Crysis 3

The Crysis FPS/RPG franchise can, in terms of its production, be compared to the works of Michael Bay. Its oeuvre consists of shallow, feel-good action romps with a particular eye for visual flair. This was enough to carry the works of Bay until his 2009 critical flop Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen, but the notoriously fickle gaming industry has already abandoned Crysis after just three games, which is surprising considering how overall decent the first two were.

Comparing the Crysis games to movies is particularly apt, because it’s one of the most egregious examples of games trying to make themselves as cinematic as possible, which is not a good thing (You have a perfectly serviceable form of art and expression right there, guys, don’t just ape a different one). The first game cast you as an unremarkably white-breaded member of a Special Forces team, which formed an ensemble cast straight out of a TVTropes entry: The Bald Black Leader Guy, The Mean Brit, the General Ripper who clashes with the Father To His Men, the Mad Scientist and his corresponding Beautiful Daughter, all rounded off by a couple of Red Shirts and a Proud Warrior Race who defend the South Asian jungle from the team (Does This Remind You Of Anything?), as they investigate an Ancient Conspiracy involving Scary Dogmatic Starfish Aliens.

Crysis 2 jettisoned this completely, preserving only the evil aliens so they could do their own take on Independence Day, taking the player on a visually transcendent tour of a ruined New York City overrun with aliens, disease and the military. I liked it more than the first game, if only for the fact that I’m a New York native with an appetite for well-paced disaster movies.

Now comes time for the third game. Since the first game took place in a dense tropical jungle, and the second in a ruined New York, where should we set our third game?

Golly gee, what creativity.

Crysis 3, instead of taking its inspiration from classic action movies, decides to crib from classic action games. The game begins with a very Deus Ex: Human Revolution-inspired sequence: You and your best pal (a Ray Winstone double) infiltrate a polished, yellow-and-blue-heavy offshore complex to find out more about the sinister company who manufactured the super-advanced biotechnology you use in combat, which works better on you than anyone else – the quote-unquote “inspiration” extends so far that you even have a hacking mini-game that results in machines working to your advantage and giving you extra items, a first for the series.

Said super-advanced biotechnology is the Nanosuit, a fully integrated combat armor system that directly ties itself to the user’s brain and body. In the second game, this led to a decent subplot about losing your humanity and becoming a mindless and ruthlessly efficient killing machine, but this has been completely dropped, because who needs some poignant character drama when we can have Ray Winstone being British at you?

Anyway, the game Crysis 3 is most intent on ripping off is the quarter-ton gorilla of the FPS genre, which can proverbially release sequels when it likes: Half-Life 2. This is in evidence after Ray Winstone reveals that in the twenty years since the last game, malevolent humans who own the company that made your armor have used the alien invasion as a pretext to take over the world, installing an Orwellian government to gain absolute power, eliminate the last of the untamed aliens and pick up that can, citizen!

And since Ray Winstone is just a haircut and accent away from yammering to you about beer and beating quotas, he leads you to an active, underground Resistance movement, led by a photogenic and forceful young woman and a bit-part scientist from the last game, who built your armor and regrets his role in the alien takeover of Earth. With Half-Life, we got long scenes with these characters to build up their relationships and establish emotional connections to the player – but here we get a minute’s worth of foreshadowing for future plot twists and we’re off like a shot from a Zero-Point Energy Field Manipulator.

The game borrows so much from Half-Life 2 it can’t even keep track of plot points for its own series. You see, you’re not playing as the protagonist from either of the previous games – you’re that black guy I mentioned from the first game, who has now been using his suit for so long it’s been completely fused with him. You were last seen in the second game, having helped to clear the alien invasion out of New York. Since HL2 had a twenty-year time span between the two games, though, your character spent the next two decades playing Minesweeper in Central Park, or winning second place in a Valve Logo Lookalike competition, because it’s been twenty years and absolutely everything has to be explained to him.

And this is a pretty nitpicky problem I have, but this game apparently takes place in the middle of November…

I didn’t learn to live like an animal in the jungle where I played.

 

…yeah, no. I don’t care how much Simpsons Movie explanatory crap this story has, New York doesn’t turn into the Amazon rainforest at Thanksgiving time.

The gameplay of Crysis 3 is pretty much identical to that of Crysis 2 – picture the original Deus Ex, lobotomized and on fast forward. Most of the combat revolves around using your suit’s absurdly powerful and unlimited abilities to soak up or avoid anything your enemies throw at you – since your entire stores of power regenerate completely after a few seconds of waiting, your foes pose no real challenge.

Well, let me go back on that a bit – you see, one of your suit’s powers is invisibility and enemy-tracking, which means that they can have some basic stealth mechanics, and thus advertise “Crysis 3 lets you choose your own rules of engagement!”. In practice, though, stealth is completely unreliable, since you have no way of detecting when your enemies do or don’t know you’re there, and the contextual take-down commands are much too fiddly. And when you’re discovered, there aren’t really any consequences – your enemies have a good amount of health, but your suit is completely impervious to their weapons as long as it has power (which, as we established, is all the time).

And then there’s the bow. All the promotional material, tie-ins and game art put a huge amount of focus on a high-tech crossbow weapon. And this translates to the game as well: One of the first things Ray Winstone does when he meets you is give you the bow, along with a speech that’s less “It’s dangerous to go alone, take this!” than “Hi, Billy Mays here with the all-new crossbow!” In practice, the bow isn’t really more or less useful than any other weapon, considering how easy the game is, but I think it’s sort of strange how this innovation gets talked up so much considering how inconsequential it is in the grand scheme of the game. I mean, if you want a real innovative weapon, why not something like a gun that can pick up and shoot heavy objects at… your… enemies… Oooooh. Oh.

