This preview originally appeared in PC Gamer UK Issue 240
Rasmus Hojengaard, director of creative development at Crytek, on the genesis of the idea for Crysis 3: “We wanted to do something with some kind of dome, over some kind of city.”
Well, this is Crysis, so the dome had better be a nanodome. And they just made all of New York for the last game, so that might as well be the city.
It's 20 years after you shot all the aliens invading NYC in Crysis 2. Everyone's given up trying to work out whether or not you're Prophet, whose memories and voice you mysteriously took on after his death in the last game, so you are. And instead of having his voice in your ear for guidance, as you did in Crysis 1, you have the cockney lilt of Psycho, who you played in Crysis Warhead. It's such a jumble of stuff from the previous games that it almost feels like a remix. The good news is that when you remix New York City with a densely jungled island, the result looks awesome.
Technically the Crysis games always have, but this time the appeal isn't just technical: this is a cool, visually imaginative place.
The (cough) nanodome the evil Cell corporation have built over (sigh) New York artificially accelerates plant growth, in order to (er) 'cleanse' the alien 'pollution'. Look, I'm not Cell Public Relations, I don't have to justify their science. I just have to tell you that Chinatown is a swamp now, and six other districts of New York have been spliced with six other natural environments to make this a more interesting place.
The mission I've seen starts in a Chinaswamp subway, lousy with creepers and glistening wet. It's night. Outside, Crysis 2-era aliens are finishing off injured Cell troops, and prowling the waterlogged streets. Argon lights blare from a nearby Cell tower, one of the completely scientifically logical devices that sprinkle a dash of Crysis 1's jungles in Crysis 2's cities.
It's a tight environment: Prophet has a little space to stalk his prey before attacking, but in minutes the mech-like aliens show up in overwhelming force and he resorts to a straight firefight. After the plasma's cleared, Rasmus tells me there are more open levels than this: it's not as sandboxy as Crysis 1, but not as tightly directed as Crysis 2. Like some kind of remix. Their plan is to alternate between the two styles, for pacing. The seven visually distinct zones of their overgrown New York make a good excuse to do that.
Rasmus explains that linear play is more popular in the mainsteam, while sandbox is a hardcore thing. That's not much comfort to those of us who live entirely in the hardcore camp, and were half hoping for a return to Crysis 1 expansivity.
One addition does suggest some playfulness, though: the nanosuit can now hack alien gun emplacements to attack enemies. It's a simple click-to-subvert interaction, but it opens a few more doors.
The main new weapon, a bow, is also promising. It's a backwards step in technology, of course, but Crytek are keen to feed the hunter fantasy that made Crysis 1 exciting. And it does have a practical advantage: because of science, and nano, you can fire it while cloaked without revealing your location. If it's ever bothered you that your enemies sometimes have the chance to fight back when you invisibly kill their friends, this is an appreciated boost to your already ridiculous power. It's limited only by the scarcity of arrows, and a new enemy: Half-Life 2-style scanner bots, whose inquisitive beams can pull you out of cloak and zap all your suit energy. You're safe if you kill them first, but when they show up in large numbers, that tactic clashes badly with arrow economy.
The bow also fires exploding arrows, but you're rarely short of a weapon that can make things explode. Prophet's nanosuit has been modified to use alien weaponry, but it's not exactly exotic to the experienced shooter player: two of the weapons I saw lobbed exploding projectiles, the third had two fire modes: assault rifle, or shotgun. Crazy aliens.
I ask Rasmus if they even considered doing away with the aliens entirely, given that players overwhelmingly prefer human opponents. An immediate “no”. He couldn't estimate a proportion of human combat versus alien fights, but says the city is crawling with both.
I think Crysis 3 is going to be great to explore, in a way that Crysis 2 wasn't. I'm not convinced it'll be any more fun to play. Whether you call it consistency of vision or self-destructive stubbornness, Crytek are never going to stop trying to make a mainstream sci-fi blockbuster in favour of the freeform predator sim they're capable of. They're good at making weapons feel nice, and their shaders look shiny, but you can always see that more ambitious, more interesting game struggling to escape the Halo straitjacket they shove it in.
If you enjoyed Crysis 2, this is bound to be better. If you're still pining for the first game, though, Crysis 3 is only willing to meet you half way.