Crysis 3's hardest difficulty setting is described as "Post-Human." I don't appreciate having my species challenged—I mean, I think modern homo sapiens have been around long enough to handle a little extra damage in a first-person shooter. Get off my lawn, kid, I'm a veteran.
Crysis 3 shrugs and challenges me to reach its lawn: an overgrown field outside the dilapidated warehouse where my single-player demo starts. I tip-toe around the structure's brittle, broken upper level with my nanosuit cloaked and my bow drawn. Then I run out of energy, but it's no big deal, I don't see anyon— brap brap brap ! As soon as I'm visible, an army sticks its head out of the weeds and pelts me to death. I die and try again. I die and try again. I die and look around to make sure no one's watching. I die and admit I'm just a regular human, apologize to the game, and drop the difficulty to normal.
Now I'm navigating the warehouse without dying every twenty steps, using my cloak to sneak up on patrols and silently put arrows in their heads. It's nice to have a reticle this time. It's also nice, in that it keeps me alive, that the guards don't seem to mind when their buddies suddenly collapse next to them, afflicted by what they must assume is a normal and harmless case of the pointy-rod-through-brain flu. What's that thing they say? Feed a cold, starve an arrow in the head?
I'm much more durable now, but I'm still having trouble seeing my enemies. Everything is gorgeous, but the environment is astringently crisp, and while I have to lean into the display to pick out baddies from the rusted hunks of iron and unstoppable overgrowth, they have no problem putting their sights on me. I guess that's what I get for wearing a giant black suit that screams, "I'm definitely the guy you're looking for."
I love the bow, though. The bow makes me powerful, and using it makes the soldiers look stupid. Look at them, walking around like tough guys with their big heavy guns. I'm an elegant hunter, not a brute. I can fire while cloaked, and use special arrow tips to electrocute and dismember without being seen. I'm a terribly cruel ninja. The bow is such an efficient tool for violence, I don't even bother with my guns.
After traversing the warehouse, I find a convenient escape zipline which very conspicuously swoops me out of the building and into the field outside. The grass reaches over my head, and I can barely see anything, but I'll be fine unless there's an army of drooling, leaping alien beasts living in the brush.
My zipline entrance was as subtle as that foreshadowing, so they spot me right away. I'm not an elegant hunter anymore. I'm being hunted. Go away, bow, you have no place handling grass monsters! I cloak, run, shoot, and repeat. When I cloak, the beasts wander away, but when I decloak, it's like I've just shouted, “Hey everyone with huge sword arms, I cut like butter!”
They leap at me with enough force to knock me down, but my nanosuit's armor function keeps me standing long enough to run my bullet machine across their faces. I can't tell if I'm thinning their numbers. They keep coming. The squishy sounds they make are atrocious. I'm lost in the grass and I don't know where to go. And then I run out of ammo.
I don't even have any exploding arrows left—who only packs a handful of exploding arrows?—and I'm now aware that this has become a survival horror game, so I shift my focus to scurrying around in search of ammo and guns. They aren't easy to find, and there's never enough. I'm nearing frustration when I finally deplete the field's purple alien supply, and now, on a concrete platform somewhere, I'm even more lost.
Lost in transit
My objective markers mysteriously disappeared—a bug, maybe, or I accidentally hit a key and disabled them. I glance at someone else's screen and luck out: they're at the same spot, and I can see where to go. I am to meet a surly bald fellow with a very big turret.
Survival horror time is over, and now I feel like I'd fit in alongside one of MechWarrior's walking tanks. I blow up a wave of squishy-sounding beasts from the mounted gun, then detach it and twirl around, blowing the guts out of everything with my incredibly large supply of explosive ammo. This is much more fun than being lost, I think. And then I get lost again.
My guide disappeared while I was on my revenge spree, but with more screen-looking I find him again. He's standing at a completely unremarkable spot on the map. He isn't moving or talking. I shoot him in the face. He doesn't flinch. I jump around in front of him. I don't know what I thought that would do after I already shot him in the face. I clearly missed some dialog, so I glance at my neighbor's screen again.
Ah, I'm to give a rusty train a nano-powered shove and hop on top of it for a literal on-rails section. Baldy and I cling to the top of the runaway train, shooting, shooting, and shooting as the massive bullet accelerates through a tunnel. But as we pass by more and more surprised guards, I realize I'm not hitting anyone, so I stop shooting. I didn't really need to be, apparently, so I just take the ride to the end of the demo. Booom! I knew we were going to crash into something.
Out of power
I had the most fun when I felt powerful. That was twice: first when I was stalking guards with the bow, and later when I was blowing up beasts with the turret. The rest of the time I was frantically darting around like a mouse in a busy kitchen, hoping to go unnoticed. There is, of course, a need for contrast—moments of weakness to be compared to triumphs.
I probably could have made better tactical decisions if I were quicker about identifying threats, but I wish I'd had a few more lulls in the action to plot my next moves. A perch where I could take a breath and decide how to proceed before executing. Keeping players moving and reacting isn't necessarily a bad decision—it seems like the intentional pacing for this section—but the constant urgency was exhausting.
It's not the "Go! Go! Go!" urgency of a Call of Duty level, where every objective is the most important thing you'll ever do and half the screen is dedicated to setting the scene. My objectives were just places to go at my leisure. The urgency came from rapidly cycling, moment-to-moment survival reactions: run, hide, sneak, shoot, run out of ammo, hide, run away from Cephalopods, hide, and always kill or be killed. If that's the goal if this section—and I don't know exactly how it fits into the complete game—then it succeeds.