Crytek’s Crysis (2007) has an impressive and lasting legacy – assuming you take the good with the bad. It’s both revered and disliked in equal measure, though even those that dislike it as a game would still agree it was an impressive technical achievement that redefined targets for visual quality. My first experience with Crysis played out as well as you could expect for a console gamer who had only invested in a middling desktop PC for university and work. For what it’s worth, I could “run” Crysis – just at dismal and wildly variable framerates on the lowest settings. As a result, I quickly gave up.
It was only the simultaneous release of Crysis 2 on PC and the 6th-gen consoles in 2011 that reignited my interest in the IP. Going into the sequel with few expectations, I enjoyed it and, seven months later, immediately picked up the Crysis “console remaster”, giving me my first complete, if compromised playthrough of the much-vaunted original four years late. Based on my distant memory, the experience was… fine but, as with the launch of Crysis 2, I mostly recall the complaints from PC purists about changes to the scale of the environments, the visuals, and streamlined gameplay elements.
After finally picking up the remastered “Crysis Trilogy” earlier this year, I dutifully replayed the original on Xbox Series hardware as it now – supposedly – exceeded the visual splendour of the PC original, allowed you to toggle between manual and automatic power activation, offered a 60fps mode on all next-gen consoles, and had the missing “Ascension” level patched in. I figured this time, surely, I would be able to give Crysis a fair assessment.
The one element that always surprises me about the Crysis games is just how seriously they take their story, despite the central premise of stoic men in power armour – most of whom are cliched masculine archetypes – taking on tentacled alien invaders to save humanity. To its credit, the original Crysis starts off slow and builds up tension. It hints at an alien threat early on but you’ll spend 70% of your total playtime fighting North Korean soldiers and completing rather mundane military objectives. You infiltrate enemy camps, steal deployment data, rescue hostages, destroy air defences to make way for a ground invasion, and later fight alongside marines and other special force operatives.
There are frequent story beats that provide all the context you need for each gameplay scenario, but the bulk of it is bland. You follow orders from military leaders that have personalities pulled from popular films, with the bulk of mid-mission dialogue consisting of familiar pseudo-military chatter. Then you hit the halfway point in the story – really the final third if you go by playtime – and things get distinctly weirder. You find yourself floating through an ancient alien starship emerging from slumber; running from an expanding, flash-freezing energy bubble; listening to vaguely-scientific explanations about the nature of the threat; and then hit a cliffhanger ending that has the most important character in the series flying off back to the island – a significant gap in the trilogy if you don’t read the follow-up comic.
It’s a jarring change of pace, the writing quality deteriorates from bland military fiction to rubbish sci-fi, and the entire finale feels rushed and underdeveloped. Even if you don’t like the gameplay changes, the sequels at least offer better-written, better-paced, and more cohesive narratives.
Dated but satisfying sandbox shooting
Although the 2020 remastered version of Crysis still plays like a game developed circa 2007, there’s is a lot to like about the gameplay loop in the opening half – assuming you’re someone who prefers sandbox freedoms over a string of flashy set pieces. Crysis funnels you in and out of vast open areas – sometimes kilometres across – with the narrow stretches used to direct your view to important locations and spam you with expository radio messages, while the open areas provide you multiple routes to reach key objectives or tackle optional objectives on the way.
These open sections – often with sweeping views across or down valleys as the sun rises or sets – are both a gameplay and visual highlight as you ghost through forests in stealth mode, storm villages and outposts in armour mode, commandeer a boat to escape pursuing troops, team up with marines and use a tank to punch through fortifications, or provide V-TOL cover for friendly convoys. If you’ve got the patience, it’s also one of those games that let you take the long route around the outskirts of each area – often spending ages swimming or crouch-walking – to completely circumvent many encounters. It’s a design you’ll rarely see today.
For the bulk of your playtime, you’ll be relying on the exo-suit powers to keep you alive, with the ability to cloak by far the most useful. You can ghost right past many enemies, thin out stragglers and move into an optimal position before starting a firefight, or just get out of trouble when things go south. The gunplay is never more than competent but, coupled with the armour mode, the run-and-gun approach can be fun enough. On balance, Crysis plays like a tactical experience as you don’t have a massive health pool – even on easier difficulties – and taking fire rapidly depletes suit energy needed to sustain the different modes.
Unfortunately, Crysis has limited and often exploitable enemy AI; it relies on cheap ambushes to increase the difficulty (damnable cloaked enemies!); and has a poorly balanced arsenal. There are set-piece moments where a rocket launcher or mini-gun is a must, but given most battles play out at medium- to long-range, and ammunition is limited for special weapons, you’ll likely spend 80% of the game with the North Korean “FY71” assault rifle taking up one of only two primary weapon slots – customised with a silencer and scope to cover all your bases.
Going off (on) the rails
What surprised me the most, especially in light of the criticism levelled at Crysis 2, was how linear and scripted the final third of Crysis is. From the moment you set foot in the mine holdout of the senior North Korean commander, you’re effectively on the rails for the next three or so hours it takes to reach the credits.
You’ll wander through narrow mine shafts, experience annoying zero-G combat inside an alien spaceship, run between heat sources in a frozen landscape, and take part in a desperate evacuation using both ground vehicles and a V-TOL – a dark and staggeringly boring level that could have stayed cut. All the sandbox elements are ditched and you’re always pushed forward. It makes narrative sense but, stripped of sandbox options, it only serves to highlight the average gunplay and wonky AI behaviour when involved in mass combat.
The ending sequence on an aircraft carrier is the worst offender. You walk through winding corridors and listen to pseudoscience babble and military jargon for 10 minutes, then run through the burning ship gunning down Ceph in tight corridors, backtrack to fetch a powerful weapon that would have been useful earlier, and then fight back up to the flight deck to fire it at a suitably huge alien ship that serves as the final boss. In stark contrast to the opening hours, it’s an incredibly linear and claustrophobic finale that doesn’t even offer up impressive vistas.
Activating selective memory
So the conclusion of any retrospective is usually whether an older game is still worth playing. In the case of Crysis – seemingly destined to be remastered and rereleased as often as Skyrim – I’ll fence-sit and say “it depends”. Chatting with friends and colleagues, there’s an obvious split between former PC players and console players.
If you grew up playing PC sandbox shooters – think Delta Force, the first Far Cry, or maybe the Halo port – but skipped Crysis, Crysis Remastered could provide a decent nostalgia hit – for two-thirds of the game at least. Just be aware those that who praise it and criticise the “dumbed-down-for-console” sequels clearly choose to forget the final hours, with its sudden shift in narrative tone and restrictive, on-the-rails gameplay.
If you’ve always been a console gamer and grew up playing Call of Duty or Medal of Honor instead, Crysis Remastered is a decently-priced curiosity that’ll give you a taste of classic sandbox shooting and an appreciation of where the “can it run Crysis” meme came from. However, the sandbox nature means it often feels less focused, poorly paced, and scrappier than the linear and scripted console shooters you’ll be used to. Sometimes, that freedom provides a satisfying and liberating sensation as you cloak past fortified outposts to hit a camp from the rear; other times you’ll get your tank stuck on some rocks or realise a cloaked enemy you have to kill to progress the story has beelined to the far end of the level after their AI bugged out.