Crytek wants Crysis 3 to appeal to fans. While that might be an otherwise obvious statement, Crysis 2’s trading of dense jungle vegetation for the New York City skyline split fan and critic reactions. The Germany-based studio wields the technical tools to get buyers back into their nanosuits and excited for the sequel, however. By combining the superior physics playground of the first game's Lingshan Islands with the situational freedom afforded by NYC’s skyscrapers, Crytek’s compromise forms the Liberty Dome – a 2047 rendition of Manhattan overrun by floral growth and brick-and-mortar ruins. You will not find a better looking shooter on home consoles, though the novelty of another apocalypse-driven ecosystem fades before Prophet can annihilate the Ceph once more.
For some people, the promise of a new graphical benchmark will satisfy their purchase (at least on PCs), but Crysis 3’s visuals blind buyers to the obscene narrative. I was more enthralled by the expressions on the characters’ photorealistic faces than the words flowing from their mouths; too often distracted by the city’s uprooted, overgrown avenues to care what aliens lingered beneath the Manhattan streets; and more impressed when shredding sheet metal with grenades than with any scripted explosion. Although vertical thinking still plays an essential tactical role, most environments are a candy store, and you’re just a wide-eyed window shopper.
I'm sorry, could you repeat that Psycho? I was lost in your eyes.
Despite the visual overhaul, Crytek has not learned their lesson from Crysis 2’s feeble writing. What should have been a source of storytelling and hero development became an excuse to shuttle the player from location to location instead. The same holds true for the sequel. Following the Ceph’s defeat at the hands of Alcatraz, Crysis 3 tells of the Cell corporation’s rise to power 20-odd years after claiming the victory as their own. They also captured Prophet, the mental residue of Laurence Barnes that assimilated Alcatraz and now controls the nanosuit. Before Cell tears the sentient hardware free of Prophet’s host body, however, a suitless Psycho breaks his old commanding officer out of confinement. A new danger threatens the survival of Earth. Deemed the Alpha Ceph to which all remaining alien lifeforms are coincidentally linked, this beast seeks the extermination of society’s remnants.
Ignoring the final showdown, the developers gorge the plot on filler. The action just goes and goes and goes without rhyme or reason. A sense of pointlessness pervades every objective ‒ destroying anti-aircraft batteries, hacking data terminals, uncovering Cell’s limitless energy source ‒ when the extinction of mankind looms on the horizon. Fans that want to harness the nanosuit’s powers still have plenty opportunities to play unstoppable super assassin, though a game needs more than eye candy to sate a six-hour campaign. Crysis 3, while coherent, lacks a hook, a wrinkle, some convincing character foible to feed the narrative. Allies often call Prophet’s lingering shreds of humanity into question, yet players spend too many hours ambushing enemy patrols and not enough time growing to identify with the protagonists. Although Prophet receives the full voice over treatment, his crude Bane (The Dark Knight Rises) impersonation undermines his emotional unrest.
Parents, don't let your children play in the park after dark.
Players become much more intimate with the series' infamous nanosuit. For additional unexplained reasons, Prophet can hack turrets, mines, and Ceph drones. Interfacing with these defenses initiates a rhythmic minigame of matching nodes to their frequencies, but given the near-unbeatable suit of alien fibers strapped to the former-Alcatraz’s skin, hacking is relatively arbitrary. It’s always better to have the extra firepower on your side than the enemy’s, sure, except the guns may kill one hostile, two tops, before the opposition decides to disable them remotely. Again, convenient but arbitrary.
The nanosuit’s cloak and armor functions, on the other hand, have not lost their usefulness. Capable of refracting light to disguise the suit’s wearer or hardening to suppress physical trauma, these two abilities now give players the freedom to approach any encounter the way they choose. Crysis 2 often demanded players remain invisible in hopes of proceeding, and in some instances, Crysis 3 still favors guerrilla tactics. Increased adversary numbers make blitzkrieging through camps a challenge, but Prophet's armor absorbs more than enough firepower to drop a herd of elephants before the suit’s energy depletes.
