Hello! I'm Tom. I designed a game called Gunpoint, about rewiring things and punching people, and now I'm working on a new one called Heat Signature, about sneaking aboard randomly generated spaceships. Here's some more info on all the games I've worked on, here's the podcast I do, here are the videos I make on YouTube, here are some of the articles I wrote for PC Gamer, and here are two short stories I wrote for the Machine of Death collections.
The last few games I’ve been really excited about I’ve also had the good fortune to review, so it’s been a long time since I’ve been sat at home, house to myself, supplies stacked up, lights off, with a sparkly, exotic new game to dive into. Particularly one as momentous as Crysis.
70cl Sycamore Canyon Cabernet Sauvignon (2006 – a memorable vintage for Californian reds, I think we can all agree)
1 packet chilli & coriander Walkers Sensations
6x chocolate mousses (it’s okay! They’re Be Good To Yourself, and therefore a meaningless smidgen less lethal)
70cl dark Jamaican Rum (for the tropical ambience)
2x cinnamon danish swirls (not sure where these came from)
1 packet mixed sour cream and chive potato snacks
1 litre Tropicana orange juice (‘with juicy bits’ I’m assured)
1 Fox’s Favourites variety pack of biscuits (‘perfect for sharing?’ the packaging optimistically suggests)
1 large bowl of popcorn, with banoffee syrup
227 grams of Viennese fig-seasoned filter coffee grounds (purchased on the basis of the impossibly romantic photo of a presumably Viennese bistro-cafe on the packet)
1 Crysis-capable PC
To the South China sea! Further report when I take my first rum-and-danish break.
Things I’d forgotten:
Wow, Crysis escalates quickly. I took a leisurely hour and a bit replaying the demo section, but even that is a startlingly short time to get into the groove of the basics before they start throwing tanks and helicopters at you. Far Cry spent a long time avoiding the subject of what more it could do, beyond shooting mercenaries on an island, and it didn’t have a very good answer when it got there. Crysis seems confident it’s got plenty more than preying on frightened North Korean troops in a jungle, and it’s keen to introduce it quickly. Risky! Observations, in order:
The whole game up until this point – even the tank and helicopter bits – were me using my unfair advantage to prey on people. Sometimes it took a while to work out how my suit functions gave me the upper hand, but they always did. Finally they don’t, and it’s a weird and wonderful feeling. There are four or so of these guys, and they can do everything I can. I’m suddenly being asked to outwit not just an equal, but a squadron of equals. The game expects me to completely rock – I appreciate that.
WAR WERE DECLARED. This is new – sort of. Far Cry had that Rebellion level that tried to be a nocturnal warzone, but the trigens didn’t make a very good side. And it was obvious that no-one fought until you turned up, so the best tactic was to creep into activation range, creep back out and wait for them to kill each other. This is a lot more dynamic, and a very different feel to anything we saw of Crysis before release.
The atmosphere is awesome here, volatile and thrilling in a way that Call of Duty 4 never was for me. I always knew what was going on in CoD – there’s no point trying to make it past that barbed wire coil before the marines pull it across the street, because I know there’ll be an invisible barrier there; there’s no point worrying about the enemies seeing me in this sniper section because they’re hardcoded not to; there’s no point trying to clear that building because the enemies are on an infinite respawn; etc. I don’t know Crysis very well yet, but it doesn’t seem to be constructed of such binary, artificial rules. There’s no-one I’m safe from, no-one who’s safe from me, and that feels more like war to me.
The transition from a night-time warzone mission based around a large bay area, to an assault on a heavily guarded city port by morning light, is amazing. This is the point of the Crysis engine – the sheer scale it can cope with lets it chain together disparate adventures into one enormous, calamitous and intensely personal narrative. Level transitions never felt like they were disrupting the experience in other games, but this just demonstrates how much more absorbing, exciting and unique your journey becomes when it’s unbroken.
