It’s a vain, out-dated ambition, I know. When they first built Crysis, it was inconceivable that technology would ever be able to run it on maximum settings. I played it on a mix of Low and Medium settings on Daedalus, and it was still a bit choppy — the final boss in particular dropped to an almost unplayable frame rate, but the rest was Good Enough.
So here we are with new computer on the block Helios. What does he make of this monumental tech demo?
First off, Crysis tried to misinterpret Helios as only being capable of High settings, not Very High. No, Crysis, you’re not getting off that easily.
So we’re on max settings and I get the feeling Crysis isn’t particularly well optimised. The frame-rate varies pretty wildly, going from the giddy heights of 120 down to 55 or possibly less. Frame rates aside, the game itself seems almost designed to feel choppy even when it’s running smoothly — movement, for example, seems to be “realistic” in that you are carried forward by each foot rather than at a consistent rate, making the game act clunky.
Visually, I’m not sure that having everything on maximum has made particularly much difference after all that build-up. It was never a pretty game in the artistic sense, its po-faced utilitarian militarism serviceable but not particularly inspired (at least until the aliens come out), but even on lowest settings the lush tropical jungle was pretty sumptuous by day and by night. Maybe there are a few more godrays hanging around and a dash more post-processing.
So, not particularly worth the wait. Let’s pad out this blog, then, by talking about the game…
Crysis‘ biggest flaw remains its suit mode system. I think we can all agree that switching a pile of individual augs on and off in Deus Ex wasn’t perhaps its finest thought (MJ12 commando? Aggressive Defence + Ballistic Armour + Eyes + …). Maybe solving that problem by giving you less augs wasn’t its sequel‘s best idea either; on the other hand, allowing passive augs was possibly a good middle ground.
Crysis decided to solve this problem by lumping various individual augs into different modes. Punching and jumping are Strength, Cloak is invisibility, Speed is sprinting, and Armour is bullet-sponge.
Suit “customisation” is noted on the back of the box so they were obviously pretty pleased with this feature, but ultimately it makes the suit very unintuitive. When you see an obstacle, you tend to stand there for a moment before remembering — “oh yes, I have strength mode for this”.
Trying to do this under a hail of bullets, when going into Strength mode sacrifices that Maximum Armour you were kind of relying on… I think that appending the actions to the normal controls would have been better; hold down the button to use a powered-up punch or super-jump, that kind of thing.
Maybe it’s worse because, for all he’s a super-suited super-solider, Nomad is still pretty rubbish. The energy and health meters are extremely stingy, belying the faint feeling of power you get when you vault up onto a particularly satisfying refinery building when after two jumps you have to sit and get your breath back.
Changing modes on the fly is often hampered by the fact that you’ve already lost all your energy from damage absorption in Armour mode — you don’t have any power left to vault over that cover you need to get behind even if you could fumble the control switch. Then there are those times when you get peppered by a machine gun you didn’t notice, and the glacial walking pace means you can’t get into cover fast enough. (Could definitely do with a dive/slide button like Bulletstorm.)
I guess what I’m saying is that I want Unreal Tournament in the jungle and in massive landscapes. (Which is kind of what UT2k4 did with its huge levels — also committing the cardinal sin of reducing movement speed along the way.) I guess what I’m saying that this nanosuit feels completely at odds with the literature.
On the other hand, that fragility — in amongst the bombast of often extremely active warzones — makes for some delightfully tense encounters.
Consider the tremendous rolling tank battle you get to join when the US forces finally invade. It’s a wide valley with rockets and explosives going off everywhere and it gets off to a rollicking start with you in your tank and all your hoo-rah buddies in their tanks and an epic orchestral score, but you’ll soon discover your tank isn’t up to much and have to do the rest on foot.
Suddenly you’re trudging at snail’s pace in cloak mode to avoid the hail of rockets and cannon shells, desperately running and cloaking between rocks and ridges because being spotted means almost instant death.
Maybe you do have to spend more time crawling than appreciating the fireworks, but I guess that’s a large part of what makes it interesting.
Then there’s the part when you go inside the alien spaceship, which is a real triumph of eerie atmosphere. It might feel very calm and gentle, floating around in zero gravity after the collapsing-cave setpiece moments earlier, but when the aliens start flying and smacking you from behind and you’re tumbling around it’s… Not scary, exactly, but tense. You realise they’re much more manoeuvrable than you, and they could appear from any angle at any moment, and that can’t fail to get your heart pumping as you desperately dodge and spin around. (Luckily they’re not exactly powerful, because constant death in this area would definitely make it get tired pretty fast.)
So there is actually a lot to be said for Crysis‘ distinctly un-super super-soldiery. A few more technical refinements to give fluidity — if not imbalanced superiority — to your movement and your abilities would perhaps have done just fine to bring the game up to scratch.
Worth the wait to play it on max? Errr… No.
But I also think it’s unfair to dismiss Crysis as a tech demo. There’s plenty in here that’s exciting and spirited even if the final package is a bit wobbly in places; and it’s sadly potential that I remember the sequel squandered by going off on a bit of a tangent.
It is very pretty, though, and walking into a shack to punch a melon into delicious physics-chunks will never get old.