Perhaps no video game has been hyped as hard as Crysis since Daikatana (and somebody out there is cringing just as much as me at the mention of the D-word). For the last year or two, there has been a constant thrum of whispers, growing steadily louder... "Crysis is coming... Crysis is coming... Crysis is coming!" We've seen screenshots. Movies. Sneak peaks at E3. Mindblowing system requirements. And now...
Crysis is here.
Let's get something straight right out of the gate: Crysis ain't for yo mammy's computer. If you haven't upgraded your computer in the last 3 or so years, this probably is a game you're just going to have to skip. Crysis was not designed with the "broadest possible demographic" in mind like many games. This game is squarely targeted (with laser sights and gyroscopic stabilization) on the hardware enthusiast with cash to spare.
What makes it so, you ask? What, have you been under a rock? I retort. Take a gander at the "recommended" minimum requirements:
CPU: Core 2 Duo/Athlon X2 or better
Video Card: NVIDIA 7800 Series, ATI Radeon 1800 Series or better
VRAM: 512MB of Graphics Memory
That's right, folks.. Core 2 Duo or better... 1.5 gigs of ram or better... Nvidia 7800 at the least. And Crysis takes every bit your system has to offer and wrings it like a washrag.
Everything you've heard about the graphics, physics, world, etc in Crysis is true. Every blade of grass and tropical leaf is 3D rendered and able to be pushed around and seen from different angles (no tree-branch sprites here). Fires, explosions, smoke, dust, all look stupidly real. Water looks and acts so much like actual water (even right down to wave dynamics, light refraction and beading off the camera when you get out) that I actually found myself thinking I could cool off my computer's white-hot GPU by going underwater.
Yeah, you heard me right. My beastly 8800 GTX overheats in Crysis. After 5 to 10 minutes of play, it's often pushing 85 or more degrees C, and if I don't pause and alt-tab out to let it cool back down into the 70s it'll lock up. I managed to mitigate this somewhat by overriding the fan speed throttling, pegging it at 100% at all times, and opening the case to aid in airflow. This is, of course, a temporary solution. I don't intend to leave my case open all the time, and despite having ponied up around 1600 bucks for this rig I suddenly now feel too tightwaddish to blow another 200 dollars on a liquid cooling solution. I'm thinking one of those PCI-slot fitted fans to mount directly in front of the vid card to push more air past its heat sink. But I digress.
This game isn't just another pretty face though, there's tits below that face too. Well, what I mean to say is, it also has what matters. Ok, this metaphor is just making me look worse and worse. Let me speak plainly - the game is fun. In addition to pushing visual boundaries, the game also breaks new ground in gameplay. The controls are familiar enough to anyone who likes contemporary FPSes, with of course a few idiosynchratic touches to give the game its "feel," but the true novelty to the experience is the suit your little guy wears.
You have two gauges on your HUD, one for health and one for "power." Feels a little like Half Life (much of the game does, actually, and that's meant to be a compliment). The "Default" setting for the suit seems to be "Armor," which means that power meter functions the same as armor (suit power in HL). The suit recharges itself rather quickly so long as you aren't actively taking damage, and as you get wounded, the suit seems to also be some kind of miracle surgeon, patching you up within a few seconds of the punishment ending. That part feels sort of like Call of Duty (again, a compliment). Your suit also has three other settings: Speed, Strength, and Stealth. In speed mode, sprinting uses up suit power but it makes you unbelievably quick. Strength mode turns your punches into explosive-boosted mule kicks and gives your legs enough oompf to let you jump 20 feet in the air (with a chunk of power being used for each feat of might). Stealth mode channels the suit's energy into bending light around you and your weapon, rendering you instantly invisible to everybody who isn't in range to literally trip over you, but the power drain is constant and gets faster the more you move around. It scales from lasting roughly a minute or so if you stay in one position, to 30 seconds if you are crawling or moving slowly, to about 5-10 seconds if you are sprinting. Firing a shot (or throwing a grenade) while stealthed instantly depletes all the suit's power. When the power empties out, the suit reverts to Armor mode and starts recharging itself. Switching between modes is fast and easy, just hold the middle mouse button and move the mouse in the direction of the icon on the radial menu that represents the function you want.
The other thing that is pretty neat about Crysis is the weapon customization. Gone are the days of thinking "this gun has some pretty good damage, but I hate having to use its iron sights, and it needs a laser dot too... and a grenade launcher." Well, Crysis lets you customize weapons on the fly. Once you find the appropriate parts, you can tack on laser pointers, flashlights, red dot reflex sights, sniper scopes, grenade launchers, dart cannons, silencers, whatever... to just about any gun you can find. Yes, you can even put a laser pointer on the barrel of your shotgun, if you wanted to be a smartass.
The upshot of all this is the game becomes everything to everyone. If you want to be stealthy and sneaky and kill silently, you can. If you want to be in a John Wayne war movie and machine gun down bad guys with a he-man sneer, you can. It was a pleasant surprise to find an innovative and well-thought-out gaming experience under all the pretty graphics.
Of course, even in this tropical paradise, not all is sweetness and light. The tank combat feels a little off. For some reason enemy helicopters have no trouble spotting (and shooting) me through dense overgrowth, heavy forestation, and sometimes even when I stealth into a small building, then unstealth... next thing I know, the building is demolished by helicopter missile fire. The pidgin english yelled by the NK troops ("I kirr you foh fun!") gets rather repetitive after a while, and I've experienced some bugs with loading saved games. Once I even shot down a helicopter and large chunks of debris somehow got stuck between a building's two walls and started ricocheting back and forth faster and faster, an unstoppable, noisy, wiggling polygon of death (because it kills you if it hits you at its wiggle-velocity). Seems a bit sloppy for a game that is supposed to sport the most realistic visuals and physics to date. I was also a bit dubious of how my suit can keep my entire body invisible for 10 seconds as I sprint through a sunny field, but I gently toss one little grenade and suddenly it's drained of all power. And of course, the ending is a big extended middle finger "stay tuned!" that rather pissed me off.
However, those seem like small problems (even my individual system's overheating problem) when you really start to get into the game. You won't find many tight hallways and claustrophobic levels here, you can run down a road or stomp through the underbrush or swim down a river, or whatever. While there are specific objectives to achieve, how you get there and do them are largely left up to your own preference (if not imagination). And, of course, the whole thing looks damn good. It impressed me, for once, to not have my cynical expectations about a very-hyped game be proven true. And I don't give out A-grades lightly. Verdict: A
And that's the word from Bandit camp.