After the disappointingly dialled-down Crysis 2, the one-time king of gaming graphics attempts to retrieve its crown. Sci-fi first-person shooter Crysis 3 might be a multi-platform game, but it’s on PC that it flexes the kind of muscle that has traditionally lifted this series above the crowd on a technical level. You’ll need more money than sense to own a system capable of running Crysis 3 with all bells and whistles enabled at 1080p higher.
The jury’s somewhat out on a) whether it’s worth it and b) whether it really looks all that much better than 2008’s still graphics card-troubling Crysis 1. Certainly, the sheer amount of detail on show in this sci-fi shooter, set in a post-apocalyptic New York, outdoes most any other game you could name, but its tendency to be set in the dark, its pursuit of photo-realism rather than distinctive style and to populate its rogues’ gallery with oddly shapeless aliens means it’s not as eye-catching as it perhaps deserves to be. Pore across still screenshots and there’s much to be wowed by, but in motion it’s oddly murky.
Making up for that quite a bit is the sweeping scale of the levels – shattered skyscrapers on the horizon, mile-long dams, towering iron fortresses and flooded boulevards mean Crysis 3 isn’t your common-or-garden grey-brown apocalypse.
Even so, it’s not quite enough of a looker to justify an eye-watering outlay for a new graphics card. Console versions, meanwhile, hold up well given the machine’s age, but Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 owners will certainly be forgiven for thinking the next-generation’s already here if they do clap eyes on the PC edition of the game. That’s especially true of the handful of character faces you get to see during in-engine cutscenes. They’re flat-out incredible, really not far off being suitable for a cinema screen.
Unfortunately you don’t have free run of the ruins of New York. While Crysis 3 is more open and generally free from the tunnels of its predecessor, it’s certainly not the sandbox of the oft-revered original game. Objectives and enemy locations are fixed, so while the road from A to B might be a very wide one compared to contemporaries such as Call of Duty and Medal of Honor, it’s only ever going in one direction. The game’s much more interested in evoking and outdoing the spectacle and scripting of a Modern Warfare game than further exploring the freedoms of the original Crysis or its predecessor Far Cry.
Far greater liberty than most of Crysis 3’s peers can be had from the combat system, which most of the time allows free choice between all-out warfare, sniping or stealth. Pseudo-science-spouting protagonist Prophet wears a Nanosuit, able to temporarily imbue him with invisibility, bullet-proofing or super-jumping, and how you employ those abilities has a dramatic effect on the kind of game you’ll have. If you want it to be a run and gun game, it can be that. If you want to sneak around snapping necks silently or avoiding enemies altogether, it can be that. If you want to hang back and pick off everyone from afar, the new crossbow, with its silent and one-shot-kill bolts, will be your best friend.
As a Predator simulator, it really knows what it’s doing – making it doubly a shame that it so regular interrupts itself with the screeching, juvenile babble of its plot. It’s Saturday Morning Cartoon nonsense, but it’s rarely playful about it, instead opting to take itself deadly seriously when it bangs about System X and Alpha Cephs and New York being trapped inside a Nanodome. At least the cutscenes are skippable.
Frankly, Crysis 3 would be a bit of a bore if it wasn’t for the muscular, flexible combat. It remains a big step down in terms of strategy and freedom compared to the first Crysis, but it has recaptured some of its earlier spirit compared to the claustrophobic second game. It’s a shame to not see any bars being raised, given developer Crysis used to be famed for doing just that, but as simply a flashy, noisy distraction Crysis 3 does the trick.