A sequel to PC-exclusive “Crysis,” the new title (Crytek, Electronic Arts) expands its reach into the console world while trying not to lose the intense graphical designs the first game was known for.
You start off as Alcatraz, a Marine who is sent into an environmentally- and combat-ridden New York City, to help fend off an alien invasion and help rescue people from a horrible plague. As expected, your submarine transport is attacked before you get there and you have to be rescued by someone wearing a strange armor suit.
Before you know it, you are soon wearing the suit, known as a Nanosuit 2.0, and hurdled head long into a pitched battle against the alien Ceph, mercenaries, and corporate and military leaders who have agendas of their own. Yes, nearly everyone is against you, so don’t be surprised.
The Nanosuit has several new powers that allow it to move quicker, be stronger and also become invisible. Each of those powers lets the gamer choose how they want to handle different situations as they arise.
Using the Armor mode, the outer casing of the Nanosuit toughens up, allowing players to go toe-to-toe with their enemies. This is a great power if your style of game play is kill everything that moves.
If you prefer to choose discretion over valor, the Stealth mode makes the player invisible and allows them to move silently through a battlefield. In some scenarios, I used Stealth mode to get through wave after wave of enemies without firing a shot.
Each mode uses up power when it is turned on, but the power recharges quickly when the modes are turned off. Learn quickly where cover or hiding spots are located for when you need to recharge. Plus the suit is customizable so each of the modes can be upgraded.
The Nanosuit also comes equipped with a tactical display that helps locate enemies, important points (like ammo caches), and keeps track of your weapon’s condition, and power consumption. When using the Tactical Visor, you can tag enemies to keep track of their movements.
Gamers get to try out all these features in the urban jungle known as New York City. If you’ve ever visited the Big Apple, you are going to recognize a lot of the lesser known sites in the city.
The graphics are extremely well done with great design, use of natural lighting, and a destructible environment that feels natural. The designers at Crytek did a great job of making the city come alive with the alien invasion and earthquakes that rock New York City. It is as much a character as the Ceph.
From skyscrapers to underground train tunnels, each area is wide open, allowing for multiple points and angles of attacking the scenario. It is a controlled sandbox and doesn’t feel like you are being walked along a linear path.
Combat is what you would expect from a first-person shooter. There are 22 customizable weapons that you can discover and use with 11 different attachments. They are varied enough in accuracy, reload and rate of fire to make paying attention to what you are carrying worth the time.
Alcatraz can carry a primary weapon, a secondary weapon, and explosives like grenades, C4, or a guided missile launcher. Each is effective against different types of enemies and situations.
The enemies are pretty straight forward, and here is where the game begins the let down.
Two factions, the alien Ceph and a private army known as C.E.L.L, are out to stop you from your mission. C.E.L.L soldiers are ex-military and can usually be taken down pretty easy with a head shot.
Ceph comes in various flavors – from harmless Ticks that harvest resources to the mighty Pinger with a EMP blast that depletes the Nanosuit’s power and rapid rate of fire that tests your armor’s capabilities. Grunts, stalkers and heavies also make up the alien forces.
However, they apparently aren’t the brightest bulbs in the box thanks to a spotty AI that leaves them vulnerable. Enemies can be seen continually walking into a wall even as they are getting shot. They will also take multiple bullets without moving before realizing they’ve been shot and fall down dead.
Don’t feel bad for them because the AI also gives them an advantage from time to time by allowing them to see through walls and fire before I even get from behind my cover. They also will inexplicable be able to spot you without even looking in your direction. Very frustrating.
The story starts off as a fairly straight forward FPS, but gets more complicated and more interesting as it goes along. The political and financial intrigue along with all the “shadow figures” trying to pull your strings makes the storyline intriguing and fun.
I don’t want to ruin it for anyone, but I will say this: know your enemy.
The multiplayer mode allows you to dodge the moody AI. Six different game modes across 12 maps offer enough variety to keep the action going. Everybody gets a Nanosuit, but each player can select one suit mode (power, stealth, armor) to load up and upgrade so picking the right mode for the scene is important.
The battles are intense and there are bonuses available for the entire squad when you perform certain actions. Players can also choose from 4 different classes or customize their own class entirely the way they want it.
Overall, “Crysis 2” is a gorgeous game with some combat AI issues. But issues aside, you will be hard pressed to stop playing once you get started because the story, action, and environment will keep you hooked until the very end.
“Crysis 2” will be available on PC, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 on March 22 in North America and March 25 in Europe. It is rated M for Mature due to blood, partial nudity, strong language, and violence. This review was done using a review copy for the Xbox 360.
“Dragon Age II” isn’t exactly a sequel, but it does continue to thrill with new distinctive artwork, a more descriptive speech mechanic, and a combat system that feels intuitive and destructive at the same time.
Where “Dragon Age: Origins” told the tale of a Grey Warden’s trek to gather allies, stem the tide of the malevolent Blight and do battle against an Archdemon, “Dragon Age II” (BioWare, Electronic Arts) begins with a family fleeing from the Blight (a wave of evil creatures bent on taking over) to showcase another angle of the overall story. Think of it as a branch off the “Origins” story tree to expand the “Dragon Age” universe.
You play as Hawke, a warrior or mage or rogue, who is escaping with his mother, sister and brother away from the horrors of the Blight. The prologue does a great job of teaching combat and movement mechanics, but you also suffer your first tragedy as your sister is killed by a rampaging ogre.
This pushes the story away from your homeland of Ferelden to the City of Slaves, Kirkwall. It is there that the adventure begins in earnest and serves as your home base for most of the game.
