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Why Crysis 3 is the ultimate sequel

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CRYTEK GIVES NEW YORK A TOTALLY TROPICAL TASTE, TRANSFORMING THE WORLD’S GREATEST CITY INTO A WAR RIDDEN FUTURISTIC DOME, FUSING  TOGETHER THE IDEAS BEHIND THE ORIGINAL CRYSIS AND CRYSIS 2. PRODUCER MIKE READ EXPLAINS WHY THIS TRILOGY CLOSER IS THE BEST OF BOTH WORLDS

It seems a little unfair that the Crysis series is probably better known for its developer’s insistence on pushing technology to its very limits, rather than being acclaimed for its merits as a first-person shooter franchise par excellence. The PC original was regarded as the video game that only a select few with top-of-the-range hardware could play, rather than being a tremendous and uncommonly open shooter in its own right. Crysis’ graphics might have been its most marketable asset, but some wrongly dismissed it as a case of style over substance.

Meanwhile, for the follow-up, the German publisher dialled back its ambitions a touch, releasing the more linear Crysis 2 on consoles as well as PC, a decision that didn’t sit too well with the desktop hardcore. Even so, it was still a rock-solid FPS with looks that, while not quite as astonishing as its forerunner, could slacken a PS3 owner’s jaw at ten paces. The lush, verdant jungles of the original were traded for the decaying urban grid of a ruined New York City, a better fit for a narrower, more focused shooter.

The story continues next February with a game that may not be the end of the line for the Crysis universe, but seems likely to tie up the final strands of this particular narrative – and Crytek
has come up with the perfect excuse to combine the best of both predecessors. The Big Apple now lies under a giant Nanodome, built by the nefarious CELL Corporation ostensibly to protect citizens from alien invaders, but really to harvest a secret energy source. The result: many streets are now rivers, forests have sprung up around skyscrapers, and elsewhere there are boggy marshlands to negotiate.

In other words, a lot has happened in 24 years since we last saw protagonist Prophet and the rest of the Delta Force marines. Producer Mike Read was only too happy to fill in the gaps for us. “Over that period of 20+ years basically what [the CELL Corporation] have done is to harness the world’s energy resources to get really cheap power, sell it to the public and manage to create a monopoly over this specifically.”

And what of our Nanosuited friends from past games? “We’ve also introduced Psycho into the scenario and of course Prophet’s in there – [he] had been doing a number of operations over the course of the 20 years alongside Psycho. Prophet was eventually captured and that brings us to where we are at the start of Crysis 3, where Psycho has basically broken Prophet out of incarceration after a number of years.” And hell bent on revenge, we shouldn’t wonder.

From what we’ve seen so far, Crytek has expertly combined elements of the earlier titles, the natural
beauty of the tropics juxtaposed with familiar New York landmarks in a way that feels remarkably
unforced. It makes Crysis 3 feel less guided than its immediate predecessor, without overwhelming
those who don’t like getting lost. It’s Crytek having its cake and eating it, in other words, and it’s a
pretty tasty cake at that.

Still, Read doesn’t believe it was a deliberate decision to combine the two – at least, not initially. “Between our designers and the different things they wanted to do I don’t necessarily think this was an intent going into creating Crysis 3, but they started looking into it, looking at different elements and it kind of evolved into [this]. My understanding of where it came from is that we had New York City, we wanted to come back to [it] but we also wanted to do something different and using the dome itself allowed us to create a fiction around how New York has been destroyed, how the buildings have been broken down and how various areas of this jungle environment have grown due to the greenhouse effect because of this dome. So I think that’s where that main piece [of fiction] came from.”

The idea of pooling the strengths of the first two games is an enticing proposition, even given that the two were as different as an FPS and its sequel are likely to get, the more open elements of the first game being scaled back in the second. Yet Read doesn’t believe that the differences between the first two games were quite so pronounced.

