Crysis 2: Story

By Shamus Posted Monday Mar 28, 2011

Filed under: Game Reviews 117 comments


Crysis 2 takes place in near-future New York. You play as a Marine Corps Force Recon unit nicknamed Alcatraz. You find yourself inadvertently volunteered to wear a nanosuit, an exotic and incredibly advanced bit of hardware that basically turns you into a superhero. You arrive in the city to find it’s being destroyed by an alien invasion. The alien activity underground is causing tremors, which leads to stunning moments of destruction and upheaval.

The story in Crysis 2 is actually a nice step up from the Uwe Boll-level schlock of the earlier games. It’s muddled, occasionally contrived, predictable, and poorly paced, but worse stories have been told about space marines. Of course, you don’t play Crytek games for the story, so it’s not fair to pick it apart. Let’s talk about the graphics.

Background:The Statue of Liberty. Bottom: Dudes what need shooting. Aside:Wow. The visuals in this game are ridiculously gorgeous.
Background:The Statue of Liberty. Bottom: Dudes what need shooting. Aside:Wow. The visuals in this game are ridiculously gorgeous.

Just kidding. Let’s talk about the story. I’ve never understood the, “They weren’t trying so you’re not allowed to criticize it,” defense. It’s true that it would be foolishly optimistic to fire up a Crytek game hoping for a tale full of deep truths, emotional high notes, and thematic profundities. These are games about shooting dudes and blowing stuff up. But the story is there and you spend some hours watching it, so it’s a worthy topic of discussion. Moreover, I think they were trying to tell a good story here, which makes me happy. I’d rather see a developer try and fail than see a developer fail to try.

Crysis 2 suffers from an overstuffed cast of underdeveloped characters. Actually, I guess the number of characters is fine, it’s that the story never has them do anything besides bicker with each other. You’ve got scientist conspiracy-nut Nathan Gould. You’ve also got 2D bad guy commander Dominic Lockhart, Ex-Navy SEAL Tara Strickland, Illuminati-esque leader Jacob Hargreave, and beleaguered Marine Colonel Barclay. Each of these characters represents their own side or faction in the conflict and are frequently at odds with one another. You bounce from the service of one faction to another, pretty much with no explanation.

Suddenly we find the arm of the Statue of Liberty on the mainland.  Was it… ‘thrown’ here by an earthquake? Or brought here by aliens? I have no idea.
Suddenly we find the arm of the Statue of Liberty on the mainland. Was it… ‘thrown’ here by an earthquake? Or brought here by aliens? I have no idea.

The game commits the horrible sin of having characters harangue your silent protagonist. Valve discovered in Half-Life 2 that no matter how fun or interesting you make an NPC, the player can quickly come to hate them if they badger the player or hurry them forward. (They fixed this in the subsequent episodes, and it made the characters much more endearing.) Hurry up Gordon. This way Gordon. Over here Dr. Freeman. We need to get moving Gordon. C’mon Gordon. We need to get out of here, Gordon. Hey GordSHUT UP. SHUT YOUR PIE HOLE YOU STUPID NPC. I’M TRYING TO FIGURE OUT HOW TO OPEN THIS SECRET DOOR.

Every taskmaster in Crysis 2 spends their time screaming in your ear about how you need to hurry. If you take a drink every time someone utters a variant of “time is running out”, you’ll be unconscious before the end of the first act. (Which is good, because the endgame would kill you.) At one point near the end you have two different characters telling you to hurry and and demanding to know what’s taking so long – right in the middle of a firefight. It’s hard to believe these characters are so stupid they need to ask what might be delaying you in an alien-packed, crumbling, flooded city, which is also brimming with mercenaries who lust your blood.

In the green coat is Nathan Gould, who is trying hard to be The Truth from Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas.  But he has neither the voice of Peter Fonda nor the wit of Rockstar’s writers. His character concept is a solid hook, and in the hands of a skilled writer he could have delivered his exposition with levity.  In the end, his character ends up being merely ‘serviceable’.
In the green coat is Nathan Gould, who is trying hard to be The Truth from Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. But he has neither the voice of Peter Fonda nor the wit of Rockstar’s writers. His character concept is a solid hook, and in the hands of a skilled writer he could have delivered his exposition with levity. In the end, his character ends up being merely ‘serviceable’.

Their endless pestering became a constantly ringing phone that I couldn’t answer. It also led to a bad case of intensity fatigue. We spend so much of the game in THE LAST POSSIBLE MOMENT mode that it becomes commonplace and boring to hear about how little time we have left. By the end I no longer felt a sense of urgency. I just felt like the idiots bossing me around were prone to anxiety and didn’t have anything better to do than to irritate me. A little modulation of intensity would have helped a lot.

You get captured or disabled a lot.  Your plot-driven nanosuit will power down and you’ll become helpless. Characters will lead you around and talk about their plans for you, and then the suit will finish rebooting and you’ll get your powers back.
You get captured or disabled a lot. Your plot-driven nanosuit will power down and you’ll become helpless. Characters will lead you around and talk about their plans for you, and then the suit will finish rebooting and you’ll get your powers back.

The thing is, there are the ingredients of an excellent story, here. It has the same hook as Half-Life 2, which is an alien invasion in a big city. Fighting oppression, saving civilians, uncovering the secrets to victory. Thematically, this could all have worked. The guy behind the pen at Crytek is getting better at his job. He’s certainly come a long way from the original Far Cry.

