"I really think it all boils down to choice," Crytek's Mike Read tells me when discussing the eagerly anticipated Crysis 3. The third and final installment in the trilogy is just around the corner, with pre-orders for the shooter said to be up 40% more than what they were for the previous game. Word has spread a lot faster this time around; Crysis isn't your typical first-person shooter.
Set in the future - 2047 to be exact - Crysis 3 sees Prophet return to New York to discover why the evil C.E.L.L Corporation has built quarantined Nanodomes around the city. And as usual Prophet will attempt the challenge dressed in the high-tech Nanosuit that has served him well on his escapades so far. The Nanosuit doesn't just offer the chance for players to look extremely cool though; it also comes with some highly valuable gameplay benefits.
A quick button press can activate either the Nanosuit's armour - allowing Prophet to take extra damage - or a cloaking device that renders players invisible until an energy bar runs out. Knowing when to use the different systems is a tricky skill to master, and Read believes it's something that marks Crysis 3 out as unique to other first-person shooters battling for your hard-earned cash.
"It's amazing how just having two suit modes in there changes the game," he says when describing the benefits of cloaking and armour. "I've had people come to me and say, 'I found Crysis 2 really hard'. And I'd say, 'Well explain to me why it was hard'. They'd say, 'I didn't understand the suit modes' you know, and they were playing it like a traditional shooter, a type of arena shooter, jumping into the mix and seeing how fast they could take guys out. And Crysis isn't really like that."
What is Crysis like? "It can be like that if you're very good at it, but I play the game in a very mixed mode. Sometimes I use armour, sometimes I cloak. I can move back and forth between the two. Some guys want to shoot through levels, some guys want to stealth through the game, but that's really what sets it apart, is how dynamic it is and how you progress through it."
Dynamic is certainly one way to describe it. From the start of my time with the game I was gifted the choice of tackling the level all guns blazing, running-and-gunning my way through multiple enemies before, regularly, biting off more than I could chew and failing miserably. Or I could take the sneaky route, activate the cloaking ability on my Nanosuit and slowly but surely get closer to my destination. This turned out to be the much better option.
While Crysis 3 might not hold your hand and tell you what you should do, it certainly gives very heavy hints. Simply put, if you forget to use your cloaking device you're going to have a bad time. Enemy AI is smart and once spotted by one guard you'll more often than not find several more being sent your way. Unless you're particularly skilled in combat you'll have to use your Nanosuit to avoid dying and being sent back to the last checkpoint.
And quite frankly, when the game looks this good why would you want to rush through it? Even purists that dismiss pretty graphics as a simple condiment to the juicy steak that is gameplay will likely be picking their jaws up off the floor after taking a glimpse at this. The long grass, water effects, draw distances and detailed weaponry all combine to deliver probably the best looking game that this generation of consoles is capable of managing. It truly is exceptional.
Weapons are another strong feature. While Psycho wields a bow, from a personal point of view it's very slow to reload and you have to possess a high level of accuracy to pull off continuous damage. As an alternative you can pick up a slain foe's assault rifle and hold down the trigger until your heart's content. It might not be the best idea if you want to stay undetected in the shadows but it certainly feels good.
Crysis 3 is trying to stand out from the crowd in a room full of lookalikes, never an easy task. But from what we've seen the extra focus on stealth and the aesthetically pleasing visuals has us salivating for more. We're looking forward to playing through the final version in the coming weeks.