The Crysis franchise has always been predicated upon the implementation and depiction of technology. Conversations about the series usually revolve around Crytek’s powerful CryEngine or its in-game tech, toys and gadgets. It was Crytek’s desire to create a near-future, future-proof PC shooter that led to the original Crysis being initially too ambitious to bring to console. Then it was Crysis 2’s more inclusive, less ambitious recommended specs that led to grumbling that the sequel was not the technological benchmark its predecessor had been.
The launch of Crysis 3 comes as developer Crytek is undergoing a transition, moving to wholeheartedly embrace the oft-maligned free-to-play market with its CryEngine 3-powered online shooter, Warface. Features are being shared across Warface and Crysis 3 and, as such, Crytek is literally giving away the technology that forms its flagship series’ unique selling point. The question, then, is whether what’s underneath the technically impressive exterior of Crysis 3 justifies this third outing for the Nanosuit and the traditional retail price tag.
As was the case with its predecessors, the most engaging stories of Crysis 3 emerge not from its linear narrative, but from its ability to facilitate a degree of free-form player expression. Using a combination of the Nanosuit’s powers and a varied arsenal, you curate your own adventure that focuses on the how, rather than the why. So, while the entity known as Prophet battles against the familiar backdrop of human/alien machinations for world domination or destruction, you focus on the more engaging prospect of finding the most rewarding and empowering combination of stealth and aggression.
It is to Crytek’s credit that it avoids the well-worn convention of providing a glimpse of a superpowered protagonist and then stripping them of all of the interesting bits for you to regain throughout the story. Right from the off, you are made to feel empowered. The Nanosuit’s augmented strength, shell-like armour and near-invisibility offer multiple approaches to negotiating your escape from a CELL-controlled tanker and subsequent journey through a ruined New York. This empowerment is further enforced throughout the story by the presence of Prophet’s erstwhile squaddie and formerly Nanosuited cockney, Michael ‘Psycho’ Sykes, who has been skinned of his suit and deprived of his demigod status.
The story is as much about Psycho’s emasculation as it is Prophet’s emancipation. The interaction between the former peers serves to reinforce your own superpowers, while Psycho’s naked humanity provides an interesting counterpoint to Prophet’s role as part-man, part-machine, part-alien technology. Psycho is painfully aware of his limitations as a standard human soldier, which makes him by turns envious and resentful of the power, something that both Prophet and the player could otherwise easily take for granted. Psycho grounds the story, providing its human focus and, as a number of the story’s big reveals fall flat, offers an evolving focal point for the player to care about.
Psycho aside, it’s hard to be engaged by the narrative, and not only because it’s standard sci-fi fodder. Blatant clues as to the story’s direction mean most players will have pieced together the plot’s deeper mysteries long before they are formerly unveiled. Meanwhile, optional audio logs that dig deeper into the lore can only be played via a static menu screen, necessitating a break from the action to listen to a minute or two of laboured exposition.
If Psycho is the story’s real catalyst, it’s Prophet and his wonderful toys that provide the gameplay evolution. Crytek has carried over the Nanosuit’s trio of powers from Crysis 2. It idles in Power mode, facilitating Prophet’s feats of sprinting, exaggerated leaping and ability to punch people and aliens to death. Cranking the suit all the way to 11 with Armour mode enables Prophet to shake off direct rocket fire and walk away with little more than a headache. Cloak mode turns Prophet invisible and provides the most strategic suite of combat options; this is most readily apparent when it’s combined with the Nanosuit’s adaptable upgrades and Prophet’s newest weapon, the Predator bow.
Like Prophet’s suit, the Predator bow adapts to your play style. A varied selection of arrowheads offers the option of a silent takedown or causing chaos with explosive, electrical and air-burst tips. Its draw weight can also be adjusted to offer a weaker but faster firing mode, through to the brute-force stopping power of maximum resistance. Best of all, the bow forms an ever-present part of Prophet’s arsenal by supplementing the familiar two-weapon setup, so you need never be without it.
There’s a good reason that the Predator bow features in much of the promotional material for Crysis 3. It’s well-balanced, versatile, enjoyable to use and feels like a key part of Prophet’s identity. Not to be outdone when it comes to providing varied and customisable gameplay options, the Nanosuit’s overhauled upgrade system also shines. Like power-switching and weapon customisation, the Nanosuit can also be adapted on the fly. Upgrades range from standard fare, such as boosting health regeneration and bolstering the Power, Cloak and Armour functions of the Nanosuit, to more specialised options for assisting system hacking, granting improved EMP protection and further boosting weapon stabilisation. Once unlocked, Nanosuit upgrades can be clustered into sets of four and flipped between on the fly, ensuring that you benefit from the most appropriate bonuses in any given situation. The upgrade system confers a degree of player control over what would normally be a passive set of perks, though it’s not until the campaign is tackled on hard difficulty or above that this management becomes truly necessary.
Customisation also plays a big part of the fully featured multiplayer modes. Genre staples of team deathmatch, capture the flag, and hing of the hill are bolstered by the adaptable arsenal, choice of Nanosuit upgrades and four predefined classes. It’s still the players with the best twitch reflexes that are going to come out on top, but less experienced players are eased into the fight with combat aides that are activated after several successive deaths. More strategic multiplayer options come in the form of modes that pit CELL operatives against Nanosuited players and require the download of data, or the asymmetrical and highly publicised Hunter mode.
Hunter is the most high profile of Crysis 3’s eight multiplayer modes. Its starts with two perma-cloaked, Nanosuited hunters armed with bows stalking up to ten human soldiers armed with conventional weapons and proximity alarms. It’s the embodiment of the film Predator, with the added quirk that as the hunters pick off their prey, the soldiers are converted to the cause of seeking out their former teammates. It’s a tense showdown that encourages team communication, otherwise the hunted find their numbers swiftly thinned. Key decisions revolve around whether the survivors should stick together as a unit in the face of the near-invisible aggressors, or if they should scatter to the four corners of the map in the hope of finding a hidey-hole to see out the round. Of all of the multiplayer modes in Crysis 3, Hunter is the most interesting because it builds on the premise of the game’s fiction and asks more of you than a fast trigger finger.
Technology is a key part of Crysis 3’s identity. While its environments combine the lush surrounds of the original title with the urban jungle of its sequel, they play second fiddle to the depiction of near-future technology. Similarly, characterisation and narrative development give way to a customisable weapon set and the versatile upgrade options of the iconic Nanosuit. By facilitating a player-led approach to combat, Crysis 3’s six hour, single-player campaign is as fun as you make it. However, the multiplayer mode is soon to have competition from Crytek’s own free-to-play Warface. These individual facets combine to put Crysis 3 in a peculiar position and mean that, while it’s worth the entrance fee, it may soon find itself redundant.