Investigate an archaeologist’s disappearance on an island occupied by hostile forces.
PC Release: November 13, 2007
By Ian Coppock
Shooters are a difficult genre to review sometimes. Not just because their subject matter can be controversial, or because their publishers can have shifty business practices, but because they comprise among the least innovative genres in video gaming. And yet, people keep buying them. Human beings are just endlessly fascinated by pointing a gun at someone and shooting them, especially here in America. With such a crowded field of games to choose from, it can be difficult to find shooters that withstand the test of time and stand tall among their peers as truly innovative. These shooters are few and far between, but for the discerning firearms fan, Crysis is a game worth considering.
Crysis is a military shooter developed by Crytek, the creators of the original Far Cry. With Far Cry, Crytek created a shooter that espoused open environments and many paths to victory over linear rows of set pieces, as in Call of Duty. Ubisoft acquired the rights to the Far Cry series and moved that franchise in a very different direction, but Crytek was able to continue the ideas they pioneered with Far Cry in Crysis. Hence, Crysis can be considered a spiritual successor to Far Cry, taking what that game innovated to ever greater heights.
Crysis takes place in the year 2020 and is set in the Lingshan Islands, a fictitious archipelago not far from the Philippines. Shortly before the game begins, a team of American archaeologists led by a Dr. Rosenthal discovers an artifact that is allegedly millions of years old. Before Rosenthal can report more on his discovery, the North Korean military invades and conquers the islands under the pretext of national security, but really in hot pursuit of whatever Rosenthal dug up. The United States dispatches an elite squad of Delta Force operatives to Lingshan to extract Rosenthal and the artifact first, of which the protagonist, Jake “Nomad” Dunn, is a member. Nomad is accompanied by a team including Michael “Psycho” Sykes, an operative on loan from the Brits, and Laurence “Prophet” Barnes, the team’s steely commandeer.
As if the “Delta Force” designation wasn’t enough to set these guys apart, Nomad and his buddies are also equipped with Nano-Suits. These futuristic combat rigs secrete nano-particles into the user’s system, granting superpowers that allow for all sorts of high-end combat maneuvers. Players can use Nomad’s suit to run super-fast, punch super-hard, and absorb bullets super-well. In a delightful extra for stealth players, Nomad’s suit also grants a cloaking ability that allows him to move about the jungle unnoticed. All of these abilities mean that Nomad can make short work of his foes, but the suit has a finite battery that must recharge after using these powers.
Anyway, Nomad and his squad make a covert air drop over the islands, but are attacked by some sort of giant flying creature on the way down, scattering the team. Nomad lands in the jungle unharmed and begins stealthing his way toward Dr. Rosenthal’s dig site, dispatching (or avoiding) North Korean patrols along the way. As they travel through the jungles of Lingshan, the team hears strange roars in the underbrush and occasionally discover North Korean patrols that were brutally torn apart by an unknown foe. Something on this island is hunting everybody, and it seems to have a taste for human flesh.
Despite what some of these screenshots imply, Crysis is played from a first-person perspective. In addition to using the powers of his suit, Nomad can also pick up and wield firearms scattered all over the island. Crysis includes a weapons modding system that allows players to outfit each gun to suit their mission profile. Silencers and lasers are but a few of the tools that players can add to their guns. There’s also the more conventional combat fare like grenades and turrets that players can use to great effect against North Korean forces.
Although Crysis‘s suit powers and gun customization allows for many different kinds of gameplay, it is, at its heart, a stealth game. There’s a huge amount of fun to be had in creeping through the trees and silently taking out enemies, whether from afar, or from very short range. The enemies in Crysis are tough and smart, so even if players prefer barging in guns blazing, Crysis does warrant at least a bit of strategy. Players who enjoy spending a few minutes assessing each area before barging in will do well in Crysis. Much as some of its weapons are quite audacious, the game does reward subtlety and planning.
The element of Crysis that Far Cry players will find most familiar is its open-world esque levels. Rather than herding players along a straight line, Crysis allows for many different paths through a level. Between where each level begins and ends is square mile upon square mile of jungle and other terrain that players can traverse at their leisure. Just like in Far Cry, these areas are peppered with enemy outposts and patrolled by fierce foes, but Crysis has turned all of this up to 12. Even by today’s standards, there really isn’t a shooter that allows for the same degree of environmental freedom that Crysis does. Players can mountaineer to the next checkpoint or swim along the bottom of an island bay. They can shoot every Korean from here to Hanoi or combat-crawl through the underbrush. Crysis‘s level design is in lockstep with the open-ended nature of its gameplay: do what one wants.
Most levels in Crysis also feature optional side objectives to be found in these wilderness areas. Occasionally, the Army will phone in and ask Nomad to go kill a dude or steal a laptop that will inhibit the North Koreans’ control over the islands. These side objectives disappear about two thirds of the way through the game, but they incentivize players to get out and explore. Sometimes, these objectives impact how easy or difficult the rest of the level will be.
