Any discussion of 2007's PC shooter Crysis inevitably turns to its graphics. It was--is--a beautiful game, boasting incredible technology that makes it one of the most lifelike adventures to date. For some, its excellence as a shooter is secondary, which is too bad: Crysis is a fun and challenging game that doesn't rely on its technological wonders to make an impact. Now, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 owners get to experience these wonders for themselves, and they should be pleased to learn that the game holds up well, due in part to some interface tweaks pulled directly from Crysis 2. The console Crysis isn't as beautiful as the PC original, or even this year's sequel, which may be why its flaws seem more readily apparent than before. Don't take that to mean that Crysis isn't a looker, though: It's absolutely attractive on its new platforms. More importantly, shooting humans and aliens amid lush jungle foliage and frigid ravines is as entertaining as ever.
Crysis tells an alien invasion story, though it's hours before you tackle the extraterrestrials head on. It's clear from the initial moments, however, that something's not quite right. You play as Nomad, a member of a special forces team dispatched to a verdant island in the Pacific, where North Korean troops have captured a group of scientists who stumbled upon something--important. Crysis isn't big on storytelling, but it makes effective use of its mysteries to keep you wondering. And when the moments of discovery arrive, they subvert your expectations. Entering an alien vessel doesn't provoke the sci-fi shoot-out you may have envisioned but a prolonged weightless reverie that is thick with atmosphere and conservative with action. Some defied expectations aren't as welcome: The final linear hours turn Crysis into a more typical sci-fi shooter than the first hours indicate, which isn't to say that the later levels are mediocre--they're just not as special as the early, expansive ones.
The first half is where Crysis makes its mark. The island is thick with foliage and dotted with outposts, where rickety structures and military depots might hide ammo and weapons. The environments are huge by shooter standards, allowing you multiple methods of approach. You could try a direct route, hopping into one of the game's many vehicles and zooming forth to unleash gunfire from the top-mounted turret. Or you could be surreptitious and snipe your North Korean foes one by one. However you proceed, you rely on your nanosuit to support your style. Thanks to this fine bit of technology, you can leap great heights, sprint at high speed, improve your armor, and cloak yourself. On the PC, you must activate these abilities separately. The console version takes a cue from Crysis 2 by smartly integrating speed and strength modes into its running and jumping mechanics. The nanosuit abilities and spacious levels lead to impressive flexibility, which is further enhanced by weapon mods. You can equip silencers, assault scopes, flashlights, and even special ammo, which allows you to further specialize your skills as you make your way from one objective to the next.
The resulting action is a blast, and the variety of environments and possible approaches keeps you on your toes. Helicopters hover ahead, forcing you to lay low or scavenge for missiles so you can bring the bird to the ground. Hop in a speedy all-terrain vehicle and zip past your attackers--or hop out and face them head-on. Your walking speed seems a mite slow, but the gunplay translates well to a controller. The autotargeting is not overdone as it so often is in other shooters, meaning you have to earn your victories with skillful shooting. Enemy AI occasionally undercuts the excitement, however. For example, drivers may stay seated when you approach, allowing you to blast them in the face with a shotgun. But your armored foes generally put up a good fight, and cloaked operatives further amp up the challenge in certain locales. Ironically, alien enemies aren't so tough, in part because you face them mostly in linear environments. Nevertheless, several battles against these hovering tentacled monsters are still enjoyable because you have to pay attention not just to the ground, but also to the sky above.
Crysis may last you 9 hours or more, depending on how much time you spend exploring and taking on side missions. While most games include harder difficulty levels, the higher levels here do more than just make enemies harder to kill. On hard, you can no longer fire a vehicle's mounted gun while driving; on delta difficulty, you get no crosshairs, no grenade indicator, and enemies speak Korean. This is as it was on the PC, though a few elements have been removed. One is the oft-maligned Ascension level, in which you shoot down ETs as an aircraft pilot; another is the online multiplayer. More importantly, the ability to quicksave has been removed. Checkpoints are often far apart, so expect to replay healthy chunks of action should you die at an inopportune time.
Then there are the visuals. They're beautiful, of course. The rays of the sun provide a luminous glow where they shine through gaps between trees. The ocean water ripples and flows realistically under boats and against docks, and destructible environments contribute to the authenticity. A well-tossed grenade might have the walls of a cabin falling to the ground, which is not only great to look at, but it's also a tactical consideration, especially if you are standing in that same cabin. That said, there has been some expected loss in fidelity over the PC version. Many textures--particularly those on vehicles, rocks, and buildings--don't look that great up close. Some objects shimmer into view, most noticeably in the later levels. Crysis looks impressive nonetheless, with countless shadows spreading across the forest floor so convincingly that you expect to feel a low-hanging branch brush across your cheek.
Crysis has stood the test of time, even if its faults are more apparent in retrospect. Parts of the campaign drag (a trek through a dark mine), while the final stretch sacrifices flexibility for scripted battles. But this first-person shooter's excellence is inescapable. Four years later, as more shooters embrace corridor shoot-outs and scripted set pieces, the expansive jungles in Crysis are as refreshing as ever. If you've grown tired of the same old turkey shoots and have yet to indulge yourself in the PC version's pleasures, now's a good time to take a tropical adventure. At $20, this downloadable island getaway is a real deal.