Crysis 2 Screenshot

Let me start by stating something important, which is that Crysis 2 is an excellent game and worth playing if you have ever enjoyed first-person shooters (FPS) at all. The core design is very strong, especially the extent to which the nanosuit was tuned to make the player feel like a badass without feeling invulnerable. On many levels, however, I thought the game couldn't really decide what it wanted to be about. Is it a game about making sound tactical choices in an operation against a superior force, or is it a (bad) story about squid attacking New York City with a bio-weapon?

It's clear that Crysis 2 wants players to take its story seriously, though its B-movie schlock hardly warrants the attention. The audible suffering and grotesquerie of the infected civilians is obviously intended to evoke the player's sympathy, and the concept of a devastating attack on New York City is an obvious, if feeble, attempt to provide gravity for the narrative.

Beyond this, the game consistently overrides or ignores player input in the interest of furthering its story. The main character, Alcatraz, holsters his gun at several points in the game, as a way of (partially) preventing player actions from interfering with the game's presentation. Additionally, there are several moments where "suit malfunctions" wrest all or most of the player's control away. The levels are essentially inert—although the buildings crumple like paper when the designers demand it, they do not respond dynamically during the course of play, else that big glass window at Hargreave-Rasch would have shattered from all those freely-fired HMG rounds and grenades.

Much of this is conventional, but Crysis 2 goes further, adopting many of the characteristics of cinematic action games, most particularly the attempt to disguise conspicuously game-like elements within the fiction. You can see this in the use of the finger display for suit upgrades, and the modification display for the guns. It is also evident in the save system. Checkpoint saves achieve two ends that are desirable for the cinematic style. They remove a layer of menus, thus disguising software elements, and they privilege narrative flow over player input, by removing the ability to play freely without progressing the story.

This also tilts the gameplay against improvisation, an interesting choice since one of the game's strengths is the flexibility of the nanosuit's various abilities. The game's core loop is appraise-execute-rearm, in many cases reinforced by an arena-chokepoint-arena architecture. Tactical failure is punished severely by heavy reinforcement, a special burden for stealth-focused players, and often results in a messy death. This kicks the player back to the appraisal step. Without the ability to save or reset partway through an arena (e.g. Far Cry 2's buddy system), this construction encourages the player to focus on planning rather than experimentation. In this regard, the ready-made strategies offered by the tactical display shift even the core gameplay to the developer's hand, although in most levels additional approaches can also succeed.

Crysis 2 Screenshot

Yet, there are also many ways in which Crysis 2 is not serious about its story, and not only in the conceptual vacuity of its imagined alien invasion. Nearly every plot development, and most of the objectives, barely make sense even in context, and there's not much nice to say about inventing a race of vicious alien squid only to have them scamper around on dry land in bipedal exosuits. Aside from simply failing to provide any ideas worth taking seriously, Crysis 2 also suffers from an inconsistent effort to make the player take it that way.

The easy complaint is that the collectibles are at odds with the storytelling. Certainly the idea that a marine in desperate straits will think to grab a souvenir tchotchke off an office desk in the middle of an alien invasion, much less poke around for car keys, is relentlessly silly. That these items so often lie off the main path makes them particularly disruptive. The e-mail downloads are less troublesome, however, and with some tweaks to the implementation, the dog-tags could have actually been a moving part of the character arc, if Alcatraz had been a character or had an arc.

Collecting dog tags from fallen comrades might have at least built being a Marine (as opposed to just being a guy with a gun) into the gameplay. Alcatraz's silence, however, would undermine any effort to construct him through procedure. His failure to ever verbally acknowledge an order fights his characterization as a Marine, and that he never asks obvious questions makes him seem like he's not much of a human being. Alcatraz isn't an everyman, he's a no-man, and his position as a silent protagonist makes the game show through the cinematic seams of the fiction.

This happens in other ways too, few more conspicuous than a battle against a helicopter in Nathan Gould's lab. In the final phase of this fight, the lab is bombarded by rockets from the helicopter, yet the explosions do no structural damage. What's more, as the copter itself can only be taken down by a rocket, the game supplies them by having of soldiers armed with rockets (why?) jump into the room as it is being bombarded. As gameplay this is perfectly conventional—the FPS equivalent of the bomb flowers in King Dodongo's cavern—but as fiction it is transparently ludicrous.

None of this "ruins the game" for me, nor should it for anyone else. But as I played Crysis 2 I was continually perplexed by my lack of enthusiasm for it, despite the fact that I found the gameplay fun and engaging. What dragged the experience down for me was the manner of its construction, which was guided by an insistence that I pay attention to and engage with a schlock narrative that was, frankly, beneath consideration. The frustration was only magnified by the moments that showed me the game wasn't taking its story as seriously as it was trying to make me do. I was happiest with Crysis 2 when it shut up and let me do awesome things with the nanosuit. Hopefully, the third game will focus more on that and less on the worthless story.


Sparky Clarkson

Sparky Clarkson

Sparky Clarkson grew up in the hot lands of Alabama, where he was regularly mooned by a cast iron statue. He played his first games on a Texas Instruments 99/4A computer, although he was not an early adopter. He eventually left Alpiner behind, cultivating a love of games that grew along with the processing power of the home computer. Eventually, however, the PC upgrade cycle exhausted him, and by the time he received his doctorate from the University of North Carolina he had retreated almost entirely to console gaming.

