesome AI is Crysis 2's most notable flaw, and it often combines with other glitches in bizarre ways. In an early foggy level, you might shoot at a soldier who not only fails to respond to you even though blood is gushing from him each time a bullet finds its mark but also fails to die. You catch friendlies and aliens standing around together, looking like they might be enjoying each other's company. Aliens run into objects and then just run in place rather than go around them or leap over. The AI simply isn't good, and its mediocrity stands out all the more against the otherwise convincing climate.
Fortunately, the AI is an infrequent concern once the invasion is in full swing, and those aliens come in a few varieties. These armored creatures might pounce on you and knock you off your feet or fire energy bolts at you. Many of them hop onto ledges and rooftops to gain higher ground. Miniboss types pummel you with rockets and are tough to bring down without a C4 charge or a few rockets. Crysis 2 offers a nice challenge, particularly in its second half; some of those aliens soak up a lot of bullets before going down. You get an array of military-grade weapons, and you can tailor them with different sights (reflex sights, for example) and other enhancements (say, a silencer). You also collect the glitter that dead aliens leave behind (called nano catalyst) and use it to upgrade your nanosuit. For example, you can improve your suit's energy regeneration, or you can unlock a fun ground-pound ability. The suit works a bit differently than it did in the original Crysis. For instance, you no longer activate power mode to jump to higher levels; you just hold down the jump button. Rather than activate speed mode, you sprint.
The maps aren't as spacious as those in the original Crysis or in Far Cry 2, which may disappoint fans of the original seeking a healthy dose of sandbox gameplay. Compared to most shooters, however, Crysis 2 still offers plenty of room to maneuver. As you enter the larger areas--often from a rooftop above--the game encourages you to use your suit to scan the environment. Doing so allows you to tag enemies for assault or avoidance, and it shows you where all-important ammo and weapon stashes are located. How you approach battle is then up to you. You can activate armor mode and go in guns blazing, though Crysis 2 is not a bunny-hopping, run-and-gun shooter; the heavier your weapon, the slower your movement. Carelessness does not bring good results. Sometimes, you can avoid battle entirely by cloaking yourself and sneaking around. More often than not, you employ variations on these themes: cloaking yourself long enough to flank the enemy and then unleashing a barrage; popping a turret gunner in the head; or performing a satisfying stealth kill on a chattering alien from behind. Or perhaps you might use the verticality of the levels to your benefit, leaping to a ledge above and rushing to a better vantage point.
The resulting firefights are outstanding and unpredictable. Crysis 2's variety comes not from one on-rails sequence after another, but from busy, open maps that constantly break up your line of sight and give you a reason to use both short- and long-ranged weaponry. There are a few on-rails/turret sequences, but Crysis 2 is longer than most modern shooters--10 hours or so--and individual levels span multiple fronts. As a result, such orchestrated events don't overstay their welcome, and the game feels more like one extended experience than a series of bite-sized chunks sewn together. What makes Crysis 2 fun is that you author your own destiny by getting in an armored vehicle and squashing a few grunts under your wheels or ripping off the same vehicle's turret gun and wasting enemies.
Such diversity leads to superb shoot-outs in the final two-thirds of the campaign. It's unfortunate that the first few levels lack momentum; the story doesn't go anywhere, the environments only hint at the upcoming havoc, and the baffling AI drains excitement away. Down moments include a short trip through a mausoleum in which you glimpse a cloaked enemy but nothing actually happens, as well as a frustrating tank shoot-out. Once you finish the campaign, though, it isn't those levels you remember most but the thrills that erupted as you approached Grand Central Station or blasted your way through extraterrestrial hordes in a nail-biting sequence near the game's finale. Fending off leaping aliens with your comrades in a large city square is a blast: robotic hulks lumber on the ground level while agile foes skitter across ledges and fire from windows. In another momentous mission, the lights go out and you engage foes while activating your suit's heat-sensing mode.
