EA's recent showcase event offered a second chance to sample Impact and Rooftop -the two maps revealed at gamescom in August - along with a new level, Ambush. Here players duel it out in the shadows of looming skyscrapers, in the ruined cityscape of a devastated New York. Today we're playing a Crash Site match - essentially a mobile variant of King of the Hill. Every minute or so an alien ship falls to Earth, and both teams struggle to pin down and hold the area surrounding the downed craft. The shifting objective keeps players moving and encourages the use of the suit powers - not that further encouragement is really needed. It's a promising sign that that Crysis 2's gadgets are extremely fun to use - so much so that on occasion you (meaning: I) will get shot down because you were messing about, rather than playing properly like a good little nano-soldier.
You'd be forgiven for expecting a street-based map to be a rather flat battleground, but instead Ambush shows clear evidence of Crytek's new focus on "verticality" - a rather annoying, back-of-the-box word. In less flashy terms, this simply means that the environment stretches up and down as well as sideways - and yet this design does seem to have a fairly significant effect on combat. Whether you're fleeing an attacker or simply prowling for a fresh target, there's invariably a choice of paths for you to take - and equally this means you can rarely be sure that your back is covered. By holding the jump button you'll perform a nano-assisted leap skyward, and if you happen to be near a piece of suitable scenery you'll haul yourself atop of it. It's slightly reminiscent of Mirror's Edge, and between this and Splash Damage's Brink, climbing may just turn into the must-have FPS feature in 2011 - assuming the mechanic takes off, of course.
Even if it doesn't, the novelty of increased mobility seems to work well here - particularly when combined with the ever-addictive cloaking device. There's something instantly appealing about catching someone out of the corner of your eye, turning yourself invisible, and then dashing off to stab them in the back. If you've got the skills, there's potential here for serious mind-buggery - as evidenced by the sneaky git who led me down a dark alley, disappeared into thin air, and then stomped on my face.
While the classes on offer feel both reassuring and over-familiar, it'll take time to build a full appraisal of the tools on offer. There are a few hints at innovation - one class carries a dart-based weapon that drains suits of their power, for example - but I suspect it’s the suits themselves that will fuel Crysis 2's triumph if the multiplayer does indeed succeed. Aside from the relatively generous spread of immediate tactics, it's in the messiness of the playing field that the game really stands out. There's a perverse beauty in the smashed features of New York, and while such images inevitably recall the darker moments of recent history, it's the irregularity of the crumpled masonry and leaky pipes that really impresses. There are still a few rough edges that could be attended to, but as I say, this preview build bodes well for the quality of the final product. And with any luck, Crysis 2 will offer more than just another pretty face.
Crysis 2 is set for release on Xbox 360, PS3 and PC on March 25, 2011.