The first thing you notice when looking at Crysis 2 is this: it's not Unreal Engine 3. Crysis 2 doesn't roll that way. Oh no. Instead of having gruff, oversized musclemen roaming around a ruined planet fighting off the Locust swarms, Crysis 2 has you playing a gruff, oversized muscleman roaming around an impeccably destroyed New York City fighting mercenary gits and aliens.
You also might think this, then: different engine, typical sort of game - if you're a console gamer, that is, where you're positively spoilt for shooter choice with easy access to those Marcus Fenix's, Master Chief's, Sev Sevchenko's and Hayden Tenno's. Okay, maybe not the last one: the seminal 2008 megahit Dark Sector had a gimped PC port, after all.
Crysis's Nomad, and his spangly red visor, has previously lived up to his name, existing on the periphery of shooters by requiring a six million dollar computer and a virgin sacrifice to even run at 13fps. But now, due to some very complicated technical mojo probably involving secret ancient incantations and powerful shamans, the latest version of the potent CryEngine can run seamlessly on 360, PS3 and PC. Magic, I tell thee.
I'm clearly beating around the bush, because the fact of the matter is this: Crysis 2 is being shown on the 360 and it is gorgeous. For every silly moment - such as naming the nefarious human abusers of science/cut-throat mercenary corporation Crynet Systems - there's a little sprinkling of potential joy and technical majesty, and even a brief run-through of an early level proves that maybe you can judge a book by its cover, provided that cover has a snarly red visor looking at you all tough and grizzled.
The whole game bubbles with potential, a mixing pot of multiple gaming styles and crazed prospective death dealing. Crysis was a game about stalking your way across a lush verdant paradise hunting down ambiguously evil Koreans before some aliens turned up and ruined the whole game, and the most significant change to Crysis 2 is that those pesky aliens have instead taken a fancy to bricks and mortar and decided to lay waste to America's favourite city that's not Los Angeles.
Somebody at Crytek is clearly an observer of 9/11, and probably Battlestar Galactica too, because the whole 'New York city in peril' thing has been undoubtedly modelled around those unsettling events.
It's a conscious design decision. Crytek decided gamers didn't identify with the faraway paradise of the original game's island - which is understandable, as the only island most gamers will relate to is the one with a smoke monster on it - and decided to eke out some player empathy by springboarding over a genuine tragic event. It's worked pretty well for World War II games, after all.
The areas are still massive compared to normal FPS standards, and the urban decay is littered around at every opportunity. Newspapers roll aimlessly across the ground, discarded taxis streak the vacant roads and the day-to-day potholes have been made a whole lot worse due to frequent rocket barrages from both sides of the conflict. Those with a keen eye for their graphics will be amazed at the seemingly limitless draw distance.
No need to be afraid of the aliens, though. Nomad's tougher than Bruce Willis in an adamantium shell, and to prove a point the demo starts with him jumping off the top of a skyscraper. He doesn't mess about.
For those who missed the first game, Nomad wears a state of the art super suit that can funnel its considerable powers into various functions - speed, strength, stealth etc. These are controlled by the user, and while Crytek have made a discernable effort to overhaul them for the sequel, they tend to work in the same prescribed roles as before.
Stealth turns him temporarily invisible; Speed lets him run almost as fast as Usain Bolt; Strength lets his bullets do considerably more damage than your regular kinetically-charges bits of metal. And, no, I have no idea how that possibly works either. There's also an Armour perk, but that's for sissies.
Together they combine to turn the ruined city into Nomad's very own adventure playground, letting the player calculate what skill to use to get out of whatever sticky situation the developers insist on throwing you in.
One thing Crytek is keen to develop is a sense of cycling through the powers. According to the developers, most people who played the original chose one method of play and rigidly adhered to it for the entire game, like people who eat their meals one ingredient at a time. Fools.
In the demo, Nomad leaps and bounds over rooftops, weaving in, out and over extractor fans and walls, to take out the score of hopeless Crylab henchmen who pepper the district. Some are dispatched silently, picked up while Nomad is in stealth mode and tossed off the edge of a building, whereas others are taken out with the traditional 'bullets to face' method. New vantage points are easily manoeuvred to, and it's clear the urban landscape of New York offers a lot more potential for inventive, and entertaining, level design than that boring old island.
The biggest fear, though, is the aliens - who make their requisite appearance at the end of the demo. Crytek's previous games have had a miraculous habit of going to pot when non-human foes turn up, and from what the developer is showing of Crysis 2 the extra-terrestrial enemies are taking an even bigger role in the proceedings.
Getting the mix right is an obvious developmental balancing act, and an order as tall as the Empire State Building itself, from a developer more renowned for creating beautiful scenic vistas and complex, processor-destroying engines than they are decent, hearty games. Crysis 2 has a lot of clear potential, though, and there's a good chance that Crytek's first outing on the consoles might be their most entertaining game to date.
Crysis 2 is due for release for 360, PS3 and PC on the 29th October 2010.