The problem is not with concept or theme, but with pacing and clarity. One character is telling you that the fate of the world hinges on you doing something or getting somewhere. Then another one comes along and gives you a series of completely unrelated objectives. Your character is mute, so you can’t clear up any of the confusion that’s going on, or tell people you have more pressing business to attend to. You just do whatever people shout at you. The characters argue with each other about what you should be doing, like parents fighting over custody. But despite the fact that you’re an indestructible superman, you never get any say in the matter. You just stand there and wait to be told to do something. Gordon Freeman lacks a voice, but Alcatraz doesn’t have his own will.

You must help these people escape the city.
You must help these people escape the city.

The NPC’s spend entirely too much time yattering at each other on the radio built into your suit. Sometimes they hack into each other’s broadcast signals. Sometimes they inexplicably end up on the same channel. Sometimes they’re aware of what’s been said and sometimes they aren’t. They meet, introduce themselves to each other, and bring each other up to speed on events. Think about that: One NPC delivers exposition on what you’ve just done, for the benefit of another NPC, while you listen in. There is entirely too much talking for the meager amount of information and character development being delivered.

To fix this, I would have collapsed the myriad factions into one or two, particularly at the outset. Having conflict between characters is good, but I would make the good guys all have a common goal, and simply disagree on methods. This would reveal the attitudes of their characters without cluttering up the story. Having them meet and explain things to each other on the ham radio in your head is where most of the dialog cruft comes from, and eliminating that would free up that dialog to be cut, or put to better use.

Maligned in earlier titles, the vehicle sections here are short and mostly optional.
Maligned in earlier titles, the vehicle sections here are short and mostly optional.

Maybe it seems unfair to spend a whole post on the story of Crysis 2, but think of it this way: What separates Crysis 2 from Half-Life 2? What makes Alyx Vance more interesting than Tara Strickland? What causes Wallace Breen to be so much more infuriating than Jacob Hargreave? What makes Gordon Freeman an icon and Alcatraz a mere cipher? What makes the death of Eli Vance in HL2 a potent and emotional turning point while the the death of Prophet is a mere plot device?

It’s the writing. That’s all. That’s the magic ingredient that turned a great game into a legend. People are still talking about the Half-Life 2 cast. Alyx. Issac. Eli. Breen. They’re iconic, powerful, interesting, and they feel deep (even though they aren’t) because of the way the game alludes to their lives outside of the gameworld and works in little character details without simply drowning us in exposition.


The game concepts are similar. So similar that I suspect the guys at Crytek are trying to capture the magic of Valve. You’ve got a city besieged by aliens. NPC’s with personal rivalries. A silent protagonist in a super-suit. Some mumbo-jumbo science to elevate the story above “Find alien boss. Shoot Boss until dead.” A self-serving guy who is acquiring lots of power with the alleged goal of helping humanity. An eccentric scientist who delivers incomprehensible techno-babble exposition. A tough woman who isn’t afraid to get her hands dirty.

The right ingredients are here, it just needed a more skillful execution. A less cluttered delivery. Less telling and more showing. Less exposition and more extrapolation.

In the end, I have to say I’m impressed with Crytek. The story here is clunky, but I see them improving their craft and striving for something better.


From The Archives:

117 thoughts on “Crysis 2: Story

  1. krellen says:

    I’m glad to see at least one developer has realised that there’s already been a pinnacle of graphics reached, and story is the next lag that needs to get caught up. I probably shouldn’t be surprised that it’s the folks behind games that have long been heralded as graphics beasts, but somehow I am.

    1. It’s interesting you say that the pinnacle of graphics have been reached:

      I have the first Crysis game and played it on maximum graphics, and this will sound silly, but I was impressed at how good the bushes were. You could see every individual leaf, if you were crouching inside of one looking out, it looked real. The bushes and trees and general foliage was amazing.

      But then look back to Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. That game had really clean graphics, good sound, an epic quest, and it was released back in 1991.

      Metal Gear Solid was 1998 and Homeworld was 1999. Those were both, in their times, mind-blowing leaps in presentation and visual quality. But the stories were what stood out.

      We could go on: over and over, impressive titles are so because of the story. Game developers have had the technology to emotionally impact their players since… 1991. That was twenty years ago, if we use Link to the Past as a baseline.

      Game developers have had this ability, and they’ve not used it for lack of skill and daring. It is simpler to make a game with solid mechanics, ala Pilotwings. Game developers can, they just haven’t.

      1. krellen says:

        I never said when that pinnacle was reached. Honestly, we’ve been building the graphical Tower of Babel for quite some time now.

        1. Dude says:

          For me, it was Freespace 2. That game still looks bloody gorgeous.

          But, I think it’s rather easy to make space look gorgeous.

    2. Daemian Lucifer says:

      Dont kid yourself that we have reached the pinnacle of graphics.True,we have lifelike persons,buildings and bushes,but theres still loats of tweaks to be done with lighting and shadows.And while even the smallest shred of improvement is left,developers will be focused more on that than other things.The trend is slowing down,it seems,but its still a few years before it finally stops.

      Oh,and 3d.Lets not forget the gimmick of 3d…

      1. Bobby Archer says:

        I think his point is that we’ve reached the point where graphics no longer increase to the point where improving them is a major selling point for the larger part of the game-buying audience. Sure, until we have total 100% photo-realistic 3D holographic graphics, there will always be room to improve. We have, however, reached a point where the steps between graphical advances are smaller and take longer to achieve. It is becoming more cost-effective to try to impress people with art direction or story than to try to cram more polygons or detail into a scene.

        1. Raygereio says:

          It is becoming more cost-effective to try to impress people with art direction or story than to try to cram more polygons or detail into a scene.

          That’s just cruel Why did you have to give me hope like that?

        2. Joe says:

          Yeah. While there is still probably some degree of improvement to make graphics actually look exactly like reality, we’re definitely running against diminishing returns here.

