One of my favourite moments in Crysis 3 comes pretty early on in the game. It might be tacky to talk about the graphics and how good they look, but the sight of seeing a destroyed New York - filled with overgrown vegetation and ruined buildings - for the first time is a wonderful moment. Unfortunately to get to this point I had to play through one of the dullest opening levels in videogame history, filled with linear walkways and dumb enemy AI. This is a common occurrence in Crysis 3, the mediocre is often followed by the sublime, leading to a game that could have delivered so much more.
For those who don't know the story behind the Crysis series, it involves some bad guys working for CELL Corporation, and some aliens known as Ceph who are (obviously) bad. It would take pages to describe the plot in detail and in reality it's so drawn out it really isn't that interesting. What you do need to know is that you play a character called Prophet, you're accompanied by a man aptly named Psycho and together you're trying to stop someone from doing something. Simple.
The essence of Crysis is found in the futuristic Nanosuit that Prophet finds himself attached to. This suit provides you with several advantages on the battlefield that will dictate how you tackle the whole game. Want to throw caution to the wind, run into an enemy hotzone and splatter them with bullets? Fine, just remember to activate the extra armour on the Nanosuit, allowing you to withstand much more punishment than usual. Prefer to take the stealthier route and sneak all the way to your objective? That's acceptable too, by activating the cloaking system on your suit and making sure to reenergize at the appropriate times.
You see, your suit might be a pretty powerful ally, but it requires energy to activate these special devices. The energy is indicated by a bar on the lower right-hand corner of the screen, and you can watch it go down the longer you are cloaked. You'll have to make sure you don't lose your ability to cloak in the middle of an open area where enemies can see you, otherwise all your good, stealthy work will be undone and you'll have yourself a firefight on your hands. It all adds a layer of tactical strategy to proceedings, ensuring that you'll always be looking for the next piece of cover for when your energy bar hits rock bottom.
Using weapons will deactivate your cloaking device, unless you've equipped the bow. The newly added bow lets you fire while remaining cloaked, so it's going to be your first choice when you don't want to alert any guards to your presence. It also comes with four different arrow types, with the ability to stun or explode on impact. It takes some getting used to but it leads to much more satisfying kills if you can master it.
The choices that players get to make when attempting a mission are what Crytek hopes will set Crysis 3 apart from other shooters, and to a certain extent they do. There will be multiple occasions when you come across a fairly open area to explore and you'll try to figure out the best way to do things tactically. However you really have to be careful when cloaking and taking out enemies silently, as it's all too easy to alert a guard to your presence and before you know it your cover is blown.
At times it can also seem as if the game is punishing you for attempting to be stealthy at all. There were many times when I managed to get through most of an area unsighted, then when I uncloaked I was spotted almost immediately by a guard - despite my attempts to hide - and after a few minutes of shooting I'd left multiple dead bodies in my wake. I might as well have saved the bother and done my best action-movie-hero impression straight away. Unlike similar games that leave you with gameplay choice, such as Dishonored, there is no morality system in place to encourage you to spare a few lives here or there. This means that most levels become a bloodbath, just so that you can clear them that bit quicker.
You're joined on your journey by Psycho; a bald, overly aggressive guy who somehow manages to drop the F-bomb into almost every sentence. His dialogue makes for constantly uncomfortable viewing, as you wonder why Crytek is attempting to appeal to a more "mature" audience by giving him the same lines as the average 12-year old Call of Duty player.
Psycho is a bit of a strange case. He's obviously there for a purpose, to keep you up to date with what the hell's going on and point you in the right direction. But he doesn't ever feel like a partner in an important part of history, he just feels like a cheerleader. There were also a few comedy moments, like the occasion when Prophet and Psycho had to split up, leading to Psycho climbing up a conveniently placed ladder. It took me five minutes of trying to follow him up the ladder before realising that said ladder is off-limits to anyone but me, and I had to go the long way around and shoot some bad guys. That high-tech Nanosuit might turn you invisible, but don't expect to get that job as a window cleaner anytime soon.
There was also the confusion about hacking a security system. Hacking is a new feature for the Crysis series, and it involves you using the Nanosuit to open up doors or disable mines. Once you hack into a system you open up a minigame which involves you pressing a button at the correct time in successive goes. Yes, it is as tiresome as it sounds and pales in comparison to similar minigames, such as the one found in BioShock. Very early on in the game I was challenged to open up a door and had no idea where to look. What followed was a minute of me looking around in confusion before I stumbled upon the correct way to do things. Either I get confused too easily, or Crysis 3 is just a struggle to get to grips with.
But there are definitely some moments of genuine entertainment, such as watching over the long grass and seeing guards being pounced upon out of nowhere by sneaky alien figures. Think Jurassic Park with the velociraptors and you get the picture. Or bursting through steel doors by riding a container filled with explosives, or blowing up huge infrastructures and watching everything tumble down. Some of these are authentic "wow" moments, it's just unfortunate they are few and far between.
Online multiplayer will extend your time with the game slightly, but even though it offers a wide range of modes there are many that are done better elsewhere. The highlight is probably Hunter mode, where you spend rounds chasing down targets, before switching sides and becoming the hunted yourself. Bonus XP is awarded the longer you can survive, while the goal is to still be breathing after each two minute round. The twist is that Hunters are invisible, making them even harder to avoid. When being hunted down you'll be equipped with a sensor that gets louder when a Hunter is near. The noises from the sensor add an extra sense of urgency as you fight to get away.
Overall it's hard not to come away with a sense of what might have been. Crytek has all the ingredients in place to deliver an amazing piece of work, but a project like Crysis 3 just lacks any sort of focus for that to happen. Convoluted storytelling, overdramatic cutscenes and lifeless gameplay detract from what is essentially a pretty decent shooter.