I'm in a dilapidated tunnel of some description. There's fire pouring out of a nearby pipe, chunks of rocky debris littering the floor and a strong sense of foreboding. It's a scene of darkness and destruction, but my God does it look beautiful. A voice fills my ears, snapping me out of this graphics-induced daze. "Get to the heart of the alien structure!" it commands, padding the objective out with plenty of military buzzwords. I venture forward. Emerging in a bigger, slightly less cramped space, I notice platforms and train tracks - I'm in a subway. A nearby explosion confirms this as an out of control train comes breaking through the wall on the left of the room. Lumps of rock and the odd bit of metal are sent flying across the room, the odd spark illuminating the otherwise dank station.
Something moves in the gloom. It isn't long before I'm fending off my first alien, firing bullets into the darkness like a panicked soldier in a horror film shortly before being decapitated. It dawns on me that I'm wearing a Nanosuit (a Nanosuit 2.0, no less), and should have night vision or something at my disposal. I tinker with a few buttons. Jump - no, reload - no, change weapon - no. Eventually I get round to pressing down on the d-pad and the world changes from murk and shadows to a calm blue peppered with the odd blotch of psychedelic red. Ah, a thermal tracker - or Nanovision as the game calls it. Perfect. Knowing where my enemies are, I'm able pick off the creatures one by one as I skulk in the shadows.
After purging the area of extra-terrestrial life, I follow the marker on my HUD. Soon the cramped corridors and low hanging ceilings are replaced with the vast war-torn expanse of the outside world. The contrast in level design is striking. While Call of Duty - Black Ops in particular - is built around a series of corridors packed with tightly scripted events, and Halo generally likes to keep its action out in the open, Crysis 2 finds itself somewhere in-between the two. Asking him about it later that day, producer Nathan Camarillo used the wonderful term "choreographed sandbox" to describe the game. Yes, it has spacious environments a la Halo, but this hasn't stopped Crytek laying on the spectacle with the same "linear intensity" (another cool phrase he chucked around) we're used to seeing in something like Black Ops.
Back in this "choreographed sandbox", it takes a second for my eyes to adjust to the outside world; light drenches everything. The controller starts rumbling and I notice I'm taking damage. The sounds of six or seven guns ring out as their bullets scream through the air towards me. I do the classic cover-pop-and-shoot thing that I've subconsciously learnt from FPS games over the years, but I don't seem to be getting anywhere. After three or four minutes of needlessly wasting bullets, I die. This happens several more times before a concerned Crytek employee subtly lets me know where I'm going wrong. "Do you know how to use the Nanosuit?" he asks. Ah.
I half did, I suppose. I'd worked out the down button turned on Nanovision, but didn't realise there was more to it than that. The d-pad actually plays host to another three 'modes': Infiltration, Power and Armour. Restarting the checkpoint I'd become upsettingly familiar with, I whacked on Infiltration mode and observed my gun disappear under a cloak of stealth. I was then able to move through the environment undetected, taking out enemies one by one without giving my position away. Later on in the level I found Armour mode to be more beneficial, activating it in the midst of a bullet storm for another much needed layer of protection. If you're not using your suit properly, chances are you're going to come a cropper. This isn't an FPS that relies solely on your proficiency with firearms - you need to employ the numerous tactics bestowed upon you by your Nanosuit, too.
The game allows you to tailor the suit to your own style of play. Pressing the back button brings up your Nanosuit upgrade screen; a gloved hand with holographic options sprouting from each finger. By spending Nanocatalysts collected from alien corpses, you can unlock new skills and abilities for each of the suit's modes. Before spending some time with the game first hand, I had no idea this side of the game was so in-depth. With my new found knowledge of nanotechnologies and a few new upgrades, I stormed through the remainder of the level without too much difficulty.
Later on in the day, I got to repeat the level with an extra dimension. Anybody moaning that 3D doesn't offer anything to the gaming experience should don a Nanosuit and see the world of Crysis 2 in 3D. Concave 3D, to be precise. Whereas most films and games pop out of the screen, the environments in Crysis 2 pop in. So your gun and HUD are both in the foreground, jutting out slightly, but the actual world of the game is all inside your TV. Camarillo explained to me that this was much easier on the old eyes; Crysis 2 can be played for extended periods of time without the worry of eye-strain or any other 3D related side effects.
When you boil it down, Crysis 2 is a game about a guy in a suit shooting aliens. Fret not as this is Crytek, and the FPS veteran has proved before that it can build a good game around this clichéd set up. Purely based on the one level of the game I played, it seems there's little to worry about with the sequel. It looks stunning (even more so when viewed through a pair of 3D glasses), the shooting is of a high standard and the Nanosuit certainly makes things more interesting, especially when combined with the "choreographed sandbox" approach to level design the team is employing. If Crysis 2 can nail plot, pacing and throw in a multiplayer mode with longevity to boot, EA could have a winner on its hands.
Crysis 2 is available for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC on March 25, 2011