          It seems, in fact, like the whole graphics war was about having a game that could stand out. The ‘Can it Run Crysis?’standard probably sold more copies of that game than any other factor just because it became well known for shiny graphical technology. Now it seems like it’s nigh-impossible to stand out graphically because everything looks so damn good. I would say this is a good thing.

          1. Daemian Lucifer says:

            Check out this one:

            A new technology that offers various things.The first thing you see it can be used for is faster and bigger memories,which is nice.But when you check the rest of the properties of the device,you also see that it offers more densely packed processors,and higher variety of states(not just binary 0 and 1).Now imagine what this will do to graphic cards.Imagine a graphic card that can have all the shades of colours,with more processing power and greater memory,and all that for about the same price as current generation of graphic cards.

            Yes,we are at the pinnacle of graphics now,but we are soon going to reach a new incline,and shiny graphics will return as the priority for developers.I give it about 5 years before the trend starts again.

  2. Max says:

    NPCs bothering the player to hurry up is so annoying. You’d think developers would lessen the amount, to the point where we actually care when the NPCs tell us to hurry up.

    I’m sure there are other ways to show the need to hurry based on visual and auditory cues other than someone talking. Like a random example unrelated to anything specific, if you need to hurry to save some civilians you can here the screams and gunshots from a distance.

    Tailoring specific cues to the situation could work better than NPCs just telling you to hurry up, and actually make you want to hurry.

    1. Klay F. says:

      Or you know, they could to the time honored tradition of a countdown timer. If the game designers REALLY wanted you to hurry, they would force you to do so. Having NPCs blather on endlessly about how little time you have is meaningless, because in reality you have all the time in the world, you could leave the game on and go make lobster bisque and when you got back, the NPCs would STILL be going on about hurrying up.

      1. ccesarano says:

        Homefront has this same problem, actually. It makes it all the more frustrating since I’m trying to wander the environment finding the newspaper clippings that detail the events leading up to the invasion (by far the most interesting part of the story). I swear the timer is set for them to bitch every 20-30 seconds.

        I know Halo would add a visual icon indicating which direction you needed to go if you wandered for a while, but Cortana would still chirp in your ear. There are other games that used a similar strategy, though, where a simple icon would keep you informed while you just wandered the environment. I didn’t play the Hell out of them when I was in high school, though, so Halo is the only one I can currently recall it in.

        I don’t mind having NPC’s remind me to get going, but I’d rather they only respond in such a manner every five to ten minutes, not every thirty seconds.

        In context of Crysis 2 and apparently being harped on while fighting aliens, if they intended the player to just run and not defeat the foes there are several ways to get that idea across. 1) Never-ending spawning enemies, and 2) have the characters actually shout “We can’t beat them all! Hurry and run here for cover!” or something.

        1. Nataline says:

          Cortana would “chirp” in your ear, eh? In my ear she sometimes just mumbled something hopefully-not-important under the background music. Like the sound mixing hadn’t been checked at all in certain parts of the game. Highly irritating, that. (Xbox)

          Homefront autobitcher was frustrating, yes, and why wasn’t I allowed to do the same damn thing when my teammates were holding up the progress with some scripted shouting match I‘d already heard a hundred times? (Xbox360)

          Crysis 2… hmmm… Oh yeah, that game! I actually played that one for a little bit quite some time ago and then sort of forgot it entirely. I feel no pull whatsoever from that game, although it’s amazing. It says so on the cover: “‘Amazing’ -IGN” *shrug* Dunno if I even want to try it again if it’s just going to be about headful of angry voices incessantly barking orders at me… :/ (PS3)

      2. Max says:

        Timers are okay, but they can break immersion. Except in cases like a bomb going off, where a timer would seem quite natural. But in other cases it might be better to show in in the environment, visually, and audibly, the escalation of danger as time goes on. When the player eventually fails the mission they shouldn’t lose because of a timer hitting 0, but because of an actual danger in the story/environment, if that makes sense to anyone but me…

        A timer could still be used in addition to what I’ve suggested, to make it clear, but I don’t think a timer alone is adequate.

        Edit: Another reason why timers might be bad, is illustrated by Yahtzee in the zero punctuation of Halo Wars. he had to get some Spartans back to base before the timer ran out, and they were only a few steps from the base but he ran out of time and lost the game. realistically nothing would have happened to them in a few seconds to reach the base, so losing because of a timer instead of a real danger sucks.

        1. Zekiel says:

          I personally hate timers because they bring out my worst gameplay perfectionist habits. I don’t know what the challenges ahead are – so if I waste a few precious seconds here, perhaps that will doom me to failure 4 minutes later when the timer runs out? How can I know? Better to replay the first 30 seconds now and do it perfectly rather than risk having to replay the whole 5 minute segment… This results in me replaying sections again and again to do them perfectly for fear of wasting time later. Pretty dumb I think you’ll agree, but there we go.

          On another topic, Starcraft 2’s missions do a pretty good job with environmental timers – in other words you never have an actual timer counting down, but rather you have some graphical representation that gives a sense of urgency – e.g. an enemy progressing through a limited number of neutral buildings, or a giant drill breaking down the (mahoosive) health bar of a blockage. As I recall Warcraft 3 started this with a “timer” composed of enemies chopping down trees to reach their target. Simple but effective.

          1. Max says:

            This is exactly the sort of thing I was trying to describe, but couldn’t really think of a good example. No timers, no people shouting on the radio. Actual in game reason to hurry. Thank you for mentioning this!

            Haven’t bought Starcraft 2 yet, but maybe I will soon after reading about this.

      3. Peter H. Coffin says:

        “Or you know, they could to the time honored tradition of a countdown timer. If the game designers REALLY wanted you to hurry, they would force you to do so.”