“Crysis had a very open visual style which people perceived as an open world game and people still
talk about it like that when in actual fact it really wasn’t. Sure, there were a lot of ways you could go
and a lot of things you could do, but we still kept people on a path. I think when we brought that into Crysis 2, these tall buildings created a bit of a closed-off fa?ade that the game was a lot more linear, a lot more contained. So in dialling things back a little and bringing in the jungle elements and the urban elements I think we’ve hit a pretty good middle ground with that. And especially those who get their hands on it for the first time, they’ve been coming back to us completely unsolicited and saying ‘Wow you guys really did hit a good middle ground between the two games’. ”

Indeed, it’s evident from our conversation with Read that user feedback is very important to the publisher. He discusses the desire from players to “throw in a lot more suit powers”, as well as the game’s increased difficulty for top-tier players (“Wow, you guys really did make this hard”). It turns out three games in it’s not too difficult for Crytek’s designers to come up with ways to make a hardened soldier in a super-powerful Nanosuit still feel vulnerable. “I don’t think it’s really been an
issue,” he shrugs. “I think at this point it’s become a lot more refined, even though we’ve changed the AI systems over the course of the three games.

Of course, that isn’t to say that there aren’t more ways to deal with enemy threats. It turns out Prophet is something of a futuristic Errol Flynn, as handy with a bow as his contemporaries are with a gun. An archer is only as good as the projectiles they fire, though, so fortunately he has a number of different arrow tips that give him a tactical advantage in combat. “We were actually looking at a few more tips to have in there,” admits Read, “but I think we’ve kind of balanced that out with the four tips. The bow itself was brought in to tie into the whole hunter theme, [as a way of] rolling back a little to elements that we had of the jungle theme in Crysis.”

As a predator in this literal urban jungle, then, it seems you can go as quiet or as loud as you like. “What we’ve seen in some of the playtests is that people are using the bow in quite a number of ways in various combinations, and not just standing back and using it in a cloak scenario,” says Read. “Past that, certain weapons have various ammo types from electric to explosive or thermic ammo, and of course the number of attachments has been increased. We really want to provide people with a whole number of options for the way they’re comfortable tackling [a given situation], so that everybody who goes through it is experiencing it in a much different way.”

Does that mean Crysis 3 offers something for everyone, then? The return of secondary objectives
for each mission should ensure players are more willing to explore their environment thoroughly, but as an entirely optional aside, they can be safely ignored by those wishing to play the best video game of all time as a more straightforward, linear shooter. Translation: whether you prefer Call Of Duty or Far Cry, you’re in luck. And that goes double if you’re a fan of deeper environmental interaction. “There are things that we’ve done through the visor itself,” explains Read, “and that’s mainly in terms of what we’ve introduced with the hacking mechanism, being able to hack mines or turrets or special crates to open them up and stuff like that.” There’s also the small matter of Prophet’s Nanosuit being infected with alien DNA, which allows him to use a variety of otherworldly weapons. It’s another nod to the original, but Read believes the idea has been far better integrated into the game’s lore on this occasion. “Over the course of those 20+ years the suit has essentially evolved [through the infection] and that allows us to bring in these weapons. There was actually alien weapon in Crysis that people could use – it was kind of a freeze ray, but that didn’t really have any story elements specifically tied to it. But in this one, yes, there’s going to be five different alien weapons, and yes, there are some balancing mechanisms that’ll play into that because they’re pretty powerful and a lot of fun to use.”

Those with a penchant for destruction, meanwhile, are catered to far better than in Crysis 2. Trees can be mown down, you’ll regularly see logs and concrete barriers blown apart, while masonry cracks and crumbles under heavy fire. Destruction isn’t quite on Crysis levels, where players could embark upon a sustained campaign of deforestation by arming themselves with a minigun and chewing
through rows of trees, but there’s a very good reason for that. “It’s fun to a point,” admits Read, “but it’s also very taxing on the software side – and the hardware side as well.”

