When I last previewed Crysis 2 back in June, I mentioned how striking the sheer verticality of the environments were. This week I got to spend another half hour with the game in an entirely new level (labeled "Semper Fi or Die") late in the game, and Crysis 2had a new surprise in store for me: enemy AI that took advantage of all that space - and a reason to use it myself.
The level started out with Crysis 2's nano-suited protagonist regaining consciousness as a team of marines fend off an attack from the game's alien enemies. Once the threat was taken care of, I was given a handgun and set off with the squad into the wreckage of a park area destroyed during the invasion of New York.
This all sounds innocuous enough. Plenty of games have used the idea of "wrecked city areas." But none have done it quite the way that Crysis 2 is doing it. This city park - which bears a passing resemblance to a pair of fairly major park areas in real-life New York City - isn't just littered with overturned trashcans or benches, it's been completely destroyed. There are giant tears in the ground leading all the way to the sewer levels of the city, which in turn lead to a variety of routes and approaches for attack.
That last part seems like the thing in Crysis 2 that's really starting to click as I spend more time with it. In the last game, much of the size and scale of environments seemed a little gratuitous. In Crysis 2, there's a sense of intention present in the level design thus far. Environments aren't designed around being impressive, they're tailored to specific combat scenarios, and it's really working to make playing it more interesting.
The enemy AI also seem markedly tweaked to make enemies fun to fight. The alien soldiers are agile and fast and can take a fair bit of punishment, and more importantly, they use their mobility to avoid you just enough to make it fun to catch and kill them. This is complemented by the previously mentioned level design. After watching a developer play through the level for a bit, I took the controller and played out the situation completely differently, using a combination of cloaking and sniping and in-close melee attacks to handle combat situations. I was aided in that by the nano-suit upgrade system, which allows you to purchase new abilities to customize your approach to Crysis 2.
I'm going to say something that may irk some of you, but I mean it in the best way possible: Crysis 2 seems to have taken some pages from the Halo series' design manual. The idea of strung together combat sandboxes is all over the place, though the sandboxes in question are enormous, and the organic feeling AI evoke Bungie's influential series. Clearly, Crytek has a number of tricks of their own in store for the game, but the comparison isn't hard to make.
I was also aided by significantly improved game-pad support in Crysis 2. I was playing the PC version of the game with a wired 360 controller, and aside from the raw visual splendor on the screen - and seriously, I'm not one to to fellate the original Crysis's graphics, since I found them a little boring, but DAMN is Crysis 2 looking amazing on PC - it played very smoothly. Crytek has thrown in some snap-to targeting on the left trigger and a bit of aim assist to boot, and configurations are customizable, a major change from the last game. Switching between powers might actually be easier on the 360 pad than on the PC; pulling off manuevers like taking aim, quickly uncloaking and firing, then cloaking again are pulled off quickly using the bumper to phase in and out.
Unfortunately, while my recent time with the game has reassured me that Crysis 2 will translate perfectly well to console controls, I'm left with more questions than answers as to how the game will fair technically speaking. To be blunt, I'm not quite sure how Crytek will be able to pull off the enormous combat environments on the Xbox 360 and PS3. We haven't seen the console versions of Crysis 2 for months; in fact, we've never seen the PS3 version at all. With just a few short months of development time left, I'm growing more and more curious about how Crytek's first foray outside of the PC space will end up.