        Preferably by, you know, having actual in-game consequences for going slowly. Of course, that makes the decision tree far more complicated as it would indeed be possible for good and/or lucky players to win in Act 1, or unlucky ones to lose without ever getting out of it. The usual pattern of the villain ALWAYS getting the first several steps of the plan to completion and ONLY ever losing at the climax battle is horribly “unrealistic” but it’s the only way to push the player through all of the content, which is the only way to have the players not kvetch about not getting their money’s worth.

      4. Raygereio says:

        Are you honestly advocating timers in videogames? Think very carefully about your answer; one of the two possible answers just might result in your untimely demise.

        Timers are right up there with escort missions on the list of game mechanics that work if done right, but are pretty much never done right.

        *Just spend a good 30 minutes being utterly frustrated over a timed mission in Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood*

        1. Narida says:

          One of the Romulus lairs?

          1. Raygereio says:

            Actually no; those two timed Romulus lairs were also dumb, but easily doable once you figured out the path (which wasn’t difficult). There however the timer does ruin the atmosphere as you can’t just sit back and enjoy the scenery around you, you just have to hurry, hurry, hurry.

            No, the timed mission that really earned my wrath was the second race thief mission. The bonus objective is to do it within a certain timelimit (and I’m somewhat OCD about bonus objectives). Problem; the race goes through several crossbow guard invested rooftops, so you will get caught and shot at. That entire race is based around luck, because you just have to hope the guards miss you.

            1. Jarenth says:

              You’re playing an Assassin’s Creed game and there are still people alive on the rooftops?

              Or do these guys spawn when you start the race? Because that would be enough to drive me into a rage of sorts.

        2. Klay F. says:

          My entire point in that post is that NPCs going on about hurrying is absolutely meaningless, unless there is an actual timer. I learned a long time ago to do pretty much the opposite of what an NPC tells me to do if I want to get the most out of my game. I very rarely pay attention to NPC in First Person games. Seriously, in just about every First Person game in existence, you can turn off the voice volume entirely and not miss much.

          I made it a point to not follow any of Polito’s instructions (in other words, I turned off the voice volume) in System Shock 2 for my first playthrough, so I could find my own way. Its my opinion, that the Shodan reveal carried more weight, and the game in general was better without Polito/Shodan smugly telling you what to do every second.

          I realize that as I write this that the point of the whole Polito/Shodan thing was to MAKE you feel like a puppet, but then again, I intictively rebel against that sort of thing.

          TL;DR I never listen to NPCs, and I believe ignoring them leads to better experiences.

    2. Nick-B says:

      Funny you should say this. I was playing the game and got to a point where there were several friendly combat NPCs around. The very start of the level has one of them shout “MOVE OUT! MOVE OUT! GO! GO!”

      For some reason, the game got confused, and made ALL the NPCs shout it out at random intervals, constantly, usually 3 at one time in a weird kind of row of “Row row row your boat”, even after the level proceeded and they were not around any more. To top it all off, the main NPC would constantly radio me “Hey man, come here!” too. I was, by the end, actually shouting back at my monitor.

      I haven’t gone back to the game since.

      1. RejjeN says:

        I had a similar experience when I stayed back and was grabbing some nano crystals, though it stopped once I got to the next event. I think it’s just a bug and probably won’t happen a lot.

        1. Nick-B says:

          Just loaded the checkpoint after we split up. They’re still yelling at me. I’m hearing voices, man!

          In all seriousness, I cannot play with it like that. maybe i can dig up an old autosave…

  3. Mathias says:

    This makes me sad that my computer’s still a mess. I would pick it up for a console, but I doubt it’ll be as gorgeous as the scenery on the PC (if it is, I take my hat off to Crytek for squeezing that sort of graphical fidelity out of a five year old console).

    1. Falcon_47 says:

      Let’s just say the original Crysis still looks better on my PC then this game on both consoles, and we’ll leave you at that…

    2. Matthias says:

      Granted, the video resolution isn’t that high, but I find it very hard to spot any differences at all.

      1. krellen says:

        I don’t own an HD TV, so I probably would notice differences.

  4. RTBones says:

    “Shut your pie hole, you stupid NPC….” For some insane reason, that line made me LOL. I suspect it is because I have (finally) gotten Fallout:New Vegas (along with the Dead Money DLC), and find myself saying stuff like that a lot. I also tend to scream STFU at my monitor at times. Mayhaps I ask a bit too much of the games I play….

    Also – if I may ask: were the second picture (statue of liberty) and third picture (her arm in the city) taken at radically different points in the game? Sure looks like Lady Liberty has her arm in the second one….

    1. Bobby Archer says:

      Maybe the game actually takes place in an alternate world where the Statue of Liberty looks like some kind of octopus-woman. You could have half a dozen arms scattered around the gameworld and still have a normal-looking statue.

      1. LassLisa says:

        It’s comments like this one that make me realize how much I’ve gotten used to having a ‘Like’ or ‘+1’ option for comments.

        What a great visual.

      2. Veloxyll says:

        The Statue of Cthulonic Liberty

    2. Inyssius says:

      Oh, definitely. In between, the city has enjoyed heavy bombardment by aliens, the US military, and two distinct factions of the private military contractor CELL. Also: a massive flood, and seismic activity so powerful that one almost begins to wonder if New York City will just snap in half and plummet down into the planet’s molten core.

      So, in my opinion, there’s a probably a bit of justification for the way you keep running into large pieces of Lady Liberty in your later travels.

  5. JohnW says:

    I haven’t played Crysis 2 yet, but the first was just about the most fun I’ve had playing a shooter in years. I thought it was much better than HL2. Except for the no-gravity level. That almost made me puke.

