I'd call Crysis 3 a singular experience if it weren't so similar to Crysis 2. But the series as a whole is truly unlike anything else out there. Sure, it being a modern first-person shooter, you can compare it to Call of Duty, Halo et al. But it really possesses a style and character all its own.
I've been on a bit of a Crysis bender lately. Within the last two weeks or so I played all three games to completion. The first and second were still fresh in my mind as I delved into the third, which made the massive changes in the series seem all the more significant. The jump from Crysis 2 to 3 is certainly less jarring than was the transition from the first game to the second; Crysis 3 is much more an iteration than an evolution. Simply stated, if you enjoyed Crysis 2, then you're going to love Crysis 3.
Release date: Feb. 19
There are some key changes, but they're mostly in the details, and the big picture remains familiar. Alien threat, super suit, sci-fi melodrama, rinse, repeat—the tone is the same. Like in the second game, you're fighting invading Cephs and C.E.L.L. soldiers here; the North Korean enemies from the first game have yet to rear their well-armed heads again, and the series seems to have settled firmly into an Amerocentric foundation. New York is still the center of the Earth, and the sole focus of any and all attacks on humanity.
Other changes are more minor, but welcome: sprinting no longer uses suit energy, so you can run to your heart's content and still camo up for stealthy kills. New weapon attachments add thermal scopes and reduce recoil, and a few new weapons and enemy types spice things up for series vets. The Nanosuit's recon vision mode has been souped up; tagging enemies and ammo caches is more intuitive and clearly defined than it was in Crysis 2, and the annoying "tactical options" from that game have been removed. As a result, your movements through the game's often wide open environments feel even less scripted than when you could specifically tag a "sneaky" or "flanking" route. Instead of being told which is which, you just explore and figure it out.
MORE OF THE SAME
Other than that, it feels very much like Crysis 2. The graphics are just as mind-numbingly gorgeous as ever (and my god, are they gorgeous), but unfortunately the plot is still indecipherable. Things just seem to happen at random without any real explanations—you can tell there's something that seemed coherent when it was being written, but too much is left unsaid, and the result is a narrative that often makes little sense. It's set over two decades after the ending of Crysis 2, and in that time the C.E.L.L. corporation has erected a nearly impenetrable dome over New York, where it's using a mysterious power source to provide energy to the entire world. Only if you can't pay for it, you become a debt slave to the corporation.
It's a solid premise, and it makes for some great moments, especially early on when you're infiltrating the dome; sneaking through a massive, open killing field guarded by eagle-eyed turrets, for example, is thrilling. But the game seems to directly contradict certain elements of the past games, even in the recap video provided on the disc. For the first time in the series, you're playing as Prophet, a character presumed dead for much of Crysis and Crysis 2. The return of old characters is great, and makes the series seem much more coherent. But exactly how Prophet merged with the Nanosuit and then took over the body of the second game's protagonist is a mystery to me. Maybe you had to read the comics?
BRINGING A BOW TO A PLASMA FIGHT
There's one other major change, and that's the bow. You've seen it in the advertisements and commercials. Prophet has it on him at all times, independent of his other weapons, and it can be equipped with a tap of the down button. It carries nine normal arrows plus three each of electric arrows and two types of exploding arrows. You might think that using a bow in Crysis's high-tech world would put you at a disadvantage, but on the contrary—it apparently draws energy from Prophet's Nanosuit, and it's completely overpowered. It can take many strong enemies out in one or two hits, even on higher difficulties. Not that I'm complaining—the damn thing is great.
And as I mentioned before, the level design is even better than in Crysis 2. Some may miss the more open environments of the first game, but let's not forget that almost the entire second half of the original was really quite linear. Crysis 3 certainly represents a peak in level design, though; you'll often have numerous ways to go, but the game never hits you over the head with this fact like Crysis 2 did. And each environment feels malleable and variable; if a direct assault isn't working for you, you can turn on your camo and sneak away to find an alternate route. As a result, the whole "player choice" thing feels a lot more organic than it did in a game like, say, Dishonored (though I liked Dishonored quite a lot as well).
When Dishonored did get right, however, that I wish Crytek had taken note of, was the fact that lock-picking mini games suck. Crysis 3 adds the ability for Prophet to hack mine fields, turrets and locks, but he's forced to do so using an incredibly tedious mini game involving tapping "X" at the right time. Don't think it won't come up very often, either; hacking a turret is often the best way to clear a room of danger, and you'll be tempted—if not outright required, as there's often a way around—to do it numerous times per level.
A few ill-advised but blessedly scarce quick time events (tap "A" quickly so you feel like you're participating) only serve to mar the experience slightly further, though that's not saying much—despite my gripes, Crysis 3 is a wholly worthwhile game.
MULTIPLAYER AND CO-OP (OR LACKTHEREOF)
As far as multiplayer goes, well, it's tough to gauge that after only a few hours on nearly empty servers. There seem to be some balance issues at this point; the starting weapons were easily outclassed by whatever higher-level players were using, and I was frequently steamrolled based on superior firepower alone. And game types like "hunter mode," which riffs from Halo's "infection" by pitting a few players against a larger team of better-equipped hunters, is horribly difficult from the perspective of the prey. They're like ants being squashed beneath Nanosuited feet, and nobody wants to play as the ants.
Meh. I'm a campaign kind of guy anyway. I've got one last complaint, though, and it mainly stems from playing Dead Space 3 for the last few weeks: I'll take a good co-op campaign over competitive multiplayer any day, and Crysis 3 has no co-op at all. I may be in the minority there, but it's still unfortunate that even rudimentary campaign co-op—much less a fully-featured experience like what Visceral did with Dead Space—wasn't included.
If you play on a decent difficulty (I beat Crysis 3 on both Veteran and Super Soldier) and don't try to sprint through with your cloak on dodging every side mission, there's plenty of game here to experience. There are only seven levels, but each one is totally unique. There's no backtracking, rehashing or busy work here, and frankly, that's refreshing as hell these days. Whether you're a fan of the series or just looking for a smart, fun new shooter, Crysis 3 is definitely worth picking up.