The battle for top honcho among gaming consoles rages on. Does the PS3 have the best graphics? Will the family vote win the day for the Wii? But for those with enough cash to afford all the bells and whistles, the personal computer still reigns as king. And designer Crytek's new first-person shooter, Crysis, pushes the high-tech envelope to prove it.
From afternoon sunlight filtering through lush foliage to the subtle facial expressions on AI characters to the mechanized sinews of a military nanosuit, this title looks strikingly photo-realistic. Mix that realism with some inventive gameplay and you've got a PC game that's racked up tons of accolades and over 1 million sales in just a handful of months.
Parachute In ...
The Crysis story unfolds in the year 2020 as an American archeological team makes a startling discovery on a remote island in the South China Sea. Before they can figure out the alien technology they've found, however, North Korean soldiers storm the island and take control. The U.S. sends in a Special Forces unit to reconnoiter the situation and rescue the scientists. But once the team parachutes into the dense jungle, they discover a whole new threat—the place is crawling with creatures that look like they stepped right out of War of the Worlds.
Gamers play as a tactical operative called Nomad who is part Master Chief and part Superman stuffed into high-tech duds. His nanosuit offers a choice between one of four souped-up attributes: 1) Maximum armor, which doubles his bullet-bouncing protection. 2) Maximum speed, which helps him move faster than a speeding locomotive. 3) Maximum strength, which allows him to jump tall buildings in a single bound and toss enemies about like matchsticks. 4) Stealth mode, which turns him invisible for a while.
The fun and challenge of the game is deciding which boost to use in any given situation.
... To a True Open World
Another set of choices comes in the form of a wide open game world. Game objectives to take out antiaircraft guns or neutralize a North Korean squad or fight off flying multi-legged aliens will be consistent as the story unfolds, but how players get the job done is up to them. Will you slip by the enemy unnoticed? Become a hidden sniper? Or just rush in headlong and play the role of rampaging death-dealer?
This cutting-edge shoot-'em-up also has a "touch anything" environment that allows you to really get into the action. You can pick up just about any object you see, pilot assault vehicles, tanks or aircraft, and wield shotguns and assault rifles. But, of course, here's where the "fun" starts to leak out of your nanosuit. This is a shooter, remember?
You Lost Me at "Hello"
Interestingly, in the face of all the incredible realism, the game's makers decided to actually downplay the potential gore. Kills are limited to a red spray that can stain nearby objects (including your face mask if you're close enough). The dead remain where they fall, but players are spared the sight of bloody rent flesh and dismemberment that easily could have been included. (At least mostly spared: One scene features frozen bodies breaking into pieces.)
That doesn't compel me to give Crysis a pass on the violence, however. Real-world physics allow you to blow up oil drums, detonate explosives and hoist high-caliber guns that mow down people, trees, buildings, fish, aliens ... you name it. Or you can get "creative" and grab an enemy by the throat, throw him off a cliff and fill him full of lead on the way down. So, while toned down in degree, the volume of destruction and bloodletting is still as open-ended as the world you run around in.
And while we're talking about explosions and flying projectiles, it should be noted that foul language explodes and splatters all over players more often than the blood does. Military men screaming profanities over the com system becomes annoyingly redundant. In this game, "The f---ers are everywhere," "S---, they're all over us" and "Kill the b--tard!" are the equivalent of "How's it going?"
A Crysis in Your Family Room?
It's clear the folks at Crytek know what they're doing. They've created a game that pulls out all the stops when it comes to technology, graphics and immersive, challenging gameplay. In fact, this is the kind of game that will raise the bar for future games in the genre. But considering the numbing impact hours of virtual killing have on a person (many experts are sorely troubled by even average shooter games), there's one other fact that's pretty clear:
First-class gameplay doesn't necessarily equate to a top-notch game, especially when it comes to good clean fun on the family computer.