In Crysis 3's multiplayer mode, you can kill opponents by throwing poles at them. In fact, for all your high-end weaponry, you're positively encouraged to go a little more low-tech: rip a street sign out of the ground, hit your target, and the pole kills foes with one hit. Enabling armour mode and launching a piece of rusted metal across the map, watching it arc into an enemy's face – shortly followed by their confused 'whaaaaa?' – is probably the best thing about Crysis 3.
Which may seem strange, given that it's The Best Looking Game Ever (TM). Offensive, even, to look at all of Crytek's hard work and say that dicking around with a clumsy melee weapon is better than everything else on offer.
In fact, it's the aforementioned pole launching – and multiplayer in general – that hints as to just where Crysis needs to go in the future to fulfil its potential. Whereas the campaign is the usual wit-and-humourless jaunt through nonsensical plotting, dumb enemies, and prescribed action, in multiplayer you'll finally feel like you're testing your powers – and wits – against worthy opponents, in an environment that caters to experimentation and, well, fun.
Hunter mode is the best example. It sees two players as perma-cloaked, bow-wielding nanosuits tracking palpably human – yet still cunning – prey. All the CELL troops have to do is hold out for a minute and a half until the round ends.
It's easier said than done, given the nano's tech, and it's suitably tense as you run – or in our case hide in a bush – hoping they don't spot you. Get killed, and you change teams. It's what Crysis should be like all the time: players actually using the environment and their abilities in tandem to hunt the most dangerous game.
That certain modes are tailored to this sort of play obviously helps, but even the more mundane stuff like capture the flag benefits from giving gamers a playground to use their abilities in. Sneaking into an enemy base while cloaked is tense in a way that the campaign never is, and seeing a horde of nanosuited raiders inhumanly leaping your defences is more than enough to get the blood pumping. The rest of the MP package is fleshed out with the usual CoD XP/upgrade gubbins, and although not nearly as strong as its competition – killing an enemy usually takes more bullets than fired at Normandy, the maps are rather forgettable – it's a far more enjoyable experience than single-player.
The campaign's main problem is that Crysis 3 is long on show, short on go. There's no denying Crytek's gift for visuals: this is, from a purely technical standpoint, one of the most impressive games I've ever played. And that was just on 360: played on our monster in-house PC, it was the next-gen only now.
As ever with Crytek though, the actual game just seems to be a glorified tech demo for the developer to show off how good it is at making things look really very nice, yessir. In a way it's reminiscent of professional football freestylers, like Mr Woo. Ever wonder why, with all their amazing skill, they're not dominating the actual sport? Because their aim isn't nailing the core elements of the game. It's all about, essentially, showing off. It feels the same with Crytek.
It's not even that Crysis 3's campaign is a necessarily a bad game. It's just relentlessly dull. Crytek has learned some lessons since the last instalment, and part three thankfully corrects some of the (many) mistakes of its predecessor. Fighting through a fairly open (if connected by linear sections), foliage-and-mercenary covered New York has a nice guerilla warfare aspect to it, as opposed to the last game's dreary Cloverfield-lite greyscale street battles. The Ceph presence has also been toned down: for the most part you'll be fighting human opponents, and although AI is still either superhuman or plain dumb, it's nowhere near as bad as before. With techbow in hand, there's fun to be had sneaking through the undergrowth, picking off CELL forces one at a time.
Other elements stand out: players can now unlock, essentially, perks, and combine them together to create a playstyle of their own. And I'm not sure I'll ever get tired of engaging the cloaking mechanism and seeing Prophet fade from view.
The problem is that you'll never really need to use more than a few of these abilities to beat the game. Crysis 3 isn't large enough for it to be considered a true open world, and as such enable players to make the most of all of its toys. It is more open than Crysis 2, with better flanking routes and tactical oversight. Despite this, there's not a lot of need for actual strategy. The AI isn't smart enough, nor the levels large enough, for you to enjoy toying with your foes, meaning you might as well just meander on.
Why? Because Crysis 3 is intent on telling you a story, and although you're given a chance to determine your route to the next checkpoint, that is essentially all you're doing. Cloak on, sneak through to the next story element. Fine, if said story is worth investing in, or the set-pieces on offer are grand enough to warrant playing on.
They're not. Crytek simply can't form an engaging narrative. Case in point: earth is about to be annihilated, but most of the time you'll be focused on a major supporting character called Psycho, who looks and talks like Steve Ballmer trying to do his best Danny Dyer impression. To say he uses swearing as punctuation is remiss: he uses swearing as ALL grammar.
He's the sort of loveable headcase that would be killed off first in any third-rate Steven Seagal action flick, but here he and his (many) problems – he used to be a super soldier now he's not, he's got a thing for another character but it's complicated – are front and centre. You'll also be spending a lot of your time with him as your guide in Follow The Man mode. The world's ending, you've got your own problems – the suit is taking you over, making you more machine than man, presumably qualifying you for the same golf club as Darth Vader - but you're babysitting.
By the end of the game I was bored silly, and considering the scope of what was going on that shouldn't have been the case. Sadly, bar a few exceptions – a Jurassic Park-style hunting section in long grass, an open-ended assault on Ceph AA emplacements – I'd rinsed and repeated the same thing so much that I couldn't care less. Which, given that I was the world's most powerful being, says it all.
It's ironic, then, that the approach taken by the latest entry in the franchise that got Crytek noticed, Far Cry 3, would be a far better direction for future instalments of Crysis to take. Crytek made its name giving players an open sandbox to mess around in: Ubisoft has refined it, and we'd love to see the nanosuit and its abilities transposed to a true open world for players to, well, dick around in.
Reviewed on Xbox 360
Completed the campaign on normal difficulty
Multiplayer tested at EA review event.