Mild Spoilers Ahead
There are a lot of things in this world that perplex me. Among them are scat fetishes, university room numbering and the popularity of Kool-Aid, but nothing has baffled me quite as much as the universal praise that Crysis 2 has gotten.
A first-person shooter from legendary tech demo creat- I mean, developer Crytek, Crysis 2 is obviously a sequel to the first Crysis. Its main hook was putting you in control of a versatile nano-suit and letting loose with its powers in an alien-infested New York, and it was both a critical and commercial success. Sounds like a great game, no?
Unfortunately for me, that ‘no’ is an apt answer. I have no shame in saying that Crysis 2 was, without a doubt, the most boring and thoroughly ‘meh’ shooter I’ve played this generation. I gave it two chances, the first one being a rental several months ago and the second being a used purchase just recently. In both cases, I started a new playthrough but gave up four or five hours in due to a relentless onslaught of boredom and fatigue, after which I had no desire to ever stick the bland, sterile disc into my PS3 again. And during my first playthrough, I literally dozed off during a loading screen. That’s right; the game literally bored me to sleep. When I eventually woke up a long while later, I was greeted with a blandly arranged black and turquoise screen saying “Press X to Enter Game.” The only thing I pressed was the power button.
Why is this, though? I’m an FPS fanatic who has played practically every shooter out there and has enjoyed pretty much all of them to some degree. I had fun with Duke Nukem Forever, for crying out loud. I feel compelled to get to the bottom of why Crysis 2 was such an effective sedative, so let’s explore the various features of the game and see why they’re so relentlessly mediocre.
Why not start at Crysis 2’s pathetic attempt at storytelling and characterization? Put simply, not a single character I met within the four or five hours I played displayed any traits of likability, depth or intrigue. Every single one of them are lifeless plot devices used to shovel the player along to the next objective. They display absolutely no emotion whatsoever, and it doesn’t help that the dialogue is exposition-laden and dull while the voice acting is horrid. When Dr. Gould explained to me that the nano-suit was “the best on the market” and that he served as a support character for Prophet, his tone indicated that he was talking to a mentally challenged four-year-old boy in a kindergarten classroom. Even Hargreave, the only character who threatened to be vaguely interesting during my time with the game, sounded off in his delivery. I know he’s an old guy, but seriously; the pitch of this guy’s voice would often zig-zag like a bouncy ball in action.
This leads me to comment on the protagonist himself, Alcatraz. A cool name, for sure, but he has the misfortune of being a silent protagonist, meaning that like the rest of the characters, he has no personality whatsoever. Not only that, but he doesn’t even serve a legitimately active role in the storyline. From the game’s outset, he’s just ordered around by fellow NPCs and sent on tasks that they assign for him. His initial mission as a marine is to find Gould, but when he does, he then helps him with his tasks from then on. Why? What reason does Alcatraz, and in turn me the player, have to give two specks of a shit about anything Gould wants? Or anyone else the game puts him under the command of? Nothing appears to be at stake for the tight-lipped protagonist, and none of the emotionless assholes the game pairs him with are likable in the least. Why is Alcatraz even wearing the suit when every other soldier or scientist he meets seems to be more qualified to do his job than he is? They’re all more knowledgeable than he is, and they seem to be the only ones moving the plot forward. I, as the player, feel like I’m attending “take your kid to work day.” And I’m the kid.
This lack of pro-activeness extends to several first-person cutscenes in which Alcatraz is restrained or helpless. One sequence in particular was the one after he gets captured by that military leader (Lockhart or something? I couldn’t give less of a crap) after the nano-suit gets conveniently disabled. Yup, this makes me feel like a total badass like the game’s marketing promised. You’re then led outside by his soldiers and board a chopper for extraction, at which point a tentacle rips through the ground and downs the chopper. Then Alcatraz’s suit tries to reboot while you’re forced to sit and watch explosions and gunfire happen all around you. Jesus, Crytek; why am I even playing your game if you intend on giving me the finger and putting the game on autopilot so your graphics engine can jerk itself off? This entire sequence lasts well over five minutes and doesn’t let you do squat. This isn’t counting the other non-interactive moments, as well as the insipid “hold down this button to focus on some environmental destruction happening in the background” moments. Woohoo, more pointless stuff I can’t participate in!
But what about the gameplay? Surely this is why everyone loves Crysis 2 and has built shrines colored Metacritic-green for it? I’m sad to say that this aspect of the game failed to tickle my pickle as well. The basic hook that Crytek establishes is that this nano-suit gives you options. You can use its invisibility cloak to sneak past enemies, its armor to soak up bullets, or its spring-loaded feet to jump several meters in the air. In reality however, there are only two ways to play Crysis 2: stealthily, or guns blazing. When you first enter one of the arena-like levels, you’ll get the chance to survey the area below from a balcony or cliff. After a minute, you’ll have easily tagged every enemy in the map and know each of their exact positions. From there, you activate cloak for stealth and try to dispatch enemies with silent takedowns, and activate armor for gunfights when you get spotted. Those are your options: stealth or running and gunning. Doesn’t sound too different from every other shooter out there, does it? I struggle to see why this was touted as a totally different “thinking man’s” shooter.
