The first Crysis is probably best known for its benchmark-setting graphics. Unfortunately, its PC exclusivity meant console gamers weren't able to discover the true beauty of the game: its nail-biting emergent gameplay, assisted by realistic AI, and a truly open world to explore. The Nanosuit endowed you with superhero tools that encouraged playing with the environment -- punching a tree to have it land on enemies, for example.
But don't expect a large focus on the franchise's deep tactical combat today. Like its predecessor, it's easy to get caught up by the sheer spectacle that is Crysis 2.
It's immediately evident that Crysis 2 is a very different game from the first. There's the obvious hardware change: the build we saw was running off the Xbox 360. But there are other very apparent differences: gone is the jungle and mountain setting of the first; in its stead is an amazing, authentic recreation of New York City. What makes it undoubtedly a Crysis title is the return of the Nanosuit, upgraded to "2.0" in the sequel. Its abilities should be familiar to players of the first game: you'll be able to access different suit modes that enable invisibility, invincibility and super-strength. However, the process of switching between the suit's abilities has been refined a bit, switching from "Maximum Armor" to "Maximum Stealth" as the primary modes of play, with other abilities acting as ancillary options. Armor lets you deflect bullets and approach situations in a very offensive manner, while Stealth makes you nearly invisible to enemies, and is perfect if you want to take your time through situations. Considering the number of times the demonstrator would have died (were it not for God Mode), it seems Crysis 2 demands the same kind of intelligent play as the first game.
The other abilities haven't disappeared. For example, Maximum Strength is still used for some of the game's awe-inspiring jumps. Manhattan is known for its big buildings, and the best way to traverse the city during an alien attack is jumping from one building to another (obviously!). Because the sense of scale is far more accurate than in a game like inFamous or Crackdown, that feat truly feels like a noteworthy accomplishment.
It's still unclear from the hands-off demo of the game how open the urban jungle will be. While you will be able to explore the city, it seems there's a much clearer focus on narrative and set pieces. There seems to be much more dialogue, many more NPCs, and a clearer sense of objectives than before. Considering Crytek has hired sci-fi author Richard Morgan to pen the script, Crysis 2 will have a story to tell -- something that may not have been as evident in the first game.
Morgan explained that Crysis 2 will focus on three "characters": the player, the Nanosuit, and New York City itself. Without going into too much detail, Morgan said that the importance of the Nanosuit will grow through the narrative, hinting that its existence is somehow intertwined with the destiny of the city. Perhaps Morgan will be able to provide exposition that makes sense of the aliens versus humans conflict ravaging New York?
Clearly, Crytek has placed a lot of effort into producing a faithful recreation of the Big Apple. Cevat Yerli, President of Crytek, told the audience that the "catastrophic beauty" of New York's destruction should provide reason and inspiration enough to save it. Certainly, this is the closest thing to a real New York I've seen in a video game, besting even Rockstar's Grand Theft Auto IV. Beyond simple accuracy, what sells the "feel" of New York is its scale: buildings feel as large as they should, with a certain grittiness that most games fail to capture.
It's easy -- almost predictable -- to say that I was impressed by Crysis 2. However, without a hands-on session, it's hard to know if the weapons feel right, or if the AI is as devilishly intelligent as in the first game. Based on EA's marketing calendar, we're not supposed to know yet. Right now, it's all about the spectacle ... and what a beautiful one it is.
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Editor's note: This preview is based on a hands-off demonstration on Xbox 360.