Crysis Demo Impressions

There has been quite the deluge of FPS releases and demo releases lately, and it’s been hard to keep up with all of them. I noticed that the single-player demo for Crysis had been released, so after a lengthy download, I sat down to give it a shot. To give a frame of reference for my comments, I’ve never played Far Cry, nor any of its console iterations, so I’m looking at both Crytek‘s design and engine from a fresh perspective.

Just to get this out of the way quickly — the game looks great. It’s easily the most convincing jungle environment that I’ve seen in an FPS, and there are many nice graphical touches in the environment and on the characters themselves. I should confess that I’m playing the game on a rig that’s a year and a half old, and, consequently, playing on only medium visual detail. (For Vista users, there is apparently a DX10 version which looks quite a bit nicer.) The physical interactivity in the world is also very cool, although it should be noted that this happens less frequently than you would expect — bullets don’t really jostle and knock over things very much. Grenades, though, can shake apart small buildings, and vehicles can drive through buildings as well. It’s pretty funny. There is still numerical instability in the physics, though — it’s fairly easy to get vehicles to do funny things when driving over rough terrain or other objects. But hey, it’s still fun, and that’s what counts, right?

The gameplay is moderately free-form, in that you are given goals to advance the storyline, but you can go about achieving those goals in whatever manner you choose. This basically boils down to having the freedom to approach objectives from any angle, and using any means necessary to take care of enemies in your path. You can take a rubber raft (with mounted .50 caliber machine gun) around the island, and try and surprise an outpost from behind. Or, you can drive a jeep (with mounted .50 caliber machine gun) straight up the road at the outpost, and go in guns blazing. Or, you can sneak through the jungle and snipe enemies with your silenced rifle. I didn’t have the patience to do much of the latter.

One gameplay wrinkle involves "powers" that your super-special covert ops suit gives you. At any given time, you can be in armor mode, speed mode, strength mode, or stealth mode. The functions of armor mode and speed mode are fairly obvious. Strength mode gives you a boost when jumping, as well as the ability to hurl items (and people) long distances. Apparently it also greatly reduces recoil when firing, but I didn’t really mess around with it too much. Stealth mode is basically Predator camouflage, although the battery on it seems to run out quite quickly. The various modes of your suit are kind of neat, but I didn’t take the time to configure/figure out a way to switch between them very quickly, which would have made them more useful. The standard method involves holding down the mouse wheel and using a context menu — not exactly something that you can do while on the run.

The story and dialogue so far are adequate — nothing too special here. It’s pretty much your standard macho sci-fi boilerplate. Apparently EA left the screenplay documents in the demo install, so if you care to have a look, you can spoil yourself to your heart’s content. It took me about an hour to get through the demo mission (which is apparently about a tenth of the game), which ends on an obligatory cliffhanger.

Overall, I enjoyed the demo. I got a bit of an Operation Flashpoint vibe from the way that you could approach tactical situations in many different ways, and the fact that there are lots of different vehicles around for your use. I’m curious about whether the multiplayer will include cooperative missions, or if it will only contain adversarial multiplayer modes. They do seem to indicate that the mod tools can be used for multiplayer levels as well as single-player levels, but it’s unclear if the game’s networking will really support expansive, scripted missions in multiplayer. I know that there are a lot of challenges in making that kind of stuff work in a multiplayer environment that don’t exist when you’re talking about a single-player game.

It’s not all roses, though. I do have a list of gripes about the game:

  1. I had a really hard time making out enemies through the foliage. This may be realistic, but the AI doesn’t seem to display much of a disadvantage when fighting in the jungle, which made fights very frustrating for me. I would have to rely on the radar display to locate enemies, rather than spotting them visually.
  2. It’s difficult to locate ammunition pickups amongst the debris of the battlefield. Since almost every object can be picked up, and the HUD displays a message any time you aim at a nearby object, it can be difficult to locate the important stuff, a.k.a. ammo, in a densely-populated area.
  3. The game noticed that I had a wired Xbox 360 controller plugged into my PC, and all of the tutorial prompts referred to buttons on the controller, even though I wasn’t using it to control the game. (I’m actually not sure if the tutorial text would refer directly to keyboard/mouse buttons if the controller wasn’t plugged in, though.)

I can’t say for sure that I will pick this game up when it hits store shelves, but it looks pretty solid. It’s also interesting to me from a technical perspective because I believe it’s one of the first multi-platform engines that has really started to embrace multi-threading. (Note that I say "started" — from public presentations and technical talks, I believe they are still somewhat hamstrung by their legacy architecture.)

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  1. Looks nice even on low detail and runs well. Good production values.

    Your teammates prompt you to use stealth, but I prefer to jump in any vehicle with a mounted turrent and then proceed to use the unlimited 50 caliber machine gun ammo to get their attention at the front gate. There will we be no falling back to the APC and using incendiary units for cover fire, no sir.

    “They will send reinforcments if they spot you”. Translation: they will deliver to you a fresh vehicle with a mounted machine gun, which you will promptly jump into and run them over.

    The one thing that did seem a little strange was how much fire (from hand held rifles) it requires to take down a soldier. What is it, a (non-red ryder) BB gun? Can a man really withstand half a clip of assault rifle ammo passing through his torso?

  2. Yeah, that was pretty much my strategy as well. I didn’t realize for awhile that, on the lower difficulty levels, you can shoot the .50 cal from the driver’s seat, as well. After I discovered that, my strategy usually revolved around speeding up to a group of soldiers, spraying them with machine gun fire, and then popping up into the turret to finish the rest off.

    There are also mounted machine guns in various spots on the map, but I didn’t really find those very useful. The AI does seem to use them, though — I snuck up on one guy who was sitting in the turret seat. When I shot him, he popped up and began attacking.

    Apparently headshots are pretty lethal. In one of my weaker (stealthier) moments, I noticed that I could drop soldiers with only a couple of shots if I aimed higher.

    If you haven’t driven around the rubber raft, make sure to try that too…it’s a hoot. It reminds me of playing BF2.

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