While Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 owners never got a chance to play the original Crysis on their console, Crytek and Electronic Arts thought that the somewhat disjointed original deserved a sequel released simultaneously on consoles and the PC. To recap for those that missed the first game, a hardcore group of soldiers known at Raptor team is sent to the Lingshan Islands in response to a distress call from an American scientist as well as advancing North Korean forces. They are equipped with highly advanced Nanosuits that allowed players to choose from increased armor, extra strength, cloaked stealth or incredible speed. As the story progresses, you discover that the true threat is a massive alien force hidden inside a mountain on the island. The force is empowered by a headstrong American General and a single member of Team Raptor is forced to strike a blow to the main alien warship. The game left a somewhat ambiguous ending leaving it open for a sequel. Enter Crysis 2.
The narrative in Crysis 2 takes the game away from the distant island shores right to the heart of New York City set three years after the original game. The player controls a Force Recon Marine named Alcatraz that comes in contact with the second generation of the Nanosuit. There are two opposing forces after Alcatraz, the CELL operators that are supposed to be policing the city and the alien race from the first game known as the Cephaloids. CELL is conflicted as well since the guys bankrolling their operation want the suit for themselves and the military head honcho wants to put a bullet in Alcatraz's head because you are mowing down the troops. There's a ton of information to keep track of and, even if you have played the first game, it's darn confusing. There's also some pacing problems throughout the middle of the game and I wasn't able to empathize with any of the characters. But I did like how everything got wrapped up and the length was shockingly long compared to some other recent shooters.
My favorite improvement over the first Crysis are the enhancements to the suit itself. In the first game, the suit often seemed to hamper your progress rather than help it due to the enormous amount of power that was eaten by simply using a power for a few seconds. In Crysis 2, the suit seems more similar to the Halo series with a quicker recharge rate when in cover. It's also faster to switch between your various suit powers as the most useful powers (stealth, armor) are mapped to the shoulder buttons and the other powers can be accessed via the D-Pad. In addition, there are a series of upgrades that can be purchased as you progress to increase efficiency, speed up recharge and expand your offensive ability.
That can lead into multiple approaches when attempting to get through a level. The stealth mode can be used to basically sneak through entire levels, if you so choose. It becomes even easier as the upgrades are added to the suit. Enemies can typically see you when standing right in front of you, but have a difficult time catching you from any other angle. It's also pretty simple to sneak up behind any enemy and slice them up quietly. However, if you would rather run and gun, the game's weaponry supports that option. There's also plenty of attachments to modify the weapons as well. In addition, all the suit and weapon upgrades can be carried over into the next playthrough of the campaign on a harder difficulty.
If there's any major problem with the game, it's the poorly programmed A.I. Reaction time is often far too slow, even on the harder difficulties, in the first half of the game. I'm specifically referring to the human opponents as the alien opponents use more advanced tactics for flanking your position. However, aliens often can't deal with stationary objects and continue to fly in place. Fortunately, the Ceph come in a wide variety and you often have to switch up your tactics on the fly as the invasion ramps up. You really need to plan your attacks carefully in the second half of the game and you will inevitably be restarting from checkpoints if you are playing on the tougher difficulties. It's also wildly entertaining to mess with enemies while in stealth mode and watch them freak out.
After finishing up the single player campaign, the multiplayer offers the challenge of actual human opponents and the attraction of using the Nanosuit during battle. Interestingly, all the game modes aren't open to you as you start your multiplayer career. The majority of the team-based objective modes are locked until you built in some serious time with the deathmatch modes. There's also a collection component to the game that awards kill bonuses for picking up dog tags from fallen enemies. However, you have to actually race over to your fallen enemy and pick up the tags, leaving you open to attacks from other players. There are also plenty of suit upgrades to unlock during multiplayer that can offer a significant edge during a tense battle. Crash Site, Assault and Extraction were my preferred matches of choice and I never ran into any performance problems during ranked or private matches.
On the achievements side, there are 50 achievements to earn in Crysis 2. About 40% of them are related to story based tasks and difficulty completion tasks. There are also plenty of enemy killing achievements, some more creative than others. Slapping a CELL operator with a giant donut or tossing an alien into a sinkhole would fall into the camp of the latter. Scanning all of Richard Morgan's books in the NYC public library felt a bit out of place, but it was creative! 30% of the achievements are dedicated to the multiplayer modes, the most controversial being the Dedication achievement. That task would be awarded if you play the game 6 months from when you played online the first time. It also can't be gamed by simply altering the clock on your 360 since it's online based.
The original Crysis stirred up the much debated, overused PC versus console argument. At the time, Crysis was extremely difficult to run on PC more than a year old and didn't have a powerhouse of a graphics card. The people debating this trend became even more vocal when Crysis 2 was planned to hit the two HD consoles and PCs at the same time. I havn't seen Crysis 2 on a PC yet, but I have to say that the Xbox 360 version is beyond stunning. The sprawling NYC landscape is devastatingly gorgeous and meticulously detailed. Lighting effects, particularly light bloom, is extremely well done and works itself into the landscape beautifully. I would put it in my Top 5 for all the Xbox 360 games currently on the market.
Yet, this amazing detail takes a serious toll on the aging Xbox 360 hardware in the form of a choppy framerate and plenty of pop-in with distant textures. There are also some clipping problems when it comes to getting shot through walls and strange graphical glitches that require the occasional reloading of a checkpoint. For those that complained about the loading times during the demo, you can do the optional install on your hard drive to speed up the process.
Crysis 2 suffers from a lack of leadership or well-known actors when it comes to the voice acting. There's nothing terrible about it, just nothing notable either. After listening to Malcolm McDowell pull off a deliciously evil character in Killzone 3, I suppose I'm spoiled. I didn't think the music was up to par with another alien saga, the Halo series. But I did enjoy the main title track. The sound effects didn't have the visceral punch of other shooters I've played in the past few months, but they fit the genre.
Easily one of the best looking games on the Xbox 360, Crysis 2 falls a bit short on the 8 to 10 hour single player campaign, but flourishes in offering up very addictive multiplayer. While I missed the open landscape of the original Crysis, the somewhat linear nature of the single player campaign Crysis 2 didn't bother me as much as I thought it would. However, the poor A.I., on both sides of the conflict, drags down the enjoyment level of the single player. Going up against the human players in multiplayer is extremely satisfying though and creatively uses unlockables to drive you forward with match after match. Crysis 2 is easily the best first person shooter that's been released in 2011 so far and vastly more balanced than the original Crysis. Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 shooter fans that love multiplayer should pick up Crysis 2 as soon as possible.