Spotlight on… Crysis 2

Shining a light on noteworthy titles of old. 
This time, Crytek’s first foray into console gaming.

An image of the official box-art for Crysis 2 on Xbox 360

Release: 2011
Developer: Crytek | Publisher: Electronic Arts
Platform: PC, PS3, 360
Buy from Amazon: Crysis 2

“Can it run Crysis?” asks the playfully self-aware first Achievement that appears five minutes into Crysis 2’s campaign, echoing gamers and developers around the world at the time who had been wondering the exact same thing – ever since PC-only developer Crytek announced their impending arrival on consoles. Indeed, the image accompanying the achievement is none other than a PC with smoke bellowing out of it; a tongue in cheek reference to the still-legendary spec requirements demanded by the PC original. Famed for bringing high-spec PCs to their knees, Crytek had set their sights on the supposedly under-powered Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 consoles, and the results were fascinating.

Now it may seem somewhat shallow to begin a game retrospective by focusing on visuals, but rarely are they so intrinsically linked with the expectations of a game. With so much talk about this aspect prior to release, and indeed with Crytek themselves bringing it so obviously to the player’s attention (in-game no less) so soon, it’s clear that visuals were a big deal when it came to this long anticipated sequel. They were a big deal for fans curious about how the sequel would stand up to its much touted predecessor, a big deal for console gamers coming to the series for the first time and wondering what all the fuss was about, and of course for Crytek themselves, using the game as a shop-window display of sorts for their new game engine on consoles.

The visuals were a big deal for all of these reasons sure – Crytek built much of their reputation on it after all – but with the benefit of hindsight, it is clear that they were a big deal because they are so pivotal in providing the overall experience that Crysis 2 offers. The realism and detail evident in the city setting of the opening few sections (not to mention the scale of them) is absolutely paramount in heightening the dramatic impact of when it all eventually comes crashing down around you. Add this to realistic physics, intelligent AI, genuinely massive set pieces, and not forgetting of course – something people often seem to do when it comes to this series – a solid shooting game running through it all.

An in-game screenshot from Crysis 2 showing the player character firing a weapon in front of large, burning skyscrapers.

The action sequences throughout the game are relentless and often spectacular

Of course, the more realistic a game gets both visually and mechanically, the more any slight discrepancies can stand out. Crysis 2 is very realistic and ambitious, and has discrepancies both slight and major. All of which stand out.

It’s in these moments where that initial Achievement comes to mind. You see, the at-the-time five-year-old Xbox 360 groaning away in the corner can indeed run Crysis, but it’s being forced – tricked even – into doing so. And corners are being cut to achieve it. Enemies getting stuck in scenery, enemies standing right in front of you, completely motionless in the middle of a massive firefight as if they think you can’t see them if they close their eyes and stand really still, bullets finding their way through level geometry as if it’s not even there. These things are disappointing in any game, but when they are surrounded by so much technical quality elsewhere, its all the more noticeable. Whether these cuts could have been avoided with more development time, or whether they are there through necessity is not something many people outside of Crytek’s German headquarters could ever really know for sure, but they are there, and they are jarring.

The good news then, is that these gripes merely distract from the game rather than ruin it. And it’s only due to the quality of most other aspects of the experience that they are so noticeable in the first place. The bulk of this quality, in sheer visual terms at least – certainly the most immediately obvious – is the lighting. Light cascades over the entire game. Where most games of the time can seem as though light sources are added last, here it’s as if the light was there first and everything else built around it. It absolutely pours through every crack and through every tree, and reflects off every surface it touches. From water in the sea and in puddles, to every window in the towering city skyline, from the glistening metal machinery of the alien structures to the gun in your hand; nothing in the game can escape it’s gaze. It is an impressive effect even now, and goes some way to giving the game some kind of signature look – something it would otherwise struggle to achieve without it.

An in-game screenshot from Crysis 2 showing the player character taking cover whilst being fired upon in a dense city environment.

The cityscapes (or more accurately, what’s left of them) are hugely impressive.

Now underneath all this talk of visuals and hardware capabilities of course lies a game. A shooting game. And one which unlike its PC-only predecessor suddenly found itself right in the middle of two genuine console heavyweights in Activision’s Call of Duty series and Microsoft’s Halo series.

