2007 was a great year for gaming. Between classics like Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, Portal, Halo 3, Uncharted Super Mario Galaxy and oh so many more – it’s a wonder gamers had time to do anything else. Yet for many PC gamers – all of these titles paled in comparison to one game. A game that not only set the graphical bar so high it needed a space suit, but a game that for years to come became the benchmark for PC gaming performance. The game – Crysis.
After developing Far Cry, the team at Crytek were keen to tackle a bigger game. Feeling they had struck a solid concept in that title, the team began work on the next iteration of their CryEngine. With Ubisoft desperate to get a new game out sooner rather than later, the decision was made to sell the franchise to the French publisher, allowing Crytek to focus on engine development. Crytek was keen on developing an engine that stood ahead of the competition. Crysis ultimately was born from this desire to push limits, and the pre-release hype was very real.
One of the important things you have to remember about Crysis, it wasn’t just a game. This was a seismic shift in the way gamers looked at graphics at the high end. Sure, there are some great looking games from 2007 – but none of them come close to holding a candle to Crysis. If your PC couldn’t run this game, your PC wasn’t worth thinking about. For years afterward, it became a benchmark upon which gamers would judge graphics, other developers falling well short of matching it. Even EA struggled to surpass it, Crysis 2 proving to be a huge disappointment in the shadow of the original.
Ultimately though, I’m not here to wax lyrically about the graphics. Crysis is a game first and foremost and it’s here we have to explore its nuts and bolts. Under the hype and beyond the high-end graphics, there’s a strong game that manages to entertain and force gamers to think – even if the game loses sight of this at various points.
When Crysis works, it works beautifully. The game takes the template Far Cry set down years earlier and blows it to new heights. Levels are gorgeously detailed with foliage and trees helping to create new opportunities for your tactical eye. Thanks to the Nanosuit your character wears throughout, you can opt for any number of approaches to missions – whether that involves sneaking into an enemy base or running in all guns blazing. Blowing up buildings, taking out watchtowers and raising all kinds of hell never gets old in this game – and it holds up all these years later. The game affords you choice and leaves enough room for you to experiment to your heart’s content.
Fancy blocking a road? Shoot down the tree and it’ll go down exactly as it would in real life thanks to the games incredibly realistic physics engine. Fancy going full-on Predator with the North Korean soldiers, drawing them out into the jungle and picking them off one at a time? Have at it! Very few games invoke this kind of genuine experimentation, asking gamers to try new things. It’s a joy to play through and thanks to the AI’s ability to respond accordingly, it rarely feels like you’re being unfairly punished. Granted, the AI does suffer from occasional lapses in judgment (Notably when you go full on assault – at which point they revert to a more simplistic approach) but it never stops the game from being fun to engage with.
What really sets Crysis apart from competitors in the first person shooter space though is just how strong its core combat really is (at least initially). Because the game affords you and the AI so many different tools, battles can play out in any number of different ways. Enemy AI will rush for vehicles to alert others. Tanks will roll in and try to destroy you if you get too trigger happy. You can take these same tools for your own use, making exploration of each settlement all the more important. Back in 2007, there just wasn’t this kind of fluid experience at the high end. In a market dominated by Call of Duty and Halo, this openness was so unique.
Which makes the game’s failings all the more disappointing. Around halfway through the game, the story takes an abrupt turn left and brings aliens into the picture. I’m not sure what possessed Crytek to bury their sunny oasis under an avalanche of bland snow textures – but it turns the game from an action thriller to a tedious slog. The introduction of aliens attempts to shake things up, yet these aliens are painfully unfun to fight. Armed with one hit kills and some of the games worst animations. Suddenly the open levels are gone, replaced by linear pathways that punish you relentlessly for attempting to venture off the beaten path.
Things only get worse though as you’re forced into an alien spacecraft and have to navigate through 3D zero-gravity environments. Interesting? Yes. Well executed? Not quite. Combat in these sections is stripped of all the skills you’ve acquired thus far – forcing you to bash into walls and hide behind awkwardly positioned cover. Those aliens that were tedious just prior now become a headache to progress – it’s just unfun.
Of course, we couldn’t bash Crysis’s final half without poking fun at the awful, awful helicopter level. Vehicles in first person shooters are generally a bad time for all but in Crysis, the developers opted to make the whole penultimate level one long helicopter ride. It’s so bad and the helicopter handles like it’s fighting against your every command. Inevitably you will get blown out the sky because the camera or controls fail you, sometimes both as the aliens line up to knock you back to the last checkpoint. The fact Crytek yanked this from the games console port speaks volumes over just how poorly conceived the entire thing was.
That’s the story of Crysis really – a game that’s gorgeous and hugely desperate to try new things – ultimately let down by poor decisions that rob its true greatness. There’s a lot to love with this game and ten years on, it’s best moments still stand alongside its peers from 2007.
But if we’re being honest – I wouldn’t go as far as to call it one of gamings true greats. Those inconsistencies ultimately stop it from being a flawless experience. That desire to experiment ultimately brings about issues that the game doesn’t deal with. Its lackluster story, sagging second half and inability to stick the landing on some of its key mechanics ultimately rob it of that. These should have been ironed out and, sadly for the Crysis series, would become a focal point as it moved into its sequels.
Certainly though, Crysis is worthy of praise and remains as an interesting relic of what 2007’s high-end PC gaming market looked like.