“Ain’t got Time to Bleed!”
Advances in technology are a fact of life, and one that I tend to have trouble with. This blog could be considered a manifestation of this, as in an era where many people would take to YouTube to chronicle a game experience, here I am sitting here banging out words for people to actually read. Novel, isn’t it? And while video is flashy and confers many advantages, chief among them being the fact that more will consume that style of content, I cannot help but be drawn to reading a good article from time to time.
Now this coming from someone who still has a flip phone may mean very little by itself. But what happens when those tried and true habits of old, replaced with the New and Flashy technology of today are suddenly needed? What occurs when reliance on these new innovations create habits that may trap you into a false comfort, ultimately putting you in a bad or desperate situation when you least expect it?
Crysis masterfully pulls this off in a way I seldom see in a genre that is often accused of playing it safe. You begin the game overpowered to such an extent that you feel like a kid kicking down those anthills, only to figure out later on that those mounds were hiding something way scarier than a few insects. And it feels…..Great. The best action movies are often built in a way that the audience is shown a premise, only to then have your expectations be completely subverted in a way that surprises you, catches you off guard. It becomes that big, dumb, schlocky action film that stays with you long after the credits roll, enjoying mentions and discussions years after it’s debut. And while the release buzz may have centered around amazing setpieces and over the top special effects, it’s longevity proves that under this surface examination lies a deeper, more unifying experience at the heart of this major blockbuster.
Welcome to the Jungle
I never had an opportunity to play Crysis when it was first released. With a PC that could be charitably described as a “potato” and a Wii, there was no way I was the guy who was going to answer the question “….But can it run Crysis?” with anything but a mumbled “No”. And at the time, that was okay, as my last major experiences with FPS games would have been Doom on the SNES (not ideal) and games of Goldeneye and Perfect Dark at my cousin’s or friends house. FPS’s on home consoles had yet to hit their stride in a major way back then and my PC wasn’t able to run much beyond Solitaire, so as a result I was left with a pretty uncharitable view of the genre as a whole.
As a result, when I heard that Crysis was going to be on the Switch, I was pretty shocked and excited, especially seeing that Saber Interactive was working on the conversion. There was one problem: No physical version. Disappointed, I moved on with my life and didn’t think about the game again until one day, browsing Amazon, there it was: Crysis Remastered for the Nintendo Switch, for $39.99. I ordered it, and once it arrived, on the shelf it went, waiting for it’s moment to be put through the paces.
One of my most utilized gaming habits is Genre Cycling. Rather than just sticking to one game genre specifically, I will switch it up (hahaha)game to game. So I may play a Visual Novel, and the next game might be a more intense game such as an FPS or action game. In the background I am also usually playing a more long-term game such as a long RPG as well. The reason for this is to avoid burnout, considering I have almost 300 games to go through on this journey, and that number will only grow. The time was now, and I could fill it in my bones. It was time for a FPS. I knew the first game I was going to reach for.
My flight to the Jungles of Lingshan Islands was booked and ready….
The Deadliest Predator
You are a Special Forces soldier from Raptor Team on a mission to rescue a team of scientists from a North Korean Invasion force that has occupied the island and is excavating something big on the mountain. It is often described as an open world game, and while not entirely true, the missions take place in maps that are absolutely massive in sprawl, enabling free movement and decision making in how you want to get to your marked goal. Vehicles are available, enemy camps are set up at various points, and foliage is thick enough to hide in. So do you want to snake around the beach and do a thorough reconnaissance? Do it. Want to take a gunboat across the harbor and shortcut it? You can do that, too. It’s all left up to the player to navigate the space in a manner of their choosing.
Layered onto this freedom of movement is the suit itself, Set in the future year of 2020 (oof), you are given a prototype suit that enhances your soldiering, and this suit will become an essential tool in hoe you choose to navigate the first act. There are four modes available to you. Stealth Mode allows you to cloak Predator-Style and masks your enemies ability to properly sight you, especially at a distance. Armor Mode enables a shield to take fire instead of your health bar, letting you get in touch with your inner Rambo. You also have s Speed mode enabling blitzes and retreats, as well as a quick strafe to avoid gunfire. Finally Strength Mode allows you to Jump high and reach vantage points, Throw Objects with deadly force, and grab enemies for use as a Human Shield.
These systems all synergize to make just about every playthrough a different experience, and allow a diversity of tactics not often seen in a shooter. Imagine jumping into a vehicle and activating stealth mode, getting in a vehicle, and driving into an enemy encampment, jumping out, and tossing a grenade as the enemies gather around to investigate the mysterious ghost car. Or jumping onto a roof and punching your way though it to jump down into the structure once spotted, speeding into the building opposite, and then using your cloak to snipe them from the opposite side of the map. The arsenal is also diverse and comes with attachments to further customize your experience, allowing you to tailor your guns on the fly to your current approach. It’s a marvelous layer of systems that truly enable to player to tell their story on the island.