PS. The missile launcher is so fucking great. In most games that mix vehicles and infantry, the armour’s a chore to take down because even when you’re hitting its weakspot for massive damage, it just takes a long time. The noobtube in Crysis lets you appear out of thin air and get nail anything with two rockets to kerplode it. This war zone level was pure cathartic revenge on dick-boats. The slight heat-seeking is a godsend, too. It’s like they actually looked at what wasn’t fun about anti-vehicle combat and… took it out? So few designers think like that.
– lol i has a tank
– lol it broke
I actually rather enjoyed this. The scale is just so staggering, it looks like some of those vast open valleys that made Lost so escapist. It’s a strange decision to make the first time you get a tank the absolute worst time to be in a tank, but once you leave it you start to see where one might be useful, and by the time I’d hijacked my second I was quite enjoying the speed and power.
Like Graham, when that mountain started to crumble I physically got out of my tank to gawp. God damn.
I think this might be my favourite so far. It’s not that different from the early jungle levels, but much more intense. There are so many goddamn troops, and stalking the nanos amongst them is thrilling. I replayed the section where you have to clear the landing zone for the VTOLs, just before the Quarry proper, three or four times. It always ended with my decloaking behind a nano to do this to him with the minigun:
The entrance to the quarry was the first bit that’s been pretty tricky on Delta – apart from when I alerted that helicopter a bit early and it followed me for half an hour before I found my first missile launcher. Tricky in a good way though – it’s a proper, volatile warzone with you in the enemy trenches and friendly fire raining down around you.
The boss-fight inside was hilarious. I wasn’t really paying attention, so when I got control of my body I just kind of ambled up some stairs, found a guy there who looked familiar and kept punching him until he fell into a pile of crates and died. He never fired a shot or said a word. I don’t know what that fight’s like if you let him get an attack in, but I wasn’t trying very hard to stop him.
Inside The Thing
Whoa! I didn’t expect this so soon. I thought the alien ship would be the climax of the game, so that they could lead you gradually from the familiar (jungle) to the unfamiliar (frozen jungle) and then the entirely alien. Nope. Alien right here.
I was really looking forward to some mind-bending stuff here, but there’s not a lot to it. It’s not truly directionless 3D like Descent, it sort of auto-rotates you to a predefined notion of down for each locality.
It’s very, very pretty and such a clean break from the environments until now, but there’s nothing to do here. The enemies aren’t at all scary or fun to fight, because they’re terrified of your bullets and strangely reluctant to use their own. The best tactic is to sit and take pot-shots, during which you’re completely safe.
When they do get to you their melee attack is powerful, but it’s not really clear what it is. Are they just slapping me with their wibbly hands? I’ll try to avoid that, since it clearly kills me, but it’s hard to work up any kind of primal fear over that kind of threat. Wibble hands, I mean.
Things I would have liked:
The Scouts: ooh! They’re like angry metal space frogs! Last time I saw these dudes, at a preview event, they just floated around vaguely, firing. This exotic, fierce pattern of movement makes them much more threatening and entertaining to fight.
At first I thought their extreme mobility rendered most of Crysis’ most interesting tactics – i.e. stealth – unviable. But now that I’ve played around with them for a while, I realise that’s not true. It’s quite possible to cloak and kidnap these dudes, or nail them with a hurled trashcan mid-air, and even find refuge from them to recharge your cloak. It’s just a little trickier on all fronts than it is with the Koreans.
What is missing is the ability to plan your attack from afar, since these things are always sprung on you. And the actual missions throughout, here, are time-sensitive and ally-oriented, which really does render all but the shootiest of approaches pointless. Which brings me to:
Prophet: this guy gets a section of his own because OH MY GOD HE’S A TWAT. He stands there, dying, screeching at me to get him out of there when there IS no exit to this arena. My objective is to defend him, but no-one’s attacking him. I eventually find there’s a Scout stuck on a jeep in the corner of the clearing, and I have to kill him before the next wave will spawn, and kill those super-fast to trigger the next wave, which inexplicably causes an unrelated scripted sequence in which a wall of the arena is blown open.
