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Crysis 3: Amazing Graphics, Boring Execution
Date: Feb 26, 2013
Author: Joel Hruska
The Most Beautiful PC Game We've Ever Seen
Let's get one thing clear up front. Crysis 3's graphics are absolutely stunning.  Crytek's latest game doesn't raise the bar -- it annihilates it. At the highest settings, Crysis blows Battlefield 3 out of the water, makes mincemeat of Max Payne, and makes the original Crysis -- itself a graphics powerhouse -- look more like the first Call of Duty. Crysis 3 really is that stunning, provided that you've got the video card to handle it. Like the first game, this title is capable of bringing even a high-end card to its knees; the Radeon 7950 w/ Boost Mode that we used for testing struggled to maintain a 30 FPS frame rate.

The hell of a Cell installation on the left, New York's new look on the right

The good news is that Crysis 3 has no problem with 30 FPS, and cutting detail levels down improves frame rates rapidly. The same Radeon 7950 that struggled to maintain 30 FPS at Very High had no trouble pushing 50+ FPS at Medium. Like the original, this game will scale to match the GPU hardware you have on hand -- and it looks great in all of it.

Rogues gallery -- your NPCs, friend and foe

Normally, I talk about other aspects of a game before discussing its graphics and audio, but in this case, those are the two areas where Crysis 3 really astounds. After Crysis 2 was panned for shipping without DX11 support (and shipping a broken version of that several months later), Cevat Yerli, CEO and President of Crytek, swore that would never happen again.

That's High Detail on the left, Very High Detail on the right. The difference, on a Radeon 7950, is about 8 FPS.

Cevat Yerli swore that he and his team would deliver an uncompromisingly amazing product for the PC. And they did. Everyone who worked in the artistic departments, from character animations to texturing, deserves an award. So does the head composer.

The people who wrote the game's plot, on the other hand, don't.
Dull, with a side of frustrating
Crysis 3 picks up 20 years after Crysis 2. Prophet has been in suspended animation for 20 years. You're woken up by Psycho (another returning character from Crysis 1), only he's lost his nanosuit. You've been rescued to stop the evil Cell corporation. New York has gone from virus-infected wasteland to primeval forest wasteland.

There are some beautiful sequences.

Prophet is obsessed with finding something no one else believes exists, but he's perfectly happy to walk through a few missions attacking Cell's New York facilities in the hopes that he'll find some information or something. The only reason to use a trope like "You wake up 20 years later" is because it gives you freedom to establish a compelling back story for a character. If Crysis 3's traipse through the New York Jungle had been interrupted by playable flashbacks of Prophet's search for the Alpha Ceph, imprisonment, and interrogation 20 years earlier, it would've been storytelling dynamite. Instead, we get a few blurred images and reverbed voice-over.

The engine is beautiful in every instance. These shots show the view from underwater, at night, and a burning building.

The game is also rather short. TimeToBeat lists a "Main Story" play through as taking 5 hours, 42 minutes. That's significantly shorter than Crysis 2's 8 hours, 47 minutes, which was still shorter than the original Crysis' 10 hour, 19 minute length. I ended up beating the game in a bit under 12 hours, but I also died frequently, lined up screenshots, and am generally a slow game player.

Dull Gameplay

Great games don't need gripping storylines. Serious Sam and Orcs Must Die are great examples of game franchises that eschew stories in favor of heart-pounding action. Here, Crysis 3 again misses the mark. Cevat Yerli's team treats the nanosuit armor Prophet wears in nearly fetishistic terms; it's the equivalent of being a Jedi Knight in the Crysis universe. Ensconced within the suit, Prophet runs faster, jumps farther, is encased in near-bulletproof armor and has a nearly perfect cloaking device. Clearly, you're meant to feel like an utter badass.

There are moments of badassery, to be sure. This thing looked pretty expensive.

The game's design and some poor pacing decisions completely undermine what should be its greatest selling point. There are three major problems:

Bad Weapon Design:  If you buy the Hunter Edition for $59.95 (and that's the standard copy that EA is selling on Origin), you get the Predator Bow at the beginning of the game. Pyscho hands it to you after the tutorial level is over. Problem is, the Predator Bow is easily the best all-around weapon in the game, particularly at higher difficulty levels. It allows you to fire while cloaked from the start, whereas you have to buy this power using suit upgrade points if you want to use it with other weapons.

It holds a maximum of 18 arrows -- three thermite-tipped, three lightning-tipped, three-explosive, and 9 carbon-reinforced penetrating shots. The carbon shots can be retrieved and all of the arrows are silent (no need to use a silencer, either). I love the bow -- but the way that it's just handed to you cheapens what ought to be a difficult unlock or substantial reward.

