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Designers fret over freeform games because their ability to predict AI behavior goes out the window. Not a problem (or less so) in Crysis.
Enemy soldiers function as well alone as they do in squads, responding to sound or motion and probing in groups instead of suicidally investigating solo. In firefights, teams deftly flank and assault, moving expertly between cover points and doggedly attempting to ring you with enfilade fire. The Korean People's Army (KPA) you're battling over most of the game is never less than crackerjack.
In contrast, the enemies you fight toward the end (which I won't spoil here) may look indelibly cool and at least initially put up a decent fight, but by the end of the game they're all flex and no finesse, turning winning into pattern recognition. It's a bummer that the eeriest bad guys are also the dumbest, but if you're familiar with Crytek's last game, Far Cry, you probably saw that one coming.
The only other problem is the KPA's seeming apathy to events unfolding in the broader scheme of things. There's a point midway through the game where events start to go wrong in...well, let's just say an "environmental" sense. The AI just ambles around like it's another sunny day in the South Pacific, which can be a little surreal when, comparatively speaking, you're picking your jaw up off the table.
Supporting up to 32 players on a map, Crysis ships with two basic multiplayer modes. "Instant Action" is effectively a kill-or-be-killed (deathmatch) setup and useful mostly for getting acquainted with different weapons and tactics (if that sounds obvious, it's not--the nanosuit changes everything).
"Power Struggle," by contrast, takes Battlefield-style theater objectives (e.g., destroy the enemy's base) and weds them to a sophisticated resource-control tactic that has teams jockeying for control of alien energy at crash sites, which in turn feed prototype centers that yield advanced weapons and vehicles.
You start with just a pistol, but over time you can spend points accrued by scoring kills or holding key points to buy better weapons. It's all intensely team-driven, and perfect for players who enjoy large maps and sessions that can last for hours as map control seesaws. When the nukes come out (yes, nukes), Power Struggle may entail the giddiest iteration of "pile on" play yet seen in a PC game.
It's tempting to give Crysis a pass for all it gets right, but you learn more from what a game doesn't do well.
Take the game's extremely advanced 3D engine. Crysis looks like something that had to be time-warped back from a future where average PCs can actually run it. The bad news is, average PCs today can't. You can ignore the game's already steep "minimum requirements" and use its more realistic recommended list as your baseline, which for a lot of folks means that the cost to play this game probably just went up by hundreds or even thousands of dollars.
Occasionally you'll encounter sequences in the game where a helicopter flies in and chases you through the jungle or around a village. Trouble is, while land-based opponents are as hindered as you are by terrain and flora, enemy helicopters are inexplicably omniscient, leading to sequences where you'll be chased with preposterous accuracy around trees, rocks, and cliffs, whether you're cloaked or hidden stock-still. Having helicopters run search sweeps over broad areas would have been a better compromise than giving the pilots x-ray vision.
The most serious problem, though, is the way Crysis starts in kilometer-size jungle areas but ends on a claustrophobic aircraft carrier, complete with "Sorry, that's locked, you shall not pass!" doors and blocked-off passageways. After a depressingly conventional end sequence, you have to fight the obligatory super-size-me "boss" yoked to gimmicky patterns to which you must react or die. To be fair, the later levels work fine on their own--they just feel out of place in this game after so many hours of tactical spontaneity.
Best Shooter? Who Cares?
Everyone wants to experience the genre-defining game. Crysis isn't that title, but it is a marked improvement over the ideas its designers danced around but failed to realize years ago in Far Cry. Whether it's the best shooter in a year packed with benchmark raisers comes down to whether you take your story strong with lots of narrative hand-holding (that's another game, and it's called BioShock) or you prefer making it up as you go along in bullet-tattooed vehicles among toppled trees and methodically bulldozed villages.
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