Ceph and the City
To be blunt, I wasn’t exactly excited for Crysis 3. To be blunter, every time I thought about hopping back into Prophet’s nanoshoes for another round with the alien Ceph, my stomach would knot up with apprehension.
See, I’m a big fan of the first Crysis and its standalone expansion, Warhead, but I feel like something special was lost when the franchise made the leap to consoles with Crysis 2. Was it still drop-dead gorgeous and fun to play? You bet, but the sprawling sandboxes had been sacrificed in favor of smaller, more directed arenas, and the plot seemed more than happy to willfully disregard everything that came before it with little or no explanation. To me, it was the gaming equivalent of The Matrix Reloaded, and I steeled myself for the disappointment, anticlimax, and unnecessary religious metaphors that would inevitably accompany the threequel.
I’m happy to say that they never came. Within the first 15 minutes, Crysis 3‘s story harmonizes all of the series’ contradictory elements into a larger arc that’s plausible, if a tad bit forced. Within the first 30, the game drops you into wide-open outdoor environments that manage to recapture some of the impressive scope of the original game. Remarkably, Crysis 3 manages to find a happy medium between its predecessors, capitalizing on what each of them did right while still forging its own unique identity.
That’s quite literally true from a visual standpoint. The areas you’ll explore, set in ruins of New York City decades after the events of the second entry, offer the perfect hybrid of the previous games’ urban and jungle settings. The result is a positively mesmerizing juxtaposition of natural growth and man-made decay, and developer Crytek’s unrivaled technical prowess means that every last inch of it looks positively breathtaking.
As is par for the course, the game offers a tremendous amount of variety in how you progress through these environments and the combat encounters contained within. You, of course, have access to a suite of nanosuit abilities that allow to you tank, sneak, punch, and flank your way through each battle with superhuman aplomb. There’s a wide variety of guns and gadgets at your disposal, both old and new, but the real star of the show is the new bow, which allows you to pick off enemies with standard, explosive, and electric arrows, all while remaining cloaked.
Experimenting with different strategies is still enjoyable—doubly so, now that it’s not nearly as easy to just pop on your invisibility and walk past half of a level—but the most memorable moments arise when the game drops you into less-conventional scenarios. In one segment, you’re tasked with hunting down a jamming device hidden in a field of tall grass while you’re being hunted by alien Stalkers. In another, you need to traverse a staggeringly large battlefield to take down three anti-aircraft emplacements, but the order—and whether or not you complete optional objectives to gain allied support—is entirely up to you. The big moments here are every bit as impressive as those in a tightly scripted shooter like Call of Duty, but Crysis 3 manages to pull them off without simply shuffling you past a series of cheap façades. There’s real, tangible depth.
There are, however, a few notable hiccups along the way. The story, while a marked improvement over prior efforts, offers up emotional beats that never hit quite as hard as they should, along with some of the most predictable plot twists in recent memory. Your AI opponents, while generally smart enough to keep you on your toes, are occasionally prone to moments of extreme stupidity—such as when they decide to stand perfectly still and politely allow you to unload an entire clip into their face. Perhaps most disappointingly of all, the campaign’s momentum, with its brilliant pacing and increasingly impressive set pieces, just kind of peters out toward the end, with a relatively easy final level that feels less like a climax and more like a coronation.
Still, when the credits finally rolled, I realized that the game had managed to deliver something I hadn’t ever personally gotten from a videogame trilogy: closure. Crysis 3 brings Prophet’s story to a end in a way that respects the themes of the series—and, more importantly, doesn’t fall into the all-too-common trap of cracking the narrative door open an inch to leave room for a sequel down the road. As far as conclusions go, it’s not particularly subtle or well-written, but it’s an intensely rewarding finale for anyone who’s been with the franchise since the beginning.
But as engaging as Crysis 3‘s single-player offering may be, it’s the online multiplayer that truly elevates the game to greatness. Crytek listened carefully to the feedback from Crysis 2‘s multiplayer community and used those suggestions to improve upon the experience in nearly every facet. The guns are a bit less lethal, allowing you more time to react to surprise attacks, and the nanosuit has been reworked from the ground up so that it now draws stealth and armor from two separate pools. Sprinting and jumping no longer use up any energy at all, meaning there’s a much greater emphasis on speed and mobility—both horizontal and vertical. The result is a game that takes many of the underlying design principles of the modern multiplayer shooter and expands upon them in novel ways to deliver a smart, skill-driven, and remarkably refreshing experience. In fact, I’d say that Crysis 3 is the best competitive first-person shooter available on consoles today.
That’s not a statement I make lightly, either. I spent more than a dozen hours online, looking for any flaw or major annoyance to dissuade me from that belief. Save for some minor weapon-balance issues and a few infrequent visual blemishes—portions of the level popping in, dying enemies stretching out at the waist until they resembled the Very Hungry Caterpillar—I really couldn’t find any.
Unlike most competitive FPS games that offer a robust customizable class system, Crysis 3 never feels like you’re taking a thousand different routes to the same destination. Depending on which suit enhancements, weapons, and attachments you equip, you can try out a ridiculously broad variety of distinct playstyles that go far beyond the basic assault rifle and sniper paradigms.
Want to parkour your way around the map, flanking your enemies and getting in close to pop them with a shotgun or a melee attack? Want to hide cloaked in a corner, waiting for some poor chump to run by so you can thwomp him with the street sign you ripped out of the ground? Want to climb up to a high perch and lie in wait for someone to wander underneath, then stomp them to death like a goomba? Those are all perfectly valid playstyles, provided you’ve got the map knowledge and technical skill to pull them off.
But even that’s just one part of the equation. Certain levels spawn in Pinger tanks that can change up the rhythm of a match considerably, as players rush to take it down or hijack it for themselves. Others feature VTOL aircraft that circle around the map, offering a simple way to hitch a ride or rain down death from above with the mounted guns. In addition, many of the levels offer special interactive elements, like areas that can be flooded with water and downed helicopters that can be activated to slice your unsuspecting enemies to bits.
Surprisingly enough, in spite of everything that’s going on, matches are never all that difficult to follow, due in large part to the fact that the game provides intelligent feedback every step of the way. There’s a lot that you’ve probably seen a hundred times over—killcams, minimaps, the ability to tag enemies for your team—but Crysis 3 takes it one step further. Rather than having to rely on your squadmates to call out important events over voice chat, the game essentially does the teamwork for them. If a large group of enemies clusters together, your announcer will call out the area by name to direct your team toward the action. If you spot someone wielding one of the powerful alien weapons scattered throughout the map, he’ll automatically inform everyone else. It’s not quite a substitute for good ol’-fashioned cooperation, but it’s a brilliant step toward leveling the playing field when you’re stuck on a team of lone wolves.
I could fill this review six times over with a list of everything that Crysis 3‘s multiplayer does right and the memorable experiences I had during the single-player campaign. Crytek has crafted a fitting conclusion—and a triumphant return to form—for their landmark franchise. If you’ve ever played and enjoyed a Crysis game—hell, if you’ve ever played and enjoyed a first-person shooter—then odds are good that you’ll find a lot to love here.
SUMMARY: With a single-player campaign that brings the trilogy to a fulfilling close and best-in-class multiplayer, Crysis 3 manages to best its predecessors and deliver a genuinely impressive FPS experience.
- THE GOOD: An enjoyable campaign and jaw-dropping online multiplayer.
- THE BAD: A predictable, occasionally melodramatic story.
- THE UGLY: Getting crushed to death when a car careens into your head. Ouch.
Crysis 3 is available on Xbox 360, PS3, and PC. Primary version reviewed was for Xbox 360.