Crysis 2 Preview

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It is 3 years after the alien encounter in the remote pacific island setting of the original game.This time our Delta forces operative is out to contain, then eliminate the alien forces which have now invaded New York. This time however, Nomad is working on the remote fringes of the law as he has acquired, quite illegally, the new and improved nanosuit (2.0). Crynet Systems, the all-powerful organization behind the suit's manufacture is after him but in the meantime there's a lot of alien butt that needs to be kicked.

There is little doubt that Crysis 2 stole the limelight at E3 2010 and that is no less than what you would expect when you merge the technology of Crytek and the PR muscle of EA but the question we will address is: does Crysis 2 deserve the attention it's getting?

This time, Crytek takes on the big apple in a shift for the developer from jungle environments to expansive cityscapes. A move from the jungle to the "urban jungle" as Crytek and every interviewer under the sun like to remind us, in an ingenious play on the term used for land occupied by dense tropical vegetation and the term used to describe a metropolis that is characterized by densely packed residential buildings.

Much of the narrative of the game has been kept a secret as Crytek attempts to maintain the freshness of the gameplay experience but what little is known hints at epic battles in landmark New York City buildings. According to Crytek this will be an open environment with the action dictating containment within grandiose buildings, seedy alleys and other NY landmarks.

Technology

Crytek started life with a humble, yet visually impressive, tech demo for nVidia which evolved into Far Cry and at its core the studio has always been a game engine developer. As such, Crytek is bound to focus on CryEngine 3, the beast humming under the hood of Crysis 2, leaving EA to sell the game. Observed under this light, the assault on consoles by the studio makes very good business sense as console developers have greatly multiplied in the past few years and this will open up a very big new market for Crytek's engine.

There is nothing wrong with selling a game engine while also delivering an excellent game but we have to remember that Crytek has a very delicate balance to maintain if it is to succeed in both ventures.

First introduced at GDC 2009, CryEngine 3 was greeted with enthusiasm by gamers and press alike and the first videos of its abilities made a few jaws hang aimlessly. What most gamers were trying to see though was how the new technology would make Crysis 2 a better game, even though Crysis 2 was announced almost two months later.

In a deft marketing move Crytek have labelled CryEngine 3 a WYSIWYP engine. "What You See is What You Play" aside, the engine is full of high-end capabilities and offers developers out-of-the-box (O-o-t-B) graphics, physics and AI.

If we were to list the full capabilities of the engine this article would become a snorefest of technical jargon, so we will avoid that and will just highlight some of the features that have made their way into Crysis 2.

The Real Time Soft Particle System & Integrated FX Editor is what makes things that go boom look pretty. Using soft particles Cryengine 3 will allow explosions, fire and smoke to interact and collide with wind and lighting, heightening the realism of these "big events" and immersing the player in the game world.

Real-time Dynamic Global Illumination will offer light-bounces, color bleeding and specular effects in a real-time, unified for all static and dynamic objects.

Shader technology will be given the Uber treatment and will allow for real-time per-pixel lighting, bumpy reflections, refractions, volumetric glow effects and animated textures to simulate effects including windows, bullet holes and shiny surfaces.

The game will also feature old favourites such as High Dynamic Range (HDR) lighting, motion blur and depth of Field.

One important aspect of the changes to Crysis 2 will be the AI which Crytek says will be the most artificially intelligent yet. This, of course, is a statement that needs to be understood to make sense. When developers say they are making AI that is better they don't always mean smarter as there is a balance, between smart and stupid that has to be kept if players are to experience any form of progress through the game. AI, traditionally, means non-scripted reactions or at least such a wide variety that players are not sure what they will get. So even if Crytek CEO, Cevat Yerli, promised gamers "the most intelligent enemies ever", it is more of an appearance of intelligence we will get.

So think of a TV newsreader that adds spectacles to his look in order to convince viewers he is worthy of reading a machine, well, something like that. Enemies will now perceive the threat a player's weapon poses to them and will react accordingly. So you point a missile launcher at them they will run like hell, you point a submachine gun, they will look for cover. Looking and finding is not always the same thing though, so you may still make it through the levels of the game.

This proportionate response will be carried on to most aspects of your enemies, so if you take out a member of a patrol team using your stealthy skills, they will call for a few more soldiers, you rush in and send 4-5 of them to Hades you will get the attack chopper hunting you. Additionally, enemies will be more likely to exploit the environment in their quest to gain the advantage during conflict, much like you will be doing.

