"Crysis 3's" weak story hamstrings strong game-play

Perhaps you've seen the commercial: An armored figure struts fearlessly through battle in a wooded glade, blasting away a pack of soldiers with a shotgun, smiting a military helicopter with a bow and arrow, leaping ferociously into a melee with vicious aliens — seemingly without a care in the world — as ZZ Top's "Sharp-Dressed Man" thunders in the background.

Blog PhotoThis ad perfectly highlights much of what's right — and oh so wrong — with "Crysis 3."

In a nutshell, the good: versatile, explosive combat; the bad: that swaggering sense of invulnerability bolsters a sense of emotional detachment fostered by weak storytelling.

Blog PhotoThe armored figure is "Prophet," our hero. Clad in an nigh-invincible "nanosuit" partially of alien origin, he's on a quest to save the world from conquest by a human paramiltiary organization, Cell, as well as the alien Ceph. But didn't he vanquish both in the last game? Guess not.

The game opens as Prophet is rescued from Cell's clutches. No, we don't know how he fell into them following the events of "Crysis 2."

But his savior, a figure from his past, has an ulterior motive: Cell has taken over, thanks to its promise to provide New York's human remnants with free electricity — and needs the sort of thumping only a man clad in a high-tech battlesuit can deliver.

A predictable comedy of errors later, and the evil aliens have returned and humanity's continued existence is in serious doubt.

Unfortunately, by predictable, I mean really, really, really predictable. "Crysis 3" telegraphs its moves so horribly that you'll be ten steps ahead of this paint-by-numbers plot every step of the way.

Blog PhotoAnother major issue is that the grand scale of the crisis isn't adequately reflected in Prophet's interactions with the world around him. Humanity in jeopardy? Our hero has contact with only two kinds of people: the faceless minions of Cell, who are trying to kill him, and a truly meager assortment of allies, who are focused largely on interpersonal dramas and not the world-ending threat.

The result is a tale that struggles mightily to connect emotionally with players ... and fails miserably.

And that flaw hurts other aspects of the game.

Blog PhotoFor instance, there's the vast array of gorgeous backdrops that frame the action, painting a picture of nature's merciless encroachment on humanity's abandoned works.

Ordinarily, I'd consider the fantastically rendered scenery to be lush and vibrant. As I gaze across a depiction of a ruined rail yard, where untamed grass sprouts up among the trestles, I instinctively know the designers agonized over the proper placement of each and every blade of greenery.

Blog PhotoAnd yet, because of how emotionally disconnected I am from the adventure, I can't help but feel it's all too cold and sterile, even as I leap forward into a situation akin to the raptor scene from "Jurassic Park II."

I know I should feel something more, but I can't. The poor storytelling creates a sense of emptiness, of ennui, that is very hard to counteract.

Combat suffers in similar fashion.

The emotional disconnect, coupled with the vast powers of Prophet's suit, evokes a false feeling that the player is invincible. I know it's false because I died plenty, mostly because I felt so invulnerable that I'd charge fearlessly into impossible situations. 

Of course, part of that stems from the sheer power of Prophet's armor. As necessary, the player can briefly "harden" the suit into near-impregnability or cloak Prophet in complete invisibility. The former ability allows you to stand exposed amid the enemy, seemingly invincible. The latter lets you easily sneak around, cutting throats without a care.

Blog PhotoAdd in the ability to scan the environment to permanently pinpoint every enemy's position, and the overwhelming lethality of any weapon in Prophet's hands — especially his new bow and arrow — and yeah, the game's probably a little unbalanced in the player's favor ... at least on normal difficulty.

The excellence of enemy behaviors helps mitigate that flaw and keep the game enjoyable. For instance, Cell's soldiers have no troubles working together to flank and bombard the player. And Ceph footsoldiers have no problem swarming en masse, with some staying back and blasting from a distance while others rush forward to punch you in the face.

Good stuff.

By the way, if you played "Crysis 2," they've changed the flow of things this time around. In the previous game, a lot of battles were set up as very arena-like situations: The player entered an area from a safe vantage point, used the suit's visor to scan the battlefield — enemy positions, ammo caches, hiding places, etc., — and had ample opportunity to work out a plan of attack before initiating combat.

"Crysis 3" proceeds in a much more natural, organic manner.

Nonetheless, the game's single-player campaign isn't all it could be.

The multiplayer mode, however, is quite nice, even if I do really suck at it so far.

Yes, it's got all the predictable game types found in first-person shooters: variants of deathmatch, team deathmatch, capture the flag and king of the hill, as well as an infection variant of tag (where a team of hunters seek the hunted, as any hunted who is killed becomes one of the hunters).

Players have access to most of Prophet's abilities from single-player, i.e. hardening their armor briefly or roaming the battlefield while cloaked, but those powers are balanced out by other optional modifiers, such as sonar that "pings" when an enemy, even a cloaked one, is near. The result is a game that is balanced, strategic and competitive.

Optional gametypes allow players to compete in matches where nobody has access to suit abilities or in quickly decided fights where everyone has but one life to live.

Earning experience and leveling up through matches allows a player to gradually unlock new equipment, but the basics are available right from the start. And unlike "Crysis 2," so are all the match types.

So, overall, I recommend "Crysis 3's" multiplayer. I just wish I could recommend the full game as heartily.

"Crysis 3"
Publisher: EA.
Platforms: PS3, Xbox 360, PC. Reviewed on Xbox 360 using review copy sent by publisher.
Price: $59.99.
Rating: M for mature.
Recommendation: Players looking for a fun, competitive multiplayer experience should consider picking this up. But those aiming to stay offline should limit themselves to renting, given the game's predictable, paint-by-numbers single-player campaign.

Tags (3):game review, games, EA

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