Considering that the original Crysis was built to push boundaries, it's odd that the series became a monument to compromise. The shift from PC to multiplatform saw enormous freeform levels become corridors and arenas in an attempt to cope with hardware limitations. Lush jungles and vibrant blue oceans gave way to the fashionable dull grey streets of Manhattan. Crysis 2 may have had its moments, but for many (myself included), it was a massive step in the wrong direction.
Crysis 3 is the ultimate compromise in many ways. To finish the series with a bang, Crytek wanted to marry the sprawling stages of the first game with the verticality of its sequel, while bringing the jungle directly into the city centre. The result is a bizarre mash of different art and gameplay styles that works much better than it has any right to - thanks mainly to an exceptional piece of clothing and the most low-tech of weapons.
Oh, and it's also a bit of a looker. To put it mildly.
A few years have passed since a brave young marine called Alcatraz saved New York, after which Prophet basically stole his body as thanks. The ungrateful Raptor Team leader has somehow gotten himself captured by the Cell Corporation, who have become a stereotypically evil megacorp with the clout of a national superpower, and ends up destined for dissection until his old pal Psycho turns up. As part of a resistance movement, the cockney commando tasks Prophet with leading an assault on Cell's base of operations in the ruins of New York, which is now a verdant rainforest under an enormous greenhouse canopy. The setup may be simple enough, but naturally, the slimy extraterrestial Ceph have a master plan that could shake the world to its core.
That's all you need to know. No-one comes to Crysis for the story, and it's a good thing too since Crysis 3 is utterly atrocious in that department. The writing manages to be both obtrusive, awkward, unwieldly and yet incredibly brusque; bludgeoning players over the head with its core themes in an attempt to move things along as quickly as possible. "SACRIFICE! SACRIFICE! SACRIFICE," it shouts. "PEOPLE ARE SACRIFICING THINGS! HURRY UP AND GET THE SUBTEXT, IDIOT, WE NEED TO MOVE ON!" Without even mentioning that poor old Alcatraz sacrificed his body, mind and soul not a single game ago. New characters like resistance commander Claire are introduced and sidelined too quickly to care about their backstories (a shame, because there was a nugget of an interesting character arc here), while Psycho's horrendously forced delivery makes him utterly unlikeable even to Warhead fans.
Gameplay-wise, however, Crysis 3 gets a lot right. The glorious Nanosuit has been off for another round of streamlining, but this time, the focus is on making raw power as easy to access as possible. Supercharged sprinting is now available without an energy cost, meaning that you've only got the armour mode and stealth cloaking to worry about. Power jumps and ledge grabs are silky smooth and effortless to pull off, making traversal a joy, with power lifts and kicks just a single key tap away. New firmware allows Prophet to hack turrets and mines in a simple minigame, turning the enemy's technology against them on the fly. A robust upgrade system allows you to evolve and improve your outfit by exploring the environments and experimenting with the mechanics, while shaping your tactics to fit the situation.
However, the single most important update comes in the form of a composite bow. This silent weapon allows Prophet to hunt foes without breaking stealth, or utilise different ammo types to electrify bodies of water and shred enemies in cover with a proximity air burst. Crytek have clearly put the focus on sneaking this time around, since traditional ammo is limited and cloaking uses much less energy than before, leading you an exciting new combat loop.
You'll mark your targets and caches with your visor before dropping into stealth, killing a few foes here and there, sneaking past others, causing diversions and generally enjoying the sick voyeuristic thrill of brutalising totally unwary goons. Both Cell troopers and Ceph aliens are ill-equipped to deal with an enemy they can't see, and the bow is by far the most impressive you'll have wielded since the Thief games.
Sometimes, this all comes together in a couple of larger levels. An enormous dam allows you to approach two generators using any combination of stealth, swimming, all out-assault or air duct infilitration (pleasingly reminiscent of Deus Ex), while a single late-game stage puts you in the middle of a sprawling sandbox with numerous primary and secondary objectives to approach at leisure. In these all too fleeting levels, you'll feel the original Crysis desperately trying to make its presence known.
But, sadly, the blinkers rarely come off. Most levels are simply corridors disguised as expansive environments, with vast swathes of terrain often totally unpopulated by even a single enemy or hidden upgrade cache. Smart level design means that there's always a rooftop, gantry or tunnel to exploit, but if you decide to blow your cover, combat tends to boil down to some solid if forgettable encounters against some fairly dumb opponents. A few exciting weapons such as the horrific shrapnel-spraying Typhoon and some Ceph tech help to break things up a little, but otherwise, a lack of exciting set pieces make Crysis 3 by far the least memorable game in the series. For every dynamic stealth engagement, surprisingly enjoyable boss battle or brawl against Ceph stalkers in long grass ('clever girls'), there's an undernourished vehicle section through a tight corridor, a turret to man or blithely sitting in a gunner seat of a jet you ought to be flying.
