FBT is back in the Nanosuit. It’s getting crowded in there.
I loved the original Crysis as much as I hated Crysis 2. It sucked so much it put me off C3 for years, but maybe it’s time to find out how it all ends. My name is Prophet… maybe?
Since the ending of Crysis 2, CELL, a security firm contracted to contain the alien Ceph outbreak in NY has grown to become a corporate superpower, controlling the world’s energy supply. Prophet, our half man, half another man, half nanosuit hero had been searching for the Alpha Ceph when he was captured by CELL to be ‘skinned’ for the tech in his Nanosuit. Rescued by a skinned Psycho from the first game, the two join a resistance movement dedicated to stopping CELL, which means returning to a now sealed-off New York.
At first glance C3 seems to be trying. NY is now enclosed in a giant dome and has been reclaimed by nature; it’s wild looking, and a lot more open-plan than C2. It’s a nice place to be, in a FPS kind of way. But there’s one thing I can’t quite get my head around; who’s head am I in?
What the hell is ‘Prophet’? In Crysis, Barnes, a Nanosuit-wearing soldier codenamed Prophet was captured by the Ceph only to reappear a bit addled and raving about the Alpha. In C2’s opening scene he was dying from the Ceph disease ravaging NY, and gave his Nanosuit to a critically injured Marine, Alcatraz, before shooting himself. As C2 bumbled along, Alcatraz was silently indifferent to learning the suit was keeping him alive and Prophet’s memories were taking over his mind.
By the end of C2, Alcananophet seemed to combine into ‘Prophet’ but I’m still fuzzy on who that is; are we the suit, did it absorb Alcatraz and is using Prophet’s voice to gain trust? It preferred Prophet’s personality to Alcatraz’s? Harsh. Or are we Alcatraz still? Are we Prophet’s personality, in Alcatraz’s body, inside the suit? A mix of all three? Is the proper pronoun ‘we’? Is Alcatraz dead in here? Does it smell in this suit? When the suit mentions an objective, is it talking to itself? If not, is it now self-aware and has a plan in mind? The Resistance call us an ‘it’ like it’s a Ceph lifeform; it is Ceph-based tech, does that mean we might turn on us? There’s so many ways this could have gone, to build on from C2’s ‘I am Prophet' ending being ambiguous, but it’s one of those ‘forget it and move on’ narratives.
As we push deeper into New York, following Resistance orders to disrupt CELL’s plans and shut down their power-source (we can guess what’s powering it), we also face off against Ceph creatures trapped in NY. The firefights tend to be hectic and aggressive but it’s about tactics, learning the battlefield and figuring out an approach - which works really well with the suit; sorry, with ‘us’.
The more open-nature of C3 means our abilities - armour, stealth, high-jump etc can be used in meaningful ways unlike C2’s CoD-style reactionary approach, and we’ll flag threat-level in an area, our visor will give info on enemies’ weaponry and Nanovision lets us make like Predator and track heat signatures. We’re back in business; this feels very Crysis 1 and I feel at home in here, all three of me.
The CELL troops are much more like the Koreans in the first; edgy and pissy, they’ll investigate, circle around, back each other up, run off - once we retreated into a cave and they started bickering about who’d go in after us. It’s their behaviour that makes us feel like we’re a force to be reckoned with which was missing from C2. We can melee and stay cloaked too, which makes for some great stealth kills and watch the rest of them freak out.
The Ceph though, are as annoying as always. We just don’t like them. All that stuff about being clever and figuring out the best approach goes out the window when they’re leaping about like lunatics. Early on they’re disoriented and skittish, but in later levels they get their shit together, becoming more bolshy in groups, then sneaky when you thin them out. Early levels tend to be set in overgrown areas where they only hunt in the weeds, and you just hear them or see their tendrils sticking out. It reminds me of the Velociraptor tall grass scene in The Lost World. Since they’re melee enemies mostly, it becomes a standard ‘hear one, put on armour, equip shotgun, fire when they jump out’ routine.
We now have a bow that can be fired without losing the stealth ability, and for once it’s a preferable weapon over ones with gunpowder - although explosive tips take care of the boom. We actually used it a lot more than expected as it allows us to keep on top of the fights since we’re the stealthy/cowardly type.
New York is fantastic to look at as well as navigate. Nature is taking over and all around are CELL bases and structures packed into NY’s ruins. Often we just stop and gorp at how amazing it looks and there’s plenty of options for attacks. Occasionally we get trapped into linear scuffles, and indoor sequences become generic while hordes of Ceph are impossible to escape from but generally, bouncing around the undergrowth and ruins is free-form fun. It’s not Crysis’ Choose Your Own Adventure but it’s not C2’s strict tour guide either.
We do have a tour guide in the form of Psycho though, who is often with us at the start of a mission but then finds a reason to leave us alone, which get more hackneyed as the game goes on. One level he spends trapped in a lift. In the original (and the awesome spin-off, Warhead) he was a fairly well-observed working class Brit type, but now he’s how Americans think all Brits are when they’re not Colin Firth; Apple n’ Pears aw’right darlin’ piss off you mug type.
It’s no spoiler to say it turns out CELL are syphoning energy from the captured Alpha Ceph, which of course escapes when we turn off the lights. Now we have a lot more Ceph than CELL to deal with which is nowhere near as much fun; CELL try to take them out with some space weapon or something, so we have to stop them before we can stop the Alpha Ceph but at this point, after so much fun it starts to become a slog, especially when combined with some dodgy narrative pathos that just feels like it’s there because it has to be.
A lot of what went before gets dropped in favour of ever-increasing showdowns, and even with upgrades and power-ups, we can barely be bothered with it. Because the nature of Prophet is barely explored, there’s no build up to the face-off, it’s just a messy skirmish with Ceph leaping out every second.
Eventually what should have been a massive throwdown between Ceph-augmented Prophet and Alpha-ceph, is just an outdated, groaning bossfight with lines like "I'm not like you" - how do you know? We don't. Psycho still thinks we're the C.O. from the first game. There's a lot to pay off here, going all the way back to Crysis and even before that, plus, with all that’s going on in that suit, C3 could have dropped a Mass Effect 3 style choose who you are kinda ending; have Alcatraz reassert himself, Barnes sacrifice himself, have the suit find its humanity, it side with the Ceph, them converge Star Trek style, anything but the generic ending we’ve been expecting. Far too many Ceph and not enough conversations with ourself.
C3 was a pretty good free-form shooter for the first two thirds, and way better than C2, but I can’t get past how it just has us accepting being a dead body inside a self-aware alien suit with a downloaded personality; that is, until the final cutscene, when Prophet suddenly displays morphing abilities out of absolutely nowhere and wraps everything up including a powerful pause on a framed photo of the original team - where'd that come from?! And what relevance does that have to anything that happened? I'd forgotten them, apart from Psycho. I still don’t understand how Prophet goes to the toilet, let alone what we are. I’m surprised C3 isn’t on those gaming’s weirdest endings lists, except no one saw it.
Crysis 3 cost over $60 million and tanked. It’s easy to see why, the original is a master class in free-roaming, but by the time C3 was released this gameplay style was standard, and this offers nothing new or refines what made the original's pure free-roam shooter so good. It also didn’t help that C2 was so bad. Crysis 3 does look like $60 million but it just doesn’t really do anything with what it has; it all falls flat and ultimately it’s style over substance, a sales pitch for the CryEngine. While it’s an improvement on C2, it’s forgettable beyond some amazing vistas to stare at while you wonder who’s eyes you’re using. It’s who you are on the inside that counts.