It was bound to come to this. Read talked at E3 about Crytek struggling to squeeze any more juice out of the current consoles, and it’s evident it’s a bit of a sore point for a software house that prefers to push the technical envelope.

“Throughout the course of development of Crysis 2 there was a lot of pain experienced in getting our engine to run on the consoles specifically,” Read sighs, “which not only hindered us from a technical side but also hindered us from our designers’ side as well.

That became a big blocker for a lot of the things we really wanted to do with 2. In this one, we can push it so far, but we’re definitely feeling the constraints. This is the longest generation of console that the world has really ever seen and I think in some ways the SDKs [Software Development Kits] improved and in other ways they didn’t, but we’re trying to squeeze as much as we can to give console users the best graphical experience possible. But we have so much more in terms of seven years of hardware that has advanced over that time to be able to take the PC side and push that even further.”

We can’t say we’re entirely surprised to hear this. As good as Crysis 3 looks on the PlayStation 3, put it next to the PC version and the difference is night and day. Graphics aren’t everything of course – even Crytek happily admits this – but at the same time it’s impossible to deny that the ever-evolving PC market has sped away from the comparatively underpowered current-gen consoles, leaving
them choking on its dust. So is Read hankering after PS4 for what his studio wants to achieve?

“I think everybody pretty much is at this point!” he laughs. “Pushing ahead and creating new tools and innovations and putting these tools in designers’ hands… I think there’s definitely a place for a bigger focus on gameplay sometimes, but I think there’s also a place where we need to keep accelerating this. The PC is light years ahead at this point and it’ll be interesting what happens with the next generation of consoles and whether they’re going to be able to hold out as long as they did with this generation just given how quickly technology is advancing at this point.”

Then again, the progression of hardware isn’t the only important factor to consider in the current market. The rise of free-to-play is the industry’s current hot topic, with more and more developers looking at new financial models as retail figures continue to drop year on year. It’s a discussion that Crytek has already waded into, but it’s clear Read still sees value in the traditional console experience.

“This is a whole argument unto itself,” he says. “Everyone’s watching Dust 514 on PlayStation and where that’s potentially going to go as really one of the first free-to-play [console games] with micro-transactions built into it. I think there’s room on there for that and I think you’re probably going to see some big changes, but I think there’s still room for maintaining the payup- front best video games of all time as well. People talk a lot now about all single-player games [being] obsolete, that they’re going to disappear and it’s all about multiplayer, and I really don’t think that’s true at all. There are quite a large number of people still out there that love single-player games. I think there’s also a whole number of ways, especially over the next five to ten years that we’re going to see single-player games evolve into something different, and what that is we’ll have to wait and see. But it’s definitely an interesting bullet point right now [with regard to] where the next-gen consoles are going to go.”

So if Crytek is watching next-gen consoles with great interest, you can probably take that as a near-as-damnit guarantee that we’ll see Crysis return on said hardware. We may have seen the last of the likes of Prophet, Psycho and company, though that’s not the spoiler you might think it is. Instead, it may just be that this third instalment marks the closing of this particular chapter in the Crysis universe.

“That would probably be the best way to put it,” agrees Read. “Back in 2007, when our CEO Cevat [Yerli, co-founder and president of Crytek] said he had originally cited this to be a trilogy I actually meant to ask him this question. Whether we’re going to do three games and it was going to go on further I guess is another question that would be specifically for him to answer, but I think what we’ve done over the years is to build the IP out and maintain it. Over the past five years we’ve done a pretty good job to take it beyond this [story] and into new places but still contained within the Crysis universe itself. But yes, this is kind of a finale to this piece.”

If Crysis 3 is an end point for this particular narrative strand, it certainly appears to be going out on a high. It’s another boundary-pushing shooter that feels like a Best Of Crysis while offering its own unique bonus tracks. Sure, it might make the PS3 creak and groan at the edges, but it promises an action-packed climax to a trilogy that should finally cement the idea that Crysis deserves to become as famous for how it plays as how it looks.

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