Clothes Really Do Make the Man
HIGH Taking out every single soldier in a level, completely undetected.
LOW Alcatraz's status as a silly silent protagonist.
WTF Why can I bash this door down, but not that one?
It's rare that a game gives me enough freedom to create my own strategies, implement them, and then be rewarded with success. All too often I find myself thinking "if I could just get up on that roof" or "if this invisible wall wasn't here...", yet these ideas go nowhere as I am forcibly shuttled down narrowly-defined corridors on my way to the next big-boom setpiece.
With all of the potential things that could go wrong and all of the mechanics that could be broken, I would imagine getting away from controlled environments is probably one of the most difficult things to do as a designer. However, when a title manages to pull it off, it's one of the most satisfying things experienced. To my delight, Crysis 2 manages to deliver both areas that are open-ish to experimentation and a character that's able to take advantage of them. It doesn't quite go far enough for my taste, but when it works, it works brilliantly.
While the story of Crysis 2 is some generically forgettable stuff about a silent super-soldier taking the fight to a bunch of squishy aliens, the real focus is the Nanosuit. This high-profile piece of gear is the true star of the show thanks to the variety of abilities it imparts; Stealth and Armor are the mainstays, but the ability to leap tall vertical distances and see in the infrared spectrum (along with a few other assorted perks) help give the gameplay its identity.
When going up against standard human opponents, the Nanosuit makes the player feel like a super-predator. With the power to turn invisible at a moment's notice, stealth is always an option. Whether it's to snipe without being located, to creep behind every soldier in sight and break their necks without a whisper, or just to sneak towards an exit point without being detected, the suit lets the player decide.
When stealth isn't the best option (or if a little bloodshed is what's craved) a push of a button puts the Nanosuit into a heavily-armored mode capable of taking silly amounts of damage and surviving with a smile. It's quite a thrill to explode from a quiet corner, catch a cluster of guards unaware, and then proceed to mow them down with impunity thanks to the technology encasing Crysis 2's mute hero. Combining these two seemingly opposite facets of play would be enjoyable under most circumstances, but what put Crysis 2 over the top were its semi-open levels.
Thanks to the Nanosuit's leaping abilities, taking to rooftops or other vertical structures is usually possible. The ability to move freely in, over, and around many areas lends a sort of moment-to-moment strategic feel that most titles don't even attempt to deliver. Taking down a small military base late in the game (and every soldier in it) could have been just another rote run-and-gun level, but instead it became a fantastically memorable experience thanks to the relative lack of limits.
However, that's not to say that Crysis 2 has nailed this kind of design. There were plenty of times when I found locked doors that I should have been able to break down, or conveniently-placed piles of rubble that couldn't be scaled. Several segments are more heavily controlled than others, and those were a little disappointing. Even more disappointing was when the game began to focus on conflict versus the aliens. When putting lead into cephalopods, the charming aspects of combat all but vanish in favor of fairly standard shooty-shoot action.
Going from tactical planning in levels with multiple approaches to mowing down wave after wave of enemies is a bit of a shift, and more often than not, the areas featuring conflict against Crysis 2's bipedal squids provided fewer opportunities for the moments that made using the Nanosuit so exciting in the first place. Thanks to these bland firefights, Crysis 2 feels as though it's more padded than it should be, and the campaign gets soft in the middle.
Even worse? The encounters against some of the heavier "boss" caliber aliens. In these (mercifully few) segments, the cliché of collecting all available rocket launchers in order to shoot a glowing red spot on a giant robot's back couldn't have been less desired. There's a virtually infinite number of standard space marine titles to be had on any system, so to see this kind of play rear its head after more than a few brilliant segments was frown inducing.
The other area where I felt Crysis 2 underperformed was the throwaway plot mentioned earlier. At no point did I feel actively engaged in the storytelling thanks to subpar voice actors, the tired technique of having a buddy or advisor constantly chirp advice in through a comms system, the lack of suspense in the boilerplate military-against-aliens script, and most of all, the developers' choice of going with a silent protagonist. By the time credits roll, players know that their character is named Alcatraz... and nothing else. It's impossible to make a connection to a cipher, and I can't help but feel Crysis 2 missed an opportunity to greatly enrich its experience.
In spite of these less-than-stellar choices, I will say that Crysis 2's high points outshine the low ones. Frankly speaking, it's rare that I'm able to completely disconnect from a game's plot and remain interested enough to roll credits, but in this particular case, putting the Nanosuit through its paces was more than enough to keep me playing from start to finish. If the developers tweak a few things and put more emphasis on the free-form parts of play that shine the brightest, I'll be quite interested to see what happens when Crytek starts hyping Nanosuit 3.0.
Disclosures: This game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the Xbox 360. Game was not completed. 9 hours of play were spent in single-player modes. No time was spent in multiplayer modes.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game contains blood, partial nudity, strong language, and violence. I don't have any recollection of nudity, but there is a fair amount of strong language and as a first-person shooter, any parent has got to expect that the level of violence is going to be quite high. Although I didn't feel as though this game was particularly graphic, it's certainly not the kind of title I would be comfortable letting children play. For teens and adults only.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing: Spoken dialogue is accompanied by subtitles, so keeping up with the story isn't a problem. At times I found it difficult to tell when I was under fire or where that fire was coming from when the sound was turned off, but there is an option (unlocked by playing to a certain point in the campaign) that lets players turn on visible trails showing exactly where bullets are coming from. It's a shame that this option is not available from the start, but once I had unlocked it, I found that I did not need to rely on sound nearly as much. There is also an unlocked ability that acts as a proximity detector, alerting players when unheard enemies are nearby.