Crysis 3 (Xbox360)

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If there’s one thing that the Crysis series of first-person shooters is known for, it’s the graphics. While other games on PC and console have demonstrated tour de force visuals and passed the graphics crown amongst themselves, Crytek’s shooters have always been the monarchs-in-waiting. The Crysis style of suit-based ability gameplay has remained a cornerstone of the franchise, too, giving players the chance to enhance capabilities for stealth, speed and strength on a whim, and as a given gunfight dictates.

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What the Crysis series isn’t known for, however, is a consistent scale to its settings or a well developed plot, while developer Crytek has inconsistently managed to successfully harness exciting gameplay possibilities inherent in the series’ premise of a technologically enhanced super soldier able to adapt combat strategies on-the-fly, with potentially rewarding and challenging second-to-second decisions as the result.

Keeping these series trends in mind, Crysis 3 is something of a known quantity, save for the excellent multiplayer gameplay that exhibits the potential that seems to have eluded Crytek all these years.

This is Not My World

The story of Crysis 3 concerns a future Earth controlled by a military faction known as CELL, and the game paints a very bleak picture for the planet’s inhabitants with a system of indentured service in exchange for power having ensured Earth’s citizens belong to this organisation. Mysterious experiments continue in New York City, however, after the events of Crysis 2 and an invasion by the alien Ceph, and while the sprawling metropolis (and the extraterrestrial threat) have been contained in an enormous biodome, a resistance group seeking to destabilise CELL soon unwittingly ‘awakens’ the dormant Ceph leading to another full-scale war.

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Your part in the skirmish is as Prophet, a Nanosuit-wearing super soldier who long ago gave up his own humanity to protect Earth, but is now going through a bit of a meltdown with ‘prophetic’ visions and difficult questions being asked of him by old and new friends alike. The story leading up to and during Crysis 3 is rather nonsensical, though, and plot revelations are delivered so suddenly and dramatically that I found myself getting more than a little confused about their importance while trying to trace them back to their roots.

This is Not My Fight

Why should I care about this resistance group that I’ve just been introduced to? How did CELL so rapidly take over the planet, unchecked? Why is the Ceph so interested in Earth in the first place? These and many more questions remained on my brain from start to finish, and the overwrought voice acting and melodramatic posturing by the characters of Crysis 3 seemed especially out of place. It’s as though the voice actors weren’t fully informed about the meaning and importance of the lines they were reading, which makes following the story all the more difficult.

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The plot informs the settings of Crysis 3, which means you’ll spend most of your time under the cover of New York City’s biodome while exploring the once thriving, but now derelict and abandoned capital. Nature has reclaimed the city and foliage peeks out from cracks in the walls, vast plains of grass have replaced tarmac and concrete, trees and bushes have made homes in the collapsed rubble of skyscrapers, while peaceful streams and raging rivers run in-between immense fissures in the ground. This is a city broken, now lying in ruins after being ravaged by the Ceph invasion years ago.

Restrain Yourself to Maximum Power

It’s still an occupied city, however, and CELL soldiers and technology will make your attempt to cripple the establishment all the more difficult, which is where your suit powers come in handy. With the chance to cloak into near invisibility and enforce your defences with heavy armour at the push of a button, Prophet’s Nanosuit is made for all kinds of combat situations, imbuing the wearer with super strength and agility, too. Leaping up walls and clambering over ledges while sprinting through gunfire and explosions is just another day for Prophet, and the ability to scan an environment for hostiles, ammunition and objectives is another important weapon in his arsenal.

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With all of this power, though, it’s very difficult to make full use of it. The beginning of Crysis 3 is the game’s least impressive showing, forcing you to weave through claustrophobic metal corridors and rooms while taking down human soldiers, before very slowly opening up into more expansive areas and providing menacing aliens and mechanical creatures to destroy. For some reason, Crytek only truly allows you to unleash the potential of decision-based Nanosuit gameplay towards the middle of Crysis 3 which is where the game is at its very best.

Quickly assessing the situation before you and painting targets with a clear view of the surroundings, before systematically picking off targets from afar (and then annihilating them up close) is when Crysis 3 ‘clicks.’ Rushing up to a group of enemies, putting up armour and unloading shotgun shells into your quarry is just plain fun, but you then have the option of rapidly descending into stealth by putting up cloak and sneaking around to flank another group of unwitting foes. Working for your kills by leaping from ledge to ledge to get the drop on them makes the final assault sweeter, and the explosion of purple Ceph viscera following a perfect headshot is supremely satisfying.

The Opposite of Fun

So why has Crytek opted to force players to muscle down hours of closed areas, with only brief glimpses at ‘what could have beeen’ sprinkled throughout? I soon found myself getting into a routine of entering a new area, scanning for enemies, moving about in stealth to take down the majority of the threats and then cleaning up the stragglers, with very little options for variance. In tight areas, I didn’t feel at all free to let my abilities loose with an overwhelming sense that I was simply playing ‘wrong.’ In those later open areas, however, all restrictions melted away and I was playing very, very right.