Ironically, in attempting to combine the heavily scripted events of the former with the freedom of tactics of the latter, the middle is pretty much exactly where Crysis 2 falls mechanically too. It is never as blatantly forced and scripted as Call of Duty can often be, but still relies heavily on trigger points before the next phase of battle can begin. At the same time, it allows you to approach many open battle areas (rather crudely signposted with a “Tactical Options Available” cry from your Nanosuit) in a variety of different ways depending on your play style, but never achieves the same sense of random chaos and downright fun that Bungie’s Halo games were so accomplished at providing. This is mainly due to these ‘battle areas’ failing to be quite as open as they initially appear (certainly not as open as those from the original game), and the fact that there is nowhere near the variety and quality of enemies and their individual behavioural traits that defined the Halo series. 

The weapons too are all disappointingly familiar, with an upgrade mechanic that is too vague and lightweight to make much of an impact. The heavy weapons of the game – the rocket launchers and explosives – pack a hell of a punch, but are hidden away alongside some visor modes in a slightly clunky menu system that takes some getting used to and never quite feels intuitive enough. That being said, the Nanosuit which is forced upon you at the beginning of the game is the real deal, its cloaking and armour modes allowing a great deal of tactical freedom throughout the campaign. Too much freedom in fact, as it is entirely possible to get through much of the game using only these two modes. As a result, the fun and freedom that this game can no doubt provide hinges almost entirely on your ability to create it for yourself. Combining these two main abilities along with the lesser running, jumping and strength abilities can result in some thrilling battles and finds the game at its blistering best. It’s just unfortunate that there’s often no need to do it, and a large proportion of players will likely miss a big part of what this game has to offer as a result. A real shame, as all the tools are there to offer a truly intense and thrilling shooter campaign.

An in-game screenshot from Crysis 2 showing a first-person view of the player shooting an enemy, causing him to fall back into large glass panels.

Gunplay is satisfying and weighty, but the suit abilities never quite have the transformative effect on gameplay that they perhaps should.

In terms of story, Crysis 2 is a difficult case to examine. In terms of plot there really isn’t a great deal to it, but this is often to the game’s benefit. The best narrative moments in Crysis 2 are the ones discovered by accident; the tiny glimpses that gradually paint small parts of a bigger picture which is forming around you. The radio broadcasts stumbled upon, the missing person posters that litter the streets and the overheard conversations of guards and civilians are far more engaging than the cut-scenes which are fed to you, many of which can be poorly framed and badly acted. Consider, if you will, the film Cloverfield. There was a story in Cloverfield – something big was happening – but the extent to which you knew about it is open to debate. Resisting the temptation to cut from the action to screaming military chiefs, scenes of debating world leaders or scientists explaining how the situation came to be made for a far more intense and engaging experience. Crysis 2 is often within reach of this kind of experience, but the few cut-scenes that are in the game only serve to undermine and distract from your part in it.

Crysis 2 comes close to greatness. It’s an experience like few others and one that can provide a lot of fun as long as you take the time to learn how to play with it and not just through it. It has niggles in terms of design, most notably in its underdeveloped upgrade systems, the behaviour of its enemies and the fact that levels never turn out to be quite as expansive as suggested. But what Crysis 2 gets right, it gets very right. At around 12 hours in length this is a decently sized game compared to many in the genre, and the action and spectacle it packs into that time is on another level to most. It’s also one that never fails to keep surprising, no matter how often you think it can’t possibly top what came before.

Even now, Crysis 2 is impressive for its relentlessness and pace. The sheer scale, ferocity and scope of it all – especially as it enters its final stages – is often overwhelming. That Crytek managed to combine all of this chaos with the detail and fidelity of the visuals; from the shimmering skyscrapers (a few of which fall damn-near on top of you) right down to the particles of fire floating around the scenery, and the lighting… that lighting, on Sony and Microsoft’s already ageing consoles is nothing short of remarkable, and is still impressive to revisit today

So, the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 could run Crysis after all. Somehow. Indeed, it’s somewhat miraculous that our poor consoles didn’t look like that burning PC in the Achievement picture come the end of it all. Because it’s not difficult to imagine that they felt like it.

Buy from Amazon: Crysis 2

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