Having played “Origins” on the PC, I was immediately struck by the new artwork design of some familiar characters. The Darkspawn, which are the grunt element of the Blight, used to look similar to orcs or goblins from “The Lord of the Rings” movies. Now, they appear to be more skeletal with an almost undead look to them.
Mike Laidlaw, creative director for the “Dragon Age” series, said the game is a character-driven game and the team wanted the races to look unique.
“We didn’t want to fall in the trap of all of the races to be humans with funny ears,” he said. “Ultimately, ’Dragon Age’ needs its own distinct look. One of the dangers of fantasy is there is so much out there that it is easy to lump it all together into an elf/orc mishmash and we wanted to stand apart.”
Laidlaw credits Matthew Goldman, the art director for “Dragon Age 2,” with bringing a fresh, new look to the races and his desire to make the characters really unique.
“I think there were elements of ‘Origins,’ especially in the appearances, that were technical masterpieces,” Laidlaw explained. “But Matt felt that they weren’t standing out enough. They weren’t creating their own space and colonizing their visual identity in the way that he wanted.
The Quanri, a war-like race that originally appeared as large humans, also got a makeover. They retained their size and aggressive appearance, but they also sprouted horns similar to a gazelle or, as Laidlaw points out, an ogre.
One of the drivers in the game is the interaction between the player character and his allies and other non-player characters. Talking between characters is done through a series of choices which allows the player to take different postures in their discussions.
The speech choices are now shown with an icon that indicates the tone in which the character will speak. Laidlaw said in “Origins,” a player couldn’t tell if he was going to be sarcastic or aggressive and may have chosen a response that they ended up not wanting.
“We wanted a mix of the paraphrase, so you could see what you were going to say, and the statement of intent (the icon). While some of them are just tone, knowing when you are going to be funny is really key especially when that is one of the principle tones of the game.”
There are icons for peaceful/helpful, funny, aggressive, hard, romance, and others. I found that my character used the helpful and funny answers more than others and Laidlaw said the game recognizes the tendencies and adjusts character reactions as the game goes on.
“For example, if you find yourself constantly being a smart-alec or making jokes, you’ll find in combat that your battle cries will change. It does create a consistency of character along those core choices.”
Laidlaw explained that it gives the gamer a greater sense of control over their character to shape them the way they want and a deeper sense of immersion in the game itself. He also said using an interrogation as the narration to the story adds perspective and depth to character development and movement of the story.
Varric, a dwarven crossbow expert and ally of Hawke, is being questioned by Cassandra, a Templar seeking answers to some unnamed, yet often foreshadowed, great tragedy surrounding Hawke. Chapters (if they can be called chapters) start and finish in the interrogation room with Varric leading into or wrapping up the action and Cassandra reacting to what she’s hearing.
It is an interesting technique and almost gives the game a television series feel with recaps and previews. I almost felt like it was time for a commercial break to raid the fridge.
The development team felt like there were many stories to be told in the “Dragon Age” universe and this was a way to tell another that diverged from “Origins” and still retained the history of what happened in that game with the fall of the Archdemon and the rise of the new king.
“The events of the first game and the impact it had on the world is so important that we wanted to make sure that anyone brand new to the game is able to feel like they are brought up to speed,” Laidlaw said. “Conversely, bringing in a saved game from ‘Origins’ will cause certain things to be different – who is on the throne, what happened with the Dwarven Kingdoms, and so on.”
The game play on the Xbox 360 console feels cleaner and smoother with very few hiccups or lag. The outdoor environments are colorful and detailed, but the underground caves and caverns start to feel similar with identical layouts changed by shutting off doorways.
Combat on the consoles utilizes two levels of mapable buttons for skills and spells while a shortcut bar offers more choices on the PC version. Controlling the party’s actions seems easier on the PC than the console, but it can be done with some practice.
Battles are as visceral and graphic as ever and the persistent gore setting returns, which creates for some awkward conversations. Trying to pay attention to an important bit of information is made more difficult when you are thinking, “You’ve got a bit of ogre on your chin.”
The tactics system remains, which allows you to set up character actions to occur at pre-determined thresholds or events. Characters can be set up to drink a healing potion when their health gets low without any break in the battle or gamer involvement.
“The combat is still tactical, still requires you to think as a team and not just as one character,” Laidlaw said.
Laidlaw said after “Origins,” the dev team received a lot of praise and love from the fans and they wanted to develop “Dragon Age II” with that thought in mind.
There is no “there is the big bad guy, go get it” mentality to how the game unfurls. It is a story interaction process that allows players to grow their character organically, both from a combat standpoint and a personal growth aspect.
And it isn’t a game if you are looking for a quick turn on the console or PC. The action occurs over numerous quests, side quests and personal missions that can easily chew up 30 plus hours on a weekend with “just one more quest.”
“I never want to give players all the answers,” Laidlaw said. “I think the mystery, the sense that this world is richer and deeper than just one game helps keep it more vital, more vibrant in terms of player experience.”
Whether you play as the dashing hero romancing every woman you meet or the hard, rough and tumble hero who smashes first and forgets to ask questions later, “Dragon Age II” has more than enough action, drama and suspense to keep fans of the fantasy gaming genre pleased.
“Dragon Age II” comes out on March 8 in North America and March 11 in Europe on the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC and Mac. It is rated M – Mature (17+) for blood and gore, language, sexual content, and violence. This review was done playing the demo on the PC and the retail game on the Xbox 360.