Back in 2007 Crytek released their second full game with an assault of hyperbole and marketing. The spiritual successor to Far Cry, Crysis saw us romp through an outlandish Sci-Fi adventure as Nomad - a Delta Force soldier with a super-powered nanosuit.
Crysis promised to build on the sandbox shooter premise of the original Far Cry, unleashing you into lusciously rendered sandbox environments to wreak havoc on Korean soldiers woefully unequipped to deal with your super suit. In fact, Crytek were hell bent on extensively showing us how insane it was going to be and the press machine, working over many months, drove expectations ludicorously high.
Pre-release we were treated to Nomad strutting his stuff in a plethora of stylised videos. "MAXIMUM SPEED" a voice would say as Nomad hurtled through dense jungle, darting between guards too quick for them to even think about reacting. "MAXIMUM STEALTH", Nomad turns completely invisible and starts hunting soldiers, stalking, flitting between them and silently picking them off. "MAXIMUM STRENGTH", Nomad grabs a guard and effortlessly throws him into his brothers-in-arms, sending them flying. "MAXIMUM ARMOUR", bullets crumple against his chest, leaving him to concentrate on destroying an approaching car with a well placed shot.
Marketing images built a hype around Crysis that Crytek couldn't meet
It all looked beautiful, but the reality is that that promised gameplay never really materialised. Sure, all the elements were technically present, but never in the particularly bombastic or slick way that Crytek led us to believe. And we should have seen it coming. As soon as someone declares that they have built a game that “isn't for the current hardware generation" warning lights should go on. What does it even mean? Is the game not ready or should we just wait three years before playing it? It was ridiculous.
Crysis was extremely good looking, you have to give it that. Faces were detailed, foliage was dense and, most importantly of all, chicken beaks looked authentic. It took a lot to run, however. The minimum specs for Crysis were extremely high, and no one had a hope of running it on the high settings required to match the quality of the videos. Having a machine that "can run Crysis" was unfortunately like a badge of honour, and the effect still ripples on today. The Cry Engine is still used as a benchmark three years on and it's difficult to find hardware tests for high end kit that don't include a Crysis test.
Was it good looking enough to justify the ridiculously high requirements to run it though? Not really. The Unreal Engine 3 was producing visuals at the same time that, while quite not as stunning as Crysis', were certainly extremely good; and the same can be said of what the Gamebryo Engine did with Oblivion and Far Cry. Even the trusty and now-ancient Source engine can be pretty jaw-dropping in Half Life 2: Episode 2.
And it's not like Crysis' look was particularly interesting either. In striving for this extreme realism Crytek seemed to forget to make it worth looking at. Realism can only take you so far. There was no art direction past "Jungle, grass, beach" and, later, "ice". It was pretty, but it was also boring and monotonous.
Oh, just shoot me and get it over with
The level design was much the same, apparently not even trying to make the most of the setting Crytek had chosen. What should have been sprawling environments with the promised ‘action bubbles’ dotted around instead ended up being nothing more than a succession of quite wide corridors. Few times did we actually have the opportunity to pick real strategies or direction other than what weapon to use, and that was generally "silenced assault rifle" for the entire game. There were a few highlights - a town, a barracks - but these dwindled in number as time went on and they were only short sections in the first place.
There was some solace to be found in the nanosuit. This super armor that could provide bursts of speed, super strength, invisibility and extra armour, all the while affirming what you were doing with narration; "MAXIMUM STEALTH" indeed. Again though, it was underwhelming. Any time you tried to chain a few ideas together like using speed to get next to a wall, strength to do a power jump over in, then stealth to immediately hide when on the other side; you quickly found it was impossible. The suit ran out of juice, leaving you stuck, for the most part, to play a standard shooter with legalised cheats.
It's a shame. What could have turned Crysis into this fantastic, power fantasy experience was underplayed. Strength should have let you punch oncoming cars and sent them buckling backwards, instead the best thing it could muster was punching chickens into the sky (which is hilarious, in all fairness). Stealth should have turned you into predator, instead it forced you to stay perfectly still and hide, which kind of spoils the point. Speed should have let you burst out of buildings and escape any situation in a second, but it only let you sprint for a bit before returning you to a slightly faster run than normal. And then there was armour mode which just let you be shot a bit, which frankly should have been passive.