The original 2007 Crysis has a benchmark-y quality to it. It is no longer the Best-Looking PC Game In The World, but it retains some of that "must-have" mystique nonetheless. Perhaps it's because it's one of only a few hardcore first-person shooters that has never been ported to consoles. But every time one of my console-playing friends builds a new gaming PC, first thing he or she does is go straight to Steam and download the game.
Well, it's a PC exclusive no longer. Crytek and EA have announced a coming downloadable version of Crysis for Xbox 360 and PS3, which will use the updated CryEngine 3 that powered this year's Crysis 2. Earlier this week I had a chance to play it on Xbox 360, and I was so impressed that one of my first questions was, somewhat unbelievably: "Is this being ported to PC?"
Sadly, the answer was "No". I took a moment to reflect on the question I'd just asked: "Will I be able to play a PC port of your console port of a PC game?" Dogs and cats! Sleeping together!
So here's the part where I commit heresy and say that yes, I rather like using an Xbox 360 controller with my PC. Blah blah, PC Master Race, superiority and precision of the mouse and keyboard, blah. I love precision as much as the next guy, and I play a good number of games with a mouse and keyboard (including the original Crysis). But I also like to kick back with a controller in my hand and relax, and I even like controller-rumble! It feels good on m'hands. Furthermore, I've recently taken to moving my PC over to my giant HDTV and running my games on the big screen, (you should see The Witcher 2 running on a 55-inch display, good god), and at the moment, I'm unable to play mouse/keyboard games while sitting in front of my television.
This is all a disclaimer-filled preamble to where I talk about how I played Crysis 2 on PC with a 360 controller. It worked great, and as I've mentioned before, I liked that game more than a little bit. I played a ton of Crysis with a mouse and keyboard, partly because the way that the game mapped to a 360 controller never felt right (and couldn't be customised, boo). The crouch didn't stick, the iron-sights did… and iron-sights were assigned to RB? Left trigger brought up the suit menu, but there was no one-button way to toggle between the suit's abilities. And worst of all, there was no way to go prone when using a controller… none. You had to use the keyboard. It was all a bit of a mess, particularly when compared to the intuitive controller-mapping in Crysis 2.
So when I sat down alongside Crytek's Miles Clapham to play through a chunk of Crysis's campaign on the Xbox 360, the first thing I noticed was how good the new controls felt. The mapping has been redone to match with Crysis 2 — RB now toggles stealth mode, sprint and power-jump are tied to the left thumbstick and the A button (you hold it down to do a power-jump). Other strength functions are tied to the environment — for example, get close enough to a soldier and you'll be given a prompt to grab him.
The second thing I noticed is how great the game looks — thanks to the improved tech of CryEngine 3, Crysis on consoles looks just about as good as the (un-modded) PC version of the game, albeit not running in as high a resolution. I played through a chunk of the third chapter of the game, "Aassault," which Crysis fans will remember as the mission that begins with a nighttime beach-run under heavy artillery fire. Midway through the level, the sun rises over Lingshan Island, and it looked as spectacular as I remember it from the first game. The lighting, foliage, and sense of "alive-ness" has been carried over intact. The small details are present, too — as I made my way up the beach, a small family of crabs skittered out of my way, and grenade blasts knocked over trees as reliably as ever.
Some aspects of the gameplay have been tweaked — I noticed that stealth mode depleted the nanosuit's reserves far more slowly, making the game feel a bit closer to its more-forgiving sequel. Inventory has been mapped to the "Y" button, with a nice four-direction menu like the one found in the console versions of Half-Life 2. But by and large, Crysis on Xbox 360 moved and played just like its PC counterpart. The physics and gunplay have that same precision, and the world has the same sense of complex reactiveness.
Clapham told me that, by far, the hardest part of getting Crysis to work on the Xbox was getting all of its AIs and systems to run simultaneously on the 360's comparatively small memory reserves. "I played through Crysis on PC on medium/low settings," he said, "and it used up 1.6 Gigs in the end. And we've got that down to 256MB on the 360, so we've had a huge squeeze there. The console has lots of processing power, but just to be able to run the kinds of things [the number of simultaneous systems]we're running in Crysis was a real challenge. Running this kind of visual quality on the PC, with the same hardware spec as the console, it runs at half the framerate of what we have now. CryEngine 3 has been huge, we've got huge improvements to the rendering pipeline."
The entire time I played, Crysis ran beautifully, with nary a hitch or a framerate dip. Even on my 2011 gaming PC, Crysis hits some framerate issues when I run it at ultra-spec. But I saw no slowdown as I fought my way through guard posts, across bridges, over beaches and through the jungle. All of the open, emergent fun of Crysis is here, and it's more playable than ever.
The game will be out in the US on October 4 on PS3 and Xbox 360, and will go for $US19.99. It will be singleplayer only, and will not include Crysis's "Power Struggle" multiplayer mode. Most of the human enemies are North Korean soldiers, but they always speak English unless players put the difficulty all the way up to "Delta" mode. Sadly, there will still not be an option to turn on Korean enemy barks without changing the difficulty, but Clapham told me that the team is using the much-improved English audio enemy dialogue from Crysis: Warhead instead of the painfully bad tracks in the original Crysis, so that's something.
Crysis will never look as good on a console as it does on a high-end gaming PC, particularly if the PC version of the game has been modded or tweaked at all. But I was impressed with how thoroughly Crytek has translated the game to the new (old) systems. And perhaps more importantly, Crysis now handles very well — suit abilities are easier to access, vehicles handle better, and the whole thing feels nicely streamlined. And while the very mention of the word "streamlined" will make some PC players grumpy, well… there'll always be the original PC version. I, for one, would love to see a CryEngine 3 version of Crysis running in DirectX 11 on a tricked-out gaming PC. Sigh… we always want what we can't have.
By dropping the game into October Crytek and EA have chosen a… challenging time to release an FPS. A 2007 PC re-release stands no real chance of competing with Modern Warfare 3 and Battlefield 3. That said, neither of those games offer Crysis's uniquely engaging blend of sandboxy-shooting, stealth, and reactive action. Then again, they also don't share Crysis' dramatically inferior third act and finale. (Unless one of those games features hugely annoying flying squid enemies that no one's talking about.)
While it's tough to say how Crysis will do commercially, from what I saw, it plays well and looks lovely. Console players will finally have a chance to experience one of the longest-standing PC exclusives that they've never gotten to play, and the rest of us can kick back on the couch, grab a controller, and revisit an action classic.