A Reversal of Fortunes
As you traverse the first act, there are signs that there is more at play than what is initially seen. Soldiers, both your own and North Koreans alike are found butchered together, a cargo ship is found frozen in a mountain pass, and strange dronelike fliers are seen attacking friends and foes alike. Escalation of events, in both the story and in the in-game action is handled very well, and to me is reminiscent of a game like Contra, beginning with throwing grunts and vehicles at you, progressing to more heavy duty armor and more specialized soldiers as the mission progresses. Tactics will be altered but nothing is thrown at you that you cannot handle as long is you fight smart and utilize your suit. You become used to the feeling of being the strongest thing on the island, feeling like the Predator hunting Duke and Company. A final confrontation with the general in charge of the North Korean forces commences. You win, roll credits.
The game absolutely could have ended there and been a complete experience. But then, it happens. Revelations are arrived at, a new enemy is introduced, and you are put in a position of fighting for your life against an overwhelmingly powerful opponent. You go from a mission that has been a nonstop advance toward the mountain, to a quick and desperate retreat as you fight for your life. The tactics employed with your suit no longer effective, serving only to keep you from dying immediately, and with the old tactics no longer working, you reach down deep into your tried and true shooter tactics, hone in, and get in the zone. Both narratively and in execution, Crysis sets up this false sense of security brilliantly, spending 2/3rds of the experience feeling like a badass before yanking the carpet out from under you and sending you bruised, battered, and running for cover.
In keeping with this change the game does lose some of the openness that I also came to appreciate, adopting a more brisk blockbuster pace as events race towards their final conclusion. I can see how this will disappoint many, but given the structure of the game I understand and respect this decision. Stages become more linear and focused, and as a result the last act of the game will blaze by, not letting you up until the very end. By the time the real credits roll, we are honestly left with more questions than answers, and the cliffhanger ending is one of the steepest drops I have ever encountered in a game. I despise when this happens, as games should be experiences that can feel complete on their own, and here we are left with almost no closure on how this particular situation ends.
Technically speaking, I am shocked that this game plays on the Switch at all, and especially as well as it does. Crysis was held up for years as the bar for technical excellence and achievement by sneering PC Snobs, and I see why. There is no way a game should look this good when it came out in 2007. Sunlight streams in over photorealistic foliage. Wildlife inhabits the island, trees sway in the breeze and can even be shot down. Environments are almost fully destructible, and the Island showcases a variety of times, climates, and lighting that keeps things from getting too stale and predictable.
From an auditory perspective the game shines as well, with a soundtrack that kicks in during the more intense setpeices, and fades in into the background when less is going on. This allows cooperation with the outstanding sound design, letting the ambience of the island shine through in between shootouts. The sound effects such as the gun reports and explosions also deliver in effective and convincing ways.
The games AI operates in effective and convincing ways, with enemies investigating suspicious activity and alerting allies when you are spotted. There is the occasional shooterbrain enemy, in particular when you are at a higher elevation, but overall I was pleased with the enemies. The game also approaches difficulty in a unique way. Rather than upping damage to you and upping enemy health bars, the game instead takes away HUD indicators and features, with the penultimate difficulty making the enemy soldiers speak to one another in Korean. All said Saber Interactive did an outstanding job with the port, as barring a few framerate hiccups, some motion blurring, and a serious battery drain in portable mode, I didn’t notice much of anything that limited my enjoyment of the game. Being able to take this one on the go is an incredible achievement they should be proud of.
The Fight Goes On
As I reflect on my time with Crysis, I am left with mixed feelings. As a game, it is undeniably of high quality, and left me with many moments that I will remember fondly. From the harrowing night time hike back up the river for extraction while low on ammo, with a helicopter trailing me the entire time, to leading an all out dawn assault on a series Anti Aircraft guns, the game is filled with amazing moments generated by the players choices and decision, unique to each one. It’s also a technical miracle, operating on portable hardware. At the same time, the cliffhanger really dampened my final moments in this world, forcing a purchase of another game to conclude a story that another chapter or two could have concluded in a satisfactory way.
Yet despite this hangup, it’s hard not to recommend this to Switch players looking for a good shooter in a library that honestly needs as many of these as it can get. Crysis is a game that lets each player tell their own story, and gives you all the tools to do just that. It will also challenge you in surprising ways, and make you dwell on our reliance of technology, and whether that will ultimately become a saving grace, or a crutch that when removed will cause our fall. It’s an experience that makes you dig deep, using pacing and circumstance to let you experience life as Both Predator and Prey. For action fans, don’t miss this trip to the Jungle. And don’t be shocked when upon completion, you dive back in.