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Midlife Crysis 2

June 4, 2011

ALCATRAAAZZZZ

It’s got a big thing at the back that looks like a monster. But no.

Typical shoddy French construction.

If there’s one thing Crysis 2 does well, it’s letting you walk the fine line between “superpowered” and “overpowered”. Actually, if there’s one thing Crysis 2 does well, it’s obscenely beautiful graphics, but if there are two things Crysis 2 does well, the well-judged empowerment of the player stakes its claim for the number two spot. (Although “inexplicably raising the hackles of absurd, obstinate DirectX 11 worshippers despite the aforementioned obscenely beautiful graphics” could probably take the cake too. Silly silly people.)

See, despite playing the role of Alcatraz – some boring soldier fellah, or something – the real protagonist of Crysis 2 is the Nanosuit, both in narrative and mechanical terms. The Nanosuit is Batman to Alcatraz’s Bruce Wayne, if Bruce Wayne was a mute, almost-dead guy with precisely zero hopes of character development ever who unthinkingly followed the orders of whoever was talking into his earpiece at the time.

So with the Nanosuit, you’ve got armour, speed, agility, strength and stealth all available to you in one handily quasi-organic symbiotic package, and the meat and splendour of the game lie in how you use that to administer the supersmackdown to nearby soldiers and aliens and honking great deathrobots. But, y’know, you still can’t take very many bullets (or lasers or whatever) to the face, so you have to be smart about it. So despite being ostensibly a less open and notionally tactical affair than Crysis 1 (or Far Cry 2 for that matter since the games share something of a heritage) you still end up crouching on a distant rooftop or behind a convenient lump of detritus, using your binoculars to scope out enemy positions and plan your approach. A typical approach would be to – say – cloak as far as the nearest patrolling soldier, snap his neck from behind and duck into that drain, pop out behind those dudes and lob a grenade, then armour up and yank the mounted gun from its nest, and lay waste to whoever’s stupid enough to still be alive.

But the details will, of course, vary, and something will inevitably go gloriously wrong. Your suit will run out of cloaking energy before you can quite make it to cover, perhaps, and suddenly you’re forced to deal with a dozen or so surprised and angry aliens. Or maybe you somehow managed to miss a patrolling soldier who was behind a tree or something when you were reconnoitering and now he’s bumbled into your supposedly secure hiding place and DAMMIT EAT THIS PISTOL WHIP. And then suddenly all your carefully planned suity-stealthy machinations are for nought, and you’re improvising your way through a whole encampment by the skin of your suit’s mouth area.

In my defence, most of the scale in Crysis 1 was open for exploration, whereas this is just windowy window dressing.

For kicks and giggles, let’s contrast that kind of jolly insanity against the “fun” “hijinks” of the Duke Nukem Forever demo that was released yesterday to the unlucky few who were granted access. In Crysis 2, when tasked with taking down an alien dropship, you might cloak your way over to a weapon cache, pick up a rocket launcher, sneak your way to a good vantage point, let loose a rocket, then frantically run across a whole battlefield into a well-covered spot as the dropship barely misses tanning your hide with hot laser death. Then, suit sufficiently recharged, you might sneak behind an outcropping with a dismounted gun and send a heavy stream of bullets in the dropship’s direction, then panic as the ship’s response destroys the top half of your cover, leaving you very exposed, so you activate your armour mode, which leaves you very little energy to run back to the cache to grab some more rockets, but somehow you manage it, and sneak your way back to your original vantage point to finish the dropship off with two more well-placed rockets.

In Duke Nukem Forever, you pick up an RPG that’s been conveniently left here in the middle of a desert, take three steps into an indestructible shack, send 6 rockets into the gunship, take one step back out of the shack to pick up more rockets from the unlimited supply crate, then step casually back into the shack to rinse and repeat. THIS IS FUN ISN’T IT

In Crysis 2, you’re constantly changing your weapon loadout, affixing silencers or laser sights or assault scopes, then sneaking past soldiers, or ducking behind cover and sniping them at a distance, or armouring up and grabbing them by their throats and throwing them into each other or over a building or whatever.

In Duke Nukem Forever, you shoot with whatever weapon you most recently picked up until the screen’s covered in red jam because the enemies shoot with unerring accuracy then hide behind a rock until the jam goes away then shoot them some more. THIS SURE IS ZANY

In Crysis 2, you’re on a city street, juking between shops and dumpsters as you try to avoid a giant deathrobot’s debilitating attacks, trying to avoid his steely gaze as you circle back behind him to use your limited ammo supplies to attack the exposed weak spot on his back, until eventually – just as your health is dipping into not-breathing-anymore levels – he topples and explodes.

In Duke Nukem Forever, you circle strafe around a football field, peppering a slow-moving cyclops with the hugely powerful Devastator gun, with constant ammo drops being supplied from above, until he keels over and, in a QTE, you rip out his eye and kick it for a field goal. WHAT LAFFS WE HAD

It was probably a bad idea to expect any interesting ideas from DNF, a game first brainstormed in 1996. But it was a worse idea to play it immediately after finishing one of the most exciting and empowering (and pretty) shooters of this young century. Crysis 2 might not quite have the scale or majesty of Crysis 1, but it’s still about 900% more interesting than any of the other enormo-budget Hollywood shooters you might care to name. (Notice how that carefully excludes STALKER, which is of course lovely and special and in a league of its own and what do you mean you haven’t you played it, you ratcatcher?)

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