‘Crysis 2’ Review: You’ll Take Manhattan

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Crysis 2
Publisher: EA
Developer: Crytek
Systems it’s available on: PC, PS3, Xbox 360
ESRB rating: Mature
System reviewed on: Xbox 360

The original Crysis set an altogether new level of expectation as to how detailed and graphically impressive a video game could look like. “Can it play Crysis?” became shorthand for how robust a computer’s graphics, video computing components were. For all the imprint the title left on fans, the game design of that first-person shooter didn’t really wow players in any lasting way. Worse still, not even the most hardcore fan of Crysis 1 could tell you what the story was about.

Going into Crysis 2, the respected Crytek development studio knew the game had to do more than just look good. The plot had to compel players to plow though the visually rich world and the gameplay had to do more than just give them many things to shoot at with many guns. So, sci-fi novelist Richard Morgan comes aboard to provide story expertise and the design to the sequel shows an inspired level of variability and flexibility.

The set-up to the sequel concerns a peculiar alien virus killing citizens of New York City in 2023. The mysterious illness spreads so quickly that the island of Manhattan gets placed under a no-exit quarantine, with martial law declared on top of that to enforce containment. Players fight two kinds of enemy in Crysis 2: the Ceph alien invaders who’re blowing up some of the most expensive real estate in the world and soldiers from the C.E.L.L. private military corporation who are brutally enforcing martial law. You control a soldier codenamed Alcatraz, part of an elite Marines squad sent to extract a scientist who works at CryNet, the biochem corporation where the viral outbreak supposedly began. In a great opening sequence, the submarine carrying your squad gets attacked and you come to the surface to find a one-man army holding off an alien attack. The mysterious figure–who you later find out is Prophet, a squad leader from previous Crysis games– gives you the Nanosuit 2.0. From there, you’re caught up in finding out how the illness, the aliens and Crynet are all linked.

Straight of the bat, Crysis 2 will impress you with its graphical polish. The details, textures and dynamic lighting can’t be dismissed, even by those who claim not to care about how a game looks. The blockbuster movie aesthetic is well on display here. The widescreen canvases chock full of chaos, the steely hero types with clenched jaws and the evocative, orchestral score by Hans Zimmer all testify to what Crytek is trying to achieve. You’re not just shooting bad guys in a virtual Manhattan; you’re doing it in one that’s been devastated, with only broken lives and heartbreak left. The gameworld’s filled with environmental storytelling–political protest graffiti and flyers for missing loved ones, for example–that creates what Crytek calls ‘catatstrophic beauty.’ That catastrophic beauty does look impressive but many of the would-be heart-wrenching moments in the script feel stiff, undone by flat voicework.

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