As Crytek’s first multi-platform game, Crysis 2 on the PC wasn’t all that it could have been. I’m not just talking about graphics options or eye candy – even the gameplay itself had many of its finer nuances tuned out to create a more accessible experience for the console crowd. Enemy AI was only capable of two alert states versus the three in the original, and most areas of the game had a singular path between beginning and end.
While it proved to be a hit with controller crowd, PC gamers weren’t too impressed. During my recent hands-on with Crysis 3, the developer went to great lengths to emphasise that Crytek had learned its lesson, and that yes, Crysis 3 will once again feel like a true PC experience. I spent 30 rather enjoyable minutes discovering whether or not these claims were true.
The demo commences at the bottom of a set of stairs, with a couple of ammo boxes ripe for plunder. The only way out is up, leading to a large hallway that appears to be an abandoned train station. Rusted carriages line the tracks, while enemy soldiers man elevated walkways. One unlucky soul is positioned with his back to me as I enter the area; ramming my knife through his throat silently removes him from the complex equation of death that I’m about to solve.
Using my suit’s visor, I scan the area, zooming to take in the length of the long hall. Enemies in my line of sight are first identified with a highlighted outline, and the longer I hold my scanner on them the more info appears about them. I can see immediately that several of the guards are heavily armoured, while two automated turrets further down the room are just begging to be hacked, turning on their unsuspecting masters.
My first attempt of the room uses the successful “shoot anything that moves, grenade it if it’s still moving” approach that I employed so successfully in the last game. Within seconds of being spotted, the enemy AI has called out to his pals, sending them all in my general direction. They’re a talkative bunch, telling me where they think I am, and how they’re going to get to me. As three of them converge on my crouched hiding spot behind a barrel, I activate my suit’s armour mode, managing to pick one off before the other two send me hurtling back to the reload screen.
Climbing the stairs once again, I decide that stealth is the better option. Again, Mr Back-Towards-Me swallows my blade with the nape of his neck, but this time I head downstairs. Activating the cloak mode with its new unique button (major powers now each have a unique key press, making them easier to activate) I immediately notice how much longer the cloak ability now lasts.
Not long enough though; as I cross half way across the room I wink back into visibility, immediately spotted by one of the walkway guards. Rushing to more cover, I re-engage cloak and move on, watching as the enemy AI converge on my last known position. Soldiers fast-rope through the ceiling, providing me with the perfect opportunity to test out the air-burst bow ammunition, mowing three down with just two shots, before I’m picked off yet again.
I eventually clear the room after five tries, and each time the AI reacts to my actions totally differently. I end up completing it by playing much more cautiously than I’ve ever had to play a Crysis game, approaching it in the same way I did Dishonored, with stealth. I silently pick off enemy soldiers one at a time, keeping close track of their movements, until I’ve whittled them down to a small enough group that I can go in all guns blazing. Despite getting my butt resoundingly handed to me by the AI, it rarely ever feels like it’s cheating; each time I die I know it’s because I’ve made a mistake, not some super-human AI ability. Eventually I make it to the next major area of the demo with a sigh of relief, and encounter a huge outdoor area with head-high grass.
As the grass bends and moves with the wind, it’s easy to appreciate the leap in graphical fidelity compared to its predecessor. As I sit there, enjoying the detailed view of the vast space before me, with god rays lighting up the decrepit ruins around me, an alien creature uses the high grass to sneak up on me and tear me to shreds. The next fifteen minutes are some of the most tense first person shooting I’ve experienced in years, as I navigate through lengthy patches of this grass, with only the shrieking of incoming aliens to warn me of my impending doom.
By the end of the demo I’ve also expressed my inner nerd rage via a satisfying turret section, and taken in a spectacular train-ride through a heavily scripted sequence. I’ve also had more fun playing this demo than any singleplayer first person shooter of 2012 – that’s saying a lot considering the demo took place in a crowded, noisy, gaming event. If my short hands-on is anything to go by, Crysis 3 has abandoned the tired linear shooting gallery formula that we’re all so sick of, instead presenting gamers with large open-ended arenas chock full of clever AI, leaving it to us to figure out how to get through.
It might have taken three attempts to get it right, but Crysis 3 could be the one that finally delivers on the series’ promise.