Crysis (2007)

It is not easy being me, what with so many mouth-watering gaming titles just staring out from my shelf, practically begging me to be shoved under the magnifying glass. I was originally going to write on Murdered: Soul Suspect in this post, but I am simply not in the mood for a game that made such a lukewarm impact on the market right after coming back from all the fun at the RAge gaming expo. Seeing the thrill of delight on the faces of literally thousands of excited gamers all congregated in one room (and in South Africa of all places) compelled me to write about a game that would inspire this kind of fan loyalty. This had to be a game that these people would remember for the impact that it made on the industry.

So Murdered is on the back-burner for now and the result: freedom! I can choose whatever I want! But what on earth am I to choose? Suddenly I found myself once again looking across the room at my first high school dance party and seeing all the girls who haven’t been asked to dance yet flashing bashful grins in my direction, pleading me with anime-like eyes to come take them by the hand (even if just to experience the sadistic pleasure of rejecting me). I suppose it also speaks volumes that I didn’t have a date already, but never mind me – this is what happens when you ascribe to gendered stereotypes ladies! What are you waiting for!? Carpe diem! YOU go and ask the bloody guy to take you for a twirl on the floor for once!

Yes indeed, hear me when I say that trying to decide what game will feature in the next post can be an excruciating ordeal. If you pick the wrong one, the ideas do not flow, your reflections become cynical or biased, and your mind starts drifting to the next game. Man… I have far too many first world problems for a third world citizen…But I digress, the reason we are all here today is to look more closely at Crysis. Not the video game series, nor the second, third or Crysis Warhead, but the undeniable classic that made us throw anxious looks at our PC towers as we uttered “So that’s what my graphics card sounds like!” back in Christmas of 2007.

In truth, the choice was inspired by a Men in Black marathon I indulged in during an impulsive moment of boredom and much like the first Smith-Lee Jones flavoured classic, this is one game that has certainly stood the test of time in terms of what it achieved visually. Still today in 2016, Crysis serves as a formidable benchmark for whether or not your PC should be mentioned in hushed tones at LANs or should be displayed on golden dais in the living room. Look under any list for “The top 10 most graphically demanding games” or the like and you will see Crysis skulking in the back row looking oddly tall with a bad haircut.

Crysis was actually a game shrouded in quite a lot of mystery for me at the time of its release. It is as if I couldn’t quite get my head around what this game was trying to do, not so much in terms of plot, but in terms of… I don’t know… the overall direction the game was trying to head in I guess. Is it a stealth game? Not really, cause there were a lot of guns in it. O! So its a military shooter then! Uhm… well there are aliens too… Really? So then it must have a really complex plot in which an unlikely aliance forms between two opposing factions to defeat the alien scum! Well… you know what, just forget it.

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The touch of the wet sand under your feet, the sight of beautifully rendered god rays, the sounds of the jungle, the taste of adventure, and the smell of a melting graphics card.

So the plot was undeniably unoriginal in terms of its synopsis. Specifically, a group of spec-ops, donning a multi-million dollar super-suit, investigate a distress call from American archaeologists on an island in the Philippines and discover that the archaeologists had in fact stumbled on the remains of an ancient alien artefact that, as to be expected, awakens when the North Koreans (who also intercepted the call) deem it wise to fiddle with it.

Yet I think it is safe to say that what Crysis borrowed, it adopted into its gameplay mechanics with surprising success. At base, it drew heavily from the visual aesthetics, soundtrack and underlying formula from Far Cry which, by the way, still featured up to the most recent Far Cry: Primal. In this formula, gameplay is centred around how the player proceeds/proceeded from one militarised outpost to the next scattered throughout some wilderness overrun with dense vegetation.

Yet whereas Far Cry only had the option for charging in guns blazing, in Crysis it was up to the player to eliminate all hostiles on said outposts in any of the fifty shades of grey between pure stealth and “THIS IS SPARTAAAA!!!.” Playing the game was therefore more Adam Jensen from Deus Ex than the ‘Rambo’ character from Far Cry since Crysis was built around a central gameplay mechanic that allowed players to tailor their own unique play styles. This mechanic was, of course, the ‘Nanosuit,’  and this suit was Crysis’s biggest ace up its sleeve in that it called for a game that needed deserved to be simultaneously beautiful and interactive.

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According to developers Crytek, negotiating between graphics and interactivity was a particularly unique challenge that had not really been dealt with up until that point in a serious manner. Games that had been built on DirectX 9.c usually made it quite clear to their respective developers that limitations in texture quotas, physics and the required processing power could either make a game very pretty, or very interactive once all the settings were slid up to maximum. Both were simply not an option in one game if it needed to run smoothly on modern systems which suggests that if a game ran on 9.c back in those days, it was most probably held back in terms of how much the player could interact with the world and how beautiful the game could be.

