In the Long Grass: Hands-on With Crysis 3
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Over recent years, my appetite for traditional FPS has reached a kind of low tide, ebbed away by uninspired, familiar fare. Crysis 3 stands out as a a shooter I’m actually looking forward to playing, on the strength the content it presented at EA’s SF showcase earlier this week. A previous preview had set the scene — Prophet is back, picking his way through an overgrown New York City overrun by Ceph aliens and sinister Cell mercenaries — but getting my hands on an excellent singleplayer mission and an inventive multiplayer mode was still a surprising pleasure.
It should come as no surprise that Crysis 3′s chief delights involve its graphics (if you can run them). The game’s post-apocalyptic setting offers an ideal opportunity for the level designers to go wild. There’s plenty of industrial decay — a long-standing video game strength — but also plenty of teeming vegetation — an emerging field of expertise that allows designers to cram environments full of swaying ferns and individually rendered blades of grass (more on this in a minute).
The mission available at the press preview began, like all Crysis levels seem to, in a dank stairwell, from which Prophet rushes into an overgrown train platform (pictured above). It’s a magnificent space, all rust and green, with decrepit train cars perched above the floor and sunken track areas half-full of water. The only goal — cross the room to reach an escape route on the other side — supported a number of different approaches. You could creep around the edges, using the stealth ability of Prophet’s high-tech nanosuit and his high-powered, silent bow. Or there was the option of simply assaulting the nervous Cell troops, deflecting their bullets with the suit’s armor ability and blowing up the stanchions that held up the rail cars, dropping them with a crash on mercenary heads. Or you could combine the two, bursting out of stealth with guns blazing, only to melt away again when the action got too hot. The gameplay is well-built around the two divergent but complimentary armor abilities, which are intuitive and fun to use.
Upon reaching the escape route (a zipline placed after a particularly recalcitrant turret gun), Prophet burst into an overgrown trainyard, and the demo really started to shine. The area was full of gorgeous, head-high grass, concealing a battalion of Ceph aliens who swished their way toward our hero like the raptors in Jurassic Park 2. The experience of gunning down the onrushing aliens was incredibly tense and atmospheric; the level design really made the gameplay, and thanks to the quality of the grass rendering (even if that sounds like a stupid thing to say) it was the kind of experience that would be hard to imagine in another game.
Eventually, Prophet linked up with Psycho, who argued hilariously via radio with some commander figure about an escape route, as I held off charging Ceph with a turret gun. Settling on an appropriately psychotic plan, the Cockney soldier instructed Prophet to get one of the abandoned train cars rolling, which triggered a magnificent if somewhat cliched scripted sequence as the pair trundled destructively past Cell troops and out of the area. Segment over.
The switch to an XBOX build for the multiplayer demo was certainly jarring, with grainy, aliased visuals and texture pop-in replacing the PC splendor of the singleplayer set-up. Still, the pleasures of Hunter Mode did much to make up for it.
There’s a brief frame story: a transport full of heavily armed Cell soldiers crashes (in this case, in an abandoned airport), and is hunted by a lone, nano-suited player, armed with a bow and enjoying permanent stealth. When a Cell soldier is taken out, he too becomes a hunter, and the Cell numbers are gradually whittled down.
Action is divided over five rounds, and the longer you stay a Cell, the more points you get. Playing as a stealthy, powerful hunter has its own joys, of course, and the match-winning players were excelling at playing for both teams. Cell troopers were vulnerable, but far from helpless; the best tactics seemed to be moving in groups, watching each other’s backs, or simply hiding in a hard-to-reach corner and shotgunning anyone who got too close. Hunters can see enemies on radar, however, so you can’t hide forever. Which is good, because hiding can get a little boring.
Despite the limitations of the 360, the level design was excellent, a mixture of tight corridors and wide vistas, including a broken-up airliner fuselage in the middle of the level. The aesthetic was very much the combination of rusted-out and overgrown described in the section above.
Hunter mode isn’t a wholly original idea, but it plays to Crysis 3′s strengths: asymmetrical shooter combat, stealth, and lots of death by Predator bow. Combined with the excellent Singleplayer content and the signs are auspicious indeed. I try not to wax too rhapsodic in previews, but I am looking forward to the game’s release on 2/19/13.