Currently Sparky works as a scientist in Rhode Island, and works gaming in between experiments and literature reviews. As a writer, he hopes to develop a critical voice that contributes to a more sophisticated and interesting culture of discourse about games. He is still waiting for a console port of Betrayal at Krondor.
Sparky Clarkson

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10 Comments on "Identity Crysis"

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joe
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joe
5 years 3 months ago
[quote=Cryogenian]”[…]Crysis 2 is an excellent game and worth playing[…]” How so?[/quote] So Im not the only one that disagrees with the statement “Crysis 2 is […] worth playing if you have ever enjoyed first-person shooters at all” I find some 1st Person Shooters enjoyable. But I didnt like Crysis 2. Mostly because I dont like the basic Crysis suit mechanic. Where you have a ton of powers that only war for a few seconds each. I understand powers need to be limited for balance reasons, and I dont have a problem with this in most games. Usually it only bothers… Read more »
Mike Doolittle
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Mike Doolittle
5 years 3 months ago

There’s absolutely no denying that the first Crysis game was vastly better in every respect. The sequel essentially waters down the core gameplay mechanics and turns it into another Call of Duty wannabe. The last level of the game I literally just cloaked the whole level and waltzed past all the guards.

So, yeah, it still a “good” game, but it’s not great, and it’s definitely not excellent. And I fully agree with the comments about the story. The whole plot was absurd, and broke canon with the original in more ways than I could count.

Crofto
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Crofto
5 years 3 months ago
[quote=Chi Kong Lui]In fairness to Sparky, despite each critics owning their own opinions, this site has historically liked the Crysis games. Mike Doolittle raved about the original and Brad Gallaway gave Crysis 2 a very positive review as well. [/quote] Thing is, Sparky says Crysis 2 is excellent, where-as an 8/10 score awarded by Brad does not equal the same conclusion. An 8/10 is what I consider “very good” or perhaps “great”, but not “excellent”, or “superb”, or anything like that. I don’t take issue with an 8/10, per se (even though that is also likely too generous), but when… Read more »
Anonymous
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Anonymous
5 years 3 months ago
[quote=Chi Kong Lui][quote=Crofto]I share your view too. Sparky does unfortunately tend to like a lot of the “triple A”, overrated, but ultimately and undeniably mediocre games out there (Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood, BioShock 2, and now this) so it kinda hurts the reason I use this site (which, as you rightly point out, is for objective gaming views).[/quote] In fairness to Sparky, despite each critics owning their own opinions, this site has historically liked the Crysis games. Mike Doolittle raved about the original and Brad Gallaway gave Crysis 2 a very positive review as well. [/quote] That shouldn’t matter at all… Read more »
Chi Kong Lui
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Chi Kong Lui
5 years 3 months ago
[quote=Crofto]I share your view too. Sparky does unfortunately tend to like a lot of the “triple A”, overrated, but ultimately and undeniably mediocre games out there (Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood, BioShock 2, and now this) so it kinda hurts the reason I use this site (which, as you rightly point out, is for objective gaming views). Obviously, Crysis 2 has some strengths, but in-no-way is it anywhere near “excellent”. To state as much would make one think it’s equal to an actual excellent FPS, which is Half-Life 2, and that is not the case. At all. Ever. Also, lol @ getting… Read more »
Crofto
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Crofto
5 years 3 months ago
[quote=Cryogenian]It irks me a bit that a site which I consider one of the more objective gaming sites on the market calls such a game “excellent”.[/quote] I share your view too. Sparky does unfortunately tend to like a lot of the “triple A”, overrated, but ultimately and undeniably mediocre games out there (Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood, BioShock 2, and now this) so it kinda hurts the reason I use this site (which, as you rightly point out, is for objective gaming views). Obviously, Crysis 2 has some strengths, but in-no-way is it anywhere near “excellent”. To state as much would make… Read more »
Louis F.
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Louis F.
5 years 3 months ago
First of all I got to agree with every criticism lined against the story. As a French-speaker playing without subtitles, I barely understood a single development as they happened… yet arrived at the end and didn’t feel like I’d missed anything noteworthy. If I had to pick a term to describe the storytelling on display here, it would be NOISY ; lots of banging and clanging about, a script showing zero interest in regular human language and behavior, artificially “complicating” what little plot there actually is. Still, the overall game flow and mission design was enough to keep me engaged… Read more »
Caleb
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Caleb
5 years 4 months ago

I’ve been running Crysis 2 on an Alienware beast of a machine, I’ve been absolutely gobsmacked by the experience… and yet… it’s been two weeks and I struggle to return!? – Well this perspective makes me realize that this guy is not Gordon Freeman, and I don’t actually care. No narrative is better than a half-arsed one, and this game is lightyears behind my favourite game from this publisher: Far Cry 2.

Cryogenian
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Cryogenian
5 years 4 months ago
“[…]Crysis 2 is an excellent game and worth playing[…]” How so? I agree that the core mechanics feel quite good (i.e. the feel of the weapons, especially). However, the overall stupidity and “bugginess” of the AI (at one point I got the achievement for a double headshot because two enemies were stuck running into the same wall) and the nonsensical plot, make it far from excellent alone. Add to that the unimaginative suit powers and the fact that tactical opportunities are all but absent from the last third of the game and you get nothing but a mediocre corridor shooter.… Read more »
Zolbrod
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Zolbrod
5 years 4 months ago
“I was continually perplexed by my lack of enthusiasm for it, despite the fact that I found the gameplay fun and engaging.” Wow, this describes my attitude towards Crysis 2 to a TEE. It IS actually fun once you’re playing, but as soon as I switch off the console, I immediately lose any interest in the game, and picking the game up again becomes incredibly low priority. In fact, I never bothered to finish it, because I just didn’t see the point. The setting, as much as it has in common with HL2, is just plain boring and unoriginal, and… Read more »
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