Thursday, March 03, 2011

Maximum Game?

I know that it has been a very, very long time since I last posted here. Not only am I hoping to change that, I have an interesting project in the works. Stay tuned.

I feel a bit guilty that I'm not going to write about the recent uprisings across the Arabic world today, but I'm easing myself back into this - have patience. Today I've got something a little fluffier: first impressions of the Crysis 2 Multiplayer Demo (ugh, aren't I rich and white today?)

Prelude: I still haven't finished Far Cry, but I do own it. I've only ever played the demo portion of Crysis' single-player campaign. A few months ago, I
downloaded the free Crysis Wars multiplayer-only client, which I needed it to play a cool Cryengine remake of this old game Outcast. Of course, I also fooled around with the vanilla Crysis multiplay. For those uninitiated, Crysis is a PC-only
First-Person Shooter in which the player (a US Delta Force operative, callsign "Nomad") is sent to rescue some scientists (who have made a 'wondrous' discovery) from
North Korean forces who have taken control of the islands on which they have been conducting research. Oh yeah: it's 2019 and "Delta Force" means not only are you a
special-forces badass, you're also wearing a state-of-the art "Nanosuit", capable of making you: 1)incredibly resilient to damage, 2)strong enough to flip trucks and jump
like an NBA player in mooon boots, 3) Fast. Usain Bolt fast. 4) Invisible ... but only one of these things at a time. Also, there are frosty aliens who look like the
Sentinels from The Matrix.

In the multiplayer portion of Crysis, it's nanosuit-wearing soldiers versus nanosuit-wearing soldiers (US vs. North Korean knock-off suits*, equal for the purposes of game balance). There are also vehicles on certain maps, depending on the type of game you're playing (the game features Death Matches and a Territorial Control mode). The resource-management aspect of the Nanosuit (it has limited power, and each mode draws power when you take certain actions, e.g., speed mode increases your sprinting speed at the cost of suit energy, Armour soaks damage at the cost of energy, etc.) adds to the game some tactical variety that simply isn't available in a game like Counter-Strike or the various Calls of Duty. The "problem" is, I'm not entirely sure how 'tactical' the game ends up being. Crysis to a large extent espouses a certain amount of simulationism: the nanosuits are camouflaged, and do not stand out against the backdrop of the game. Enemy load-outs are not readily discernable from their silhouette, not at range. Headshots tend to be pretty instantly lethal. In short, it is in many ways like the modern trend toward "realistic" shooters, like the Battlefield series or to a lesser extent, Modern Warfare. The key determinant in success seems to remain fast-twitch reflexes, and not strategic use of the nanosuit.

* I believe these also appear in the Single-Player campaign later on

Crysis 2 is similar to its predecessor. The primary change is that the suit modes are different. Where "Maximum Armour" used to be the default mode, there are now only 3 modes, with "Power" (a combination of speed and strength) now being the default. Armour and Stealth modes now cost energy to run, and are activated by Q and E respectively. A small part of me wants to "Cry" because those buttons really should be for leaning left and right, but alas the ability to lean seems to be a casualty of Consolitis (Crysis 2 is no longer PC-exclusive). I don't think there is any way to drop prone in this game either, which is also a minor sadness. The benefit is that, compared to the awkward radial menu from the first game, switching modes in mid-combat is now (though futile because you're probably dead anyway) possible and not kind of a crap-shoot that requires you to take your finger off the trigger button. I was thinking that the reduction from 4 to 3 suit modes would be another console-centric simplification, but the fact is that Speed Mode was a one-trick pony in Crysis 1; Strength mode increased your mobility with a super-jump but ALSO increased the stability of your weapon aim and the damage of your melee attacks. Speed Mode was useful in the campaign, but it didn't do anything a "sprint" button didn't already do.

I like that Crysis 2 has 6-on-6 team multiplay. I like that it tracks kills AND kill assists. I like that it has a point-scoring system that tracks both kills and objectives into one score. Those are pretty standard features, though. What about the suit modes? Stealth mode enables instant stealth kills from behind, but I suck at stealth so I can't really give you a good idea of how much fun it is (yet). Armour mode...Crysis is a lethal-enough game that if you're in someone's crosshairs you're going to die if you aren't already shooting them, or aren't a headshot wizard. I like that it's there, but I think that the default Power Mode provides better armour in the Sprint function, which makes you functionally very hard to hit (not helped by lag - Crysis 2 is an MP game that may be too pretty for my system even at the lowest setting, and moreover really belongs at LAN parties where latency is a non-issue). Theoretically, I think that Halo: Reach's "suit lock" might be a better model for an ability that actually feels useful.

I'm not sure how I feel about the Call-of-Duty-style XP/promotion/unlock system. Bluntly, it feels like the rich are going to get richer, and in a twitch-based MP game they don't need any help anyways. Not to begrudge people their sense of advancement, but what I liked about Crysis was the premise of modularity and adaptability: from the get-go you could choose a play style in the Single-Player campaign, and the game had suit modes and weapon attachments to go with it. Sneaky Bastard? Stealth mode and silencers! Speed Freak? Speed mode and SOCOM pistols akimbo! Bruiser? Strength mode and FISTS! Sniper? Any suit mode and sniper scopes on EVERY GUN (you could even throw the 8x scope on the shotgun!?). The need to unlock your favoured gear, and even the four basic feels too linear and structured. Anyone who plays long enough will be able to unlock most anything they want, but I just don't think shooters need all that much of a meta-game. This isn't League of Legends, after all. I do like getting "HEADSHOT KILL: 150xp!" as a message, but that's just a copycat feature from Call of Duty, as are the now de-rigeur killstreak awards (doing well at this game? Here have a GAMMA RAY SPACE LASER** because you clearly need the help!). Crysis was, in many ways, the Halo of PC: over-hyped, over-rated, overcompensating for something. Except that Halo has jetpacks and Forge World now, whereas Crysis merely offers more of the same.


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