More than just a game, Crysis 3 is an interesting bundle of complicated things. For a start, it is a game, obviously enough, and one with a story that many would like to find out just what happens next in. The game part of it also includes multiplayer, a popular pastime that needs to be regularly refreshed with new content (such as this) to keep the transient audience of such things satisfied.
Almost more than that, though, is the fact that it represents the cutting edge implementation of one of the world's foremost multi-platform game engines - CryEngine 3. It's both a forebear of things to come from other studios that use the tool, and a sales device itself - proving to studios who are shopping for technology that Crytek's got what it takes.
So with all that stuff in mind, I was quite excited to finally get a crack at it in Sydney recently. Not only that, but I was able to sit down with Michael Read, the Producer of the game from Crytek's German studio, and ask him what players have to look forward to.
My first experience with the game was of the Xbox 360 version. The demo that day was all about showing off the title's recently unveiled Hunter multiplayer mode, an asymmetric game type in which teams of troopers face off against a solitary hunter (a stealthed guy with the usual power-suit abilities, which the troopers don't have). As the hunter kills troopers, they respawn as hunters.
It's an interesting game type for a few reasons. For a start, it's very short - rounds last just 2.5 minutes. Success and failure, too, are unusual in the way they're measured; troopers need only to survive, while the hunter (and, eventually, the hunter pack) are tasked with converting all of the troopers to their cause.
It played out slightly less well than I thought it would, in my mind at least. The hunters use only a bow, and it's extremely hard to shoot people with it at any kind of range (and when you do, it doesn't do enough damage). Despite being stealthed, hunters are still pretty easy to see, too, and once seen they're easily killed - even with a measly pistol, let alone the other hardware troopers might be packing.
Still, the potential of the mode remains, and there's still plenty of time to tweak the settings before the game releases in February (or even after that point). It's certainly a great sign that the team behind the game are willing to explore non-traditional gameplay elements; that alone is enough reason to get excited about the future of the franchise.
The game looked great on Xbox 360, too, with lots of detail in the environment which was then set off nicely by a cornucopia of lighting and other effects. At no point was there any kind of slowdown, either, something Michael attributed to lessons learned with Crysis 2.
"With Crysis 2, we learned a lot about developing for consoles specifically," Read explained. "It was something that Crytek had never done before and with our engine, while it was capable of it, it was like 'how do we make that work?' When we did Crysis 2, we basically developed the game in tandem with figuring out how the engine worked."
"Coming into Crysis 3, we know how to develop for each of these [systems]. It's really starting off in benchmarking, and developing for consoles specifically, starting at the bottom and then building up - not the other way around."
"The gameplay experience itself will be very rounded between PC and console - there's almost no difference. But there's certain things we want to deliver on PC to push that hardware just that much more."
That difference was immediately apparent when I moved over to the PC version to have a crack at the singleplayer content. As can be reasonably expected of a team whose technology is expressly created to drive things forward, Crysis 3 looks spectacular on a well-specced rig. Every aspect of the presentation is dialled up to near ridiculous levels of detail, with textures, model detail, and lighting in particular really standing out over the (otherwise fantastic) console version.
If you're in the PC camp, however, you need to know that the game - like Crysis and Crysis 2 before it - is going to be very demanding of your equipment. In fact, you won't be able to play it on the highest settings at a high framerate with your current computer; it's designed with computers that don't even exist yet in mind.
"By doing this stuff," Michael explained, "people buy more hardware, which allows that hardware to become available to more people - there's definitely a domino effect to these things, and we want to keep driving that. Crysis was built on pushing hardware to the max - it's really about planning for the future, and I think we have some good leadership on that front."
The level I played (set in an overgrown train station) was a great showpiece for the open approach the game takes. By using my power suit's active stealth, for example, I could creep around and take out enemies one by one. Alternatively, I could simply sweep through (any of a number of paths), using my weapons and abilities to lay waste to the rank-and-file of the enemy units. Instead, I took a combination approach, using my abilities and weapons alternately to create confusion and send the AI off chaotically chasing ghosts.
As for what the story entails? No such luck. EA and Crytek were keeping those details tightly under wraps. Michael did give some hints, however, including some about the future of the franchise. "Crysis 3 is going to answer quite a few of the burning questions that people have had for the last five years," Read said. "It's not going to answer everything, but it's definitely going to clarify a few of those things."
"We want to leave things kinda open-ended on certain things too, so we have the ability to go back and possibly play around at a later time. I don't think the Crysis franchise as a whole ends here; I think we have a lot of opportunities moving forward."
Crysis 3 releases on Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC in February.