    I felt very little emotional attachment in HL2. It was fun, but I guess maybe the constant reloading in some of the more difficult set pieces ruined my immersion. I didn’t care too much when Eli died, because I was exhausted from fighting off all of the striders. (If I’m remembering the sequence correctly.)

  6. Henebry says:

    I think it would be cool to have a game which enacted the superpowered subhuman theme with the pathos of RoboCop: whenever characters talk to you, give the player a dialogue tree offering a full range of options. But in most/all cases these choices don’t match well with what the superpowered subhuman actually says and does. Perhaps the player chooses to explain his condition (“They broke me up and put me back togetehr. I’m more dead than alive”) but the spoken dialogue ends up being grotesque and unintelligible, breaking off into mumbled curses and self-recrimination. Or, even better, when the player chooses to caress the cheek of a sympathetic female NPC, his superpowered arm sweeps her up and knocks her across the room.

    In action scenes, you get full control of the character, but in NPC interaction scenes you find yourself unable to act: your willed choices don’t match well with the resulting action. And this beautifully captures the pathos of a superpowered subhuman monster.

    1. Sheer_Falacy says:

      I think that players would hate that – look at Mass Effect, where you got that exact effect – characters not saying what players thought they would – and how annoying it was. Maybe it’d be better if it were an intended part of the story, but generally people want the character to do what it’s told to do.

    2. Bret says:

      Mass Effect 2 has the character not doing what you think you picked all the time, and she’s a post human cyborg.

      Of course, the thought is generally less “WHAT HAVE I DONE!” and more “Holy shit. Did she just say that? Oh crap, now everyone’s shooting. DAMMIT SHEPARD!” (or, alternately, “How did that even work? Good job, I guess.”)

      So, it’s less a simulation of what it’s like to be robocop, and more a simulation of being Commander Shepard’s commanding officer.

      1. Veloxyll says:

        Shepard herself says pretty much the same thing on a Renegade dialogue in Thane’s loyalty mission when she scares away a tech by suggesting there’s a bomb on the station.

  7. Ace Calhoon says:

    Hmm… Another game with a silent protagonist? I really wish the industry would stop harping on this one lame gimmick. Especially a company that’s still trying to improve in more fundamental areas. Silent protagonists are tough to even get to a break even point, much less get to the point of adding to the game.

    1. Shamus says:

      The original Crysis had a voiced protagonist. The problem is, this is a first-person game. It’s not always clear to the player which voice is their character, and which voices are the people around them. You don’t know it’s you talking.

      1. Nyaz says:

        I get the feeling you wouldn’t have this problem if everyone wasn’t a manly-man space marine (may not apply here, I have not actually played any Crysis games, I am simply speaking about shooters in general here).

        Or maybe… you could make the main character female to make it easier to make out who is talking?

        1. It would also help if every ACTION HERO wasn’t wearing a Master Chief helmet and when the voice sounds in a cut scene, you can see lips moving and not just a general nodding of the head.

          I grasp what they’re doing – if they don’t put a face on the main character, you can imagine yourself in there. Except I’m 235lbs – no freaking way I’m fitting into that wet-suit!

          1. Tizzy says:

            Very good point. I never understood why identifying with the character is so important. I mean, you have to *care* about what happens to the guy/gal, but it doesn’t mean that person has to be YOU, does it?

            So all this lame silent, faceless protagonist nonsense always irks me.

      2. poiumty says:

        The funny part is, there are times where you CAN or even HAVE to say something but you don’t anyway.

        The game uses this against you to the point where i had started to think that the main character really IS mute. Or at least becomes mute thanks to the accident. For instance, there’s a part where (mild early-game spoiler warning) that scientist dude actually thinks you’re Prophet, and then he’s shocked to see that you aren’t. Can’t we, like, TELL him that from the start? He uses our suit’s handy recording device to figure that one out.

        Did you finish the game, btw? In the last part of the game, the character… uh… i guess i won’t spoil it, but it’s pretty freaky.

      3. HeroOfHyla says:

        Gotta agree with you, Shamus. I tried playing Condemed a few months ago, and I just couldn’t gt into it because of 2 things:
        The cutscenes were in third person. It always took me a minute to realize “Oh, this is my character.”

        Your character spoke. I had no idea it was my character speaking most of the time.

        Cryostasis had the same “go into 3rd person for no reason!” problem. I look out the window and suddenly I’m seeing my guy in third person looking out over the frozen wastes. It’s especially distracting because I thought at first it was one of the “see into a dead person’s memory” flashbacks that happens a lot.

        Call of Cthulu had the same “talking first person” problem. My character got himself into so much trouble saying stupid stuff while normally I was mostly in total control.

        I think Penumbra did it well. Your character had text inner monologue that appeared on screen sometimes, but never spoke a word. That’s one thing that I noticed was different in Amnesia. Daniel spoke outloud a few times during the story. I guess it was more justifiable there though, because he’s suffering from amnesia, so the speaking part is pretty much a different character (his pre-amnesia self).

        1. Ace Calhoon says:

          An inner monologue doesn’t really help with the main problem I have with silent protagonists: sometimes being silent says terrible things about a character.

          Some key examples of my personal problems with silent protagonists:

          Singularity (where your character refuses to acknowledge his own existence to comfort a comrade in arms who is on the verge of a mental breakdown… Or to coordinate and join forces with the one friendly face in a bizarre fantasy world).

          Half Life 2 (this escape is great and all, but why are the aliens on our side again? Why am I not asking about this? Wasn’t I carving a bloody swathe through them at the end of the last game?).

          Magicka (Parodied towards the end, in which the characters are placed in situations where a simple handful of words would have prevented entirely unnecessary combat).

