New York. The city that never sleeps, though I imagine it's hard to get some shut-eye when you're being ripped to shreds by a rampaging alien menace. And while that might sound like a horrible ordeal, spare a thought for the little pixies working overtime inside your 360, PC or PS3 to actually render the weight of Crysis 2's spectacle.
Much of the legend behind the original Crysis revolves around its engine's formidable technical prowess, a fact Crysis 2 gives a cheeky nod to during the opening credits. Crytek is certainly not one to play down the magnitude of its accomplishment here, mind, with a sultry woman bleating "achieved with CryEngine 3" every time you start the game, as if bringing this sequel to fruition was Hercules' secret thirteenth task and that humanity's response should be to carve Crytek CEO Cevat Yerli's face into the side of Mount Rushmore.
Crysis 2's artistic expertise tends to get lost behind the weight of the game's technical fortitude, however, which is always a shame because the things Crytek's designers can do with shaders and rendering techniques (and other technical jargon I genuinely don't understand) really needs to be seen to be believed. Hercules might have managed to slay the Stymphalian Birds, but Crysis 2 could probably render them falling from the sky in real-time before collapsing a recognisable landmark on their bronze beaks.
Saying goodbye to the rolling forests of the Lingshan Islands, we've packed our bags and left for the concrete jungle of New York. The sights and sounds of Manhattan not only provide enough tall buildings to clip the draw distance so that consoles can render the proceedings, they also make for far more apocalyptic scenery when the game decides to go and blow everything up about six seconds in. The formidable race of robotic cephalopod aliens - unimaginatively dubbed the Ceph - have also come along for the ride, you see, though this time going all bipedal to accommodate for the city's many stairs and escalators.
Compared to the brown hues and olive khakis sweeping the industry, Crysis 2 shows just how much variety you can put into total destruction. It might come up slightly short compared to Killzone 3 in raw mettle, with an occasionally inconsistent framerate on our PS3 version, but the game is leagues ahead in terms of artistic accomplishment. From the starting tits-up insertion of player character Alcatraz into the city, the game doesn't hesitate to take you on a whistle-stop tour of colours and landmarks as you strut around highlights including FDR Drive, Times Square and Grand Central Station. When the proceedings eventually culminate in one last, final, and glorious piece of technical showboating at Central Park you get the distinct impression Crytek is just showing off.
Alien sights are also thrown in alongside familiar surroundings. Black sprawling tendrils burst out of splintered ground, wrapping themselves around any remaining scenery. Alien dropships hover overhead, taking your focus to beautiful horizons with buildings which crumble away at a moment's notice. Faraway skyscrapers judder precariously to announce an imminent collapse, spewing up billowing clouds of dust and grit in their wake. Cracks shoot down roads and bridges, and so much of this delicate, downtrodden New York looks like it could tumble to the ground with a strong gust of wind. I can only imagine how sensational it all must look on a tricked out PC.
The setting is more than a happy coincidence, of course. Other than taking the occasional liberty when it comes to geographic placement of its landmarks, much of the iconography on display also conjures up powerful images of 9/11, so much so that you don't quite know where to look when you watch a procession of buildings collapse in the Financial District. Crytek has repeatedly maintained its desires to craft an evocative tale, and to do this it's ridden the coattails of that history-defining day. The cynic in me says it shouldn't work, but despite all the po-faced schmaltz and silliness it actually does - even if most of the tale revolves around your tubular suit and a sizeable chunk of the early game can be boiled down to traipsing around New York so you can sit in a chair.