I appreciate shooters that make me feel powerful. Yes, most games ultimately give you the control that you need to feel this way, but more often than not, that isn’t really the case. In the majority of shooters, the only powers your character has lay in their abilities to magically heal bullet wounds by jumping behind some crates, or jump (not clamber!) over knee-high obstacles. Ultimately, your success or failure depends largely on the weapon choices you make — and your skills while wielding them. I love the Halo games, but I’ll be the first to admit that even the vaunted Master Chief felt more like a really tough soldier than an uber-powerful killing machine. Crysis 2, on the other hand, is one of the few shooters that truly makes me feel powerful, allowing me to wipe out entire squads of armed soldiers like a kid crushing a line of ants under his foot. And it’s all thanks to the Nanosuit.
For the uninitiated (and given the fact that the franchise is now on consoles for the first time, that’s probably a lot of you), the Nanosuit is the hook in the Crysis universe, that thing that sets the franchise apart from its competitors and is supposed to keep us coming back for more. And it hooked me in Crysis 2 much more than in the first game (which I enjoyed but didn’t love), a beautiful first-person shooter that ultimately felt more like an extended tech demo than a fully realized game. In Crysis 2, the Nanosuit is undoubtedly the star of show, somehow managing to eclipse the stunning graphics that the franchise is known for, while simultaneously never making the game feel too easy. This is Exhibit A in the debate for substance over style, proof-positive that fun gameplay will (and should) always trump shiny visuals.
Crysis 2′s story is substance-heavy as well, weaving together conspiratorial narrative threads involving an alien invasion, the outbreak of a horrible epidemic, and a potentially evil megacorporation, all framed by one of the most realistic visions of New York City ever glimpsed in a game. The story will make sense even to series newcomers, though I couldn’t help feeling like a bit more explanatory exposition (outside of an all-too-brief opening cinematic) would have helped make the early parts of the game more impactful.
The aforementioned concrete jungle of New York City is a far cry from the wide-open, literal jungles of the first game, although that’s not to say Crysis 2 is all about shootouts on narrow streets or in the confines of office building hallways. In fact, the best and most memorable sequences come while you’re fighting in large, open areas. This owes to the new tactical view provided by the Nanosuit’s visor, which allowed me to “tag” nearly everything in the environment, including enemies, weapon caches, and tactical elements like mounted weapons — or a really nice perch from which to snipe. How and when I used the visor was completely up to me, and I greatly appreciated the flexibility it offered in terms of approaching different situations using different tactics.
In this case, “using different tactics” basically boils down to “relying on different Nanosuit powers,” but that’s precisely where the fun lies. If I wanted to, I could have just tagged every enemy and taken each one out, but I quickly learned that it was more fun to spend a little extra time planning my attack and thinking creatively. Stealth and Speed powers became my best friends in combat, as I preferred to kill an enemy or two before enabling my cloaking ability and sprinting around to flank their compatriots who came to investigate.
This led to some fantastic cat-and-mouse sequences in which I essentially toyed with my prey for a while before finishing them off. On many occasions in which I was caught with my proverbial pants down, I immediately turned on my Armor power and wiped the floor with those foolish enough to try to take me on. Still, Crysis 2 never felt too easy, as the time it takes the Nanosuit’s energy reserve to both deplete and recharge is well-balanced, and sent me scurrying behind cover when things got too hairy. Even a killing machine needs to catch his breath now and again.
In addition to complaining that the tactical visor makes the game too easy (which it doesn’t), some gamers are sure to lament the “consolification” or “dumbing-down” of the controls — but the truth is that Crysis 2 is much better for it. Rather than navigating menus to trigger the Nanosuit’s powers (the first game used a rotary menu system), Cloak and Armor are just a single button press away, while weapons are customized (and the Nanosuit itself upgraded) in real-time by tapping (or holding) the Back button. These changes make the action flow much more smoothly, especially during combat.
I greatly enjoyed Crysis 2′s single-player campaign, which was just long enough to stay exciting without ever dragging. While the multiplayer is similarly solid, I had a bit of a love/hate relationship with it. The action itself is just fine, as the Nanosuit powers add a nice wrinkle to some above-average gunplay — but the combination of maps and modes didn’t always mesh as well as I’d hoped. The Lighthouse map is a perfect example. Featuring a towering-yet-exposed lighthouse on one end and a low, windowed husk of a building on the other, it’s a great map for Capture the Relay (Crysis 2′s capture-the-flag variant), yet feels unbalanced in Team Action (read: team deathmatch) games.
Finally, this wouldn’t be a Crysis 2 review without some space dedicated to the game’s graphics, would it? This is a gorgeous game, certainly one of the best-looking console titles to date. Some truly impressive lighting effects lend the Big Apple’s landmarks a crisp, vivid quality; Crysis 2 somehow manages to make even New York’s most disgusting subways look oddly beautiful. Still, some noticeable technical issues pop up here and there. I occasionally saw objects appear from out of thin air as I approached them or watched as the otherwise impressive enemy AI was thwarted by a particularly pesky piece of battlefield debris, though I never encountered anything ruinous.
Crysis 2′s shiny graphics are nice and all, but the Nanosuit is the true star of the show. Offering a true sense of power rarely seen in modern shooters, it helps to make this one of the most exciting games of the year.