The battleground: New York.
Aliens have invaded, and most of the population is dead or dying, thanks to a plague sweeping the city.
You are a Marine called Alcatraz, a member of a squad sent covertly into Manhattan to make contact with an important scientist and evacuate him from the city.
But things don't go as planned, and before long you find yourself on your own, wearing a mysterious, nanotech-infused battle suit, and trapped in a very hostile Big Apple. Because not only do you have to contend with the aliens, called the Ceph, but also -- in a case of mistaken identity -- a private military group is chasing you down with orders to shoot on sight.
"Crysis 2" is a first-person shooter, but it's not the normal kind, where you plow through a horde of enemies in a toe-to-toe slugfest, advance to the next area and repeat.
It's more tactical in nature, where you're constantly confronted with new situations as a player and given many options for how to approach a potential battle. Sure, you can choose to try to fight your way through. But you might decide on occasion that it's better to sneak or to run, especially as there isn't enough ammo in the world to fend off the forces that'll keep coming.
In fact, the game world is built in a way that it often feels you're running from one unique arena to another, and you often get a moment to survey the field -- using a special visor -- to get ideas for possible tactics: flank the enemy over there, sneak through there, avoid that and/or resupply your ammo over there.
Of course, whatever plans you make will seldom last past each initial engagement with the enemy, whether that's man or squid-like monster. (The aliens are the Ceph because they're like cephalopods, albeit ones wearing armored suits and big guns.)
But you've got a good chance to survive, thanks to your nanosuit, which has the power to transform into a super-armored form or turn invisible -- but not both at once. And limited battery life means you can't stay in either state for long either. It also allows you to run faster, jump higher and punch harder than a normal human, as well as see infrared. All of that uses up your battery too. However, once you turn it all off, the battery quickly recharges.
As the game progresses, you'll be able to further upgrade the suit in ways that can make it easier to detect enemies and withstand their attacks or sneak more effectively.
A sidenote: Alcatraz doesn't speak at all throughout the course of the game, which is somewhat typical of first-person shooters. The traditional idea is that by not giving the character a voice, the player will fill that role with their own imagination.
But I don't think that's what the developer, Crytek, had in mind here. You see, there is a voice that guides players throughout the adventure: the voice of the nanosuit itself. It constantly updates the player with information about threats, goals, potential tactics and other miscellany, and it's got a very human voice. The result is that it feels like Alcatraz isn't wearing the suit; it's wearing him.
The various enemies are intelligently designed as combatants. As far as traditional tactics, they use cover, attempt to flank you and exploit high ground. In instances where they're looking for a cloaked enemy -- you, of course -- they work together to comb an area and pay careful attention to sounds, so it isn't always easy to stay hidden. It is possible, however, to use their strengths as weaknesses, by using environmental objects -- throwing a bottle, for instance -- to lead them astray.
And you'll gun them down with pretty standard military weapons: rifles, shotguns and the like. There are a few nonstandard armaments, but they behave like normal guns, so it's not that exciting. Still, the guns aim accurately and fire solidly, which is nice. And adding a bit of challenge to the affair, you don't get to carry much ammo and it's really easy to burn through a clip. So firing discipline is pretty paramount, and you have to keep an eye constantly open for a resupply point.
Also, I can't neglect to note just how beautiful this game is in purely aesthetic sense. All the scenery has an almost unprecedented level of photorealism.
Essentially, the single-player portion of "Crysis 2" is engaging and fun. It's not perfect; I encountered the occasional bug, such as allies that temporarily got stuck in place or enemies who became hung up on the world's architecture. But, generally speaking, it behaved itself.
The competitive multiplayer game also is quite playable, though there are a few things about it that don't really trip my trigger.
For one thing, initially only deathmatch and team deathmatch modes are available. It is nice that, when you are starting off, you can choose to play in a category for newbies -- players levels one to 10 -- or against the full range of players. But I don't like you've got to earn six levels of experience to unlock another game mode (essentially a king-of-the-hill mode), another six after that to get the next, the capture-the-flag variant, and so on and so forth.
The maps everyone battles on are nicely arrayed, with lots of nooks and crannies, obstacles, natural hazards and varied elevations. But they seem a little too large sometimes for the two deathmatch modes. I've often found myself running around in those games, trying in vain for seemingly minutes at a time to find where the battle was raging.
Still, if you can manage to stay in the fight -- which is far easier in modes where an objective draws players together -- the action get really heated, though you'll often have no idea who killed you, at least not until the kill-cam comes up. (I can't tell you how many times I've been engaged in a firefight with one player only to be killed by another person sneaking up behind me, which I only know because of that kill-cam.)
One thing I really do like is that all players start off as standard assault troops and must earn the right to use new weapons, from sniper rifles to shotguns, and other gear and abilities. And it's not so simple as just leveling up your character in general. Regular use of your various abilities and weapons unlocks new equipment directly related to those weapons and abilities.
Ultimately, the multiplayer is solid, and given the addition of the same armor and stealth abilities as in the single player, it's a different product than the vast majority of other first-person shooters.
Will I rank "Crysis 2" among the best games of 2011? I doubt it, but I definitely had fun playing it.
Platforms: Xbox 360, PS3, PC. Reviewed on PS3.
Publisher: Electronic Arts.
Rating: M for mature.
Recommendation: It's not your average first-person shooter, but it's a good one. And a large part of me really wants to recommend it as a purchase. But the most objective part of my brain compels me to recommend renting, especially if you're not into online multiplayer, as the single-player game can be completed in the average rental period. And I kind of have to say, even if you are into the competitive aspect, you might want to rent anyway before you buy, as it's different enough that the casual "Call of Duty" fan might not connect with it.
Images courtesy of Electronic Arts
Top: Despite the presence of one of Lady Liberty's arms, the action of "Crysis 2" takes place in Manhattan.
Bottom: A player uncloaks behind an unsuspecting enemy in a multiplayer match.