Why does Crysis 3 exist? The obvious answer is to make money for Crytek and Electronic Arts, but I suspect that it’s not all about the cash. I think Crysis 3 exists because a) everybody loves a trilogy and because b) after Crysis 2, Crytek had something to prove. Crysis 2 was a fine FPS, but it’s console-friendly compromises meant that it didn’t provide the true Crysis experience. It showed what CryEngine 3 could do within a console’s memory and GPU limitations, but the gameplay suffered for the constraints. And that’s why Crysis 3 is, like every Crysis, a demonstration of technical superiority, but also a reworking of Crysis 2 to make it feel more like the original game.
That doesn’t mean that it’s exactly free-roaming, but it’s certainly free-er than its immediate prequel. The game takes place twenty-four years after Crysis 2, in a wrecked New York that has been transformed into an urban rain-forest under the cover of the gigantic Liberty Dome. Crysis 3 carves this setting up into a series of distinct areas, each with their own primary and secondary objectives, and sets you loose with only a few squads of Cell Corporation troopers, the odd handful of alien bezerkers and maybe an attack chopper or two. It’s up to you to reach your objectives, whatever these might be, and no matter what opposition stands in your way. How you do that is up to you.
As in the previous games, your key tool isn’t the gun but your high-tech nanosuit. Tap one key or bumper and it turns into bullet-resistant body armour. Tap another, and it makes you all but invisible. The strength and mobility modes of the first game, allowing you to lift and throw heavy objects, melee attack your foes and run and jump with more speed or distance, are now available continuously by holding the jump button or clicking down on the analogue thumbsticks.
The system encourages two basic approaches: brute-force blasting with your armour maxed out, or stealthy sneaking and slaying with the camouflage turned on. In either case you’re limited by your suit’s dwindling reserves of energy, making timing and strategy critical. Stealth is actually the most interesting option this time around, partly because Crytek has partnered the nanosuit with an all-new weapon, the bow.
Accessorised with a range of different ammo types and modifications, the bow is particularly handy because you can use it while camouflaged. This disrupts the old rhythm of Crysis, where you basically snuck into cover, made swift, guerrilla-style attacks then retreated back into stealth mode. However, there’s something hugely satisfying about taking out a squad of CELL goons before they even know what’s going down. Playing as a predator has never felt so good.
In fact, combat in Crysis 3 has a really good feel. Different guns have their own sense of weight, accuracy and power, and the ability to add different scopes, stocks, underslung weapons and muzzles means you can put together different combinations for different situations. You can still do all the troop-grabbing, troop-throwing and explosive barrel chucking tricks of the earlier Crysis games, and there’s plenty of scope to mix and match strategies.
The great thing about Crysis 3 is that it’s built to support your play style. Suit upgrades allow you to modify the nanosuit for better stealth or enhanced protection and firepower. Meanwhile, Crysis 3 rarely takes the lazy approach, making you follow a dot around the map shooting anything that gets in your way. It gives you all the tools you need to plan and execute your own attacks, and adapt them when things go horribly pear-shaped.
That said, two things help make this Crysis particularly gripping. First, Crytek is getting better and better at putting together set-pieces, and on those occasions where the game does funnel you into a specific situation, that situation is really engaging. There’s a great bit early on with sneaky, savage aliens hiding out in the tall grass, and another chunk where you have to make your way through a flooded urban swamp, dealing with both Cell troops and alien attackers through a series of half-wrecked, flooded buildings. There are some fantastic sequences of infiltration, and some brilliant narrow escapes. Crysis 3 can’t always match Crysis: Warhead for action or scale, but it comes a lot closer than Crysis 2.
Second, Crysis 3 is a stunning-looking game. Even on the Xbox 360 it’s hard to believe that it’s running on current-generation hardware, so awesome are the lighting, surfacing and particle effects. On the PC, meanwhile, it’s a glimpse of what next-generation consoles are only now trying to do, not to mention the new must-have game for hardware show-offs.
And it’s not just the engine that impresses, but the way Crytek’s artists have played to its strengths. Where Crysis 2 brought us familiar visions of a war-torn New York, Crysis 3 dishes out the most imaginative and startling post-apocalyptic environment I’ve seen since Ninja Theory’s Enslaved: Odyssey to the West. New York’s overgrown canyons, swamps and wetlands have to be seen to be believed. While you can’t call New York’s fantasy jungles realistic, they’re strangely convincing.
It’s a shame, then, that Crysis 3 starts running out of steam in its final hours, spoiling what starts out as an absolutely storming game. This isn’t the first time Crytek has run into this problem, but with a similar running time to the all-killer, no-filler Crysis: Warhead, you can’t help wishing Crytek had maintained the pace all the way through.
On the good news front, this is the strongest Crysis yet in terms of multiplayer. Crytek UK, built from the remnants of Free Radical, has produced a range of multiplayer modes that play to the strengths of the series, with the new Hunter mode, where a squad of nanosuited hunters kill and then convert a squad of Cell troops, a serious highlight. Crysis 3 might not have the staying power or the co-op options of Halo 4, Modern Warfare 3 or Killzone 3, but its multiplayer now has legs.
Crysis 3 is an impressive shooter, with magnificent graphics and stronger gameplay than Crysis 2, even if it’s still not as open or dynamic as Crysis: Warhead. Its restrictions mean it suffers a little in comparison to Far Cry 3, but there’s compensation in some brilliant set-pieces, the beautiful settings and the far more satisfying stealth. On console it comes highly recommended, and it’s nothing less than unmissable on PC. The only real complaint is the feeling that where it should gear up towards a thrilling climax, it slowly starts running out of steam. We won’t complain, then, if this third effort sees Crytek hanging up the nanosuit for good, but at least it sees the series back on form.