Crysis 2 looks superb, though perhaps not as groundbreaking as you might expect from the sequel to one of the best-looking games ever created. Perhaps its most astounding feat is that it displays so much on the screen at once and that distant objects are rendered with more detail than you would typically expect. Look closely and you begin to appreciate the details. Birds strut on the pavement and then fly off as you approach. Alien dropships cast ominous shadows on pockmarked concrete and abandoned taxicabs. There are multiple stunning sights, such as a nighttime vista of the burning metropolis from a famed island in the East River. Such scenes are elevated by a rousing and varied orchestral soundtrack that underscores the visual juxtaposition of the picturesque and the profane. Consider, for example, a creepy minor-key track that contrasts dark, throbbing cellos with the busy fiddling of violins many octaves higher. Or an undulating melody through which electronic vibrations weave in and out.
The high ambitions of the production elements nevertheless take their toll. Textures and objects can be distracting as they pop into view, and the frame rate doesn't always retain a slick pace. Visual glitches can also annoy. You might run into occasions on which the depth-of-field blur breaks, causing everything to appear out of focus. Moving an emplaced gun might cause objects seen through its sights to smear together. Bugs aren't limited to just the graphics, either. On two separate occasions, the game would not allow us to equip any weapon (starting over from the most recent checkpoint solved that issue). One mission was also plagued by a loud, stuttering buzz that remained even when we restarted it. And broken dialogue triggers might cause a character to speak over his or her own lines. Such bugs are common enough to be annoying, but they're hardly so common as to dissuade you from playing.
The multiplayer part of Crysis 2 is superficially similar to what you might find in other modern shooters, but an elaborate system of unlocked enhancements does a good job of keeping you engaged. Crysis 2 rewards you with experience and levels as you play; you unlock the most intriguing modes only after many hours. Until then, you can expect to sink some time into boilerplate modes like Instant Action (Deathmatch); Team Instant Action; and a little later on, Crash Site, which is a king of the hill mode in which the hill periodically moves locations. In time, you also unlock a capture-the-flag variant, along with two assault-and-defend modes: Assault and Extraction. (Note that in private matches, you can access all of these modes from the get-go.)
These game types all grant a good dose of action, though it is much different from the expansive Power Struggle matches that defined the original. Nevertheless, Crysis 2 differentiates itself from other shooters with the same nanosuit abilities as in the single-player campaign. You can cloak yourself for short periods of time and take your opponents by surprise; escape a sticky situation by leaping to higher ground; and improve your defenses by activating armor mode. The diverse maps give you plenty of opportunity to employ these skills. On the vertical Skyline map, for example, jumping to higher ground is a great way to gain an advantage over a pursuing enemy. On the atmospheric Sanctuary, stealthy players will appreciate the many archways and gravestones that shield them from view when they need to recharge their energy. It's all solid fun, and given the nature of the nanosuit powers, it's unpredictable enough to keep you invested for the long term.
The online gameplay is further energized by a lot of customizability, as well as the promise of weapon and power enhancements always on the horizon. While you can choose from one of a few premade classes, Crysis 2 allows you (in most modes) to create your own class by selecting from a variety of weapons and suit modules. These modules are many and may allow for faster firing rate, automatic warning when enemies come near, radar scrambling, and more. Some unlocks are earned by meeting the necessary skill requirement; others are tied to particular milestones. For example, you might earn a module upgrade by killing 150 enemies while in armor mode. There are many such upgrades and many ways to customize your character. Even match types are flexible. Public matches offer variants in which, for example, time between rounds is reduced or you don't get any nanosuit abilities. Private matches afford the host control over aspects like friendly fire, score limit, respawn delay, and much more.
Crysis was a superb game, and it wasn't so just because of the astounding technology that brought it to life. Crysis 2 doesn't make as strong of a mark, but in a sea of me-too shooters, it feels unique and offers an exciting journey that's as much your own making as that of the developer. The wow factor is undercut by a few issues--the bargain-bin AI and some unfortunate bugs among them. But while the lows are inescapable, the highs are intense, and the more you play, the more extraordinary they become. If you give this sequel a little patience, it will bombard you with the thrills you came seeking.
If you're already playing Crysis 2, be sure to check out our game guide which includes both a full campaign walkthrough and multiplayer load outs tips.