Long live Laurence Barnes.
I completed Crysis 3 in one long, sweaty-palmed sitting. I feel as though it's significant to mention this, not as some lazy way of critiquing its length-to-price ratio, but as a whole-hearted compliment. Sure, I've had to crunch long play sessions to keep up with my workload before (comes with the job), but this is the first time in far too long that I've rolled the credits after one continuous session. Crysis 3 isn't perfect; it's a tad too easy and the plot was more than a bit silly. But I simply couldn't stop playing it, and I can't wait to play it again.
The story begins over 20 years after the conclusion of Crysis 2, with Prophet, now the last living nanosuit soldier, being held in containment by Cell, the PMC-turned-conglomerate that was hunting him and his, uhhh…, host body throughout the last game. Your old pal and former subordinate, Psycho, comes to bust you out so you can help him and his band of scrappy resistance fighters overthrow Cell, who through the manipulation of alien power sources has leveraged a slave-like control over society.
The writing and voice work go a long way to sell this farce of a plot, but it's tolerable. It starts out ridiculous, then takes several turns for the implausible, only to plant its flag proudly on the chalky, dust-swept lands of the preposterous by game's end. Thankfully, the two characters in the thick of it all manage to show some real heart, grounding all the far-flung plot devices with a surprisingly human story, something the series has never been known for and never really attempted. Hammy though it can be, Psycho's struggle with his own mortality and Prophet's struggle with his lack thereof are the only things that elevate the tale beyond simply being a reason to go out and blow stuff up.
But the truth of the matter is that you won't need reasons, at least not any reasons beyond the stellar, insidiously addictive combat. Crysis 1 provided a wealth of neat abilities, but was set in a world so open that it was sometimes hard to find opportunities to use them all. Crysis 2 added even more sweet skills and attempted to create stages that housed more chances to apply them, though they dialed back the freedom a bit too much. Crysis 3 continues to build on Prophet's lethal toolset, while giving players back some of the the freedom they lost from 1 to 2. Fans of the original still won't be satisfied if they're looking for a return to the open-world format, but I'd still dare them to say that these levels feel limited or constricting.
From wide-open, sun-dappled fields of tall grass, to maze-like tangles of rain-slicked stairwells, Crysis 3 offers up a set of locales that look as diverse as they play. Even the smaller areas still feel like sandboxes because you can tackle them in so many different ways. To say you can “be stealthy or go guns blazing” is practically a rehearsed marketing line more than an impressive gameplay feature nowadays, and the phrase does little to describe the freeform way in which you can change up your tactics in Crysis 3. There simply isn't another shooter that gives you this many abilities, weapons, and gadgets, and each map is designed to be a playground that facilitates your every superhuman whim.
If there's a problem with the gameplay, it's how all that power can lead to lopsided encounters once you figure out how to make optimal use of your tools. Cloaking at will, stealth takedowns, hacking into sentry turrets—the list of expedient ways to elude and eliminate your foes is a long one, and none of them are more potent than the new tech bow. It's a silent, all-range, "one shot, one kill" death dealer with reusable ammo that can be fired while cloaked. You can blow through armor with thermite-tipped rounds, overload robotic or water-treading foes with shock arrows, or even circumvent cover with air-fragmenting shots, all without giving away your position.
Once you get comfortable with switching warheads and draw strength settings on the fly, which is as wonderfully seamless as all the weapon customization, you'll swear you've got cheat codes activated or something. But as empowering as it is, it sometimes threatens to trivialize the presence of all the other weapons, which is a shame because together, they offer a wide array of cool features as well.
By certain criteria, this makes Crysis 3 an easy game, but that really depends on what you think a challenge should be. If you want a reflex check or an exacting game of trial and error, you'll be disappointed on both fronts. Ultimately, Crysis 3 might be the world's most vicious puzzle game, one with a sizable number of pieces and a rule set that shifts depending upon how you move them. Sure, Call of Duty or Halo on their highest difficulty settings may demand more “skill”, but neither are as tactically engaging.
And here's the boring part of the review, the one where I tell you how achingly gorgeous CryEngine 3 looks with native DirectX 11 support right out of the gate (rather than being patched in like Crysis 2). Insert your hyperbole of choice folks, it still won't suffice. Surprising approximately nobody, Crysis 3's visuals defy description. Where Crysis 1 was an expression of technical wizardry and Crysis 2 was more a display of artistry, this one marries the two to create a look that will be nigh-impossible to emulate, let alone top, though I doubt that will stop others from trying.
Despite all the impressive effects and expansive vistas, I was surprised by how well it ran on my laptop after fiddling with the settings. I've got a lower-end second-generation i7 processor, 12GB of system memory, and a GTX 670m video card with 3GB of GDDR5, and at 1600×900 with texture resolution maxed and all other effects set to medium or high, I still blazed through at around 60fps even when things got hectic. At 1920×1080, I had to turn some effects to low in order to stay playable, but keep in mind that the 670m is a far cry from its desktop counterpart. Also keep in mind that Crytek literally goes out of their way to melt your computer, but the results are there on-screen if your rig can hang. Even if it can't and you have to tone it down a bit, the game is still a stunner, thanks to some great art direction.
And while I'm not usually a fan of competitive multiplayer (unless it involves dragon punches or fireballs), I actually found it enjoyable in Crysis 3 because of the way the campaign's best qualities carry over. It does sacrifice a tiny measure of eye candy in favor of performance, but it still looks gorgeous, and with all the same abilities at your disposal, the fights are frantic and fun. New modes like the infection-style Hunter shake things up a bit, but really, it's the mix of familiar genre features and unique mechanics that keep it enjoyable. If you like the ubiquitous perks and unlocks that come with the territory, but want something a little more dynamic, you'll find Crysis 3's multiplayer to be a pleasant diversion.
As this looks like the end for the franchise, I couldn't help but reflect upon it as the credits began to roll. Crysis truly is one of the most misunderstood and under-appreciated AAA franchises of the past several years. I think the fans it initially attracted had a lot to do with this. The only people who could even run the original, and hence, the only ones who could sing its praises, were folks with unimaginably powerful, custom-built gaming PCs. And when Crysis 2 shipped without DX 11 support and a more streamlined approach to level design, I think its original fan base all but deserted it, while its perceived status as being an exclusive club for the PC elite kept new potential fans at bay.
My advice is not to make that mistake with Crysis 3, because in terms of both graphics and gameplay, I honestly can't think of another shooter that does quite what it does. And despite the second-rate plot, Prophet possesses a surprising amount of pathos, especially compared to his voiceless, grunting contemporaries who enjoy near household recognition.
“My name is Laurence Barnes.” he says solemnly, as the screen fades to black. “Some called me Prophet. Remember me.”
I believe I will, Laurence, and I don't think I'll be the only one either.