What Makes a truly great action movie? It's a desperate John McClane jamming some C4 beneath a monitor and experimentally kicking it down a lift shaft on a swivel chair. It's Indy telling Sallah "I don't know, I'm making this up as I go" before instinctively tearing after a Nazi truck.
It's all about a hero living on his wits, making life or death decisions on the fly and the world hinging on his actions. Crysis encapsulates this, it thrives on putting the onus on you to create your own brand of action and adventure in its stunningly beautiful locations. You and the game can haphazardly create moments of such gaming brilliance that often you pretty much have to stand up and applaud.
What makes a decent, but unremarkable, action movie? It's heroes outrunning climactic explosions. It's an over-reliance on special effect brouhaha that rides roughshod over any of this vital spark of humanity. Sadly, the final act of Crysis encapsulates this too. Crysis is an astounding achievement a game worth upgrading for and something for us to treasure - but it certainly isn't perfect. Still, we've had some good times.
Suddenly caught in flagrante slap-bang in the middle of a dirt track without my stylish Predator-esque cloak, a passing jeep with a rear-mounted machine gun begins to take advantage of my predicament. Leaping behind a nearby sturdy palm tree, I pause to gather my thoughts - but that gunner keeps gunning. Suddenly the trunk of my sanctuary splinters, and I sit there paralysed by a bizarre mixture of fear and delight as the tree in front of me slowly and inexorably begins to tilt then fall - leaving me staring down a delighted Korean's gun barrel with nothing but my imminent death in mind. I scream with joy.
I just have so many of these excitably expressed war stories I could regale you with. Times when equal measures of my stupidity, cunning and luck coalesced into 100 per cent proof fun. Like picking up a carelessly discarded outboard motor, turning on my super-strength and bouncing it off the head of an angry Korean soldier - only to watch it bounce over a large rock and accidentally crush his best mate as a bonus.
Or jumping into a jeep, wondering what the hell to do with the guy manning the machine gun in the seat behind me - then ploughing into a shed, colliding with the struts holding it up, causing the roof collapse and leaping out just as everything went up in a fireball.
Or with my dying breath tossing a grenade into a sniper's watchtower at that perfect angle and seeing it collapse perfectly in on itself and crumple to the ground.
Or sneaking up behind two patrolling soldiers while cloaked, grabbing the rear one then pelting off into the undergrowth with the sole intention of bouncing him off a rock and into the sea.
All brilliant moments of FPS fun seemingly coming out of nothing at all.
What surprised me most when playing Crysis though, was just how similar it is to Far Cry (a similarity no doubt aided and abetted by the fact that a fair amount of what Crytek intended for Crysis appears to have hit the wayside - see box opposite). As the game stands though, this is no bad thing: this is a rebuilt more powerful Far Cry for the new generation of hardware. Many of its levels are even rethought variations on what went before - notably one map with a heavily fortified base perched on a rock outcrop in the middle of a valley that apes Far Cry's third level without a care in the world. It's a condensed version (I smelt the roses on the way and clocked in at around 11 hours) with some remarkable new features replacing the duff interior sections - and an almighty few shifts in gear two-thirds of the way through intent on keeping you hooked until the end. Something that certainly wasn't the case with Far Cry, a game that only myself and the sadomasochists that live next door ever fought through.
That's not to say that Crysis is forgiving though; to kick off with it seems mercilessly hard. For the first three hours, amid the giggles, the going is extremely tough - with you seemingly permanently cowering behind small lumps of rock while Korean bullets try to carve you into new and interesting shapes. Hie key to beating this difficulty curve is the mastery of the nanosuit - which is not only vital to your continuing survival, but also to the amount of joy you can get out of the game.
You play as a chap called Nomad, a gruff military sort who only speaks when in direct proximity to plot. You and your (steadily disappearing) squadmates are gifted with muscle-hugging nanosuits that make you the first line of offence in any international squabble. It's eerily similar to Halo's Master Chief setup actually - not least when you're being bawled at by gruff US military types or being the super-charged backbone of full-on military vehicle assaults.