Anyway, back to the plot. Around halfway through, the game decides it wants to diversify from ripping off Half-Life 2, and trains its sights on the Dead Space franchise. And so, as you and your Resistance pals prepare to storm the government headquarters (convenient to scenic destroyed Manhattan!), you start getting strange, mystic visions of evil aliens, which are exacerbated when you touch a huge, red-and-black spiky thing that everyone is worshipping. In Dead Space, this was explained as being an empathic bond between you and the aliens from the previous games, but here it’s just because they already did the full New York sightseeing tour in the last movie, and they don’t want to retread old, invaded ground.

Of course, when you kill the government leaders, it’s revealed they were the only thing stopping the ten-story Alien King from attacking the city, ready to take on the world. Because we’re aping a Dead Space game, the aliens are fought in dark and cramped locations for atmospheric purposes, and because the game is so unoriginal, they come out of a huge, blue-white vertical beam of light that comes from the center of the city.

I’m not sure how, or why, this became such a prevalent sci-fi trope, and I want it to stop as soon as possible.

The original Crysis was set apart from the crowd not because it was fun, or interesting, or unique, but because it looked good. The first game was a PC exclusive, and used the power of the CryEngine to make a resplendent tropical jungle environment, and the sequel brought the level of detail even higher in its presentation of near-future New York, with a design that was both realistic and imaginative.

Because of this lineage, the graphics of Crysis 3 are probably the most disappointing aspect of the game – about two thirds of the texture assets are copied from previous games, and the new stuff goes by much too quickly to appreciate over the 5-hour story campaign. And to top it all off, because this game also wants to pay homage to Aliens and Escape from New York, three quarters are spent in various permutations of near-complete darkness. This was the easiest thing to do right, Crytek – show off how powerful your graphics processors are! Don’t stick me in unlit corridors from the entire second half of the game!

This second half starts after the Alien King sends you flying into the dark, underground ruins of pre-invasion New York City (“Where apes evolved from men!?”), where the aliens begin attacking the Orwellian soldiers. You meet back up with Ray Winstone in a science lab, where you discover – say it with me folks – that one of your allies was working for the evil government the whole time, and thus betrayed Ray’s trust. He goes off in a huff, but it’s such an obvious setup for a heroic rescue scene that even the game’s writers seem to acknowledge it – he’s barely gone twenty minutes of game time before he returns, guns blazing.

Meanwhile, the gameplay goes into all-out warfare, as you and your resistance buddies battle the remnants of the Orwellian forces to reach the center of the city, where the Alien King can begin to take over the world.

Now this image is a trope I will never get tired of.

And when I say “remnants”, I mean it – after a few arenas worth of fighting (The actual in-the-moment gameplay isn’t too shabby), there’s a fifteen minute or so stretch where you don’t fight anyone at all. I don’t mean they do a story sequence – you literally do nothing but plod through a huge, vaguely linear environment. It looks very nice, but there are barely any enemies, and a whole lot of ground to cover – I’m supposed to be Snake Plissken over here, not Frodo Baggins!

You know, I called the Crysis games “FPS/RPGs” up there, but now I sort of feel like going back on that. The first game had quite a bit of serious resource management, and it worked just dandy. The second game pretty much dropped this upgrade system entirely, in favor of some strange fairy dust (seriously, fairy dust – with sparkles and everything) that had no effect on the rest of the gameplay. The franchise considers this a mistake, and so it tries to encourage you to level up your abilities by giving you an upgrade point every five minutes. I feel the developers have sort of missed the point of rewarding you based on your skill, and the upgrades are all pretty useless anyway, so this is a definite minus.

Eventually, the game pretends to be a movie (Specifically, The Avengers, considering all the aliens look like robot lizard skeletons and you’re a guy in a plot-important suit of power armor) and gives you the big Act 3 treatment – return of your friends from the first game, death of a supporting character to make you swear revenge on the enemy, a rousing speech and so forth. After a boss fight with a swarm of robot bees (that is surprisingly unique, fun and challenging, and probably the best thing in the game), you make it to Loki’s tesseract – I mean, Megatron’s AllSpark – I mean, the Alien King’s portal – I mean that I should probably cut down on my use of that joke, but it’s such a ubiquitous trope that I couldn’t help it. Anyway, after a decent final boss fight with the Alien King in the form of a robot dragon, your character reenacts the ending of the Avengers – right down to the ending sequence where he proves he’s moved past using his suit of armor as an emotional crutch by throwing a piece of it into the ocean.

Look, I’ll be honest. I don’t really begrudge a work for borrowing well-known concepts and ideas – I’ll make fun of it, sure, but I don’t really count it as a shortcoming if the work as a whole is good. The problem with the Crysis franchise in general, and the third game in particular, is that it doesn’t have any identity of its own to mask the stuff it borrows from elsewhere. Crysis 1 excelled in its gameplay, Crysis 2 in its narrative. Both of them had a really recognizable feel, and so I was okay with their unoriginality. Here, they just seem to have given up any unique ideas and overarching themes of Crysis, so that it feels badly disconnected from the rest of the series even as it bald-facedly recycles gameplay from Crysis 2.

You’ll probably get some enjoyment out of Crysis 3, and it definitely passes the time competently, but as someone who values creativity for media in general and the game industry in particular, there are far better ways to spend that time.

TWO THUMBS UP: Boss battles, the pacing and structure of the story

THUMBS UP: Art design

THUMBS DOWN: Disappointing graphics, badly stop-and-start gameplay, stupid RPG elements

TWO THUMBS DOWN: Reusing ideas without any originality

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