I’ve been on the fence about Crysis for a while. Actually, that’s not entirely accurate. I knew there was a fence, I was aware of it. I knew that you could, theoretically, be on it. But I didn’t pay much attention to it. I just assumed that it wouldn’t run on my computer, and that it would be too much like Far Cry (I played the demo for that game, and was pretty underwhelmed by it). So Crysis and I existed in the same world, but were content to exist separately, aware of each other but not actually interacting.
About a week ago I downloaded the demo, just out of idle curiosity. And didn’t install it. Forgot about it, in fact. Then, two days ago, I was listening to the PC Gamer Podcast (which I highly recommend for any fans of PC gaming and/or game-related humor), and was privy to a lively debate about said game. It was fun to listen to, mainly because of the dialog rather than the content. The discussion boiled down to this: Norm, Logan, Dan, and Chuck all liked Crysis, and were hailing it as the Second Coming of PC Gaming (though not in those exact words). Jeremy and Garry, on the other hand, had each played the demo and had not been impressed. Their arguments were primarily that the “future-proofing” of the game was a gimmick, a sort of bait-and-switch tactic, that it was sluggish and unresponsive, that the system requirements were too high, that it was, effectively, Far Cry 2. Such comments did not make me any more likely to play the game, or the demo I had downloaded, and the arguments to the contrary sounded too much like simple evangelism to sway me in any other direction.
Still, the discussion had planted a seed. Something was percolating in my mind, growing legs and running about, messing with the silverware and knocking the pictures askew. Because of all these and other mediocre metaphors, I decided, when I got home, to install the demo and try it out, for no other reason than to see what all the fuss was about. I installed the demo, and it took a very long time. So far I was unimpressed. It finally finished and I loaded up the game, and was immediately assaulted by no fewer than four (!) advertisements for various sponsors. An unfortunate necessity, I know, but it rubbed me the wrong way none the less. I went in and fiddled with the options, clicked the button that would detect the optimal settings for my machine, and was told that everything had been set to ‘Low’. Not surprising, but still disappointing. Then I started playing.
And everything changed. The opening sequence was eye-catching and memorable, as my avatar and four other soldiers in nano-suits parachuted out of an airplane onto a tropical island in the dead of night. The graphics, despite being on the absolute lowest setting possible, were sharp and crisp and not at all disappointing. I had reared myself on sneakers like Thief and its ilk, so the slightly lower movement speed felt not at all uncomfortable, and encouraged the stealthy play that I prefer (a play style that, I’m glad to say, Crysis fully supports). I met my first pair of enemies, quickly dispatched them, and became engrossed in the game.
The environment is wide-open and allows for multiple solutions to problems. The enemies, while not always brilliant, try to do things like outflank you, flush you out with grenades, and take cover. The weapons are satisfying and effective. And the nano-suit, the game’s central mechanic, is well-realized and integral to play. While I rarely used the Maximum Speed or Maximum Strength settings, I could not possibly have traversed the demo without Maximum Armor and Stealth Mode, upon which I relied heavily. The suit, and the tactical options that it grants you, allow you to take on forces which are both numerically superior and better-armed than you, provided you think your way through the battle rather than charging in, guns blazing.
When I finished the demo, I had come to the conclusion that this is exactly the kind of game I enjoy playing. It has the right combination of verisimilitude and science fiction weirdness, the right amount of brains-over-brawn philosophy, the right degree of player freedom. I immediately went online afterward and added it to my Amazon wishlist. For those who are still on the fence (or otherwise), I suggest you download the demo and let it make up your mind for you. If you are like me, you will likely enjoy it and want more. If you don’t like the demo, chances are the game holds nothing that will change your mind.
Update: Thinking to tide myself over until I get Crysis, I went ahead and gave Far Cry another try. It’s like night and day. Where Crysis rewards tactical thinking and a stealthy approach, Far Cry seems to both require and punish such things. You cannot stand toe-to-toe with a large group of enemies, and most groups are large. Thus, you have to try to sneak up on them and take them out one by one, much as in Crysis. However, Far Cry (at least, up until the point where I got frustrated and gave up) gives you no tools for doing such. It’s very, very difficult to take out a single enemy without alerting the rest of them if you don’t have a silencer, and the lack of any reliable way to hide yourself exacerbates this. Combine this with the fact that the enemies are hyper-aware, capable of hearing a man walking slowly and quietly on grass, thirty feet below, and above the ambient jungle noises, and it makes a stealth-based approach stupidly difficult to affect. Oh, and the enemies are apparently psychically connected; once you alert one, they all know where you are. Finally, the checkpoint save system is a bad fit for this style of game. Twice I whittled down an enemy base to one or two mercenaries, only to be killed by those last one or two. The fact that I don’t get to choose when I save my game means that, when that happens, I have to start back at square one. Not fun. I have no idea why Far Cry was ever as popular as it was; it’s simply not a well-designed game.
Update, Part 2: I have now finished the full game of Crysis. While its system requirements were such that my computer often begged to run something else, it was fantastic from start to finish. I’ve rarely played a game that felt completely different at the end than it felt at the beginning, managing to stay fresh and provide new obstacles constantly. It kept me interested and engaged every second, and there’s very little about it that I wouldn’t recommend. Whenever I manage to score a new rig, I’m going to install it and play it with the settings cranked up higher. I hear it’s almost like a brand new experience, and the gameplay is such that replayability is high.