The nanosuit itself is accessed through pressing down on your mousewheel and, with an increasing aspect of second nature, nudging in the required direction for speed, strength, invisibility or shielding. Of these shielding is most vital in terms of death avoidance, it means that your suit will sap your energy reserves to let it soak up two or three shots before any skin gets pierced, and as such is generally your neutral mode. Invisibility, well that's where you get to feel like the Predator. Only applicants with the very finest of eyesight get into the army of Kim Jong II these days, and even the briefest flash of your hide can have klaxons blaring, distress flares being fired far into the air and a collection of badasses being ferried in by helicopter. Strength, meanwhile, is the most fun (yet least used) power - letting you leap I onto roofs, punch through the walls of I wooden structures and, yes, even punch jeeps. As for speed - well that does what it says on the nanotin.
How does your average action burst play out then? Take the seaside village you infiltrate invade on a rescue mission early in the game. As an eager and over-exuberant fconscript my initial policy was to charge in with a van and run some people over, steal a (rocket launcher, make some holes in my surroundings, take a ponderous moment to select super-strength, murder a Korean man with a shopping trolley and then end up cowering inside a nearby JCB's scoop as 20 or so extremely angry orientals converged on my position.
Now, having completed the game and become a nanosuit veteran, that all seems faintly embarrassing - as if I've seen a picture of myself in 1993 with my hair in curtains and wearing a lumberjack shirt You see, after completing the game you feel compelled to return to these old haunts and, if you'll forgive the phrase, pwn them. Really put in a bit of showboating. Returning to this mission I tagged all in sight with my binocs, stuck a silencer on my pistol, dabbled with the firing modes on my rifle, unthinkingly cloaked myself, moved myself from cover to cover, snuck past the sentries and began to take out the red menace from within. Every time they caught sight of me I'd slip into speed mode and dart around a corner, sit still to recharge my power batteries and then become invisible again only to reappear somewhere they'd never suspect.
On a first play of Crysis you feel that the odds are entirely stacked against you, but the deeper you go, you become increasingly aware that despite the challenge, you do have the facility to start toying with enemies like a cat constantly releasing, then recapturing a half-dead rodent Obviously, at some point you will always bring the high explosives out to play and start instigating trolley death, but the . Korean sections of Crysis make it the most replayable shooter I've ever played. And as for the feeling of having two final bad guys running after you in a freshly decimated base, having unlimited breathing space to concoct inventive deaths for the poor souls is a paramount joy.
As you move from seaside restaurant, to fortified village, to military base and onwards to shipyards and mortar-pocked harbours I'd be lying if issues did not arise. Enemy Al is either very good or absolutely pig stupid - and very little lies in between. Grunts manning vehicle machine guns are lost as to what to do when you're close by, while those on gun emplacements are often oblivious to World War III breaking out a couple of metres behind them. Every now and then you come across a soldier who just clearly doesn't know what he's supposed to be doing (but then again if a six foot man in a grey muscle suit had just decloaked near me and was about to reach for my throat - well I guess I'd look a bit dazed too).
Something that really surprised me though was that the vehicles just aren't as much fun to use as they were in Far Cry. This is presumably because Crysis' vehicles have been designed with its 'CS meets Battlefield' Power Struggle mode in mind (see box left) - and the added realism and more cumbersome handling that this brings just lessens the feelings of freedom and fun.
Compared to the sheer delight of charging down a river taking out multiple helicopters with your ultra-manoeuvrable speedboat in Far Cry, doing something similar with a big old dinghy in Crysis just isn't as thrilling. I mean, what's even the point of being given the option to sit in the back seat of a jeep when on a solo mission?
The Koreans aren't just here bullying local archaeologists and building military installations for shits and giggles though they're here to dabble with forces that they cannot begin to comprehend. As premises go, it's a faintly familiar yet excellent one, but don't start expecting any narrative cleverness or characters who do much beyond move the plot from one stage to the next. Crysis is the anti-BioShock - and never pretends to be anything else. I mean, one of your fellow squadmates is an English chap called Psycho (who's sadly no relation to Stuart Pearce) whose dialogue contains more 'wanker's, 'bloody's, 'fuck's and 'bollocks' than are edited out of the average episodeof Jeremy Kyle.