Of Perfect Eyesight and Glass Jaws: The next problem with Crysis 3's balance is the way you're virtually forced to sneak around and dispatch guards while cloaked in the early game. Most FPS games with a sneak component implement at least some sort of shadow system -- if you're back in the brush, or behind thick greenery, you can't be seen.

In Crysis 3, if you're behind a door / wall, you're invisible. If you're cloaked, you're invisible up to point-blank range. If you aren't one of those two things, you're visible to any enemy who so much as glances in your direction. Even if you're crouching, motionless, in grass so tall you can't see over it. Soldiers you can't see due to oceans of greenery can see you, perfectly. And at higher difficulty levels, your unarmored self has the life expectancy of a field mouse at harvest time.

The Checkpoint System: Crysis 3's checkpoint system is entirely event/location-based. In a straight-line run-and-gun, this isn't so much of a problem -- but Crysis 3 also hides "Intel" -- backstory briefings -- all over the damn place, along with ammo dumps, new weapons, and nanosuit upgrade kits. If you want to beat the game in style, you have to explore every nook and cranny. That can be a problem when you're also easy to kill and enemies like to attack from stealth. There were multiple points during the game when I'd killed all the enemies in the area, went exploring for goodies, took a wrong step, fell, and then had to replay the entire area again.

Grass:  Now with 200% more sexy

It's a game mechanic that actually discourages experimentation or new tactics. The need to kill from cover means a lot of careful sneaking and shot positioning, but it also means a fairly lengthy replay time. You don't need to die more than once or twice while trying out new melee moves, air stomps, or grabs to decide that no, this is a bad idea -- you don't want to replay the same chunk of game 6x in a row. Time to haul out the bow and snipe from a distance.

There are other flaws that degrade the game's experience. Key binding is glitchy -- I use EDSF instead of WASD, but the "F" key is hard-bound to dropping objects. I could pick them up all I wanted, but tapping "F" meant immediately dropping them. There's no way to run while using the Visor view to search for intel or ammo dumps, so you'll do all your map exploring at a walk. This is especially fun when combined with the infrequent, irregular check points.

Near the end of the game, there are a few flashes of brilliance. There are some driving sequences that recall the very best of Half Life 2's canal chases, only with considerably more firepower and a nanosuited Prophet that could bench press six Gordon Freemans on each arm. You roar through Cell territory on a rocket-packing dune buggy, blowing everything to smithereens while Cell and Ceph forces clash overhead. It's epic. It's what the game should've felt like throughout, but doesn't.
Multiplayer, Conclusion
Multiplayer is considerably beefed up from previous Crysis games and borrows a great deal from BF3 and Call of Duty as far as their ranking systems are concerned. You earn XP by killing other players, defending "Spears" (think control points), and accomplishing various objectives. There's a unique Hunter Mode, in which most players start off as Cell operatives but transform into Hunters once killed, and an Assault mode in which each player only has one life. Toss in a bit of Capture the Flag and a little King of the Hill, and you've got a sense of what the game offers.

Check the lighting and you'll see that while the texture detail is still impressive, the light model is tuned for performance

There are a huge variety of upgrades and unlockable weapons that you gain access to as you level up, and the game tries to help newbie players who might be facing off against other teams far out of their league. Rack up more than three deaths in a row, and the game applies an automatic armor buff that you keep for a longer period of time until you break your death streak. You can unlock other abilities as well, from better radar to faster-firing weapons and better aim.

One interesting difference between the single-player and multi-player campaigns is the level of map detail. In multiplayer, the maps aren't quite as sexy. This was obviously done to make it easier for frame rates to stay high, and it's a good change. The game still looks great, but it runs noticeably smoother, even with all detail levels set to the same "Very High" options.

Conclusion: Buy It -- Eventually

I'd pay $9.95 for Crysis 3 as an amazing tech demo. I'd consider $19.95 a fair price if you loved the previous games or really want to cut your teeth in the multiplayer options. Thing is, if you want a gorgeous screen saver, you could always download the Heaven or Valley benchmarks from Unigine -- they're free.

Crysis 3 could've been a great game -- but as implemented, it hits too many false notes. It feels like a science experiment -- how much poor gameplay will players suffer through in exchange for utterly amazing graphics? The game is gorgeous enough that I actually played more of it specifically to see how segments would look. That's impressive. But it's not enough to recommend for $59 in this economy. At the very least, I'd wait until this title hits $29.99.

Crysis 3 is great for making console gamers cry jealous, jealous tears. It's beautiful. Its soundtrack is pitch-perfect. As a technical achievement, this game is stunning. As a first-person shooter? Save your money. There are flashes of brilliance, but nothing more.

  • The graphics
  • No, seriously. The graphics. Look at those screenshots.
  • The soundtrack is pretty good, too.
  • The plot (or lack thereof)
  • Save checkpoints, keybind bugs
  • Flashes of brilliance shine light on what could've been, but isn't.

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