Crysis feels like a game from the future. Running on a top-spec gaming rig no other game can compete, on any system. As much as visuals aren't the be all and end all of video games, in the case of Crysis they're hard to ignore. If you haven't got the right hardware forget about it, but if your PC needs a power plant to keep it going, it's time to play the most beautiful game on earth.
From FarCry developer Crytek, Crysis sees you step into the shoes of a special soldier in the year 2020. Delta Squad is seen as special enough to wear a new high tech nano suit, allowing you to become a super hero of sorts. Depending on the situation you can gain extra armour, more strength, increased speed or a Predator-like cloak. It's all very futuristic and the perfect tool to give you the upper hand on the Koreans who are holding some archaeologists hostage on the beautiful island you've been air-dropped on to investigate.
Fans of FarCry will feel the similarities in Crysis right from the start. The most obvious is the openness of the levels, which are free-roaming in the truest meaning of the term. While you're given objectives (both primary and secondary), how you go about getting to each location and completing each task is up to you, and will likely depend on your play style. The way the game lets you tackle each scenario differently is truly key to its success.
If you're a cautious player you can go down the stealth route, moving through the undergrowth and using your cloak to get up close and personal before dispatching enemies one at a time. Of course, even though the nano suits are good, they're not perfect. Firing a weapon will de-cloak you, putting you into a rather sticky situation if you don't take out the enemies quickly. It also drains quicker if you're moving fast. So crawl along the floor and you can stay cloaked for ages; run, and you've got a few seconds max.
'Your weapons can be modded while out in the field so as long as you've got the gear you can effectively act as a one man army.'
Alternatively you could go all Arnie and tackle your objectives head-on, running and gunning into battle. Switch to maximum armour and you can take more bullets, but this option really isn't advised unless you're able to headshot enemies without breaking sweat. Given that the later Korean soldiers in the game wear strong armour, unless you get the headshots you'll be restarting from the last save rather frequently.
I found it best to mix it up a bit. Your weapons can be modded while out in the field so as long as you've got the gear (more add-ons are found as you progress) you can effectively act as a one man army. Sniping from distance is always a good way to take out the patrolling guards, before donning the cloak and walking slowly into the base. From here you can take your time, taking out soldiers, moving from cover to cover. As long as you don't get too close or let them see you, you can take on large armies without too much bother. You've got to be careful though, as one slip up will mean death or a speedy getaway - thanks to the increased speed ability.
The way the game's interface handles your various suit abilities and weapon add-ons initially feels quite awkward, but before long you'll be able to switch between the options without thinking about it. Pressing V brings up a circular menu, and a quick movement of the mouse towards the desired ability icon activates one of the suit's advanced abilities. The weapon add-on screen is brought up by pressing C, and from here you simply click on the add-on you require - weather it be a flashlight, laser sight, sniper scope, grenade launcher or one of the other useful tools.
Crysis is a hard game, with the AI putting up a real fight, even on the standard difficulty level. With the difficulty raised to its highest, not only are the enemies tougher, but they speak in Korean, not English. This might seem like a subtle change, but it makes a big difference as you don't know what they're doing. You also lose the markers that appear around the grenades on the lower difficulty settings, meaning you'll have to keep an eye on on what's being thrown.
Vehicles play a big part in the game too, with plenty of jeeps, tanks and even air transport vehicles coming under your control during the course of the 8-10 hour campaign. Jeeps tend not to last long when the enemy forces spot you, but it's all good explosive fun - especially when you're the one doing the shooting, with the gas tanks on the jeeps being highly flammable. Most of the time vehicle usage is optional, so if you really want to move through a level on foot, you can.
You might be expecting a full on alien assault from the get-go, but you don't actually face off against the squid-like creatures until half way through the campaign. The new foes make for a change from killing Koreans, but the game loses its sandbox feel, with levels becoming far more linear. It's still action packed and incredibly good looking, but the latter third of the game is certainly more about spectacle than cutting edge gameplay.
The fact that the game's visuals seem to push hardware even more during the final battles means that you'll either have to reduce your visual settings or opt to play at what amounts to an interactive slide-show. Hopefully Crytek will continue to tune to the game engine over the coming months, but for now it's practically impossible to experience the game under DirectX 10's highest settings for its entirety.
It's not just the visuals that impress. Crysis features some of the most impressive production values we've ever seen in a PC game, with the voice acting, facial animation, musical score and sound effects all being top notch. It would have been easy for Crytek to focus entirely on the visuals and forget about telling a story, but you'll be hooked by the mystery surrounding the aliens and fight alongside more than nameless NPCs.
Mutliplayer support for up to 32 players is also offered, and the core game mode falls somewhere between a classic deathmatch and the kind of gameplay experienced during the likes of Battlefield. The goal is to destroy your enemy's base, with weapons and ammo purchasable throughout depending on your success on the battlefield. It's certainly good fun played with teams of 16, but it's hard to say for sure if it'll build up a strong following in the online community.
Crysis simply begs to be played and can be placed alongside such PC greats as Half-Life and BioShock. Sadly it's come a little too early to experience it at its stunning best, but even played on lower visual settings it's a game that all PC gamers should appreciate. It's hard, action packed, tactical and utterly amazing to look at. It wouldn't be at all surprising if Crysis remains the best looking video game well into 2008 and maybe even beyond. Hopefully by then we'll have the hardware to keep up with the game engine.