Your advantage, in this beautifully rendered urban world, will always be your suit and Crytek has placed great emphasis on the changes made. According to the developer, the nanosuit has not gained more powers but is still more powerful!! More about that when we look at gameplay.

GamePlay

Most of the gameplay of Crysis 2 is built around the two pillars of the franchise, the nanosuit and the open environment. What Crytek claim to have achieved with this game is a combination of freedom and direction.

The reason the nanosuit has been upgraded, even though the player has to steal it, is to adjust gameplay to what the developers observed in the original game. What you will hear a lot from Crytek is that gamers created their own "styles" when playing Crysis. Although they do mention a multitude of styles it is more than likely that the two main avenues through which gamers tackled the challenges set by Crysis were the stealth and "all-out" approaches.

According to executive producer, Nathan Camarillo, "What we found was, players were creating a game within the game. We said, 'Here are your tools, here's your nanosuit, here are your weapons, here's where you are, here's your objective - you figure the rest out'. And they were making a completely separate game within that. Some people took that really far. So if someone was playing as a silent assassin, when they got detected they felt like they'd failed - the game didn't tell them they'd failed, the game wasn't over, but they would actually reload and try again. With the superhero characters, if they died, it wasn't a failure it was, 'I made a bad decision - if I had just hidden behind that truck, I could have survived, I would have taken out six dudes'. They were creating a game for themselves in the world that we presented to them."

By understanding their audience, Crytek have attempted to assist each player in selecting the gameplay "style" that best suits them. To achieve this lofty goal, the nanosuit was not made more powerful but its powers were combined eliminating the need for players to switch between the two they used the most. So a "stealth" approach which usually involved the speed and invisibility combo will now be customizable.

Although Crytek are keeping the details quiet, it appears that speed will be available whenever needed while jump will be available as a distinct power. Crytek have also mentioned customizable modules (possibly an experience upgrade) which will allow players to combine two (maybe more) suit powers into a single, selectable option from the suit menu. According to Cevat Yerli, there will be at least two, ready-made, modes, Hunting and Tank which will allow players to use invisibility with greater tactical awareness and shield with strength, respectively. Switching between the two will also be an option, depending on your circumstances.

Additionally, Crytek have hinted at adjustments that make the player more mobile and allow for some exciting "in-game" stunts.

It will be interesting to see how players adapt to and then modify these settings to create a unique experience but as we have very little additional information, we will avoid extensive hypothesizing and wait until further nano-details become available.

Crytek has become associated with open play and this time things will not be much different, although the developer claims there will be lots of little sandboxes rather than one enormous one. The idea is that by offering purpose and intensity, the developer will ask players to adjust to their environment and use it to their advantage and that this is much more feasible in a semi-contained sandbox.

In order to increase freedom, without the need for vast open and usually dead, spaces, an element of verticality will be added. With New York offering the buildings, the developer recognised the opportunity to add another layer of complexity/convenience to the gameplay. While you will still be able to roam freely around the streets of NY, you will also be able to jump up onto buildings and try and gain tactical advantage through height. This, of course, means that your enemies will also be coming from all heights, making gameplay much more unpredictable.

All this suggests that playing Crysis 2 will be a different experience to the original but the developer is also not hiding the fact that the ace up their sleeve is New York. By selecting the Big Apple, Crytek hope to offer enough environmental variety and impressive lighting effects that will keep players engaged.

Final Thought

Tech Demo or game, Crytek have set a very high standard for what they do. If you are not into visually impressive games that immerse you in a world that is familiar yet distant and allow you the freedom to express your most vile inner, alien-hating instincts, then this may not be for you; the rest of you are bound to enjoy the game.

This is the simplicity of Crytek's latest offering, while you may not know exactly how the game will play, you are as certain as you can be that it will be a worthwhile experience, provided you fit the description above.

As with all of Crytek's games, so far, Crysis 2 is guaranteed to include some jaw-dropping moments where you will choose to waste a rocket just to watch its trail against the Manhattan skyline or stare at the enemy instead of blasting him back to his alien world.

Technically, the game is unlikely to be anything but excellent while the, much advertised, procedural destruction, has the potential to create a level of interactive chaos that will add great value to the visual brilliance of the game while also enhancing gameplay as players attempt to utilise destructibility to survive. This may be a concept that other games have utilised in the past but it seems likely that Crytek and Crysis 2 can succeed where games like the 2006 released "Black" failed miserably.

So if you own a high-end PC or a next-gen console (are they still next-gen?) then it is very likely that you are the correct audience for Crysis 2.

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