          For whatever reason a poorly handled mute character feels more constraining to me than even the most linear of corridor-filled level designs.

          1. Veloxyll says:

            In the Magicka protagonists’ defence, when they’re rendered speechless they’re facing Death and the oldest dragon in the world, neither of who give you an opportunity to talk before hitting the combat music.
            Plus it’s funnier that way.

            1. Ace Calhoon says:

              They’re also supposed to explain things to Vlad, who has been talking at them non-stop since the beginning of the game :-P

              But yeah, in Magicka it’s a joke rather than a problem. It’s something that Magicka is actively making fun of.

        2. Adam P says:

          Another game that did inner monologue well was Arkham Asylum. When talking to other characters, Batman would sound like gruff, serious Batman. But when he was talking–thinking, actually–to himself, he sounded like Bruce Wayne. But perhaps the only reason I think this was done well was because I grew up watching Batman: The Animated Series. People unfamiliar with the best cartoon of the 90’s would probably be super confused, when in reality they should be super ashamed.

      4. Ace Calhoon says:

        Yeah, that’s a problem that I hope some clever UI designer solves well someday. There are ways to mitigate it, though… And I find them less annoying than a poorly done silent character. Of course, I may be an outlier in that regard.

      5. Daemian Lucifer says:

        Bulletstorm has the protagonist speak.He doesnt say much useful,but at least you always know its you who is talking.But thats maybe because the other two people who talk are a robot and a woman.

        1. Jarenth says:

          And, on occasion, one raging douchebag.

          1. Daemian Lucifer says:

            Just one?Huh.

            1. Jarenth says:

              Talking about General Whatshisface.

      6. Christopher M says:

        I would personally think it would work to have your character hold up a transmitter device or put his hand to his ear when talking. It’s an accepted TV/movie trope, and it fills this purpose.

        The likely complaint being “It slows down the gunplay” and my response being “What, like any soldier is going to shoot and tell his CO what’s going on at the same time?”

        If the call happens in the middle of a firefight, the character could just yell “Not now!” into the transmitter, then pick up later.


      7. Simon Buchan says:

        Surely good sound tech could fix this? You sound completely different to yourself “from the inside” than a recording, after all. Record the actor with a throat mic or something?

    2. Ringwraith says:

      What makes even less sense is that in their previous games their protagonist all had voices and personalities (though Nomad was probably the least clear of them), so it doesn’t seem to make much sense to go to using a silent protagonist when they are obviously capable of making good more defined ones.

      1. poiumty says:

        Nomad had a voice? Huh. Didn’t even notice.

  8. StranaMente says:

    And now that I’ve finally turned off that damned motion blur I can play the game without having motion sickness. Seriously, everything was blurred and shiny and moved like crap. Thanks again crytek for making a game for pc and forgetting the video settings…

    1. Ringwraith says:

      You make it sound like they’ve done it before…

      Though maybe they’ll address that in the high-res pack which is on the way.

  9. Tuck says:

    @JohnW: I too found Crysis more fun than HL2. I think it just shows that we’re completely shallow gamers who don’t care about the story and depth of a game and only appreciate whether the gameplay is fun or not.

    In HL2 I even tried to avoid the story and just have fun (the prison level with an unlimited-ammo crossbow resulted in a wonderful metrocops-nailed-to-the-walls-by-an-insane-serial-killer display).

    But Far Cry and Crysis’s stories did suck. I will not dispute that. I just didn’t care. :D

    1. ccesarano says:

      and only appreciate whether the gameplay is fun or not.

      And you thought Crysis was more fun than Half-Life 2?

      I never got to play it myself, but I watched several sessions one of my roommates played. The game seemed awfully generic and the suit powers were pretty wasted, their use never really encouraged aside from maybe one or two in the exact same circumstances over and over.

      It was pretty, though.

      1. Tuck says:

        The fun was in doing things that you aren’t meant to do.

        Like, paddling an upside-down table out into the bay. Or a boat, I did it with one of those too.

        And chopping down forests. Or picking up the top of a tree after you cut it off and pretending to be disguised!

        Yeah, the game as it was designed (just like Far Cry) isn’t really that great. But the extra-curricular gameplay is very fun. :D

        HL2 was very much a trip from set-piece to set-piece, and there weren’t many areas where you could deviate much from that and just much around in the world.

  10. Cineris says:

    I have to say, when I heard that Richard K. Morgan was involved in writing the story for Crysis 2 I actually got somewhat interested. His books (Altered Carbon, Broken Angels, Woken Furies) are excellent. Altered Carbon in particular has one of the most intense scenes I’ve ever read in my life. When I was reading it, I literally had to put the book down because I could barely believe what I was reading.

  11. Ivan.Y says:

    Actually, unlike the previous Crytek offerings, the Crysis 2 story is based on a screenplay by an award-winning Canadian science fiction author, Richard K. Morgan, with some input by another SF heavyweight, Peter Watts. Take a look here for context:

    1. ccesarano says:

      I’ve noticed that, while having authors write games makes for an improvement (or screen writers, etc.) there’s still a disconnect between the mediums. The Overlord games are written by Terry Pratchett’s daughter, and while dialog can often prove amusing the story itself is still a bit lame. Homefront seems to share a lot of similarities with Crysis 2, and that was written by John Milius.

      The issue is bound to be tied in with the designers, though. In an interview/talk Jordan Mechner mentioned that writers are still treated pretty low level in the games industry, where the designers will have everything planned out and then the writer is there just to make it a bit less crappy.

      Giving the writer freedom to construct the plot and then trying to interweave the gameplay with that would work wonders, but sometimes you need someone that can both write and understands video games. Unfortunately, the concept of gameplay and story being interwoven in America still seems foreign to developers and players, and as such everyone suffers.

