Crytek marines are a hardened fighting force... but their defence of New York was inexorably breaking under the brutal alien assault. A cadre of otherworldly Ceph units stood between the beleagured squad and their objective: an explosive detonator on the top floor of a nearby building. Luckily for them, we're going to provide some serious Nanosuited backup when the 2011 release date hits.
Ceph Assault Troops are tough, fast and durable; dealing out accurate salvos of energy rifle fire at long range. Capable of impressive feats of mobility, the Ceph Stalkers are fairly weak and can't take what they dish out... but their enhanced mobility lets them leap around and flank unwary soldiers from behind and above. Luckily the default scoped SCARAB assault rifle is more than capable of dispatching them- and the nanosuit's enormous jump power allows players to take advantage of the tiered levels and secure high vantage points. Or leap off tall ledges and perform an earth-shattering ground pound that sends Ceph flying.
Battling the Ceph effectively therefore requires a heightened sense of spacial awareness as they can gleefully skirmish around and above the player, providing an intense and reactive experience. However, they're nowhere near as satisfying to fight as normal human combatants in other games (since they currently feel like bullet sponges or slightly reflective)- and we're looking forward to fighting against some military foes for contrast.
Once inside the building, it was fairly simple to clear out the skirmishing Ceph with copious use of invisibility and a trusty shotgun. SCARAB ammo was running low, but good old-fashioned buckshot provided a nasty and efficient way of putting down unwary enemies. The nanosuit allowed me to scale the interior of a lift shaft with a powerful jump and swift grab- and upon taking possession of the detonator, I was able to bring down an enormous tower block and enjoy the physics engine doing what it does best: blowing stuff up. The force of the impact knocked me back down to earth (in the game, natch)... straight into the waiting crosshairs of a Ceph Devastator. These armoured brutes pack a rocket launcher and energy chaingun- and will merrily pulverise cars and cover in order to punish complacent marines. Players will need to adopt an evasive hit & run strategy using the verticality of the levels to change firing position (staying mobile all the while), or get up close and personal with a shotgun. Experience fighting Halo's Hunters or Serious Sam's Werebulls will come in very useful here.
The question of console disparity came up the last time I took Crysis 2 for a spin. You'd naturally expect the Xbox 360 version to look decidedly worse compared to one of Crytek's ridiculously-specced overclocked beastly gaming rigs... but during my time with the multiplayer demo, Microsoft's console simply couldn't churn out enough graphical grunt to keep up with even other good looking 360 titles. It was the difference between being nice and having genuine wow factor- and even though Crytek didn't bring along a PS3 to the party (which would have made for a much more interesting and inflammatory comparison), they were kind enough to set up the Xboxes right next to their stable of monolithic rigs and let me loose on both.
Naturally, the visuals were eyepopping on the PC. Even though the gutted remains of New York strikes me as an odd choice for a showing off a graphics engine, it's a glorious spectacle that boasts a deep colour palette, incredible levels of detail and some luscious particle effects. What did you expect? The Gamescom multiplayer demo was enough to reduce us hardened veterans to giggling schoolboys.
The Xbox version, however, was a different story. Despite the demo being completely broken (with objects and entities phasing in and out of existence throughout the demo), it was easy to spot a decreased draw distance, washed out colours and some fairly mediocre texturing here and there. The difference is absolutely staggering. However, you have to remember that the 360 is five years old... and it will be genuinely interesting to see whether Crysis 2 can stand on its own merits as a game without the graphics to back it up. In many ways, the Xbox 360 will be the fairest critical testbed once release day rolls around.
So, my advice? If you've got a PC with enough beastly grunt to do Crysis 2 justice, the choice is a no-brainer. Grab a USB controller if you need to. On the other hand, however, the multiplayer is going to be excellent: so if your usual crew of fellow gamers can be found on Xbox Live, it'll be well worth grabbing the console version instead. We're looking forward to discovering whether Crysis 2 can deliver a consistently impressive singleplayer experience as well as visuals when it hits next year.