PREVIEWSPillars of Eternity Preview
For Obsidian's crowdfunded love letter to Infinity Engine games like Icewind Dale and Baldur's Gate, I was impressed by its willingness to pull back the curtain and let me see the machinery behind it.
We've all been there. Everyone remembers that mission. You and your partner are climbing up the mountains in the snow, striving to pull some slick clandestine operation about getting some intel on a bad guy, or something similar (because let's face...
The premise of the first game was relatively simple. You and 3 other special forces operatives were dropped into the jungles of a fictional Asian island to investigate the disappearance of a science team that located extraterrestrial technology. The island was teaming with heavily armed North Koreans that you needed to systematically shoot, choke, blow up and otherwise inconvenience. To help you in your journey, you donned a high tech “nano muscle suit” which allowed you to become super strong, jump super high, run super fast and even become invisible. In order to succeed, you had to properly manage these abilities to stealthily murder the enemy and rescue the science team. Unfortunately, near the end of the game, the alien technology awoke and suddenly flash froze the entire island leaving the miserable North Koreans little more than ice statues. You then had to battle the aliens to stop them from openly invading the Earth. Your mission was a failure and now, the aliens have decided to attack openly.
Crysis, released by German game maker, Crytek, in 2007, was a first person shooter that was actually a “technology demonstrator” – a game designed specifically to showcase the abilities of advanced computer rigs running DirectX10. Crysis contained virtually every single graphic and physics trick in the book - many of which haven’t been seen on the home video game consoles to this day. As a testament to its design, you still need an expensive computer with expensive parts to get the full experience from it. The full experience is found in the now iconic: “Very High”mode.
It was the type of game that kids who’ve never owned a gaming computer could never fully fathom. Maps that are literally “kilometers” wide with scattered vehicles to help traverse them. Gameplay that doesn’t hold your hand, help you succeed or forgive mistakes. Enemies that have complex artificial intelligence. Portable nuclear weapons with massive destructive power. Multiplayer matches that could take hours to win – in battles being waged by up to 32 players. Kids nowadays thinkHaloandCall of Dutyare the best FPS games ever. People like me who’ve been playing PC games since the 90’s know better. In fact, you don’t get a fraction of the gameplay on the console that youusedto get on the PC. 1998’s Unreal or Half Life blew Halo away in virtually every way. 1999’sCounter Strikewill still be being played long after the last Call of Duty sequel is shelved. Simply put, unless you’ve played PC, you have no idea what you’ve been missing.
What the PC games have always offered is massive scale and interactivity that you simply don’t find on the consoles due to their technological limitations. Although Crysis didn’t offer the gore I’d have expected from a post-Soldier of Fortunegame, it’s revolutionarily beautiful High definition graphics and advanced physics engine offered a gaming experience that I was almost certain Crysis2 - developed specifically for the consoles - wouldn’t be able to match. I was 100% right. CRYSIS 2’s GAMEPLAYfeels like a hybrid of Crysis andCall of Duty, but, it leans further towards the latter than the former. In this game, you star as “Alcatraz” – U.S. Special forces soldier who survives an alien attack, only to be chosen by Prophet - one of the protagonists from the first game – to don his Nanosuit and use it to help scientists discover the origin of the invading aliens and develop a cure for a biological plague which is literally turning humans to mush. The player customization and rewards system is designed behindCall of Duty’s. You earn experience points (XP) as you play and are later allowed to unlock better weapons. With new weapons unlocked, comes the possibility of unlocking better attachments for those weapons. You want a reflex sight? Unlock it! Want a silencer? Unlock it! The longer you play and experiment with different weapons classes, the more weapons you can access. In the singleplayer game, upgrades are handled similarly, although, you’ll need to kill aliens and collect their tissue's nanocatalysts - another version of XP points.
Killstreaks are rewarded similar toCOD4 too. Kill 3 guys in a row - you can activate a radar that shows your team the entire map. Kill 5 - you can activate an orbital laser ala: Gears of War. Kill 7 and use an airstrike against a portion of the map. It’s virtually aCOD4clone.
The designers used the nanosuit to implement Crysis2’s version ofCOD4’s“perks” system. By playing the game and gaining XP, you unlock perks for your suit. Some allow you to move quieter. Some let you detect enemies as they enter your proximity. More sophisticated perks allow you to see footsteps and paths taken by cloaked enemies. One perk decreases the energy drain speed of your suit. Unfortunately, that last one is a necessity because every single thing you do drains energy. Running drains energy. Jumping drains energy. You can cloak yourself in invisibility and even activate an armor density increase, but, those drain your energy even more. Just moving around causes you to have to consciously balance your energy usage, less you end up vulnerable when enemies are on your tail.
What Crysis2 does do right is making the suit give you a feeling of power in the singleplayer mode. Power jumping emits a springy hydraulic sound. You bash in doors with loud powerful kicks – as if you have no need for door handles. You can see your strengthened hands grab ledges to pull your body up. You can walk up behind enemies and break their necks. The suit is absolutely awesome. Too bad it doesn’t have better batteries. For almost every single cutscene, your suit ends up rebooting and you’re left powerless.
The thing that bothers me about Crysis2 is that it doesn’t offer the same feel of fighting a lesser armed, lesser armored enemy that you got from cutting down the unprepared, human, North Koreans. Killing humans in these games is always more exciting than fighting aliens because it feels more realistic. The main enemies in this game are aliens with their own exosuits and they never offer a tremendous challenge because their behavior falls into only a few categories. Some will rush you for a melee attack, some will try to outflank you and the final type will lay down heavy fire to pin you down. Your most powerful attribute is the ability to cloak perpetually. Aliens on your tail will almost never be able to get the drop on you and you’ll outsmart them continuously. It would have helped if the alien enemies had motion sensors like the Marines inAvP.
I enjoyed the way the original game escalated the conflict rather than giving me an exotic enemy to start with. I enjoyed the way the original gave me a huge, beautifully detailed world to explore – allowing me to approach each situation however I saw fit. Crysis2 on the console doesn’t offer that. Instead, you are limited to scripted events in set piece battles - rather than being able to watch massive battles between opposing sides play out.
The maps are miniscule compared to the original’s and they look like Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare 2’s with more devastation. Small maps with random spawn points mean that you get less time to actually move about before you come in contact with the enemy. Crysis2 could take a lot of lessons from Battlefield2 and maybe evenCoD4:MW2.
And whatever happened to teamwork? In the good ole days, you needed to coordinate with teammates to move around the maps and assault specific control points. Now - you simply start; shoot whoever you happen to see; wash - rinse and repeat. It's just not as exciting as it should be. This is part of the reason I shy away from Team deathmatch modes and prefer to fight alone.
GRAPHICSare excellent for the console, but, disappointing if you've got a gaming PC. Oh yes - they are well rendered, well detailed and have plenty of items that roll around, glass that breaks and water that spills into pools to showcase the effects of the game engine, but, for the most part, these graphics are a pittance compared to what the PC user is getting. This new game engine: “CryEngine3”, at its best, isn’t as good as Crysis’ CryEngine 2 on its medium settings. Draw distances are much lower on CE3 – with some objects popping into existence.