It may be a symptom that I spend too much time playing games, but I recently hit upon the theory that the things we look for in games are similar to the things we look for in a partner. So, having spent hours in the bosom of the latest gaming supermodel I found myself wondering, If Crysis were a woman, what kind of woman would it be? She'd certainly be easy on the eye and since all relationships need that initial spark of attraction, things are off to a good start. In fact those with a rig capable of playing it at anything close to full detail will probably fall in love with Crysis at first sight based on looks alone. The real question, once you look deeper, is does Crysis have more than just a pretty face? Is there enough substance behind the style to make you want a serious relationship rather than a brief fling?
The first thing that becomes apparent once you've stopped gawping at the graphics is how much fun the whole experience is. While it may on paper be just another FPS with fancy graphics, Crysis takes care to ensure that it's one of the best examples of the genre around by not relying solely on its visuals to sell the game. The basic FPS mechanics are all handled with aplomb; the weapons get the all important 'feel' right while some genuinely decent enemy AI ensures battles are always varied and interesting. The pleasingly open ended island environment also helps the experience along, delicately walking that fine line between enjoyable exploration and boring A to B navigation with apparent ease.
Set in the year 2020 you play as Nomad, a member of a US Special Forces team sent to a remote Pacific island after an archaeological team working there is captured by a North Korean invasion force. The unique twist Crysis offers up to the genre Gods is that you and the rest of the team spend the game wearing muscle hugging Nanosuits, a rather funky bit of kit that imbues its wearer with a selection of specially enhanced powers. These powers come a few flavours, increased speed, strength and armour as well as the ability to appear invisible and are all accessed in real-time with a simple press of your mouse wheel. You can only use one power at a time and they only last for a limited period but your suit recharges quickly enough to ensure you're never left powerless for too long. Each of these abilities opens up a whole new way of approaching any given situation, learn to combine them all and you'll soon be running around with a silly grin on your face feeling like the super powered elite soldier developers Crytek want you to be.
Of course, all the Nanosuits in the world wouldn't help if the world you were running around in turned out to be a dull lifeless shell, thankfully the large island environments the game takes place in are far from that. Crysis takes on a far more sandbox style approach to things than your normal FPS, leaving you free to explore the entire island and its many wonders as you make your way from objective to objective. The size of these environments and the wonderfully realised island geography coupled with your ever present Nanosuit abilities mean that even if you're concentrating solely on your main mission the number of different ways to get each job done is limited only by your own imagination. Each individual encounter with the enemy presents so many options no two gamers experiences will ever be the same. Will you turn on invisibility and sneak past the guard to avoid him raising the alarm or perhaps circle round and use the same power to creep up from behind and throw him off the cliff? Alternatively you could take him out from the cover of the trees or use the speed boost to rush at him guns blazing. A few well placed bullets could even shred through the trunk of that tree over there causing it to fall on him.
All this choice is made more enjoyable by some fairly clever enemy AI. Rather than being mere drones lining up to be killed, bad guys react to what's going on around them very well, often devising some frustratingly good tactics to flush you out of your hiding place if you give them half a chance, as well as making good use of the plentiful cover the levels provide.
The open-ended approach to in-game situations soon makes you realise that what Crytek have created here isn't so much a game set on an island as an island with a game set on it, a far greater achievement by anyone's reckoning. Taking time out to simply wander around exploring your surroundings can provide hours of fun as you test the limits of the environment's interactivity. You'll never wander so far off course you get lost though, your on screen map provides a handy guide to let you know where you should be heading but doesn't provide much in the way of ground detail meaning you'll need to pick your own way around the island as you see fit.
Keeping you entertained by giving you the freedom to play the game as you want seems to underpin the whole Crysis experience. The central missions are well paced and never feel repetitive thanks to objectives that flit from intense invasions of Korean-held villages and large scale assaults on a fortified harbour to base infiltration and epic tank battles. Even when things do calm down briefly as you make your way towards the next objective there's always something to do or see around the next bend even if it's nothing more than stumbling across a magnificent view. It all adds to the replayability of the game and you'll be hard pressed not to want to return to some parts of the game just to mess around and explore, not to mention finding new, more inventive ways to dispatch enemies as your skills with the suit abilities improve.
Considering most of the pre-release hype around Crysis has focused on the graphical joys held within, it's probably high time we elaborated a little on the visuals that caught our eye back in the first paragraph, especially now we've talked about enough of the rest of the game to ensure any cries of 'filthy graphics whores' can be solidly denied. Running on the new CryENGINE2 game engine Crysis manages push PC gaming beyond anything seen on the 360 or PS3 with the only caveat being you'll need a PC with some serious oomph to get anywhere near the most out of it. At times things can look almost photorealistic and if you've seen any of the pre-release media and scoffed that it can't ever look that good in the real world then prepare to eat your words. Into all this visual splendour Crysis shows off by throwing the entire spectrum of fancy effects including field-of-vision, motion blur, volumetric and HDR lighting into the mix, using them to create the most realistic depiction of an open air environment you'll have ever seen. From tranquil forest clearings complete with dappled sunlight that plays across the knee high grass, to idyllic beaches complete with seaside wildlife and even boats to steal, the game is everything you'd expect a tropical island to be, just with added guns.
Unsurprisingly Crysis isn't all about the single player experience, there's a whole multiplayer side to things to get excited about too. First up, Power Struggle mode may well be something of a battlefront rip off, pitting two teams of 16 against each other in a battle to destroy each other's bases, but it's a damn good one with power stations needing to be captured, prototype weapons manufactured and vehicles deployed there's much more to it than a simple base invasion. Your Nanosuit powers ensure things never become predictable as do the well five designed maps. On top of that there's also Instant Action mode which is essentially a traditional deathmatch scenario with your suit abilities to mix things up.
If you had to be fussy and look for problems then a lot of people are going to need to spend a couple of hundred quid on a hardware upgrade to be able to make the game look anything like the screenshots and the story, which to avoid spoilers we'll only say gets far more sci-fi than you'd think, and does end on a less than satisfying note. But, all things considered, this is the dawning of a new generation of PC games and anyone not currently equipped has just found their first real reason to upgrade.
So, back to the original question, Crysis turns out to be a pretty perfect woman. It's beautiful, clever, fun loving, doesn't mind what you get up to and does its very best to keep you happy (it even has the option to turn the volume down). In fact if I wasn't already spoken for I may be getting ready to introduce it to my parents.