In the 1992 film Universal Soldier, Jean Claude Van Damme plays a reanimated super-soldier. In James Cameronâ€™s Terminator 2, Arnold Schwarzenegger plays the same. Tony Starkâ€™s Iron Man marries metal and man. Even Cloud, from Square Enixâ€™s Final Fantasy VII, can trace his roots to the super-soldier.
The idea of a deadly hero, augmented by powers they cannot quite control, is one of popular sci-fiâ€™s most well-trod paths. Crytekâ€™s Crysis 3, and the entire Crysis canon, is one of modern gamingâ€™s most obvious contributions the genre.
But since Crysisâ€™ tepid sequel in 2011, it hasnâ€™t been the best. And this time, even though it tries, Crysis 3 ultimately fails to kick the series into higher gear. Its story is poorly presented, its combat is frustrating, and as an experience it leaves you wanting. But it looks good. It looks very, very good.
Crysis 3 begins 24 years after Crysis 2 left off. Super-soldier Prophet has returned to New York and finds the entire city entombed in a massive â€śnanodomeâ€ť, built by the CELL Corporation. Inside the nanodomeâ€™s greenhouse, the rubble of New York is teeming with swamps, rivers, foliage, and danger.
In those 24 years the Cell Corporation has developed a way to control limitless energy inside their nanodomes and have got up to no good in the neighborhood. Rag-tag militias have sprung up in resistance and one of these, led by Prophetâ€™s old squaddie â€śPyscho,â€ť is taking the fight to the Corporation. Naturally, Prophet takes it upon himself to get involved. Pretty quickly things start falling apart, and before Prophet and Pyscho have had enough time to catch up on the good times, the Ceph â€” Crysisâ€™s alien antagonists â€” are back.
Crysis 3â€™s story is oddly paced, hinting at problems with its narrative. Before Prophet has had a chance to let CELLâ€™s dictatorial reign sink in, the Alpha Ceph has been awakened and in the blink of an eye New York has become a full-blown alien kill-zone.
It's poor storytelling at its most brazen. Itâ€™s too fast, and there is not enough time spent on establishing why Prophet is there, what heâ€™s there to do, and why any of it matters. This is made all the worse by Prophetâ€™s fleeting flashbacks and visions that are completely unexplained.
For the curious gamer picking up the series for the first time, Crysis 3â€™s storytelling is a jarring and confusing experience. However, even for those more familiar with what's come before, Crysis 3 still rambles. It's as if Crytek threw nefarious mega-corporations, alien invasions, resistance fighters, and futuristic technology at a wall and hoped to see which one stuck. None of them do, instead they slide slowly downwards to form a messy pool at the bottom. It's frustrating, because all of the disconnected back story hides Crysis 3â€™s fairly simple and engaging premise.
The storyâ€™s internal confusion is reflected in the gameâ€™s dialogue. Some reviewers have praised Crysis 3â€™s writing and the authenticity of its acting. With respect, theyâ€™re out of it. The writing is poor, verging on the comical, and the voice actors can only work with what theyâ€™ve got. The story is full of misogynistic asides, cliched one liners, tired genre tropes (does Pyscho have to be a white angry cockey?), masculine chest beating, and unnecessary melodrama.
For example, in one of the gameâ€™s pivotal scenes the identity of the person who tortured Pyscho is revealed. What follows is a vacuous rant about choice, revenge, and betrayal. When heâ€™s finished sharing, Pyscho storms out of the room. I mockingly uttered â€ślet him goâ€ť under my breath. To my dismay, one second later Prophet repeated it.
This lack of imagination is reflected in the gameâ€™s characterization. In another crucial scene Pyscho rescues Prophet by shooting the antagonist manipulating the alien technology inside Prophetâ€™s nanosuit. What follows is another out of the blue rant from Pyscho, this time about what it means to be human, how he misses the power of the suit, and why he feels emotionally and physically incapacitated without it.
Thereâ€™s nothing wrong with games trying to comment on deeper themes. Crysisâ€™s attempt to touch on issues of mortality, revenge, and the interplay between man and machine is commendable. However, themes have narrative value because they are subterranean. They lie beneath the surface of the story, pushing it forward. Their joy comes from the fact that they are there for the discerning gamer to discover and to interpret on their own. Crysis 3 takes this experience and shoves it in your face, often without warning. The result is random moments of armchair philosophizing that feels grossly out of place.
Thankfully, games are not played for their story alone. What matters is the total immersive experience. Here the Crysis series has two arrows in its bow: its combat and attention to detail.
Central to Crysisâ€™s gameplay is the nano-suit. This super-soldier battle armour enables Prophet to cloak, turn his skin into tough armour, leap to high ledges, and even hack into electronic devices. It's a clever piece of game design. By customizing the nano-suit, you can also tailor your gameplay - meaning that there are a number of ways to complete each combat section.
On the whole, Crysis 3â€™s combat is good. The combat mechanic has not evolved much from its predecessors, but its core is still there and it is still enjoyable. CELL troopers can still take a few bullets and the Ceph are still fast and deadly. The signature â€śon the flyâ€ť weapon and suit customization has been improved on, and it is easy to manage with the PS3â€™s limited controller real-estate.
The combat environments have also been significantly expanded. Crysis 2 was criticized by some (including me) for having combat that was rote and linear. Thereâ€™s no need to worry about that the third time around. Each combat environment is a miniature sandpit, and the imaginative gamer can play in it to their heartâ€™s content. The gameâ€™s sound design is also uniformly excellent. The guns pop with violence, the ambient noise of the nanosuit adds authenticity, while the clamor of battle always locates in the middle of the action.
However, there are still niggling concerns. Frustratingly, the dual options of cloak and armour mode lock gamers into two play styles. After a while this becomes tiresome. More random events would have spiced up the combat on offer. In addition, the introduction of hackable sentries and mines is not the game changer it was touted to be. Neither are the open area and flying driving missions which, while fun, felt token. And, even though the combat environments have been significantly expanded, they still constrain the game to one overall linear path. Long gone is the open world freedom offered in the original Crysis and its spiritual predecessor, Far Cry.
But it is with the second arrow that Crysis 3 finds its form. The game is simply stunning to behold. Even with the dated ability of the PlayStation 3, the game oozes beauty. Those enjoying it on a suitably powerful computer are in for an extraordinarily immersive experience.
The foliage of New Yorkâ€™s jungle is incredibly well rendered, as are the facial animations of the main characters. Even enemy grunts have been carefully crafted, showing tremendous attention to detail. Yes, there are a few repetitive textures, and yes, the gameâ€™s dark and ominous palette does make it hard to actually see who youâ€™re shooting at, but as a visual experience it's a treat. Even if the narrative is confused, the characters melodramatic, and the combat is a little rough, the visceral world that has been built for you is enough to pull you into Crytekâ€™s imagination.
That said, perhaps Crysis 3â€™s stunning graphics are at the heart of its overall problems. Crysis 3, like the original Crysis, is essentially a playable tech-demo. The series has, and I hope will continue to, push the boundaries of what is visually possible.
But its development has been unbalanced. Like its flagship nanosuit, as the series has grown it has been augmented by more and more things. A bit of story-line here, a new character there, a plot twist around the corner. Unlike the nanosuit, however, it has not been made to size. Some of its parts have never seemed to fit and this title doesnâ€™t do anything to remedy that.
Crysis 3 is set in a world that can take your breath away - but as an overall experience, it's flawed. Crytekâ€™s third installment is undoubtedly a beautiful product, but it is not yet a beautiful game.