The most immediately remarkable thing about Crysis is how gorgeous it looks for a game that’s nearly a decade old. The game was built on Crytek’s proprietary Cryengine, which seems to always be at least a few years ahead of the curve. Today the Cryengine has been outpaced by EA’s Frostbite 3 engine, but that doesn’t stop Crysis from looking like a game that came out in 2012 or 2013 instead of 2007. The game’s advanced graphics demanded high-end cards and processors back in the day, but the game runs quite smoothly with contemporary hardware. Though the Cryengine still allows for beautiful works today, it seems to have been about a half-decade into the future when Crysis hit the market.
The Cryengine gives Crysis a palette of lighting and visual effects that are still impressive by today’s standards. The game employs dozens of different lighting levels for bright outdoor environments, nighttime raids into enemy territory, and exploring dimly lit indoor structures. The jungle and its villages encompass hundreds of sharp textures and bright colors, while the water effects are, again, impressive for a relatively old game. The character animations look a little stiff and suffer the occasional physics bug, like long hair gone ragdoll, but are by and large consistent with the rest of Crysis‘s impressive visuals.
Of course, all the gameplay and graphics are meant to serve the narrative, and Crysis‘s narrative is robust for a first-person shooter. The voice-acting is excellent, for the most part, especially the performance given by Prophet’s voice actor, James Vincent Meredith. The needle falls more toward the rapid GET TO THE CHOPPER cadence of an action film than, say, a serious drama, but it doesn’t contain the camp of Far Cry nor the repetition of Call of Duty. It conveys a feeling of danger and a sense of mystery, especially when Nomad discovers the anti-gravity chamber in the heart of Linshan’s mountain.
What’s that? An anti-gravity chamber? Yes, Crysis starts out as a military shooter but slow-bakes into a sci-fi adventure. The hints of non-human activity dropped throughout the game’s first half accelerate into a full-scale war by Crysis‘s second half. The game’s smooth storytelling transitions lend the game more of a suspense-thriller air than a pure military/war atmosphere. Not only does this provide incentive for the player to course through the jungle, it also delivers a pleasant twist on what appears to be a conventional military game. There’s some dramatic character development to be had as well; while Nomad remains largely the same, his actions drive shifts in his comrades, particularly Prophet.
Because Crysis features North Koreans in its first half and alien machines in its second half, it bears the potential to feel like two separate games. The shift in gameplay is also noticeable, as players go from shanking Koreans in the jungle to repelling alien octopi with a minigun. Despite this dramatic shift in gameplay, the tightly woven narrative keeps the two halves of Crysis from falling apart, instead helping the transition feel like a natural evolution. Few games that feature shifts in gameplay and context can pull them off as smoothly as Crysis does.
The Crysis experience is further rounded out by Crysis Warhead, a standalone expansion pack for the main game that stars Psycho, the aforementioned British operative, as its main protagonist. While Nomad busies himself with killing Koreans and advancing on their position at the heart of the mountain, Psycho is called in for his own mission to stop the Koreans from detonating a nuclear bomb. Crysis Warhead features a few gameplay deviations of its own, forcing players to adapt to cramped indoor areas and to fighting with another team of Delta Force operatives inserted on the other side of the island. The former bears the potential to make Crysis Warhead feel like Call of Duty, but the linear areas are delivered rarely and with opportunities for stealth. The story itself feels like a side quest instead of its own narrative, but Psycho’s status as one of the Crysis series’s best characters is cemented in this expansion.
Crysis remains a competitive military shooter because of the innovations that Crytek pioneered in Far Cry. The studio found a decent middle ground between open-world gameplay and linear first-person shooting and then turned it up in their development of Crysis. Players can engage Crysis at their own pace, whether they prefer spending a half-hour tagging enemies before going in quietly or running in guns blazing and letting the chips fall where they may. Occasionally, the game will bend players toward a particular type of gameplay, especially the level in which Nomad drives a tank, but these instances are few and far between.
More so than its decent sci-fi narrative and its gorgeous environments, Crysis espouses freedom for players to engage the enemy how they well, be it with a knife in the back or a mini-gun to the front gates. This flexibility remains a rarity in the military shooters of today; maybe that’s why Crysis continues to stand out so well even after nearly a decade’s worth of shooters have come after it.
In closing, Crysis is one of the best military shooters ever made and a must-own for fans of stealth and guns. The game is basically bug-free and will run on any modern machine despite its advanced visuals. Modern shooters don’t seem terribly interested in the open-ended world design and gameplay options that Crysis brings to the table, which gives gamers all the more reason to buy and play this instead. Get it (and Crysis Warhead), now, to unveil one of gaming’s greatest sci-fi mysteries in whatever manner seems most suitable to you.
“Suitable”. Get it? Because the suit can let you run and hide, and, and… whatever, just buy the game already.
You can buy Crysis here.
Thank you for reading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.