The focus on stealth brings a few new problems. The AI clearly hasn't received much of an update since Crysis 2, and the fact that you can fire while cloaked totally breaks it. Cell soldiers and Ceph enemies simply don't know how to handle you, sometimes standing dead still, popping in and out of cover in an infinite loop or even throwing a grenade at their own feet and waiting pathetically for death. You'll also get to see plenty of idle AI behaviour while in stealth mode, watching enemies basically mill around without purpose or semblance of organisation instead of going about realistic tasks.
And it never escalates. Though solid and sturdy, backed up by versatile mechanics and smart design, the campaign plateaus after just a couple of hours, refusing to really challenge players with truly overwhelming odds. Once you've punched an arrow through a soldier's face plate, you'll have seen it all, and it's all too tempting to just run past everyone to your next objective. Luckily - perhaps - there's little time for malaise to set in, since the campaign is also breathtakingly short. Unless you make your own fun by hunting absolutely everyone and exploring for hidden Nanosuit upgrades, you'll blow through the whole thing in under six hours.
So, to enjoy Crysis 3 to the full, you'll need to make your own fun. If you're willing to up the difficulty level, stealth becomes infinitely more satisfying, and the unique joy of being both hunter and prey becomes truly rewarding. Despite my reservations regarding AI and pacing, the vertical levels hide a wealth of potential combat options, which are best experienced a couple of times on increasingly tougher settings. Crysis 3 isn't really a return to form, but if you embrace the jungle, there's plenty of sadistic joy to be found here.
Right. We can't delay this any more. It's time to talk graphics.
On our Core i7, GFX 660, 8GB test rig (yes, it is an Alienware X51 - I freely admit that I chickened out of building my dream rig this time and still spend hours pining for an SSD on Scan.co.uk), I was able to push absolutely everything to maximum settings. Save for AA, which I had to set to "medium" 2X to guarantee a stable 25-40 FPS. On PC, at least, I'm delighted to report that Crysis 3 looks absolutely incredible. The new jungle setting is a perfect demonstration of CryEngine 3's raw power, with luscious deforming foliage, rippling water, tiny environmental details like squirrels and stags and air that hangs thick with particulate matter. Facial animations are also particularly impressive, though eyes are still slightly waxy and soulless.
It's utterly gorgeous on a macro scale, ambiently beautiful, the kind of eye candy that you'll take for granted until booting up practically anything else (save perhaps Battlefield 3 on highest settings). When you get your eye in, you'll definitely notice a few cut corners such as jarringly low-resolution recycled circuit boxes and flat fire extinguisher textures in lifts, but the fact that these spring so easily to mind is testament to how great everything else looks. For the record, I haven't tested the console versions, but Crysis 3 will almost certainly feel at home on a decent gaming PC.
Personally, I reckon that Crysis 2's multiplayer was under-rated and deserved to retain its console player base longer than it did. Crytek UK - better known as Free Radical back in the day - are responsible for the competitive shenanigans in the sequel, and it's clear that the veteran studio haven't lost their edge. With an impressive twelve maps to choose from, all of which are a neat fusion of open spaces, vantage points and underbrush, you'll engage in a variety of gametypes underpinned by a robust progression system. Traditional modes like Team Deathmatch and Capture The Flag are enhanced by the Nanosuit's insane power as players brawl in full armour or snipe from the sidelines, while an exciting hunter mode pits a team of well-armed cell operatives against a pair of armoured predators. As the defenders fall, they join the Nanosuited ranks as desperation sets in.
A few balance issues are already apparent (the Typhoon is utterly outrageous at close range, for example), but this should hopefully be ironed out soon. It's familiar stuff, but brilliant fun. This is Crytek UK after all. Whether Crysis 3 will manage to tear us away from Battlefield, Planetside 2, Halo and Black Ops for more than a few weeks, however, is another matter entirely.
- Truly satisfying stealth action, Nanosuit honed to nigh-perfection
- Some smartly-designed levels, arenas and encounters
- Strong multiplayer underpinned by robust progression
- Looks utterly gobsmacking on PC
- Level design rarely embraces freedom and often falls back on stock genre tropes
- A lack of memorable set pieces
- Short campaign plateaus rather than escalates, disappointing AI
- Idiotic storyline and terrible storytelling
The Short Version: Crysis 3 rounds off the franchise in a gorgeous and inoffensive way. Its sturdy yet short campaign holds few memorable moments, but satisfying stealth, smart level design and strong multiplayer makes Prophet's swan song worth hunting down.
NB: EA dispatched a PC review copy several days after Crysis 3 released, so apologies for the late review. I hope that it will still be useful if you've been sitting on the fence. - Jonathan