      1. X2-Eliah says:

        I’d counter by saying that good writers are just poor at game ubiquities. You cannot apply the same methods in a game that you can in a novel or short story.. And I fear at the moment certain game writers work to make a good story – from a novel perspective – and do not consider the gameplay approach to it.

      2. Zukhramm says:

        Basically, even when they bring in a writer to polish up the dialog a but, the designer is still the actually writer of the story.

        1. ccesarano says:

          Pretty much this, and sometimes just because you can design a good game doesn’t mean you can construct a good story. I look at Tim Schafer as a rare breed of developers that understands how to make a game fun while also knowing how to spin a good yarn.

          This is why I feel the industry could use an approach similar to Hollywood, where you have the writer that has the story concept and the designer that can put the gameplay together. The problem is, well, you still run the risks of people trying to write stories without taking into consideration the interactive nature of games, and you might still have designers that think they have better ideas.

          True, there are designers out there that can do both, just as there are film directors that can do both. But let’s take something like The Last Airbender film. M. Night Shyamalan was a FANTASTIC director, putting together some beautiful imagery and one-shot action sequences (rather than cutting several individual shots together, which is harder than choreographing one smooth flowing scene of combat). But the script…..oh God the script….

          However, I’ve already seen a lot of developers feel negative about such an idea for various reasons. For some reason the thought of giving writers creative freedom is bad to a designer, even though some of my favorite games started with a good story (and often blended the gameplay into it. Recent example: Valkyrie Profile Covenant of the Plume on the DS).

    2. MrPyro says:

      And by Canadian you mean British, yes?

  12. Bubble181 says:

    Minor nitpick: “add odds” should probably be “at odds”.

    Otherwise, YAY! Game commentary!

    1. Zukhramm says:

      Second nitpick. Who’s Ewe?

      Let me tell you about my favourite movie director Uwe Boll.

      1. Dragomok says:

        Uwe Boll: German, director of Postal, Bloodrayne, House of the Dead and many other videogames’ ecranisations.
        Seen by some people as the second Ed Wood (Plan 9 from Outer Space, Glen or Glenda).

        Also, the guy who challenges every critic for duel on boxing ring.

        Ewe Boll: a quick Google search says it’s Uwe’s mocking nickname those craaa-azy Americans made up.

        1. Shamus says:

          I wasn’t trying to mock him, just forgot how the name was spelled.


      2. Zerotime says:

        Ewe Boll? I hear he’s a baaaaaad director.

        1. Jarenth says:

          You can’t miss it, really; everyone keeps bleating on about how bad he is.

  13. PhilWal says:

    I think the Crysis 2 story was the first game written by Richard (K) Morgan, who was signed by EA to help with a few of their games.

    1. cctnation says:

      Written by Richard Morgan? No way… Surely that guy would come up with a significantly better story… Or maybe the developers/publisher meddled with the story too much…

      One elite soldier/lone wolf against the rest of the world/universe is pretty much Morgan’s forte, no?

      Oh well. It’s not like he doesn’t have Crysis 3, 4, 5, Crysis Counterforce, Crysis Invasion, Crysis 6, 7, Crysis 7andahalf, Crysis 8 and FINAL CRYSIS! to get it right… No sweat people…

  14. AngryPanda says:

    “The characters argue with each other about what you should be doing, like parents fighting over custody. But despite the fact that you're an indestructible superman, you never get any say in the matter. You just stand there and wait to be told to do something. Gordon Freeman lacks a voice, but Alcatraz doesn't have his own will.”

    It’s a german thing. You should be amazed there is any sort of entertainment to be had at all.

    1. Matthias says:

      “A german thing”? Can you elaborate on that?
      While I haven’t played everything made in Germany, there are a couple of games I really liked, including but not limited to Gothic 1-3 and the X games.

      Please note that I’m not offended or anything, me being a german game developer. I’m just curious :-)

      1. AngyPanda says:

        If I insulted anyone it would be myself too ;) I wouldn’t say something like that about other people but self-bashing is different.
        Anyway, the idea of following command, no matter if it makes sense or not is a deeply integrated part of this culture. The problem of the super soldier not having a free choice seems just typical to me.

        1. Piflik says:

          I really don’t want to introduce a discussion about that topic here, but I personally think that since the third Reich at the latest we know to think before following commands…

          1. AngryPanda says:

            Let’s just not then. I was mostly kidding about cliché anyway.

          2. Falcon says:

            Now you’re just tempting Godwin.

            OT: I suppose that there certainly are cultures where blind obedience (or something close to it) to their superiors is the norm. Japan and China certainly fall on this end of the spectrum. As for Germany, I’d not thought of them in that way myself so I’ll take your word. To an American though this flys against a very deeply ingrained part of our national culture. Any time we are put in a role where blind obedience is expected, we will chaff at the notion. That’s why Rockstar is so popular, it’s this idea to the extreme. So almost any American who is paying attention to the plot will be annoyed by this, though that may be the minority of Crysis’s target audience.

  15. X2-Eliah says:

    I’ll say this, I am really really happy that you got the journalist access to games – I was really looking forward to more content just like this from you, and now it seems the hurdle of price at least is gone.

    Also.. A game can have a really good story with poor execution/portrayal.. I kinda think that is what happened here, actually – the writer might have come up with all these details & character types, and the ones responsible for getting it all across to player botched it up a bit.

    Also.. DX11 patch is coming to Crysis2 soon, and it will allegedly unlock all the missing graphics options. So if anyone is disappointed about graphics, there’s still hope.

    1. Irridium says:

      I just don’t know why it wasn’t done at the start. Crysis 2 is all about the graphics, so why the hell would they limit it so much with just DX9 and only 3, count ’em 3, pre-set graphics settings?

