Playing as a marine codenamed Alcatraz in Crytek’s latest shooter, the undeniable focus on the futuristic Nanosuit is quickly apparent.
Alcatraz steps into the Nanosuit when it is vacated in spectacular fashion by Prophet - a name which may mean something to those who have played this title’s predecessors. After scant background details emerge regarding a deadly virus, alien invaders, and Nanosuit creators Crynet wanting their suit back, you are navigating a devastated but beautifully-rendered New York City. It's here you'll spend the majority of the game dispatching waves of Crynet’s CELL agents and invading aliens in your new tricked-out threads.
The Nanosuit has three modes (stealth, power, armour) and comes standard with thermal vision and enough pockets to hold two weapons, grenades, C4, an RPG, and a heavy machine gun provided you don’t mind dropping it every time you change weapons. With the press of a button you can turn invisible, beef up your armour tenfold, run and jump like a gazelle, or any combination of the above save armour and stealth. The only check on your use of these powers is a recharging energy bar which drops when hit by enemy fire, or when you are actively using a power.
All three modes have their uses. Power mode may imbue parts of the game with more of a platform feel than that of a shooter, but the stealth mode is by far the most entertaining, not to mention useful. Enemies have a knack of spotting you in their peripheral vision from blocks away, so it’s nice to be able to cloak, flank their position and drive a knife up through the base of their chin. To balance things somewhat, you are visible for the second it takes to take out foes this way, and their surprised yelp – however muted – may draw those within earshot over to investigate.
Your cloak is also somewhat ineffective at short range, and shooting or priming a grenade not only switches it off but also reduces your energy bar to zero. This leaves you vulnerable for the eternal few seconds it takes to recharge some energy and hit ‘cloak’ again.
A smart stealth assassin, then, draws a bead on his target with a silenced weapon before uncloaking for a fraction of a second to deliver a perfect headshot. It’s annoying that the Nanosuit declares “cloak engaged” every time you use this ability, but the Predator-like purring as it activates is a slice of sound design perfection in a game filled with strong audio cues.
Stealth isn’t the only way to dispatch enemies, of course. Hostiles can be met head-on and fought in traditional cover-shooter fashion, distracted by noisy objects being thrown about and engaged via melee, or avoided altogether in some instances. You can even grab them front-on and choke them if you’re quick enough, but often the time they take to expire is time their mates have to line up a kill shot of their own.
To aid you in making up your mind, a tactics overlay can activated before or during battle, which handily points useful information such as the locations of ammunition dumps, guns, vehicles, and mission-related ephemera such as waypoints and where a good place to snipe from is.
In addition, from this view you can tag enemies, which keeps them visible on your map if they wander out of sight. Unfortunately while in this view the screen can become overwhelmingly cluttered at times, and you can’t pick up ammo or weapons, press buttons, or open doors without deactivating it first, which is an irritating restriction.
Along with a range of strategies, a good range of weapons feature in Crysis 2, from machine pistols to RPGs to futuristic bolt rifles. All can be customized with various scopes, silencers and additional attachments so you can build your ideal hybrid weapon. Turrets can also be commandeered for your purposes, and even detached from their housing and equipped like a heavy machine gun provided you are willing to take a sizeable hit to your walking pace.
Even your suit can be upgraded with enhancements such as silent walking, or the ability to perform crushing blows, among many others. These are nice additions to an already slick feature.
Narrative in Crysis 2 is delivered with a fraction of the cut-scenes usually utilized in modern shooter titles, and that alone is to be applauded. The story unfolds through broadcasts which crackle from transistor radios left behind by the city's populace, CELL transmissions which your suit can intercept, and also email and movie unlocks which you can read or watch from the main menu.
The story is solid enough and is told in a marginally non-linear fashion that will keep you half interested, but without being able to view the back-story from within the game some elements seem a little glossed over. Also, the inevitable betrayals and reveals have all been seen too frequently in similar titles. Notably, the ‘you have been knocked unconscious to advance the story!’ device has been used too often; I’ve spent proportionately more time conscious in Fight Night than I did here.
CryENGINE 3 delivers the eye candy, and although things get a bit shaky-cam intermittently, for the most part Crysis 2 looks incredible. In particular the widescreen vistas, the flame and water effects, and the implementation of environmental damage shows Crytek are on top of their game.
The mixture of human and alien targets provides a decent variety of enemies to battle, but the shoddy AI really undermines the entire production. The CELL in particular have a habit of getting stuck on walls, or engaging in other odd looping behaviours such as running in circles or standing on the spot twitching this way and that.
Worse, your stealth abilities tend to convince enemies that the guy they just witnessed lobbing rockets their way was nothing more than a group hallucination, even if charred bodies of their comrades litter the landscape. The moment you cloak, they’ll stare blankly at the carnage and mutter “I guess it was nothing” before offering up their backs for a quick bout of stab-the-idiots.
With only the idiocy of all-too-human opponents to worry about, the multiplayer portion of Crysis 2 is a much more balanced affair. A dozen maps are unlockable, along with the usual levelling elements, battle scenarios and kill streak bonuses that are all present. Some well implemented level design aside, the suit abilities are what distinguishes this from all other similar products out there.
Unexpectedly, no one suit mode dominates the others in multiplayer. Switching modes several times in the course of one encounter makes for some intense combat though, and allows crafty players to escape situations that elsewhere would mean certain death.
That you can earn suit power-ups the more you play does skew things slightly towards the veteran player though, something a level cap on some servers does little to rectify.
Although it won’t be met with the slack-jawed amazement of its predecessor, Crysis 2 offers a very stylish and entertaining single and multiplayer experience with an engaging point of differentiation in the range of tactical options open to the player.