A Personal Crysis

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Just finished playing Crysis. Not the recently released Warheads, but the 1997 original 'blockbuster'. It was a game that I had much wanted for months and not been able to afford; therefore, I couldn't miss it when the price went down and I had more time for gaming. Despite the hype in other reviews and my personal euphoria at finally playing this long-awaited and top-of-my-wishlist game, for me it was a bit of a let-down. Not because of the graphics, which were excellent to a fault, or because of the resource-intensive nature of the game (my NVidia 8800GTX showed what it can do); it was the gameplay of the last levels that disappointed me. Let me clarify, though, before I upset the game's huge fan-following. For me, gameplay means and has always meant something intrinsically related to the narrative: it is in this sense, that I find some problems with Crysis. I have no problems with stories about alien-invasions – ever since, H.G. Wells's War of the Worlds, there have been numerous such stories and we've had them in videogames for quite a good while. The Half Life series does a good job of it, populating Earth with a range variously intelligent extra-terrestrial creatures and having the player aka Gordon Freeman (note the pun in the name) fight a faceless, ultra-intelligent extra-terrestrial coloniser. I quite liked the level of colonial discourse in that game. Crysis, however, is about the irresponsible North Koreans (communist baddies as opposed to the enlightened West) taking their greed for energy resources to the extreme and waking up E.Ts who have apparently been dormant for a million years on a South-east Asian island.

What the E.Ts did during these million years is never revealed; maybe, we'll find out in a sequel, some time. Whatever they did to mammoths and dinosaurs, these creatures are now no friends to humans (shall we blame it on the Koreans, then?) and strange things happen on this island. There is evidence of human habitation (I saw a semi-frozen hillside cafeteria and a couple of villages) but we never get to know whether the aliens came to visit them for the daily news or to have their green tea. Anyway, as always, it's up to the US Delta Force (back in 'Nam territory) to clean up the mess. Obviously, they have to win and they are certainly the good guys. It's true that the Pentagon authorises a nuclear strike on the island and the aliens just suck in the energy and use it to their advantage; but isn't it the intentions that count? To be fair, though, there is a dissenting voice and leading archaeologist, Helena Rosenthal, provides a running criticism when the US admiral orders the nuke-strike. What surprises me, though, is that Rosenthal being an archaeologist can also double as a nuclear physicist and fix up my nanosuit with clever gizmo technology. That, however, is a minor point for me. The game is very hot on technology as sci-fi games are wont to be. Like Gordon's HEV suit in Half Life, I aka Nomad was given a nanosuit in Crysis. This is quite cool and you have modes like invisibility, maximum strength (good for high jumps and bashing some doors) and speed mode besides having the (by-now standard in sci-fi games) radiation protection and armour. At a later stage, of course, I even had a nuclear-powered TKA gun with which I destroyed the big baddie alien. The aliens are also supposed to possess superior 'technology' but it seems unconnected with their intelligence and kind of prosthetic – in fact, they 'wear' it as I do my nanosuit but it is more an exoskeleton than the almost living part that I begin to perceive my nanosuit as being. How the game conceives of 'technology' is an interesting point to pursue: is technology an exoskeleton or a prosthesis, then, like the one that the aliens wear? The game seems to make this distinction and no connection is made between the technology and the alien intelligence, or rather the lack of it considering the way in which they fight like big dull airborne octopuses. Moreover, the alien is quite different to look at without its exoskeleton and much weaker.

I guess I should stop griping though. This is standard Hollywood sci-fi and anyone who loved Independence Day will love it (same exoskeleton stuff and alien invasion with America being our protectors). I just like to have some friendly aliens around as well (or ones which become friendly like the Vortigaunts in HL 2); it's unfair to think that all extra-terrestrials want to do is to destroy us. I rather prefer the more ambiguous Phildickian contact with aliens. Nevertheless, as a game Crysis is good: the graphics are beyond compare, the setting beautiful (one lovely moment was when a frog passed me as I lay hiding in the tall grass) and the levels manageable (I played 'normal' mode). I liked the Korean missions much more; probably, because they were more realistic. General Kyung , the chief human boss, was easy to take down. There's a mission where you fight aliens in a VTOL and I must say I struggled a bit before realising that the game's use of physics was so excellent that I'd need to consider wind speed, currents and gravity before I could even think of firing. Great stuff! The best graphics display for me was in the interminable (and a bit boring in terms of gameplay) journey through the alien's cave. It was like a magic world in there and I liked floating about in the gravity-less space. A couple of issues, however, do remain even in the technical aspect of the gameplay. Sometimes the levels drag on a bit and it seems a rather forced attempt to make the game longer. My worst gripe is that, in some levels, I had to put up with a useless character called 'Psycho' whose rasping voice and the habit of incessantly calling me 'mate' while standing around with the girls and gawping while I took the hits just made me extremely irritated, especially when I realised that life, in-game, is as unfair as real life. The NPCs are often that silly: there was this US VTOL in the airspace above me and it did nothing to save me from an enemy chopper that was ripping me to shreds.

All in all, though, Crysis is quite a playable game; even more so if you like Independence Day and similar films. With the emergence of games, such as STALKER and Call of Duty 4, that make you think a bit more instead of merely filling in the Hollywood success-formula, however, I personally would be more inclined to those.

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