I'd mention the fact that Crysis 2 looks beautiful but that's a ridiculous place to start off a preview. It was always going to look good. The original was known for two things: being a great shooter and being so graphics intensive that you couldn't physically run the game. Naturally Crytek is going to throw you into another high-quality environment. This time you're shuttled off to NYC in a move that most magazine straplines have called a shift from jungle to urban jungle, and to be fair it's a spot on turn of phrase. This New York has the chaotic quality reserved for nature. After the alien invasion the place has lost any element of humanity. Buildings are now just structures to climb through, rooftop greenhouses are just used to perch on to get a better view of enemies.
Surrounded by a handful of developers from Crytek UK, a group of us were led into a dark 6x6 room to play two out of the six possible multiplayer modes. You can choose to play as one of five preset classes. Assault, Sniper, Ranger, along with custom classes that you can unlock, all of which have an individual weapon load-out. The commonality between the lot of them is the revised nanosuit which has been simplified since the last title. In multiplayer you can activate either Armour or Stealth at any time, both of which are powered by a limited supply of energy which recharges slowly as you play as represented by a meter on the screen. So Armour increases your defenses for when you're being smacked by streams of bullets and Stealth is stealth, allowing you to blend in with the environment as you make your way across the map.
First we had Impact, a deathmatch that dropped you into one of the most visually interesting maps I've seen in some time. A classically styled New York tenement building has collapsed into a modern financial building, forming a single building that juxtaposes two vastly different architectural styles from two different eras. Depending on which room you're making your way through, the sense is that you're not just in any apocalyptic city: you're definitely in New York City. One of the original aims for the game was to bring a level of emotion to the game that hadn't existed in Crysis 1, to create the heartstring-tugging reaction of seeing a great and recognisable city crumble. It's hard to implement emotion into a multiplayer mode, but if you took a moment away from the bullets to admire the room you were shooting up it certainly looked good.
In each mode you're dealing with the same opposing factions, Marines and Cell. And between both factions the deathmatch functions as you'd imagine; your aim is to rack up as many kills as you can before time runs out. Shoot, run, stealth, shoot again. Enemies names are highlighted but generally the game is such a blur of running bodies that it's safer to shoot continuously rather than analyse the situation. On the other hand, awards are handed out for those that do take their time with their shots. Skillful kills are rewarded with bonuses that can increase radar range or the ability to see bullet trails from enemy fire, to give you an idea of where they are.
The second is the Rooftop Gardens, a kind of capture-the-flag involving alien ships that drop pods to different areas which either team must take possession of. After a pod is claimed, points go to the successful team and a new pod is dropped to another location. We were encouraged to try out one of the combat powers of the Nano Suit in this mode. During a jump click in the right thumbstick and your character speeds downward in a ground punch. Like Impact it's another situation where if you can find a minute to get away from the action then it's worth taking a look around at the design of the place. On a rooftop setting you're given a gut-wrenchingly beautiful view of a broken NYC skyline.
Even dying in Crysis 2, which will happen often, has a stylistic slant. You'll slump to the ground then get shown a short cutscene that follows the bullet that hit you, trailing in slow motion from the gun to your body. After watching these a few times over you begin to pick up on what actions you're repeating that manage to get you killed.
Generally speaking the multiplayer modes are stylistically varied but fairly generic in practice; a few standard game modes played from within a nanosuit. However one of the most significant changes to the series has still yet to be seen and that's the newly amped up narrative, written by award-winning and critically lauded novelist Richard Morgan. The original game had failed in terms of story, functioning as a sandbox-style romp in the jungle with a bit about alien squid tacked on. This time effort has been put into polishing every aspect of the game, even beyond the graphics.