Crysis Revisited

Welcome (back) to the jungle.
Welcome (back) to the jungle.

The last time I completed Crysis was way back in 2007, just a couple days after it released.  At the time, my PC — equipped with a dual-core AMD processor, two gigs of RAM, and an Nvidia 8800 GTX — struggled to maintain playable frame rates even at Medium settings across the board and at a paltry resolution of 1280×1024.  Although I occasionally reinstalled Crysis to benchmark new hardware, I never once sat down to truly appreciate or invest much time into Crytek’s landmark shooter after my first playthrough.  That all changed a couple weeks ago when an old Crysis thread on a forum I frequent was bumped, followed by a surge of activity.  It was as if someone had awakened a sleeping giant.  Excited by the prospect of finally being able to crank up the graphics and maintain playable frame rates, I dug through my closet, located (and dusted off) my boxed copy, then installed the game and fired it up for one last hurrah.

The first thing that struck me about Crysis was just how damned good it looked even today.  It’s one thing to be impressed by a brand new game’s graphics, but to reinstall it seven years later and still be in awe?  That’s unheard of.  What transpired afterwards was even more startling.  You see, I thought for sure that when I attempted to play through Crysis a second time, I would quickly become bored of it and ultimately label it as a pretty, but otherwise dull shooter that I was enthralled by during my first go-around only because of the sheer amount of hype surrounding it.  Oh, how wrong I was.  After playing it for several hours, I realized that Crysis isn’t just a good first-person shooter, it’s a great one.  In fact, it may very well be one of the best shooters ever to grace the PC platform.

One of the main reasons I hold Crysis in such high regard is because of its excellent, open-ended level design that clearly takes cues from Crytek’s first outing, Far Cry.  Rather than being funneled from one checkpoint to the next like in most modern shooters, Crysis throws you into a jungle behind enemy lines, gives you an objective or two, then sets you free.  Even the first level, which sees you assaulting several North Korean bases along the shore, offers a staggering array of approaches.  I’ve played it at least a dozen times (dating back to its debut in the demo) and I’m still constantly discovering new paths to take and strategies to utilize.  During my second playthrough of the game, I was also pleasantly surprised by a few fantastic levels that I’d all but forgotten.  One in particular, Assault, tasks you with descending a large mountain at night and taking out two anti-aircraft guns way down below.  The sheer scale of that level is both breathtaking and intimidating, but in a good way.

He couldn't have died in a more beautiful place.
He couldn’t have died in a more beautiful place.

Of course, the levels wouldn’t be nearly as fun to play without there being great things to shoot at, and Crysis has that covered with some of the most interesting, dynamic, and even humorous enemies in first-person shooter history.  Rather than them spawning in and taking up positions behind cover, forcing you into what is essentially a glorified game of Whack-a-Mole, Crysis’s North Koreans are hand-placed and often found engaging in normal, everyday routines like patrolling back and forth, working on vehicles, and occasionally stopping to take a leak.  It’s when you break them out of those routines, however, that the fun really starts.  They have a tendency to investigate strange sights and sounds when alerted, for example, even if it leads them dangerously close to, say, a large fuel tank, at which point one or two stray bullets will result in a crispy KPA or two (or three).  Their reactions to your suit powers are entertaining as well.  If you rush towards them with Speed mode or they witness you Strength-jump high into the air, they’ll gasp and stumble backwards in awe.  My personal favorite is the “spray and pray” reaction in which if you’re spotted by an enemy at close range, then Cloak and move away, he’ll shoot wildly at the last place he saw you, giving you time to circle around him as he continues to put on his best impersonation of the jungle destruction scene from Predator.

And really, “Predator” perfectly describes how Crysis’s Nanosuit makes you feel.  As I stalked, dissected, and dismantled North Korean forces all throughout my second playthrough, I couldn’t help but stop and appreciate just how empowering it was.  Not only does it allow you to become invisible and terrorize victims like the Predator himself, it also grants you the ability to sprint like the Flash, leap like the Incredible Hulk, and absorb damage like Iron Man.  Most games with special abilities require that you first specialize in them before they’re available, and in most cases you must focus on just one or two, leaving the others crippled in comparison and forcing you to play one specific way unless you go with a well-balanced attack and end up being not very good at anything.  Crysis, on the other hand, makes you a complete badass from the first level onwards by giving you the Nanosuit with all of its abilities in tact.  It’s almost like starting a role-playing game with every skill unlocked and maxed out.  In fact, I would go as far as to say that Crysis’s Nanosuit is the single greatest, most empowering first-person shooter device of all time.

I was also impressed with Crysis’s gunplay, which features a brilliant on-the-fly weapon customization system that, in a weird way, is almost like a Nanosuit for your weapons.  If that last line took you for a spin, allow me to elaborate:  Generally, if you want to go “hard,” you’ll shift into the Nanosuit’s Armor mode so that you can withstand more damage and if you want to be stealthy, you’ll shift into Cloak mode and become invisible.  Thanks to the weapon customization, you can perform similar playstyle modifications to weapons themselves.  If you’re equipped with an assault rifle and want to go in guns blazing, firing from the hip like Rambo, for example, you can attach a Laser Pointer Module and even Incendiary Ammo to give your bullets a little more “kick.”  However, if you’d like to dispatch enemies one at a time without alerting everyone to your position, you can attach a Suppressor to silence your shots and an Assault Scope to make it easier to score headshots from afar.  I’ll be honest, to this day I’m surprised — shocked, even — that more games haven’t outright stolen this system and used it themselves.  Then again, that’s just one of many reasons why Crysis is simply in a league of its own.

They never saw me coming.
They never saw me coming.

It ain’t all sunshine and rainbows, though.  I’m sure that by now you’ve heard the complaints about Crysis’s later levels — particulary those involving the aliens.  Sadly, they’re well warranted.  Whereas the North Koreans are interesting foes both in regards to how they behave and the many ways in which you can deal with them, the aliens are nothing more than hyper-aware bullet sponges that just aren’t very fun to fight.  What’s most frustrating about them is that they render Cloak mode and suppressed weapons obsolete.  Planning, then executing silent attacks on them simply isn’t possible, for example, since they’re almost always aware of your presence and can’t be killed with one well-placed shot to the head like most North Korean soldiers.  As a result, the last few levels in Crysis devolve into the same linear, “shoot first, ask questions later” gameplay found in most other first-person shooters today.  Considering how open-ended the earlier levels are and that they cater to so many different playstyles, that’s a damned shame.  I honestly believe that the way in which Crysis wraps everything up by spitting on what made it great up to that point is a large reason why it has so many detractors.

Despite its annoying alien foes and a disappointing conclusion capped off with a lame boss battle, Crysis is a fantastic game.  After having beaten it a second time, I know that more now than ever before.  I’ve really come to appreciate what Crytek accomplished seven years ago, producing a game that not only looks great even after all these years but also boasts some of the best gameplay — from artificial intelligence to freedom of choice — of any shooter to date.  And if you’re like me and so many others and can’t stand those dreaded “alien levels,” just go back and play the earlier ones, experimenting with new approaches and even studying the game’s fascinating A.I. to determine how it reacts to your moves and how you can exploit those reactions to gain the upper hand.  Better yet, go grab some mods to make the game look even better and add a little extra spice to the gameplay!  If you’re like I was and haven’t touched Crysis in quite some time, I hope that you’ll consider giving it another go.  After all, there’s no better time to revisit Crytek’s first-person shooter paradise than now.