Crysis 3 is dominated by the theme of returning protagonist Laurence ‘Prophet’ Barnes’ personal struggle to retain his humanity. Now fused even more rigidly within the series’ familiar Nanosuit, he faces the prospect of becoming a cold, soulless machine housed within a near-perfect technological shell. It’s a battle from which Barnes ultimately emerges triumphant, but something that the game itself falls frequent victim too.
Crysis 3 is by no means a bad game. It’s mechanically sound, has front-end presentation befitting of its budget and, of course, looks terrific thanks to the CryEngine 3. New York’s ruined biodomes, in which Prophet spends the vast majority of his time skulking around, are rendered as lush, overgrown fields or gloomy flooded districts in equal splendor. Even on default ‘medium’ settings (the basis for all the images in this review,) Crysis 3 is a fine looking title.
But it’s also a flawed one. Your old buddy Psycho has a new voice (these days he’s kind of a murderous Bob Hoskins) and a magnificently animated new face, but a lot of the intended camaraderie is rendered awkward and incredibly stilted by odd pauses between dialogue. It’s an unintended but neat encapsulation of the Crysis 3 conundrum: Crytek know how to make human interaction appear convincing, but not how to give it any meaningful emotional impact.
A great deal of effort has gone into providing this third effort with a convincing backstory. Found audio logs tell of whole populations being placed into slavery by the tyrannical CELL Corporation, a devious energy monopoly plot, and other such horrors. It’s a technique that’s been used to great effect since System Shock 2 and should work here too, were it not for the weird disconnect between narrative flavour and actual mission surroundings.
Crysis 3 will not let up about how high the stakes are. Prophet must save the rebels, the city, hell, the entire world. But where are all of these people? Who, beyond the three other speaking cast members, is out there and worth saving? The streets of crumbling New York are populated only by private paramilitary soldiers and (later) aliens. Even the wildlife is restricted to a couple of deer, some strange squirrel-fox creatures and a handful of frogs. The landscape is picturesque, but (save for the grass and trees) rather lifeless.
Of course, making it that bit more lifeless by picking off some of those hapless foes still has its charms. As you’ll no doubt be aware, Prophet has got himself a bow, and Crytek surely knew exactly what they were doing when they named it ‘The Predator.’ That’s pretty much who you are; creeping through the long grass, cloaking and uncloaking as you tag and murder clueless hired mercenaries one by one.
Crysis 3 is all about being funneled from point A to point B through sizeable rooms (or room-like areas, at least) occupied by ten or twelve guys who are waiting for an excuse to get rowdy, then taking them down with the variety of equipment secreted about your person or found in handy boxes throughout the levels. As well as the bow, there are a wealth of other firearms that can be customised with fancy scopes, silencers and the like; plus a selection of grenades, remote explosives and other dangerous gadgets. If you’re feeling particularly saucy you can kill people by hacking their turret defences, or by just throwing office chairs at them.
The game begins like that, it (pretty much) ends like that and, aside from an obligatory driving section and a deeply tedious, on-rails VTOL gunnery control section, the middle bits are like that too. Psycho hands you the bow about ten minutes into the game, and aside from the odd nanosuit upgrade (giving you a longer cloak or superior armour, say,) you’re practically as powerful as you’re going to get at the end of the opening level. When the Ceph show up with a few larger, tank-like enemy types it does encourage a change in tactics, but nothing your explosive-tipped arrows can’t handle. Progression exists in the game’s encounters, but only if you choose to mix up the way you tackle each area.
So really, your interest in the game will be sustained for as long as the process of systematically eliminating squadrons of mercs/aliens in moderately sized rooms persists. This can still be somewhat entertaining, especially if you like to create your own motivation and challenges (‘slay everyone in this field by kicking a large sofa at them,’ perhaps.)
But Crysis 3 also wants these encounters to be sat snug within the context of its Deep Story™. So, as the narrative struggles to establish (let alone maintain) any emotional connections between player and surroundings, most confrontations have about as much impact as the virtual reality training in the game’s tutorial. Each one ends up like a stand-alone exercise, putting your suit’s skills to the test. Little more.
The closest the game comes to providing a level that feels like an actual location is a mission in which Prophet is tasked with blowing up a large dam. Infiltrating the structure and making your way through its turbines and control rooms feels like a proper, constructive use of your talents. But even this promising mission is somewhat sparse, lacking any engineers or maintenence staff or signs that this place is actually at all functional. Apparently, as well as being a private military force, CELL’s army can keep a dam running in their spare time.
After that, it’s back to listening to Prophet ramble on and endlessly on about the Alpha Ceph. Oh the Alpha Ceph, the Alpha Ceph, always the bloody Alpha Ceph. After a while our super-suited hero starts to sound more like a kid in a supermarket who’s been denied a pack of sweeties. “But muuuuum, why can’t I have The Alpha Ceph?” Shhh, Prophet, you’ll get to kill him in a boss fight. Relax.
It’s perhaps fitting, then, that Crysis 3‘s multiplayer portion is a bit more satisfying than its 7-8 hour single player fumblings. Here, the gameplay mechanics can be utterly divorced from any notion of a plot and nothing needs to be established besides ‘kill those other guys, for some reason.’
There’s even a shred of originality present in the form of ‘Hunter’ mode (the one and only new multiplayer idea Crysis 3 is prepared to offer.) In this, the majority of players are kitted out as bog-standard CELL soldiers, facing off against a pair of perma-cloaked Hunters. CELL folks have to survive for two minutes, while the Hunters attempt to bump them all off. Each Hunter kill resurrects that person as a new Hunter, so the odds slowly shift from “you CELL guys probably have no chance” to “seriously, just hide in the corner for the last 10 seconds and hope for the best.” As a surviving CELL, it can be a tense, thrilling experience. For the Hunters, it’s a manic race against time.
You won’t find many surprises in the rest of the game’s multiplayer (except for an occasional pair of cloaked players hilariously bumping into one another,) but it’s a solid, familiar experience that gives you a chance to mess around with the Nanosuit in environments where everyone else is potentially as deadly as you. If technology isn’t your thing, you can play the same formulaic modes in CELL vs Rebel mode, stripped of your powers.
Elsewhere, expect the same series of perks, weapons, dog tags and ‘unlocks’ (you can’t even alter your character loadout until level 5, for heavens sake) that you know and either love or are wearily role your eyes at the prospect of.
Crysis 3 is mechanically proficient and technically excellent, but lacks the heart and craft to make the human connections it so desperately strives for. A dreadful, over-wrought plot attempts to bring meaningful context to what amounts to a series of free-form combat encounters in moderate-sized rooms. In its wake, New York is left feeling like a gorgeous film set, glittering and unreal, unable to live up to the density of babbling, expositional text thrown at the player from all angles. The game’s tiny cast, meanwhile, is put through a series of events that would disgrace a soap opera.
In the end, it’s basic human input that saves this machine-like presentation from turgid malfunction. Whether it’s individual creativity applied to the staged combat encounters, or going man-to-man in multiplayer, the simple acts of being human are what keeps the blood pumping through Crysis 3‘s hollow veins.