Crysis on the other hand was developed at exactly the right time in that it was the first, and, frankly, probably the only, game to have made DirectX 10 reach the top of the climbing rope. The DirectX 10 architecture ensured that Crytek’s little pet project was one of the most visually sophisticated games of its time with its own, hand-written physics engine. Indeed – you can either deftly and silently snipe an enemy from a cliff at 500 yards away, or you can pick up a chicken in strength mode and hurl it at a Korean soldier’s head to achieve a fatality!

Yet unlike many other games in which you often had to trudge through complicated menu systems and skill tree load-outs, Crysis only asked that you hold down the middle mouse button to completely alter your gameplay strategy on the fly. Do you want to be faster, stronger, a walking tank or alternate your approach based on the needs of the situation? Click, rotate and select. Easy

And then there are the graphics. Damn. While the sun dappled lazily through the jungle canopy making each individual leaf cast a shadow, and the ocean gently lapped the sunny beach, you had full freedom to drive a state-of-the-art tank through one of the many little jungle shacks scattered throughout your route to the location of your next objective. Crysis looked stunning, and allowed you to make explosions that induced nervous glances over your shoulder just to check that no one else can see how video games have turned you into a destructive psycho.

The game world was bountiful with each scene and section being completely different from the last, and then just when you get used to the game’s beauty, it gets covered in snow and ice. I know that gamers who have recently come onto the scene would probably go “meh” and point to many contemporary IP’s which have achieved much of what Crysis has to offer in terms of technology. But it must be remembered that these games exist precisely because Crysis has proven it to be possible. Like Half Life 2, this game set a whole new standard for any developers that sought to push the limits of what video games could do both in visual and mathematical terms and, placed within its context, the game presented itself like nothing we had ever seen up to that point.

Yet I must confess that while I frequently enjoy this game and still gawk at what has been accomplished within, it is not under my top 10 or top 20. Matter of fact, I have only met one person who has admitted that Crysis is one of his all-time favourites (and he hastily added that he always stops playing by the time the aliens show up). Yet I couldn’t quite put my finger on what was bothering me about this beauty until I actually played the game for an hour with all the graphical settings down to the minimum just to get an idea of what actually lies beneath the game’s meticulously detailed façade. It was during that time that I realised it felt like I was playing something totally different.

I get that this is hardly a fair measure from which to form an opinion of a game as the lowest settings is not the product that developers want you to experience, but it made me realise that Crysis uses its graphics a bit too much as a crutch. Without the flashy graphics to beguile me, I noticed the character that the players inhabit, Nomad, felt notably clumsy and slow in how he moved around, and while taking out each outpost full of enemies demands some thinking around how to use the different functions of the suit and how to customise your weapon around your favourite play style, it inevitably gets a bit repetitive in certain bits.

The AI of the Korean soldiers (and particularly the aliens) is also  actually quite predictable, and I ended up resorting to the same weapon and suit combo that enabled me to get through them as quickly as possible just to get a move on to the next section. I also believe that the suit’s power drains far too quickly to achieve any practical level of stealthy gameplay as I often found all hell breaking loose around me because the battery failed. A notable example was when I spent ten minutes sneaking right into the middle of a densely populated Korean base camp when my cloak failed and the nearest soldier started squealing “STRANGER DANGER!!!.”So include the fact that the game had neither puzzle or platforming sections nor engaging cut scenes and you had an IP that was dangerously close to Call of Duty 4, except that COD 4 somehow achieved the same level of action without the flashy graphics.

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“So I have a question about that suit: What happens if you are in maximum strength mode and you fart?”

My final gripe with the game is, yes you are right, the engine. If, like me, in 2007-8 you felt the agony of just having dropped your entire holiday’s worth of “are you enjoying your meal sir” on a spanking new system, only to have it brought to its knees by Crytek’s beast, it was not your PC’s fault. I have seen tons of benchmarks that prove Crysis is actually rather poorly optimised for a wider variety of PC configurations. While it does support 64-bit architecture and can crunch gigaflops of data, the Cryengine only really employs one CPU core thereby rendering your multi-core processor somewhat useless. Also, modifications to the graphics settings take place on a very superficial level which means there is hardly any difference between ‘High’ and ‘Very High.’ This was later fixed somewhat with patching, but, ultimately, the engine mostly relied on brute force computing. You needed a very powerful set of specs to run this game at decent frame-rates that, I believe, only really exists today. Damn future proofing…

Despite the somewhat generic story and poorly optimised engine, if you have a bitchin’ system all the aforementioned annoyances will pale in the broader scheme of the good time this game can give you. Cryteks’s love child remains a totally unexpected, action-packed, sci-fi package that had many people researching bank robberies in an effort to obtain a GeForce 8800 series. I am glad that I own this title and with each upgrade I do, the game runs a bit more smoothly. So at this rate, I should be able to run the game at 30 fps 1080p in… O around three hundred years I think? I hope my great-grandchildren can downgrade to Windows 7.

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