Crysis 2: Hey Sherlock Superhero, Come Get Some

Forget all you've heard about super-soldiers, Crysis 2 really counts as a superhero game. That's what you played in Crysis, and it's what you play again in Crytek's "aliens chow on Manhattan" sequel. Never mind that your powers come from a nano-suit that looks like a latex honeycomb, or that it makes your gluteus maximus look well-upholstered. You're a jumping tank. You have super-vision. Bullets bounce off you like cigarette stubs. You can leap tall (okay, really small) buildings in a single bound. And you can run like Usain Bolt for short bursts.

I'm playing the Xbox 360 version, which--don't get your nano-roos in a bunch--looks exactly the same as the PS3 version. I won't tease you about the PC version, or what it looks like with an AMD Radeon HD 6990 or Nvidia 580GTX under the hood. Who has that kind of money anyway?

I'm also playing on the highest difficulty setting. All it takes if I step out of cover without my suit armor engaged is a pop or two and it's lights out, reload. I tend to die a lot on purpose. It lets me try new things.

On my first jog through the sunny, summery, militarized starting area facing statue-side of Manhattan Island, I took it easy, hanging back a lot, wandering off-path, and ignoring little crises like bay water flooding the sub the game ferried me in on (the water level hits midway, then stops, leaving you plenty of time to go to the bathroom, have a sandwich, read a book, watch a movie, and take a couple weeks vacation before grabbing the controller and clambering up and out).

For all you comparison shoppers, Crysis 2 definitely looks like Crysis. Shadows and light effects have that same shimmering, super-detailed, slightly granular patina. Looking at the sun underwater evinces gorgeous light rays, or what geeks used to call "god rays" when it was still cool to shout 3D tech out. Tree limbs crack, snap, and fall under gunfire. Coal-black smoke billows voluminously from fires. And whatever lighting tricks Crytek played in Crysis to make the world look atypically realistic as you swing your head around, it's happening in Crysis 2 on the console versions, too.

And it still plays like Crysis, which was as much a game about exploring and improvising (using the engine's advanced object-interactive physics) as stealth-surprising squadrons of opponents or aiming then jumping out of moving, almost-exploded vehicles. Crysis 2 adds a collectibles angle, which riffs on Gears of War's dog tags and adds New York souvenirs, vehicles, and email conversations, so moving through levels works out to be considerably less run-and-gun than Call of Duty and Medal of Honor. Sure, the boats and dividers and barbwire-snaked wall tops hemming the starting area give away the design team's need to impose limits, but within each area are broad swathes of explorable city.

All the respectable object physics from Crysis replicate to the console versions. Bags and tires float. Metal grocery carts don't. You can interact with most stuff, though mostly for fun. Copy machines pretend to copy. Printers pretend to print. Phones play error tones. Tourist viewfinders actually zoom on landmarks, and your suit apparently waives the fee.

The new ledge-grab feature helps you move around and makes you feel more connected to the environment. Stand next to a platform, say a crate or shipping container, and jump--if it's not too high, you'll grab the edge and scramble over. The "connected" theme carries over to cover, too. If you pull up against a low wall while crouching, you'll "stick" to cover, with the option to pull a trigger and peek over, or if you're against a corner, around.

Most of the opening level plays like hide and seek, or tag with bullets, working you through suit functions and showing you how enemies work in teams, radioing after each other, Metal Gear-style. The enemies I'm fighting--they looks like SWAT teams, but I'm still not sure--scan all angles constantly and spot me unless I'm truly hidden. And they move. Most don't wake up then go back to sleep, or follow patrols loops. They stick their noses into everything, and if you rile them up, they come after you, probing and perusing, wending their way between tents, fences, sandbags, sandbag walls, fountains, and the odd New York City tree. The only glitch I've noticed was one poor fool caught against a slightly raised hallway/room divider, stuck in "infinite walk mode," and--along with his buddy--utterly oblivious to the weirdness.

My only serious quibble so far: Vehicles apparently have just two speeds: Stop, and "go really, really fast," which makes driving with any accuracy a major pain. Why you can't modulate incrementally by applying more or less pressure to the gamepad triggers, I couldn't tell you.

Alright, that's me out of things to say. Well, almost: So far it's just as clever, beautiful, punishing, and exhilarating as the original was at its outset. Whether it'll close as strongly and rectify Crysis's terminal shortcomings, well, one thing at a time.

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