This week, Zero Punctuation wonders why New York City is such a common destruction target.
You know, if I lived in New York City, I'd be a little bit weirded out by the mainstream media, because every other disaster movie, alien invasion movie and romantic comedy would feature proxy representations of me and all my friends getting murdered and having all our possessions burned. It's the sort of thing that might give a chap a complex, isn't it? You might look at audiences flocking to watch the Statue of Liberty retain its title as "Landmark Most Frequently Dismembered on Screen" and think, "You people are looking forward to this, aren't you?"
This was tested when 9/11 happened, and for a while everyone was really sensitive and air-brushing the World Trade Center out of things like a pair of inconvenient erections in a Calvin Klein photoshoot. But then someone said, "You can't deny it made good television", and then made Cloverfield. I mean, you wouldn't make a film this year about aliens causing an earthquake in Japan. What is it about New York City? Is it payback for West Side Story?
So Crysis 2 says, "Hey, we'll have aliens ruin New York City, but you know what would be even cooler? If the aliens gave everyone a hideous, debilitating disease so everyone would have to crawl around in gutters watching their entire families sprout pustules and die! Let's see those East Coast elitist tossers make a song and dance about that."
With the aliens that set up shop onto that one island in Crysis 1 now revealing themselves to have a franchise under Central Park, you play a Marine called Alcatraz inserted into alien-infested New York to back up Prophet, the last nanosuit soldier from the first game, nanosuits having fallen out of general usage because, I dunno, to make things more sporting, I suppose. The insertion goes tits up and life makes an attempt to escape from Alcatraz, but he's rescued by Prophet, who's caught the alien lurgy and puts him in the nanosuit so he can finish the fight. You with me so far?
But what Prophet fails to mention is that the PMCs sent to retake the city are trying to kill him or anyone who looks like him for incredibly poorly-justified reasons. Something about him being an abomination, which the soldiers say without irony while a killer space octopus lays eggs in their wives' faces fifty feet away.
Before we go further, I should say that I liked Crysis 2 a hell of a lot more than I thought I would, and do you know why? Because it paces itself. It's not like Call of Duty, opening the game with a frying pan to the mush and beating at you from start to finish like it's afraid you'll catch fire or maintain a coherent thought long enough to realize how tedious it all is. No, from a relatively peaceful start, stealthily cutting the throats of one's fellow man, the game escalates effectively until you're having full-on street battles with aliens, and a collapsing building actually comes across as effective because you haven't been knocking them down like fucking skittles since minute one.
The game reminds me of Half-Life 2 in a good way, except without the powered armoured suit that - oh wait. I mean, except without the alien invasi - oh wait. I guess it's quite a lot like Half-Life 2, then, although rather than running around being friendly and characterized, the civilians are all crawling around in sewers wearing their intestines as neckties.
Crysis 2 seems to have gone out of its way to piss off PC gamers, which is particularly cruel considering how PC gamers traditionally use it as a kind of ritualistic trial-by-fire for their processors. The controls seem less complicated, which is always the best way to alienate the PC crowd who just don't want to know if you haven't mapped at least five function keys.
While Alcatraz can still pick up random clutter, he's got a throwing arm like a deflating balloon. I was trying to be clever by throwing objects to distract guards while stealthing, but the cloak turns off when you throw things, and there's little tactical value in drawing enemy attention to a point five feet away from you unless you're fighting in someone's kitchen.
With the transition from jungle island to city, the levels have necessarily become considerably more linear, but still a lot less so than the average action game of today whose design documents are basically long chains of shiny objects tied together with shoelaces. The increased linearity does, however, make it laughably easy to cloak your way through most of the game. Just run from cover-to-cover to have a quick cappuccino now and then and you're golden. Even at the final battle, I just walked straight past the amassed enemy defence force and at the same time felt kind of bad about it, like I'd skipped out on my own surprise birthday party.
Sometimes stealth is impossible though, and some alien fights can get bit intense, at which point I have to wonder if it isn't pretty bad design to have your armour, your cloak and your sprint functions all take from the same energy pool. Because surely if one of those fails you during a hairy moment, then you're going to need one of the others to un-hairy yourself.
An aspect of the plot I actually liked is that Alcatraz is basically a collection of broken bones and ruptured organs held together with spit, and the suit is acting as some combination iron lung and wheelchair and is the only reason he's still upright. And nowhere is this more apparent then when you run out of suit power in the middle of a pitched battle and are trying to waddle behind a bit of wall like you've just cacked your pants. It's refreshing to see an unstoppable action protagonist who also comes across as vulnerable and tragic. Nathan Drake could perch his rectum on the top of a flag pole and wisecrack his way all the way down to the floor, and he still wouldn't be an ounce as sympathetic as a silent protagonist who's essentially been reduced to a load of beef stew in a thermos flask.
But the most disappointing thing about Croissant Deux is that after a promising debut the aliens have really started to phone home - I mean, phone it in. They were a seriously formidable enemy back when they were flying around in armoured tentacle ships, but for some reason they've taken to walking around in bipedal armour, perhaps also for sportsmanship reasons. If I were cynical - as opposed to the rosy-cheeked, kind-hearted, snuffly-nosed bunny rabbit of a man that I am - I might think that this was so programmers wouldn't have to write different A.I. for the human and the alien enemies and would have more time to hopelessly flirt with the receptionist. But you'd have to be a pretty unpleasant person all around to think that was the case.
Overall, I guess the final argument one can hang over Crysis 2 like an amusing mobile is that it's definitely above whatever fetid set of values passes for average these days, but it just doesn't have any moments with the same "wow" factor as that one bit in Crysis 1 where you go inside the alien spaceship, root through their underwear drawers, and embarrass them in front of their girlfriend's parents.
I may be remembering that wrong.
- Looks good in a suit: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
- Honestly do they just not let you register your PMC if you don't supply written proof of being an arsehole
- Why-oh-why-oh Why-sis