So Prophet follows, whining endlessly about cover and his suit energy – neither of which seems like my problem. After refusing to follow me and standing in the middle of an empty canyon until he dropped dead of exposure, Prophet – in his next life when I reload – finally decides to tell me that he needs to linger near a fire. By which he means, he needs me to linger near a fire – because there’s no way he could see or move to one by himself, since blazing car wrecks are invisible.
There’s also no way he can stay near one – he wanders off a few metres and stands there, waiting to die, while shouting at me to find some cover, and by cover he means fire, which is right there, and by me he means him, a guy standing next to some fire.
This is dismal.
In which you’re fighting off the stuff with the guys outside the cold thing, but in a place which is still pretty cold.
I just love the look of this place – a tropical shack frozen inside and out, every surface sparkling with frost and smudged with glove or bootprints.
I quite like the game, too. It forgets about the nanosuit and the notion of freedom, but the aliens are almost interesting enough to fight in a straight action-game way that they make up for it. Almost.
The frosty version of the Gauss Rifle is one of the most beautiful weapon models I’ve ever seen, and the gun is supremely satisfying to nail aliens with.
This is the first time you fight a Big Thing. It’s called a Hunter, I think, and they really fudge its introduction. The thing is just absolutely no threat to you, your first impression of the most visually spectacular enemy in the game is that it’s mostly harmless.
It’s a total non-fight – you don’t shoot at it because you know you probably can’t hurt it yet, and it doesn’t shoot at you presumably because they thought that would be too punishing on the player. They’ve wasted the moment when I inevitably do get to fight it, because I’ll no longer be impressed by the thing.
When you think of all the hard work the artists and coders put into making that thing look and move this way, it makes you want to slap the game designer in his stupid face.
Sucks. It’s not very long and it’s not very difficult, and it might have made a nice break in between two actually good missions, but placed where it is it’s just another shallow, uninspired and badly-made novelty section in a long line of shallow, uninspired and badly-made novelty sections that are rapidly exhausting my interest in playing this at all.
There’s not much point in making faces this detailed if you still don’t have the technology to animate them convincingly. It’s also just not worth putting much effort into characters in a game like Crysis. Two things are brilliant in this section, though:
1. The scientist in the Armoury has just upgraded Prophet’s suit, whereupon Prophet goes crazy and declares that he’s going to hijack US military equipment to fly straight into the target area of a tactical nuke, wrestles Psycho out of his way and storms off to his radioactive death. And the scientist turns to you and says, “So, what can I do for you?”
2. When the general angrily hammers his finger on the LCD map in the control room, little digital ripples bend around the pressure point just like they do on a real screen. Dear person at Crytek who thought of that: I love you.
Oh look, the Hunter’s back, and he sucks. We’ve seen him before, he’s not very dangerous, and the solution to this fight is to just shoot at him a lot when you’re told to.
The second boss’s entrance is fantastic – potently cinematic and genuinely unsettling. But when he’s fully emerged, the craft itself is rubbish – it has no particular features, just a vague lump of alien stuff. The battle is worse still – shoot the turrets? Really? You’re going with that?
A good boss ought to challenge the skills you’ve learned playing the game – in Crysis, that’s using the nanosuit. The Korean general could have been a great one, done right – you have no weapons, you both have nanosuits, you’ve got to outwit him by using yours better to compensate for being outgunned. A big floating lump of metal that you just have to shoot a lot? Not so much.
I don’t mind a hint that there’s more to be done, but it’s a bit much when your character gears up for a very specific and exciting-sounding mission, and then the credits roll. But Crysis does start with an advert – even after the six compulsory sponsor promos – so it’s fitting that it essentially ends with one, too.
Most of the varied post-Quarry sections, as banal and ineptly made as they are, would have made appreciated breaks from the real meat of Crysis: time-consuming open-ended stealth combat in huge forested areas. That type of play could actually do with some dumb variety to punctuate it – it’s almost exhausting.
But Crysis’ contents have settled during transit, and all the big chunks of freeform goodness are clustered in a dauntingly weighty lump at the start, while the sugary tack of the brainless sections has congealed in a sickly mess toward the end.