Crysis 3 strikes a better energy balance than Crysis 2. Sprinting no longer fatigues Prophet, and though the suit's power drains at a more rapid rate, the developers have been careful not to discourage stealth. The new compound bow maintains Prophet’s cloak when fired, keeps enemies oblivious to his presence, and silences most Cell or Ceph with one shot. There are virtually no drawbacks to experimenting with the special arrowheads like the electrified bolt, too. Extra arrows are less common than conventional ammo, but players may tag arrows with nanovision and recover them from dead bodies.
If you're going to use the bow without your suit's cloak, why even bother?
The addition of a gamepad comes highly recommended. Crytek designed Crysis 3 for PCs first and foremost, yet they modeled the button layout around an Xbox 360 controller. Cycling between the suit's cloak, explosives, firearms, nanovision, and armor feels second nature, as does customizing weapons without stopping to open a pause menu. It feels right. However, the visual fidelity suffered a substantial hit during the porting process. While players that have never wavered in their loyalty to consoles may not notice, the PC’s performance on the lowest available settings outpaces the Xbox 360, which succumbs to rare audio distortions that throw off the characters’ lip syncing or cut their audio mid-sentence.
There’s a general stupidity to the AI that has not changed from iteration to iteration, too. Although the eagle-eyed Cell and Ceph search for the nearest intact cover when Prophet reveals his position, the enemy AI struggles on a basic level. Soldiers stick to geometry, fall off platforms, crash their own helicopters, and walk into traps with astounding regularity. Prophet claims to be the greatest tactical machine ever built, but that would be modest given the competition he has to face.
Players have a greater chance of encountering intelligent lifeforms online. Multiplayer boasts your normal array of competitive game types and weapon attachments, but even with the nanosuit’s superhuman abilities, matches play virtually identical to any first-person shooter with regenerating health. While Spears (domination) and Extraction (capture the flag) do an acceptable job of rewarding lone wolves and team players, Hunter mode marks the only notable addition to the online scene. Two hunters selected at random receive a bow, two dozen arrows, and infinite invisibility. They must then hunt down the other players, who assume the roles of Cell fodder. Sadly, these Infection-style engagements are also prone to balance problems.
In multiplayer, Ceph Pingers can be captured and used against the enemy team.
The game's power trip fancies the hunters nine times out of ten. The Cell operatives receive smidgens of health, so they die with a single punch or, supposing lag does not interfere with an opponent's aim, an arrow to the knee. Those men then become hunters themselves, with radar that displays the locations of their former allies. In truth, time proves to be the one real enemy. The five rounds run short, with only a couple minutes for two hunters to infect ten Cell.
The Cell are not totally defenseless, however. Their weapons pack a greater punch than Prophet’s campaign arsenal, and a ping tool notifies players of a hunter’s proximity with an amplifying beep. As the other Cell officers begin to drop, Hunter mode leads to some very heart-stopping moments. Do you buddy up with the survivors and hold down a hallway, or do you scream every man for himself and run serpentine maneuvers around your pursuers? Knowing that you could unwillingly stumble upon an ambush seals Hunter mode as the game’s must-play experience. In the campaign, you feel unstoppable. Not even a fall from the Earth’s orbit could slow Prophet down. With the tables flipped, you feel vulnerable. You feel human.
Crysis 3 stands as a technical marvel with a coherent, albeit generic, sci-fi plot. The Alpha Ceph’s involvement feels contrived – retconned even – after rewatching Crysis 2’s conclusion, and the conflict of Prophet’s dwindling humanity goes nowhere. Fans of the game’s predecessors will find their semi-open level design trimmed of exploration, and multiplayer seldom evolves into anything beyond a by-the-numbers competition. But kicking cars onto soldiers, eliminating Cell with the bow and cloak, and baiting Ceph into a minefield? Still a lot of fun. Crytek also offers PC enthusiasts a glimpse at next-generation visuals, and no amount of criticisms can take that achievement away.
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Release Date: February 19, 2013
Number of Players: 1 (Campaign), 2-12 (Multiplayer)
Platforms: Xbox 360, PC (Reviewed), PlayStation 3