Superhero and cartoon characters are integral parts of the electronic entertainment industry. With this in mind, I salute the meld of pop-culture character and video game with a look at Crysis 2: Limited Edition (from Electronic Arts reviewed for PlayStation 3, rated M for mature, $59.99).
Fueled by a story written by sci-fi author and comic book scribe Richard K. Morgan, this first-person-shooter sequel finds a player stuck in New York City under siege in 2023, on a mission to save humanity from extraterrestrials and biological warfare.
What's the Story? From the game manual: Something's gone horribly wrong in New York City, and there are rumors of a possible Ebola outbreak, causing a widespread humanitarian crisis. Alcatraz, a U.S. Special Forces Marine, and the rest of his Marine Recon unit are a little skeptical over the reasons for sending in trained soldiers to handle a virus. Whatever is happening, it's serious, and they are going in — whether they like it or not.
Play the role: The player becomes Alcatraz, who is encased in an exoskeleton called the Nanosuit. Pop-culture fans will feel the deja vu love as the technology is reminiscent of comic book character X-O Manowar with a bit of Robocop and G.I. Joe's Accelerator Suit thrown in for good measure.
Set loose in a war zone spearheaded by an alien invasion that's turning the Big Apple into an urban jungle, the player battles government-sanctioned military might and the mysterious Ceph invaders as he infiltrates such famed spots as the FDR Freeway, Wall Street, Times Square and Ellis Island.
His wondrous Nanosuit offers two areas of extra performance: armor enhancement to absorb heavy damage (including taking the impact from large falls) and a cloaking device to move around undetected.
Here's the strategic rub. You have limited energy to power the Nanosuit. The energy eventually will recharge, but that can leave Alcatraz very vulnerable.
Additionally, a tactical visor offers two modes of support. First, it can display real-time intelligence in any hostile situation (for example, it can detect enemies behind structures, tag items or help with location of objectives). Second, is what I'll call Predator vision: It uses heat signatures to identify hostiles in situations when Alcatraz is visually impaired.
Another nice touch allows Alcatraz to take control and drive vehicles. And, yes, it's pretty cool to handle an armored death machine loaded with side missiles and a high-caliber machine gun, wreaking havoc on enemy locations.
Get to the action: For as much as this game is about using the armor and its upgrades, the action also relies on enjoying a fantastic selection of weapons dropped by fallen enemies and simply scattered around various locales like gifts.
A player eventually chooses from almost two dozen primary weapons, including the Grendel heavy-assault rifle, an electrostatic pellet gun, L-Tag tactical airburst grenade launcher and Microwave Incendiary Klystron Emitter (it broils aliens in their suits); four revolver-style secondary weapons; a selection of extra explosives (don't ignore the anti-tank missiles); and some major firepower ranging from a heavy machine gun to a guided minimissile launcher.
On the fly, many of the weapons and suit powers are customizable using a translucent pop-up menu (a bit like Dead Space 2) that appears before Alcatraz in the middle of the action. For example, the player can add a silencer, extra magazine or grenade launcher to a primary rifle or enable a proximity alarm on the Nanosuit.
Memorable moments (in no particular order): Escaping a submarine and emerging from the water to view a badly damaged Statue of Liberty (my "Planet of the Apes" moment); super throwing an enemy into the Hudson River; blasting a truck's fuel tank and watching it slowly catch fire and then explode; taking time to appreciate the beautiful selection of flowers in a New York City park; almost feeling the water spray while locked in a decontamination chamber; and listening to Hans Zimmer's supportive, yet understated and perfectly orchestrated, musical score
Violent encounters: Blood is spilled during every firefight, but I have seen more gruesome death from a slew of recent first-person shooters (reference Bulletstorm, please).
Still, killing is often the best way to meet objectives (including extracting suit upgrades from dead aliens) and Alcatraz can shoot from a distance or stalk prey in that cool stealth mode, sneaking up on enemies and snapping necks, strangling, sticking a knife in the rib cage or using enemies as human shields.
Also, gamers might get a bit violent when dealing with some stupid computer-controlled foes and after discovering the lack of save opportunities available during the action, which can lead to playing difficult missions over and over again.
Read all about it: Here's the good news. IDW Publishing will offer a six-issue comic book miniseries written by Mr. Morgan called Crysis ($3.99 each) bridging the plot gap between the two games. The bad news is the first issue does not arrive until June.
Pixel-popping scale: 8.5 out of 10. I love the use of lighting effects that really bring out the contrast between indoor locations and the liberating explosion of color seen in the city streets. Opening a door to the outdoors after crawling through the bowels of the sewer and subway systems will make the player feel like one of Willy Wonka's chosen as they enter his chocolate factory; it's a nearly blinding color rush.
The game's hyper-realism looks great in high definition, be it lifelike flames spewing from pipes, crushed concrete slabs, swaying trees, water cascading down the side of a brick building or the intricate architecture of Trinity Church.
Multiplayer: Online warriors will enjoy the Nanosuit-enhanced combat possibilities of 12-player contests within six game modes. It's Marines versus Crynet enforcement embroiled in team death matches, capturing the flag or extracting Ceph ticks, to name a few of the variations.
Options include XP points awarded at the end of matches to use for upgrades, use of 21 suit modules, customized weapon load outs, devastating bonus strikes (with radar and orbital laser attacks) and the chance to play in a dozen maps sporting some of the best-looking locations I have ever seen in multiplayer options.
Extras and unlockables: With so much action, it's hard to appreciate the depth of the Crysis exoskeleton technology. A welcome Nanosuit Showroom offers a virtual multimedia showcase of all of the suit's nuances in single and multiplayer modes.
With depth down to animations of the microscopic changes of the suit and accompanying videos of what every specific enhancement can do, it really helps immerse the gamer in the story's sci-fi mythology.
Also, the Limited Edition version includes extra XP, a hologram decoy weapon attachment, a camouflage weapon skin and exclusive platinum dog tag.
What's it worth? I swear I had reached my limit with first-person shooters after playing a gantlet of games not limited to excellent experiences with Bulletstorm, Killzone 3 and Dead Space 2.
However, Crysis 2 methodically sucked me into its rich, violent universe. Not only did I appreciate the simmering story set amid the beautifully orchestrated chaos, but it also made me feel like part of an action-packed blockbuster that Hollywood would have a hard time replicating.
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