Friday, March 22, 2013

How Crysis followed in the footsteps of the Predator

February was a weird month for the Aliens and Predator franchises. Both have always played off each other since the aliens skull appeared in the trophy room in Predator 2, transitioning to books, comics, and two crossover movies. It came to a head last month in games, though. Dead Space 3 released to fairly warm reception, though not as the best in the series. The Dead Space series clearly took inspiration from the tension, dread, and horror of the Aliens franchise, creating its own world and fiction. Then, an actual Aliens game released.

Poised as the official sequel to the Aliens movie, Aliens: Colonial Marines, released to an almost industry wide panning that even made several outlets question the role of previews. It was fascinating to see a game that only took inspiration receive better than the series it took inspiration from. At the end of February came Crysis 3, the last in a series that takes elements of the Predator movies and flips it in reverse, casting the player as a super-powered solider taking out aliens.

The first Crysis is a beautiful triumph between open world gameplay and technology. You play as protagonist Nomad equipped with a nanosuit giving you super strength, super speed, and the ability to refract light, making you nearly invisible. Set in a lush forested environment, Crysis mirrors the movie Predator so closely, it’s hard not to wonder if one didn’t inspire the other. Nomad uses the same tools and tactics as the Predator, sneaking and shooting his way past North Korean soldiers to accomplish his objectives.

Mostly remembered for the open-world playground of its first half, Crysis provides an ideal environment to run, shoot, and jump across the island. Nearly every location is open to you, with your powers giving you the ability to reach places not normally accessible. Bullets tear down trees and buildings crumble under the power of explosives. Crysis is a powerhouse of fidelity, prompting the commonly asked question of how powerful a PC was, “Can it run Crysis?” However, the more traditional linear aspects of its second half set the stage for the sequel.

Crysis 2 still brings the visuals and fidelity established in the first game, even as far as to offer high-resolution texture packs and a Direct X 11 patch, but moves from the green islands of the Philippines to the concrete jungle of New York City. Again, it’s hard not notice the same transition with Predator 2, set in 1997 Los Angeles. Like Predator 2, Crysis 2 infuses its environments with a sense of verticality. New protagonist Alcatraz can scale tall buildings, setting up perches for sniping and skipping past groups of enemies entirely, but there is a clear focus on moving from point A to point B with more chances for firefights and spectacle.

Despite the focus on a more tightly focused story and the introduction of more linear gameplay, Crysis 2 still gives options on how to approach combat situations. Opening up the visor shows different routes for stealth, flanking, and refilling ammo. It fleshes out the complexities of the nanosuit, but it still clearly has the vibe of a Predator with stealth kills, deep reverberant voice whenever you triggered an ability, and an infrared vision playfully called nanovision.

Crytek, however, took different approach for Crysis 3. The third Predator movie, Predators, went to a jungle-like planet, calling back to the first movie’s setting with small nods like using mud to hide the characters’ heat signatures. Instead of following suit, though, Crysis 3 combines the first two games to create a cityscape overtaken by nature. Moss grows up the side of buildings, covering billboards while waist-high plants grow out of riverbeds, turning them into murky swamps. It finds a way to create the ideal setting to track, hunt, and kill prey, recreating the power and sensation of being a Predator.

The punctuation to all of this is the bow, a sleek and silent weapon that allows Prophet, the yet-again different protagonist, to take out enemies while remaining cloaked. Clearing an area by picking off enemies one at a time with carefully placed arrows before anyone catches a glimpse of you is the most satisfying feeling. Later areas encourage varied use of weapons, but I frequently went back to the bow, waiting patiently in a corner for that perfect shot, a tactic I don’t often employ in first-person shooters.

The Crysis series isn’t the first time the Predator figuratively or literally appears in a game. Besides the standout Aliens vs. Predator games, the Predator franchise itself has had numerous games, but none have quite reproduced the notion of waiting and watching prey until striking at the precise moment that’s so core to the Predator movies. It’s unlikely we’ll ever see a Predator game focus solely on that aspect, making Crysis 3 both the best Crysis and Predator game yet.

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