It’s guilty of the very thing people unfairly kicked Far Cry for: going permanently off the rails halfway through. Or more accurately, going permanently on them.
The_B: WAIT! YOU FORGOT YOUR COPY OF CRYSIS!
James Lyon: You eat that lot and you probably will be having a Crysis. In your stomach!
Jack Carver: Ooo-er, get you and your 'supplies'. Very decadent and very cool I have to admit, still I think i'll wait for Crysis until the next generation Geforce 9900 2gb Pyramid card becomes available next year.
Matt Kibbler: Am I correct in thinking this is just a shooter, but a bit shinier than most?
Jack Carver: Sorry I should have mentioned Nvidia Geforce 9900LN (liquid nitrogen) 2Gb Pyramid card in quad mode (4 cards). Thanks!!!
roBurky: Boats were dicks in the demo, yes, but they're nothing compared to this helicopter...
Craig: We should have a "Bender's Big Score" night. At your house. The only room suitable in out place is John's, and for some reason he dislikes Futurama.
Tom Francis: James: That's a chance I'm willing to take, dammit!
Jack: I'm playing it on an E6700 with an 8800GTS, 1600x1200 everything on Very High, so it's not completely unattainable. PS. Loved you in Far Cry, except inasmuch as I didn't.
Matt: nope. It's not a lot like anything I've played before - Far Cry itself was fairly unusual, and this resembles it only for the tamest, opening level. The game changes in style quite a lot with each new mission, but so far the theme is stealth combat in an incomprehensibly vast freeform landscape.
roBurky: Yeah, boats seemed like a much bigger deal when I thought the demo level had most of the elements of the game.
Craig: this is a good idea, but the cinema PC is blue-screening at the moment. Let me check that the projector works off my laptop.
The_B: John dislikes Futurama? This information makes me sad.
Also - would it not be awesome to mod your character model into Bender?
roBurky: I've gotten a bit further than your writeup's reached so far.
I can say that the levels get huger.
Craig: When did you upgrade your PC?
Tom Francis: Alas, I have not. I just abducted my work machine for the weekend.
Tom's Work Machine: ...PLEASE SEND HELP...TOM HAS TIED ME UP...MANAGED TO REACH MODEM...HE IS HOLDING...RANSOM....THREATENS TO INSTALL PLUMBERS DON'T WEAR TIES IF DEMANDS ARE NOT MET...
Anonymous: Clearing the ground around the crusher is my favourite bit as well. It's an enormous amount of force arrayed against you, with all sorts of challenges inside, but you're given the freedom of scouting it out entirely before you go in, so you can form a Plan.
Mine began with shooting the nanosuit guy with a sniper rifle repeatedly in the face from very far away.
It ended with me decloaking in plain sight of a group of very frightened soldiers who were standing in a carefully choreographed line in front of my minigun.
The_B: Hmm, interesting. Graham said about the escort bit in the review that "It should be frustrating and awful, but it's actually both nerve wracking and fun" - clearly you think the opposite. Any inidcation as to your wildly different experiences, or should it be just chalked up to a bad experience case with the AI for yourself?
Graham: When I played it through, the AI kept itself in check. The battle beforehand worked fine, Prophet followed me correctly. It was an escort mission where the person I was protecting didn't just spend the entire time dying or getting in the way, like the one in BioShock.
I hated the tank mission, however, so I guess Tom is just wrong sometimes.
The_B: I will admit, I hated the escort bit in Bioshock as well.
roBurky: The escort mission was awful. I was already annoyed at having all my usual options for fighting taken away, and then prophet kept dying and I didn't know why. It took me many failures until I realised that the objectives on my map weren't just waypoints, they were fires that healed prophet, and that when I got a new objective point, I wasn't supposed to head towards it straight away - that I was supposed to ignore it and hang around until prophet had fully healed.
When the guy is irately screaming at you to hurry up and get him out of there, the right way to be playing that bit isn't exactly intuitive.
roBurky: I didn't have your experience with the walky monster, though. When they told me to run, I ran, so I didn't get to see it up close until the VTOL was taking off.