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.
The basics haven't changed much from Crysis or its superior expansion Warhead, with a 19 level campaign (clocking in at between 8-10 hours) revolving around you juggling armour and cloaking modes in your spangly supersuit while resting behind jutting points of cover to recharge your battery. The Nanosuit 2.0, as it's called, has about 20-30 seconds of juice in it before conking out, which puts it in roughly the same ballpark as the 3DS.
Whereas Crysis allowed you further strength and speed modes, these two have now been folded into the regular control scheme and can be toggled alongside armour and cloak provided you've got enough juice. Speed is mapped to a traditional sprint command, and strength can be used to stabilise crosshairs or charge up throws and melee attacks, which means you can wait in the darkness and then kill aliens by lobbing bins at their heads. Don't pretend you won't.
Aiming feels light and delicate, as if Alcatraz can't quite control the little motions with his superpowers. I often found myself forced to rely on the snap-to aiming, which requires a surrendering of player control that I'm not entirely comfortable with. Guns, meanwhile, come with fancy names - such as Scarab, Jackal and Grendel - but assume those ever-familiar roles of shotgun, SMG and assault rifle, though near the end of the game you acquire a microwave gun that causes alien heads to pop into visually resplendent goop. Sound work is particularly well done, too, with each weapon throwing out deep and bassy rattles to go alongside the thunderous background music. While the guns might be a little difficult to point at the enemy, then, they certainly sound good when they go off.
Fighting in the city gives you a comforting arrangement of angular geometry alongside the bevy of set-pieces, with your traversal of wide open spaces punctuated by scrappy skirmishes against both human and alien foes. Shrewd play is required, as spray-and-pray firing will usually just send you back to the last checkpoint. The game quickly makes it clear that you've been given the ability to cloak for a reason, so it's a case of picking your battles wisely.
A tactical display is available, its usage repeatedly encouraged by the game, which highlights nearby areas of interest such as good flanking opportunities, nearby weapons, and ammo caches. The general rhythms of play have you stopping every few minutes to observe your surroundings, usually when cloaked which, yes, makes you feel a bit like the Predator. This is a game big enough to get lost in, and once the frustration subsides from spending five minutes fumbling around for the right door you're hit with an aftertaste of liberation when compared to the usual corridor funnels of its shooter contemporaries.
As you progress you'll be able to upgrade weapons with attachments, and also the Nanosuit itself, the latter accomplished by hoovering up magical space dust from fallen alien bodies. The main failing with this, however, is that the game's economy ensures there's not enough to fully upgrade the suit in a single playthrough and you're left desperately shooting your way across the city, like a junkie looking for a fix, as opposed to considering the more tactful approach in any given ordeal.
The Ceph themselves are more standard enemies in their new bipedal iteration, modelled on Terminators rather than those squid things from the Matrix. This, thankfully, allows Crytek to avoid the awkward change in pace which plagued Far Cry and Crysis; the bits where the human enemies get removed and replaced with fiddlier, more frustrating monsters. In a nice twist you also return to a level stocked with human enemies near the end of Crysis 2, after fighting Ceph for a good few hours, and in your upgraded form you satisfyingly tear through them like the useless meat puppets they are.
Multiplayer is an altogether more standard affair, with Crytek UK taking the reins to provide a set of foundations deeply recognisable to those familiar with Call of Duty. You've got your community features, such as clan tags and emblems, alongside the standard MMO-style breadcrumbs of levelling, challenges and weapon upgrades. There's also an auto-mute feature, which is wonderful.
The twist, of course, is that each player is strutting around in their very own Nanosuit complete with everything that entails, with traditional perks swapped out for shiny suit upgrades. Maps are based on the single-player campaign but are generally smaller and operate at a rhythm more attuned to constant combat, funnelling players into wide-open killzones and gleefully forcing confrontation seconds after each spawn.
Each of the game's 12 supplied maps feel dense and desperate, and you'll find yourself relying on the cloak for a temporary breather as much as you will for using it for surprise shotgun attacks. Alongside the staple inclusion of Team Deathmatch and FFA modes, Crytek UK puts a nice spin on regular team-based multiplayer tropes with Crash Site, Extraction and Assault.
Assault, for instance, strips a defending team of their Nanosuits but gives them heavy weapons to compensate, Extraction tasks one team with stealing a tank but buffs up players with improved abilities, and Crash Site makes both factions capture and hold Ceph pods periodically dropped into the map.
Whether it has enough mettle to compete in the long-term is another question - and one that will be tested over the coming months - but from this initial glance it certainly seems like there's enough in Crysis 2's multiplayer to at least tide people over until the autumn.
Crytek's fourth game is their most confident to date, carefully balancing silliness, seriousness, and spectacle, and despite looking like a laundry list of bad shooter clichés at first glance the end product is surprisingly fresh-faced and triumphant. Switching to New York gives Crytek what it desperately needed: a credible sense of menace to go alongside gorgeous technical fortitude and impressive artistic direction.