It's pretty easy to be intimidated by the prospect of a sequel to Crysis.
For many, Crysis still represents a kind of gaming Everest, a graphical mountain that can only be scaled through concentrated and enthusiastic investment in top-end computer hardware. Whilst three years of technological process has tempered the hardware requirements necessary to run everything at maximum settings, many gamers might pause to reflect exactly what costs they're prepared to wear in order to chase the dragon once more.
They needn't be concerned. Crysis 2 is nowhere near the technological tour-de-force for the PC platform that courted such controversy in 2007. Similarly, the campaign lacks the punch and originality of the first, switching as it has from a small island in the Pacific to the modern metropolis of New York.
The appropriately futuristic plot sees the city besieged by an alien presence that only you, a decidedly anonymous marine, can eradicate. Equipped with a nano-suit and the one-word call-sign of Alcatraz, you're tasked with this weighty mission by Laurence "Prophet" Barnes, who makes a brief return from the original Crysis.
The suit, once again, is the game. The CELL operatives patrolling the streets are under strict instructions to shoot whoever wears it, and the alien invaders – having no such qualms regarding bureaucracy – simply strive to kill everyone. Only by utilising the functions of the suit can the player have any chance to survive the onslaught, and liberate the city.
This time around, control of the suit has changed to reflect advancements made in the intervening three years between the titles. The power mode allows the wearer to run twice as fast, and jump twice as far. Stealth allows a near-complete level of invisibility, and Armour massively enhances the ability to take damage. Accompanying these superhuman benefits is nano-vision, which is a kind of infra-red detection mode that increases visibility in dark situations. There's also the Battle Visor which can be used to tag enemies, identify ammo piles, locate weapons and find waypoints, amongst other beneficial tricks.
Naturally, the suit requires a healthy amount of energy to function, which recharges itself rapidly when its abilities are not in use. But perhaps the most significant change to the overall suit function is the ability to combine different attributes. You can utilise the power mode to sprint whilst remaining cloaked, or using nano-vision. The only restriction is that Armour and Stealth cannot be combined, although if you're in a situation that requires that level of assistance you're probably doing it wrong.
In addition to these features, various unlockable upgrades can be applied to the suit by the acquisition of "Nano Catalyst" points from fallen alien foes. These upgrades act to further compliment the existing modes by providing, for example, the ability to grab ledges faster, or see incoming tracer lines from bullets. It's an additional layer of customisation that gels well with the premise.
Combat remains fluid and engaging, despite the more linear approach in map design. You're still in control of how to manage each combat situation, even if the developer-sanctioned method is usually advertised fairly clearly. Ammunition is typically at a premium, headshots are rewarded and the aliens are every bit as challenging and unpredictable as can be expected.
Regrettably, the intelligence level of the enemy has taken a hit. It's easy to appreciate the difficulties involved in making AI perform adequately when the primary character can enter a stealth state and observe them at close range, however Crytek has clearly failed on this front. Enemy combatants will move erratically in and out of cover, and sometimes break off the engagement for no discernible reason. At one stage, a soldier became stuck in a loop and changed from a crouched position to an upright one constantly every second or so, as if he were a mentally challenged meerkat.
Despite the chatter from Crytek about technological advancements, unloading a clip into a soldier will see him bend over for a few seconds, instantly forget about the wound, and continue to charge at the player guns blazing. The lack of attention paid to presenting realistic AI is patently obvious, and rapidly acts to undermine the integrity of the campaign in general.
The AI may be wilfully awful, but there's nothing wrong with the technology rendering it. CryENGINE 3 is remarkable even on the lowest setting, and achingly beautiful when set to maximum. This time around, you won't need to mortgage your house to buy new hardware either; even our much-maligned Core 2 E6750 with a GTS 250 offered an acceptable framerate throughout the campaign. Admittedly the graphics were set to minimum, but that didn't detract from the gameplay at all.
Multiplayer is much more focused with this sequel. There's a variety of modes on offer, from deathmatch to capture the flag, as well as a single life mode with no ability to respawn. A rudimentary levelling system is provided too, with weapons and classes provided to those who have achieved the required experience, and again suit upgrades come into play to provide additional benefits on the field of battle.
The core mechanics of the multiplayer provide little to draw inspiration from. It's a competent, if somewhat generic addition to an above-average campaign. Unfortunately most of the Australian servers listed in the server browser were empty, and the quick join facility frequently resulted in a connection to a completely empty server. That is, if the "serial in use" error doesn't occur first – it's clear that there are substantial stability issues with the multiplayer, so there's probably no harm in waiting to see how Crytek tackle these issues before investing too heavily.
Crucially, Crysis 2 represents the maturation of first-person shooters in general. Gone are the ludicrous system requirements, and the open-world setting. Instead, the series has shifted to a more focused linear playing field, where your actions are guided by the game rather than by your own curiosity.
In moving away from what made Crysis so entertaining, Crytek has engineered a title much the same as every other futuristic FPS, yet one bereft of any meaningful characters to associate with. If prospective players are hoping for another inspired leap forward, they might be confused to discover a step to the side instead.