INSOMNIA

Crysis (2007, PC)

By RedSwirl / December 31, 2013


Do you miss first-person action games like GoldenEye, Thief 2, and the original Ghost Recon? If you miss games that simply put you in an environment, gave you some objectives, and let you figure out how to do them without driving you down a rollercoaster, the original Crysis is arguably the last and most technically advanced game of this type to be developed apart from the Far Cry series. The visual achievements of the CryEngine have overshadowed the fact that this game, well most of it at least, is a shining example of objective-based game design released just before everyone took shooters in the complete opposite direction.

   The first level, which is shown off in the demo that’s available at crysisdemo.com as of this writing, is a perfect example of this. In a small bay occupied by a few enemy fortifications along the shore and some motorboat patrols, Crysis gives you two main objectives and an optional one to tackle in any order. You can work your way along the coastline through the forts, take over a boat to zip around the bay, or whatever, through any combination of stealth and assault tactics.
   This continues through the next several levels which are sort of a linear chain of small sandboxes: a village you can infiltrate from multiple angles, a group of bases along a river, a harbor, and so on. The level design in all these areas is quite good, always giving you options and setups for fire fights that never happen the same way twice. This is even true in the game’s more linear sections early on. In the early parts, even when Crysis is in a corridor it’s still a very wide corridor.
   I think the best way to describe the design would be to call Crysis a simulation based on the original 1987 Predator movie. Your tools are Schwarzenegger-esque explosions and futuristic super powers. The nanosuit lets you choose between super armor (the default), increased running speed, and a temporary stealth cloak. You’ll probably use the cloak the most but the other powers offer potential for fun combinations and interesting choices. Super strength lets you jump higher, and you can combine it with speed for running super jumps. When sniping you can choose between staying hidden with the cloak or using strength for a more stable shooting arm.
   Besides the nanosuit Crysis boasts a varied sandbox of shooter mechanics. Not only is there the ever-present option of stealth, but you can also lift and throw most objects at enemies and control various vehicles. Most buildings in the game are also dynamically destructible through the physics engine, which feels like it has a tangible effect on play. Crysis even lets you fit most weapons with a modest variety of attachments with a quick tap of the C key like different sights or a silencer.
   The reason you might hear a lot of people praise Crysis by saying "the first half" or "the first two-thirds" of the game, is because for some reason it turns into a different, much worse game at a specific point later on. The later sections of Crysis are far more linear and introduce mechanics that, while unique, just don’t work that well. It’s probably best if you stop playing when you start a boss fight with a North Korean general. The most succinct thing I can say is at that point it feels like the level designers ran out of gas.
   The good parts of Crysis though will still net you at least around ten hours of play, and that’s just for one run. I consider Crysis to be a pretty replayable game just because you can approach its missions with multiple strategies, but also because each difficulty mode above Normal changes things considerably.
   On Normal you can pretty much toy with enemies using the nanosuit. On Hard you can still play with them a little bit, but you have to be smart about it. Higher difficulties change a few core mechanics, and the deadlier enemies ensure you have to rethink the way you use the cloak and cover. Hard and Delta mode almost turn Crysis into a straight-up stealth game.
   Of course what Crysis is most well-known for is the "but can it run Crysis?" joke pertaining to the game’s harsh treatment of processors. Even after six years, Crysis is not an extremely easy game to run. My GTX 760 still only gets 60 frames per second MOST of the time in 1080p. The consumer experience when you first install the game doesn’t make things easier either.
   Being from the early days of DirectX 10, Crysis forces it on you by artificially locking the highest graphics features behind DX10 when they are in fact available on DX9 just by editing the ini file or downloading a custom one. DX10 does little more than drag down performance of the already demanding Crysis.
   If you’re wondering if Crysis still holds up visually after six years, I think with vanilla settings it’s beginning to show its age, but still looks significantly better than most console games released in even the last couple of years. Really, only the highest-end recent PC games (Crysis 3, Metro: Last Light, Battlefield 4), and next-gen-console-only launch games like Killzone Shadow Fall beat it. It can still look impressive with custom ini files and texture packs though.
   I think it’s kind of a crime Crysis got labeled as just "that really pretty PC game nobody can run". In my opinion it’s one of the most underrated first-person shooters of this past console generation (it did come out on consoles eventually after all), if not one of the best. It’s one of the last, if not the last of a breed of shooter that game designers seemingly forgot about in the chase after Call of Duty's popularity.

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