2007 saw the release of the original Crysis as a PC exclusive - and 'exclusive' really was the word. The high specs of the FPS ensured that only those with the latest hardware could possibly hope to run it in anything like its full glory. As a result the game was lauded by critics (achieving a 91 rating on Metacritic) but fared less well at retail – a fact developer Crytek blamed on the ease of piracy on the format.
So in 2009, when the developer confirmed that its sequel, Crysis 2, would be arriving on the 360 and PS3 consoles as well as PC, the news was greeted with familiar cries from the desktop crowd that the game would inevitably be stripped of its depth in order to suit the console market. The move to consoles doesn't seem to have harmed the game's quality too much however as, at the time of writing, the PC version of the game only just trails its predecessor with an 89 rating on Metacritic, whilst both console versions fall just behind on 87.
So far, based on reviews published yesterday, the consensus critical opinion seems to be that Crysis 2 boasts compelling, action-filled gameplay, with a critics singling out the game's 'nanosuit' and its sandbox environments ("all enormous in size") for particular praise.
Jeff Gerstmann of Giant Bomb wrote, appropriately enough, that "Crysis 2's strongest suit is its suit" and admired the way the Crytek has balanced its key abilities (stealth and armour) finding the game to be "surprisingly good at making both abilities feel powerful without completely breaking the game."
However, just as much of the acclaim generated has, perhaps unsurprisingly, concerned Crysis 2 as a technical achievement – particularly on consoles where it is widely felt to have overcome the limitations of ageing hardware.
Artur Gies of IGN, who awarded the game a 9/10 score, was particularly enthusiastic about the game's visuals, writing that it represents "the best-looking console game to date" and noting that it "eschews the dark, hyper-filtered visual style of games like Killzone and Gears of War for beautiful, ubiquitous light."
Simon Parkin of Eurogamer was equally awestruck by the console version of the game in his 8/10 review, likening it to PS3 actioner Uncharted 2 as a standout graphical landmark this generation. "Who knows how Crytek managed to squeeze Cry Engine 3 onto the consoles while maintaining such extraordinary level of detail?" he asked.
Meanwhile, 1up.com writer Jose Otero gushed that he "can't stress how incredible it all looks."
Multi-format reviews across the board indicate that, as expected, the PC version is the one to go for providing you have a powerful enough machine. However, PC Gamer - which settled on an 89 per cent score – seems to confirm some of the fears of the PC community, with Evan Lahti stating that the "game may look and play best on PC, but the cross-platform development has definitely had an impact."
Lahti goes into specifics about these deficiencies detailing some "absolutely baffling technical omissions", such as the lack of much graphical customisation in the game's menus, asking "why can't I pick what level of anti-aliasing or shadow quality I want in PC gaming's most beautiful game?"
Impressive as many found the Cry Engine 3 to be, Crysis 2 is not without graphical and AI glitches that, whilst apparently minor, were nevertheless picked up on by the majority of reviewers. Critics spotted such phenomenon as "tree textures that stretch across a courtyard" and "soldiers standing poised with their finger on the trigger of an invisible gun" (Eurogamer) as well as "weird moments where enemies will walk in circles, or headfirst into their teammates without end" (IGN) - though the latter review did, like many others, praise the AI for its intelligence overall. Giant Bomb, who reviewed the 360 version, drew attention to the game's "unsteady frame rate".
But if consensus opinion seems to have applauded the graphics and the nanosuit-based gameplay mechanics, many, like Parkin, were less taken with the man inside the suit "a soldier known only as Alcatraz" who is apparently "so peripheral to the plot that, for the first half of the game, every other character you meet presumes he is someone else.
"Nobody needs to know why you are fighting the army and aliens to enjoy the ride. But without character, you really are just left with a suit and a set of rules. It's possible to fall in love with a rule set, but it's harder to reminisce about one."
Similar sentiments are echoed by Randy Nelson of Joystiq who found that "the actual narrative is merely a whimper", citing that "neither the plot, with its multiple attempts at shocking twists, nor the dialog are truly compelling."
Giant Bomb also notes that the story's reliance on "political intrigue" leaves a lot to be desired and "a lot of the drama emanates from watching or hearing about these bureaucrats and businessmen as they bicker with each other about the best way to handle the ongoing invasion.
"The game doesn't set up these characters or factions very well at all, and many of them are either key figures or directly related to key figures from the first Crysis... which didn't exactly have the most cohesive or interesting story in the world, either."
A notable dissenting voice was provided by IGN's Gies who came out in favour of the story's thematic complexity and the way it is integrated into gameplay: "Crysis 2's occasional narrow, tunnelled areas are almost never combat scenarios; instead, they feel like deliberate moments of respite, to let you take in the catastrophe around you, and to build on the story" which "deals with sophisticated themes like transhumanism and the corporatisation of power."
Though even Gies, as by far the story's most passionate advocate, does concede that it is "slow to get going" and that "it sometimes seems like some pretty important moments of exposition got cut."
PC Gamer, whilst similarly critical, was willing to overlook these narrative shortcomings, pointing out that "playing Crysis 2 for its story would be like buying fireworks to read the warning label."
The word "surprise" came up time and time again when talking about the game's "unambitious-but-excellent multiplayer", which was felt to be a significant improvement on that of the original Crysis. Developed by Crytek UK – formerly TimeSplitters developer Free Radical Design – seemingly every critic noted parallels between it and Call of Duty with the use of a similar experience system and even the familiar support perks, with most welcoming these aspects. Most praised this aspect of the game, though IGN did point out some balance issues and questioned whether it would gain a long-term following.
Ultimately, with the vast majority of review scores hovering somewhere between 80 and 90 per cent, it is Nelson of Jotstiq who succinctly sums up the prevailing feeling that Crysis 2 is "a solid FPS, not a great one." Minor glitches, along with story and characterisation problems, seem to hinder an FPS of dazzling technical brilliance and engaging gameplay and, according to Eurogamer, "drag the game back from being a bona fide classic."
Crysis 2 is due to be released Friday March 25, on Playstation 3, Xbox 360 and PC.