Platforms: PC | PS3 | Xbox 360
Publisher: EA Games
NB. Do be aware that this article contains Crysis 2 spoilers.
We're not going to lie, a sinking feeling hit us as soon as the announcement came that told us we'd be going back to New York in Crysis 3. It's not that New York is a bad city. It's probably lovely in real life. But if there's one thing that's become rather apparent in its numerous virtual incarnations over the last few years, it's that a lake in the middle of a park in the middle of an island in the middle of a boxy grid of roads is hardly the most imaginative foundation for a city dominated by grey, tall buildings.
Thankfully, the New York in Crysis 3 doesn't look anything like that at all. Let's get up to speed. The year is 2047, two decades after the end of Crysis 2, and New York resembles an enormous rainforest ruin, reclaimed by nature, and transformed into a tropical jungle. It transpires that in order to fully rid the largest cities of the world of Ceph contamination, CELL Corp. (the shadowy, heftily-bankrolled PMC from the previous game) has gone and shoved a bunch of nanodomes over this cities - New York included.
The party line is that the nanodomes are here to organically cleanse the environment of Ceph material through hugely accelerated natural growth. But Prophet, who returns once again, having been assimilated into Alcatraz at the end of Crysis 2, isn't buying it. He thinks CELL are up to their eyeballs in self-serving power-grabbing, and are secretly trying to obtain the Ceph technology for themselves, with the ultimate goal of world domination. *Cue evil laughter*
Our demo sets us down in Chinatown, which has rather turned into a festering jungle swap. We are promised frogs, as insects and butterflies flit about around Prophet's head. According to Crytek, the Liberty Dome will allow for multiple, vastly different environments, something that they are terming the 'Seven Wonders' of the nanodome, combining New York's topography and crumbling architecture, with striking environmental effects. At least, that's the plan.
Of course, it's all very well and good to say that, but difficult to get a feel for in a highly truncated, rather scripted developer walkthrough. The instant feeling, though, as Prophet sets off recalls three action flicks from decades past. Predator 1 and 2, and Rambo II.
Let's start with the latter. Clad in his super-futuristic, heavily modified nanosuit, it might seem a little odd that, on announcement, the super-cool, totally awesome weapon that Crytek have chosen to show off as Prophet's signature weapon for this particular game is...a compound bow. The connotations are clear - Prophet even says as much, referring to the hunted (himself) becoming the hunter - and suddenly floods of memories of playing Cowboys and Indians as children come flooding back and we remember a key point: bows are awesome.Channelling the spirit of an armour-clad John Rambo, with perhaps a little bit of a zeitgeist-spinning nod to The Hunger Games too, we're willing to give the bow the benefit of the doubt, particularly considering its slick, unfolding animations.
The first significant change to gameplay comes down to the bow too. Unlike your other weapons, the bow can be fired when cloaked, allowing to to get the jump on your foes, most of whom in this particular demo are in fact...yep, you guessed it...Ceph. A lot can happen in twenty years.
There's a crackle in Prophet's ear, and the cockney voice reveals that Psycho is still alive and kicking. There's an objective afoot, and Prophet has to make his way to a comms tower just a little way away. But there are a few marauding Ceph patrols to take care of first. Having identified and targeted the immediately visible Ceph in the area, Prophet sets about taking them out at range with the bow. One shot drops a trooper, another triggers a little cinematic that follows the arrow with a close-cam shot.
From the vantage point to the swampland floor, Prophet begins to creep amongst the long grass and dense foliage. He comes upon an idle Ceph soldier, and sticks his knife in the alien's throat. There's a little bit of glitching, and the knife doesn't actually appear to go into the alien's body, but there's still time. Something to work on. Further forays into the jungle reveal new enemy types - from the buzzing aerial drones that can strip Prophet's cloak, to the scuttling Scorchers who rear up on detecting an enemy, depositing their mobile platform and raining down fiery death on you and your surroundings.
Thankfully, Prophet has the capabilities to deal with such enemy ordinance, and a quick shift to the super-thermite-tipped arrows provides an explosive result. We are introduced to the Typhoon - a gun that can purportedly fire off 500 rounds a second, burying a powerful stream of projectiles into a foe incredibly quickly, accompanied with a rapid-fire sound that bears a strong resemblance to a seriously pissed-off bumble bee. When the Scorchers turn up, something a even heavier is required. Thankfully there's a Ceph plasma launcher lying around. Apparently Prophet's nanosuit has been "infused with Ceph DNA", although it's still with a measure of some surprise that the man himself exclaims "the Ceph weapon has merged with my suit!"
Sadly, there was precious little emphasis on how much further the nanosuit technology has evolved over the last twenty years, but one ability that was demonstrated saw Prophet hacking enemy turrets remotely to provide diversions. Senior creative director Rasmus Hojengaard revealed that this barely scratched the surface of the hacking capabilities that will be available to Prophet across the final game. We should, however, expect nano-speed, nano-armour, and nano-strength to return, with a pleasantly assisted melee smackdown sending an unwary Ceph goon flying with a single punch.
Much has been promised, then, and Crysis 3 looks to be trying to be all things, combining elements of both of the previous titles. Although this particular demo was rather narrow and claustrophobic, we are told that the open spaces of the first game will return, providing less necessity for stealth and allowing players to explore approaches in a sandbox environment. Technical questions persist too: PC vs. console. CryEngine 3 vs. Frostbite 2. Truth be told on that last count, we found Warfighter looking better than Crysis 3, and the latter's destruction mechanics look like they could use a tweak or two. It also remains to be seen whether Crysis 3 can rise above the sum of its parts and create a definitively fresh experience, rather than simply mashing the genes of its predecessors together.
Can Crytek knock it out of the park and instil some jungle fever once more? Let's hope we get to find out for ourselves with the game in hand at E3/Gamescom this summer.