To add customisation options and a chance to enforce your own playstyle on the game, Crysis 3 allows you to unlock additional in-game perks to enhance armour, weapon handling, cloak time, tactical awareness, hardiness and more, but I never felt the changes I made had a significant impact on the gameplay. Weapon customisation is also an option, but you’ll be swapping between weapons so frequently that it doesn’t really make sense to spend time sweating over your configurations. Placing importance on a small set of weapons would have helped me grow attached to one or the other in the long run.

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This weapon focus could have been left to the newly introduced bow of Crysis 3, but with limited ammunition available using this weapon was usually reserved for special occasions, which lead me to forget that I even had the thing most of the time. With four ammo types ranging from explosive to electricity-based, the bow works well but I would have liked to see a greater emphasis on this weapon with more customisation to make it truly feel like an important part of my arsenal.

With a mystifying and melodramatic story accompanied by meagre voice acting (and my pick for most annoying sidekick of 2013), mismatched gameplay and a lot of unfocussed peripheral features, the Crysis 3 campaign feels like it missed so many opportunities to truly exploit the potential of the premise, despite glimmers of greatness and combat satisfaction. I felt frustrated during a lot of it, and disturbed at other times by the very unstable framerate as Crytek throttled my Xbox to push out the visuals, with peculiar graphical anomalies and sound glitches the result.

So then what’s so great about Crysis 3?

Crysis 3 Multiplayer is the Answer

Where does the potential of Crysis 3 lie? In the competitive online multiplayer portion of the game. I thoroughly enjoyed the multiplayer of Crysis 2 because it alluded to that rare promise of next generation gameplay, going hand-in-hand with astounding visuals that let us peek at the future of next-gen graphics, too. In Crysis 3 multiplayer, your suit abilities are fully unleashed and careening through combat arenas and throwing yourself from heights to slam down into the ground below is a joy.

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Spotting an enemies from the corner of your eye and chasing them through the excellently designed levels by vaulting over walls and making quick work of ledges is handled superbly and facing off against your prey with armour up always seemed like a test of skill, rather than a test of trigger finger. Stalking and out-flanking opponents in cloak is a thrilling affair and breaking stealth before destroying enemies with gunfire, melee attacks and well-placed grenades plays out with satisfaction to match the best that Call of Duty, Halo and Battlefield can offer.

I had no trouble finding players online and getting into any of the eight game types (with variants and rotation lobbies included) was very easy, and the twelve available maps (made of up returning favourites, new areas and repurposed campaign levels) all seem different enough from one another in both design, features and visuals. I generally prefer objective-based game types because they move players around a map and allow you to find others more easily, but deathmatch and team deathmatch work well, too.

Same Old, Same New

Crysis 3 multiplayer follows the same career progression as other online shooters, tasking you with playing games, earning experience points (by earning kills, performing headshots, contributing to team mission objectives and more), unlocking perks (like silent footsteps, combat awareness and others) and customising your loadout of weapons and configurations, with a primary, secondary and grenade type available.

Crytek has made a further step into social challenges (similar to Need For Speed’s Autolog system) by revealing the accomplishments of players on your friends list, while tasking you with randomly selected challenges, too. If you can beat the challenge and outplay your friends, you’ll be rewarded with all-important experience points. It’s a clever system and an evolution of what was available in Crysis 2, and the game’s consistent tests of skill with clear goals for you to try out make every match something new as you change your strategy to achieve them.

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I truly believe that between the singleplayer and multiplayer of Crysis 3, the online portion of the game is the better of the two halves despite the production of the campaign. Being free to use your suit abilities and rapidly change up your approach to ever-changing combat situations makes for a challenging test of skill with very satisfying, second-to-second decisions as your reward. If there was a time for Crysis to make in-roads into competitive multiplayer, Crysis 3 is the game to do it.

Alpha Ceph, Omega Gameplay

With a campaign that rattles along unsurely for under six hours and asks great things of your imagination and patience, the singleplayer offering in Crysis 3 only briefly shines brightly enough to reveal what Crytek has been trying to achieve with the series all these years, but the environments, enemies and potential gameplay remain at odds with one another for too long for the game to confidently find its footing. A shaky beginning, inconsistent framerate and technical issues, a confusing story (and questionable voice acting) and a lack of focus on its core features all make the astounding roller coaster ride difficult to work through.

Crysis 3 multiplayer, however, makes the game worthwhile in the long run and maximises the vision of the series’ suit abilities, honing them for online competition and raw fun. While the campaign contains some stellar set-piece moments and (eventually) visuals to impress even the most hardened graphics junkie, it’s the online gameplay that will keep the Crysis 3 disc in your tray for months to come.