To be fair though, this never really becomes a major issue - mainly because Crytek are far more keen on expressing their world to you through the things you see and the things you do. Like standing among a tank convoy staring up at a gigantic distant mountain and hearing the distant rumble as its insides start to churn, and huge chunks fall from it into the valley below. Or when you first meet the aliens.
Oh yeah, the aliens. I'd almost forgotten. As I've previously mentioned, the men behind Crysis have built it to tease and entice throughout - even 'gasp!' by pulling a bit of a Xen trick halfway through.
Now I need you to be aware that I will start bitching in a little while, but I admit that at first this is a fairly successful ruse. After levels that have plonked you into tank assaults and a frantic one-man attack on an open mine, the moment you nervously approach the strange, organic wonder that is the long-buried alien structure is priceless. The moment at which you find yourself in zero-G (and here's to the cheekily psychic nature of US military tech designers for the boosters on my suit!) is a real pleasure, and the first appearance of your squid-like foe genuinely terrifying.
This amazing level may end in a confusing manner, but is magisterial simply because everything is so, well... alien. It's like being trapped in an ant nest, and aware of the beauty of its hive of activity but being incapable of knowing what's going on. As for the combat well it's quite fun - but the intergalactic squids sure ain't no Koreans.
If you didn't realise that the aliens next move is to cause a little mischief with the tropical thermostat then you've been hibernating. Visually, the frozen jungle is stunning. It's here that you come across your alien friends all kitted out in their winter best dropped off by giant flying metal kraken-beasts like a mum leaving her kids at school humming, ice-dagger firing can leap in the air and, with a neat tilt fire themselves in your direction in a flash of spinning blades.
Thing is though, fun as it certainly is at first after a while of this you first realise that Crytek have suddenly got you playing a dtfferent game. And that game is Medal of Honour Alien Assault. Everything you learnt and loved in the first half of the game becomes a sequence of ally-protection missions, sitting in the back of jeeps firing at the air-squids overhead, sitting in antiaircraft guns and knocking even more of the threat from the sky, a truly awful level in which you pilot a craft that handles like a bin van with wings... the list goes on. I found myself sitting there wondering what exactly had happened to all the fun I used to have with my Korean friends.
Now what I'm about to say could be considered a spoiler, and it is I suppose, but it will make yours a happier playing experience if you realise that after the crappy flying level, where you end up is the last level. And yes, I realise that it will all look very familiar from stuff you've seen in the gaming press before, but this place is honestly the setting for a whole bunch of too-ing, fro-ing and disappointing boss battles that deliver little more than the initial wow factor. And as for the actual moment it ends - Jesus Christ! Forget crap Call of Duty endings, forget even Far Cry - the desultory 'here comes the sequel or, more likely, the expansion!' sequence Crysis ends on is an outright kick in the teeth.
Back In Black
Which makes it all the more lucky that the first thing I did having completed the game was start running through my quicksaves and getting back to the free-form goodness I was revelling in but four hours earlier. Bullying the toads and moorhens I came across, causing more of those explosions that were simply to die for, rootling through people's fridges, simultaneously living on the very edge of my wits and the seat of my pants. I don't begrudge Crytek for including all that alien stuff, but it sits at such complete right angles with what lias gone before that it can't help but jar. They're simply not quite as good at creating scripted action as they are action-bubble delights, and when they're so good at the latter, the fact sticks out like a sore, frozen alien thumb-appendage.
Crysis is a graphical marvel, it boasts the best application of physics I've ever come across and, in the nanosuit a gimmick that genuinely brings something original and exciting to the table.
A long time ago I signed off a review that called Far Cry the beating heart of the FPS. and this is a tradition that has been held true. Despite its occasional lapse, it is a game with a taste of the future - of what can and will be done with PC gaming. Despite the bathetic bombast of its close, at its root it recognises that it's the gamer who's star of the show. Not the graphics, not the physics, not the jungle - just you stuck in the middle, making it up as you go...
Processor: PC compatible,
OS: Windows 9x, Windows 2000 Windows XP, Vista, Win 7, Win 8, Win 10.
Game Features:Single game mode