This wouldn’t be such a problem if both the stealth and gunplay weren’t thoroughly unsatisfying. The AI has no problem suddenly turning around while you’re sneaking up to them and spotting you through your cloak, making stealth almost impossible. However, their smarts seem to disappear during firefights, which house some of the most pathetic AI I’ve ever seen in a shooter. They’ll routinely run into walls, each other, or fail to shoot you when you’re standing right next to them. You might as well forget stealth altogether and just start shooting enemies whenever you first enter an ‘arena.’ So, it’s not challenging in the least, and this combined with the generic guns and the lack of any sense of bullet impact makes the shooting completely boring.
The worst part about the gameplay, however, are the levels themselves. Simply put, they’re bland. All of them are unremarkable in terms of geography and architecture. The climbing aspect that the game boasts about so much usually isn’t an option since there are so few scaffolds and ledges that are climbable. Even then, enemies can spot you from up high if you’re not cloaked, so what’s the point? Then there are pointless segments where you’re forced to walk down carelessly strung-together hallways, such as hotel rooms, parking garages and train stations, with close to nothing of interest in them. This is Crytek’s idea of pacing. Sometimes these at least show you a cool vista or random diseased civilians, but at other times they just exist for no reason. At one point while running through some sort of sewer that housed no enemies or any other notable objects or areas of interest, I had to ask myself exactly why that part of the level had any right to exist at all. I have the uncanny ability to remember the design of game levels I play for very long periods of time, sometimes up to months or even years, but I’m already forgetting the unremarkable levels of Crysis 2 only hours after playing it.
We come at last to the game’s graphics. Now, this is Crytek we’re talking about, so of course the game looks stunning from a technical standpoint. The lighting is sublime, showering environments with a realistic glow that never fails to impress, and the explosions and animations all look nearly lifelike as well. However, that’s only half of the cookie. A game also needs appealing artistic direction to look nice, and Crysis 2 doesn’t even try in this category. The environments consist of generic streets, offices, docks, apartments, etc that are in no way unique or interesting. I’ve been in several offices before both in games and in real life. What makes you think I want to visit another one? I realize the game is supposed to look ‘realistic,’ but that’s no excuse for dullness; I come across interesting locations in real life all the time. Furthermore, none of the colors stand out, making for another grey-ish FPS aesthetic that feels indistinguishable from the rest, and the arrangement of levels aren’t inspired or creative in the least. Even the Call of Duty titles at least make the effort to put you in outlandish environments (airplane graveyard, anyone?) that are unpredictably arranged.
If there’s one redeeming quality to this hot mess, it has be Hans Zimmer’s majestic score for the game. Each track is delightfully composed and makes use of everything from from stirring violin pieces to blaring trumpets to ominous synths in order to create moods of heroism, mystery, despair and fear whenever each are needed. I ended up buying the soundtrack on iTunes, and now whenever I listen to a track my heart sinks at the tragic fact that such passionately made music should have been attached to a better game.
You know what Crysis 2 is? Mountains of potential that isn’t capitalized on. The graphics are great, but they’re wasted on a generic art style. The mechanics are great, but they’re wasted on straightforward objectives and level design. The setting is great, but it’s wasted on emotionless characters and a dull plot. Now you know why Crysis 2 bored me; it showed no notable reflection of imagination or creativity on the developer’s part. It was a trek through a blank canvas waiting for a splash of paint that never came. I seriously wanted to like the game, and I’m glad that a lot of people did manage to get enjoyment out of it, but I just couldn’t find the same joy amidst the glaring flaws.
Before you decide to press the buttons on those missile launchers you already have targeted at my house, let me state that Crysis 2 is not a BAD game. In fact, it has the components and framework of an amazing one, such as smooth controls, an outstanding graphics engine, an interesting premise, and solid gameplay mechanics. The problem, as stated above, is that it never DOES anything with them. It’s like if an incredibly handsome teenager put on the best tux, perfume and hair gel he could find, set out for the prom, and when he got there he decided to simply walk around in circles, occasionally going to the bathroom or agreeing to someone’s request to fetch them a drink.
From the look of things, Crysis 3 is set to remedy some of these issues, but I’m still incredibly skeptical. Back when I played the first Crysis on a friend’s computer, I had fun throwing turtles off cliffs and shooting up an outdoor tropical-themed bar. However, when I actually straightened my tie and set off to play the game’s missions, they all felt similarly generic and boring. Maybe Crytek is destined to just make incredibly pretty games wherein absolutely nothing happens. You know what? Why are they even making shooters if the actual shooting is so uninspired? They should stick to what they do well, and make games that capitalize on the visuals and sandboxes they do so well. Perhaps if they set out to do a first-person adventure game and hired a half-decent writer, they could pull it off.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m gonna go to sleep. This time, intentionally.
What did you think of Crysis 2, single-players? Let me know, and stay tuned for another rant next week. Happy holidays!