Sequel syndrome: Many developers suffer it. Take a highly-successful franchise, add the natural desire to produce a follow-up, and walk the fine line between alienating core fans of the series and boring potential newcomers who weren’t into it to start with. Crytek definitely suffers from Sequel Syndrome. Those who loved the original Crysis (especially on PC) couldn’t help but bring baggage to this new instalment. Expectations and anticipations aside though, Crysis 3 is a solid shooter with natural, refined gameplay mechanics, and balances an enjoyable campaign with satisfying multiplayer modes.
Once again you play as super-soldier Prophet, once a member of Raptor Team. Prophet is now the only one left, as his colleagues have been “skinned” to in order to strip their powers. The setting is a familiar corporate-controlled global nightmare scenario, with recent memories of a war against technologically advanced aliens who are now thought to be eliminated. The conflict has descended into a near-civil war between the CELL corporation and the rebels, who save you early in the game and act as allies throughout. Missions begin with striking out against CELL, but quickly turn to face a much bigger menace as Prophet faces his own indeterminate nature and doubtful loyalties.
The original Crysis wowed players with state-of the-art graphics, beautiful environments, an engaging storyline and innovative stealth and action mechanics revolving around the special abilities of the protagonist’s “nanosuits”. All these core elements are still present in Crysis 3, in refined form. The Nanosuit continues to provide cloaking and armour abilities controlled by shoulder buttons, and which allow for stealth or action playstyles on the fly, limited only by an energy bar that serves both functions. This integrated gameplay is perhaps the most enjoyable aspect of the game: it encourages you to sneak and assassinate enemies in the best tradition of stealth gaming for much of the game. The Nanosuit visor allows you to detect and tag enemies and items on the battlefield so you only get caught unawares if you are not properly prepared, or if reinforcements surprise in the middle of an encounter. If discovered you can easily switch weapons and suit ability for an instant action shooter experience without fumbling through awkward menus.
At the same time, the “play as you like” approach is limited in ways that we often see in stealth shooter mashups. In particular, boss battles are impossible to approach stealthily, and some enemies can see through your cloak, forcing you to adopt an action playstyle. This is clearly a game design decision that imposes versatility on that part of the player, but will almost certainly alienate those looking for a pure stealth experience.
A new weapon for the series – the Predator, a powerful compound bow with recoverable ammunition – provides further stealth opportunities, as it can be fired from a cloaked position without giving away your presence. This adds to the usual melee assassinate option. As with other weapons, you can quickly switch between attachments (arrowheads that explode for anti-tank or antipersonnel effects, or EMP charges) by simply holding the select button. Again this allows for quick adaptation on the battlefield without unwieldy menus. Being able to adjust the draw weight of the bow means that you can alter the damage and, inversely, the speed of the draw, for quick close battles or stealthy kills distance against more powerful opponents. The distance option was always too easy though, and I never felt the need to use the light draw weight.
Further gameplay flexibility comes in the form of perks that do not lock you into a particular playstyle. Instead, it is possible to combine tank-style perks into a “set”, and stealth perks into another, and assign these specialised combinations to a button that is a single menu away. This makes for highly adaptable skillsets that suit a variety of situations. It’s perhaps the best design for making perks available that I’ve seen in a shooter, and is only held back by the seemingly small number of actual perks that can be unlocked. So although the flexibility is there, the actual range feels a bit limited. The resulting adaptability becomes particularly useful towards the end of the game where challenges become more varied.
In general the campaign provides a great playing experience, although the level of challenge is pretty low. I played on the second-hardest setting and only died a couple of times right at the end. As fun as it is to pick off enemies or stalk them for a quiet kill, the Predator bow felt overpowered and stealth was always too easy, even against brutes. Enemy AI is simply medieval, and needs much more work to provide any kind of challenge or interest to a stealth player. Vehicle sequences are more frustrating than fun, and can easily be skipped; fortunately, they’re not often compulsory. The only two boss battles near the end provide sharp difficulty spikes as the bosses just soak up a phenomenal amount of firepower, and in contrast to much of the game’s spirit these sequences demanded only action shooter playstyles.
Nonetheless, the campaign experience is highly enjoyable, and is complemented by well-designed multiplayer. It is perhaps a bit harder to dominate through stealth as most players tend to prefer quick movement and verticality, but the core mechanics of the game translate well into the multiplayer experience, despite some balance issues. Best of all, camping is almost impossible, and there are some major adjustments to the usual FPS formula. There is still enough versatility and variety, however, to make the multiplayer experience highly playable, even if it might be hard to find a match for Australian players.
All up, unless you carry warm memories of the original Crysis like a talisman, you are likely to enjoy Crysis 3. It offers highly refined gameplay and huge flexibility between stealth and action shooter experiences, even if the challenge bar is too low and the AI needs a serious brain transplant. Environments are wonderful, and the technical achievements in visual and sound design are matched by game design that offers some of the best singleplayer and multiplayer experiences around.