REVIEW: Crysis (Multiplayer mode)

By Adam Russell - January 26th, 2008

2008_01_26_crysis.jpg
Developed by Crytek and published by EA for PC.

2008_01_26_crysisscore.pngBy now you’ve all heard about Crysis, Crytek’s follow up to the 2004 surprise hit Far Cry, published by Electronic Arts. Much hyped and eagerly anticipated, it was the premier title for PC gaming in 2007. Quite possibly the best looking video game to date, it reviewed very well and offered something for everyone: free roaming jungle gameplay for those that prefer open world games, and an action packed roller coaster ride for those who like their games more scripted. I’m not going to say any more about Crysis as a single player game as it’s been covered to death; it was simply great. What hasn’t been talked about much is Crysis’ multiplayer mode. Yes, the folks at Crytek not only set out to make a great single player game, but their ambition was to also make a triple ‘A’ calibre large-scale team-based multiplayer shooter: large maps, lots of vehicles, lots of players, and a game in the same vein as the Battlefield series.

To be quite honest, I was more excited about Crysis’ multiplayer than I was the single player campaign. Battlefield 2 is over two and a half years old now and there really hasn’t been a game released yet to fill its aging shoes. Sure the online shooter sector has Team Fortress 2 and Call of Duty 4, but while both are incredibly successful, neither targets the “large-scale team-based shooter with vehicles” space. It was looking like Enemy Territory: Quake Wars would be the spiritual successor to Battlefield, however it just didn’t “spark” with gamers as the individual combat wasn’t satisfying and the gameplay structure was too rigid. Unreal Tournament 3, while not quite the same category as it’s more of a frag/twitchfest, also hasn’t caught on with the public so far. Looking ahead we have the upcoming Frontlines: Fuel of War from Kaos Studios (the same people responsible for the hugely popular Desert Combat mod for the original Battlefield 1942), but it remains to be seen how well that one will do. Right now though, we have Crysis multiplayer and with it the hope to revitalize this largely dormant part of the multiplayer shooter space.

Cevat Yerli and his team at Crytek set out to make a Battlefield-style game, but one that also addresses some of the problems with those early titles. Incorporating the “Power Suit” from Crysis plus the gameplay from Battlefield is something that almost any FPS enthusiast can instantly appreciate. One of the major criticisms against Battlefield was that problems often arise surrounding the vehicles. They are fun to use, powerful, and everybody wants one but only a few can have them. Players would fight and steal for the various tanks, helicopters, and aircraft that populate the maps. Obviously this isn’t very conducive to the type of teamwork that a game like this requires. The other issue is that since vehicles just re-spawn endlessly, players would often abuse/waste them, ejecting from planes just to get across the map quicker or driving a tank off to certain death just to get a few quick kills. The aggravation surrounding vehicles distracted from an otherwise stellar gameplay experience.

There are two game types in Crysis multiplayer, “Instant Action,” a simple deathmatch experience which isn’t interesting, and the more significant “Power Struggle” mode. “Power Struggle” is an objective-based game type most similar to the “Titan” mode from Battlefield 2142. The goal of each team is to destroy the opponents main base. The bases are only able to be destroyed by special weapons available once a team completes its objective. There are various control points around the map and a team must hold them for a specific amount of time until the special weapons become available. The fiction that explains this involves an alien prototype factory and several alien “crash sites.” A team must control the prototype factory which in turn draws energy from the various crash sites that a team controls. The more crash sites you control, the faster your team’s energy level rises, until you reach 100 per cent. At this point, you then have the weapons able to destroy the enemy base. While the concept is fairly straightforward, the game itself does a rather poor job explaining this (very little clues during the game and an only slightly helpful “tutorial video”) which means that it is still very common to find players in game who are confused and not quite sure what to do.

Crytek’s solution to the problems common to vehicles was to institute a money system (called “Prestige points”) along the same lines as what is found in Counter Strike. To get weapons, ammo, and vehicles, players must purchase them with in-game money or “Prestige.” Weapons can be bought at any controlled spawn point, while vehicles can only be purchased at the appropriate factory that your team must first capture, then defend. Prestige is earned when killing enemy units and when capturing control points. Each player always spawns with minimum of 100 Prestige points, which is just enough to buy a simple pistol or basic short range sub-machine gun. As you do better in the round, you gain “ranks” which increases your minimum prestige level at spawn. The goal of all this is to give players an appreciation for their gear/vehicles. No longer will you eject from a plane used as a taxi, because you paid hard-earned money for it. More powerful guns and weapons can’t be used all the time, as they require more money to be purchased. Is it worth it buying the 900 point ‘Uber’ tank if a helicopter can just come by and blow you up, costing you the past 15 minutes of savings?

While I must applaud Crytek for trying something new, it would seem that all this system does is trade one set of downsides for another. The most obvious result of the Prestige system is that it rewards success with more success. The better you do, the better weapons/equipment you get making it easier for you to do even better. What this does is increase the divide between skill levels of players, making the good ones almost untouchable and the not-so-good hopeless. This is especially true as the match goes on and joining a game at anything but the start puts you at a big disadvantage as everyone else has lots of money/toys but you only have a pistol.

Even at the start of a round, the Prestige system has a significant impact on players actions. The system works almost too well, as you end up afraid to spend your points lest you die and lose the expensive equipment. In fact, the game almost encourages you to avoid combat as it makes far more financial sense to avoid other players and try to get the relatively “easy” Prestige gained by capturing objectives. Why spend $300 on a gun only to lose it when killed by another player, when you can save your money, hop in a jeep (they are free) and capture a deserted alien crash site? This sort of “risk management” means that games often devolve into a “musical chairs” style race around the map, trying to avoid other players and cycling control points so you can gain enough money to actually buy something decent.

The “Power Suit” actually worsens this problem as an especially “cheap” (financially) tactic has evolved: why shoot someone with expensive guns/bullets when you can just Speed Run up to them and then Power Punch them for an insta-kill? It’s the method of choice for the player who wants to gain as much Prestige as fast as possible, which just happens to be anybody who wants to succeed.

While lots of little details regarding game balance can be adjusted through patches, it would seem that the above consequences are pretty fundamental to the choice of a money system. This is unfortunate as there is actually a decent variety of weapons and vehicles, most of which are interesting to use. It’s just a shame the game encourages you to actually avoid combat.

Vehicles handle well, combat feels satisfying, the graphics and environments are great, and there are even neat little touches like a freeze ray that is just super fun to use. That’s not to say that Crysis isn’t a bit rough around the edges. Controls are a tad wonky at times, which is typically a sign of a multiplayer game that is still a few patches away from being “finished.” It’s been speculated due to the somewhat abrupt end of Crysis’ single player mode that the game was rushed a bit to make its fall release and it would make sense that multiplayer would suffer the most if any cuts had had to be made. If given the appropriate level of attention, Crysis multiplayer could be polished into a pretty decent experience. However, considering the fairly low amount of attention the game is receiving from the multiplayer community, it’s doubtful that Crytek will be inclined to support it much (which is evidenced by the incessant cheating happening online that goes unaddressed). Ultimately, it’s definitely not the replacement for Battlefield that the shooter space has been wanting. It had potential but it looks like Crytek were a bit too ambitious trying to make a top-calibre single player and multiplayer game at the same time.

Score Breakdown:

Graphics: 10
Sound: 9
Control: 7
Fun: 7
Replay Value: 7

OVERALL SCORE: 7/10

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