After queueing for what seemed like an eternity, the Crytek doors opened onto one of the most anticipated shooters of this coming financial year. The briefing kicked off with a beautiful 3D showcase showing off their new commitment to three dimensional tech, with an eyepopping CG video of our nanosuited hero killing armoured goons in glorious slow motion. Still, CG proves nothing... and I was relieved to see that they'd included several minutes of 3D singleplayer footage. Expanding on the Marine Salvage trailer, the footage showed off the freeform gameplay that even enclosed spaces has to offer, with the protagonist taking advantage of a first-person grappling mechanic to claw his way onto high ledges and engaging targets in the air.
Still, I hadn't queued to watch. I'd queued to play, and Crytek had kindly set up a mass of insanely-specced rigs and Xbox 360s for our entertainment. Yesterday's EA press conference had shown off some of the new multiplayer modes and features, so naturally today's session kicked off into one of the new multiplayer modes.
Set on a wartorn rooftop with interior offices and a network of tunnels, the new gametype was a variation on the classic territory capture mode. Alien pods periodically smash into the map and have to be captured and held to gain points- and then explode after a short time. Another pod then crashes elsewhere, forcing the fight into a whole new area. It's a familiar theme, but the enhanced choice that the nanosuit brings to the table led for some interesting options. Ground pound the area around the pod to clear out enemies? Invisibly sneak up and assassinate the defenders? Or just grab a massive gun and hope for the best?
A few preset classes were available for our perusal (though customisable loadouts and perks will ship with the finished product) including Snipers and stealthy specialists, but I plumped for the rounded Assault marine to test out the aerial combat. The assault could leap massive distances, scale huge heights, turn invisible at will and deliver a terrifying ground pound that pulverises unwary opponents- and I wanted to test out the "enhanced verticality" that Crysis 2 promises to bring to the table.
Striking out for the first alien pod, I was edified at how solid the shooting mechanics felt. The guns feel both accurate and responsive, and the air control was an absolute breeze to master. The context-sensitive automatic grapples allowed me to climb onto the highest points of the map with intuitive ease- and almost felt like an FPS version of Crackdown at points. Readying my rifle, I dropped opponent after opponent with precise bursts of fire and my score skyrocketed into a massive unassailable lead.
And then my feeling of superiority was completely crushed by the realisation that the rest of my journalist opponents weren't really fighting back. Everyone had chosen the assault class and were leaping merrily through the air, shattering the realistic glass, peering at the textures and essentially behaving like small children at a toy store. Realising that this was a lot more fun, I joined the shenanigans- and am delighted to report that the weapons, grenades, invisibility and ground pound are as accessible and fun as they are devastating.
There's not much point talking about the graphics, really... except that you'll moan at me if I don't. Basically Crysis 2 is absolutely immense. Of course it is. Everything from the staggering draw distance to the luscious texturing to the luscious water dripping off of the visor is visually astounding on both an ambient and detailed level... and to be honest, I don't even know why I'm bothering. Of course it looks great. It's Crytek. Let's move on...
...in a minute. You see, I was just raving talking about the PC version. I also managed to get some time in with the Xbox 360 version of the multiplayer level... and when played on Microsoft's console it's a very different story. The Xbox version looks markedly worse than the (admittedly top-end) rigs that EA set up, and it simply couldn't muster anywhere near as much grunt. A washed-out colour palette, jaggier edges and noticeably compressed texturing undoes much of Crytek's good work. Don't get me wrong, it still looks good for an Xbox 360 title- but it does highlight the need for Microsoft to consider upgrading to the next generation sooner rather than later to stay in the game. On the plus side, I much preferred playing on the 360 thanks to my console bias and Halo-honed skills- and the air combat was a lot more fun thanks to the immediacy that a controller brings to a table.
The multiplayer component of Crysis 2 is shaping up to be a lot of fun- as well as being a genuinely rewarding experience in its own right. We'll be keeping you posted by the wire.