      Still, I actually enjoyed the story, which surprised me. After the multiplayer demo I expected the single player to be the same, a boring Call of Duty rip-off. Glad I was wrong. Still didn’t have as much fun as the first game though. Mainly due to the changed up suit.

  16. poiumty says:

    The thing about the writing in Crysis is that it didn’t HAVE a dedicated writer before Crysis 2. Or if they had, he wasn’t a writer by profession.

    It’s nice that you actually liked the game instead of starting to bitch about the changes and the hand-holding and how the suit isn’t special anymore and how dumbed down it is. Well, i didn’t expect you would, but it’s nice seeing something other than that (i’ve been spending too much time on the escapist forums).

    1. Max says:


      There’s like a dozen threads with the same complaints about Crysis 2. But the the same thing happened with Dragon Age 2. If someone doesn’t make a game exactly like the original, expect a dozen threads dedicated to it.

    2. ccesarano says:

      This was just the story. The actual game itself Shamus has yet to get to. But knowing him, even if he does complain about those things, he’ll at least sound (or rather, read) smart doing it.

  17. bbot says:

    Only playing games when they actually come out? Golly, Shamus, why so slow? I complained about all of this a month ago.

    My ranting was perhaps tinted with a touch of bitterness because I’ve read Richard Morgan before, and know he can actually write. Novels. Games, not so much.

  18. Henebry says:

    As someone who lived in New York City for most of the 90s, I have to say I enjoyed how well the screenshots here capture the ambience of NYC””a street lined with brownstones, an elevated subway platform at night, driving north on FDR drive along the Upper East Side in Manhattan.

  19. MichaelG says:

    Shamus, did you ever do a post where you explained why you hated Far Cry? I mean, you’ve played hundreds more games than I have, but I thought it was serviceable.

    You run around, do missions, kill people and blow things up. The guy on the radio tells you what you need to know, the girl doesn’t get in your way much, and there are killer monkeys that move WAY too fast. Lots of weapons to choose from.

    I’m not sure about other games of that era, but it seemed comparable to Castle Wolfenstein, not as nice looking as original Halo. A reasonably good time.

    Are my standards just too low?

    As for HL2 characters, does anyone else follow Judith around whacking her head with the crowbar?

    1. cctnation says:

      What? Not as nice-looking as Halo 1 ?

      No way…

      I liked Far Cry for the most part (well, the broken stealth gameplay was a bit annoying… I.e. you can hide at the other end of the damn jungle but if there isn’t more than leaves and bushes between you and the enemy, they will see you… ALL OF THEM), until the mutants came out of the woodwork… Particularly towards the end they can take so much damage and look so ridiculous it’s just no fun anymore.

      They should have stuck with human enemies…

  20. searanox says:

    “The game concepts are similar. So similar that I suspect the guys at Crytek are trying to capture the magic of Valve. You've got a city besieged by aliens. NPC's with personal rivalries. A silent protagonist in a super-suit. Some mumbo-jumbo science to elevate the story above “Find alien boss. Shoot Boss until dead.” A self-serving guy who is acquiring lots of power with the alleged goal of helping humanity. An eccentric scientist who delivers incomprehensible techno-babble exposition. A tough woman who isn't afraid to get her hands dirty. ”

    I’m not sure if this reveals that Crysis 2 is trying to reach the lofty heights of Half-Life 2, or if Half-Life 2’s story is comparable to the most inane and cliched of science-fiction/action films.

    Also, hey, I have an avatar now! I wonder if my old name works with it too.

    1. eric says:

      Huh. Well I’ll be. The best of both worlds!

      But yes, we tend to hold up Half-Life 2 as sort of an ideal about storytelling in games, that it proves compelling characters and world design can make even a relatively simple sequence of events engaging. And while that’s true, the story in Half-Life 2 is hardly something I’d consider significantly better than most action schlock. We have a long ways to go yet if a few archetypical characters with good dialogue are enough to propel Half-Life 2 to the heights of videogame storytelling.

      And yes, before anyone jumps on it, I’m not saying videogame storytelling needs to be the same as film storytelling. The benefits interactivity provides fill in a lot of holes. But in a linear title which is effectively built upon masterful manipulation of the player, I’m not so sure the interactivity counts for as much as we’d like to believe.

      1. Daemian Lucifer says:

        Well I always said that linearity is not a bad thing.Yet many developers dont realize that and think that if you make your game open you made it better.Half life 2 is good not because it has a great and innovative story,nor because its a sandbox game,but because it tells the story in a good way.

        Also,the name you choose doesnt matter,only the email your gravatar is connected with.

    2. Irridium says:

      Half Life 2’s story is comparable to the most inane and cliched of science-fiction/action films/games.

      “Aliens invade Earth, beat them” is the story. However, what separates it is how its told. And its told in a truly amazing way.

      1. O.G.N says:

        Watt-Evans’ Law of Literary Creation: There is no idea so stupid or hackneyed that a sufficiently-talented writer can’t get a good story out of it.

        Feist’s Corollary: There is no idea so brilliant or original that a sufficiently-untalented writer can’t screw it up.

      2. Bret says:

        Done in one.

        Really, if you reduce it to the most basic level, almost alls plots have been covered by something truly abysmal.

  21. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Just goes to show what Ive been saying all along:The plot is meaningless to the story.Any plot can be made both bad and good just by changing the way you tell it.

    Great to see you talking about games again.Its always enjoying.

    1. Tizzy says:

      Yes. And “complicated plot” and “rich plot” are not the same thing. And telling players to hurry up is not constructive and does not really create a sense of urgency, unless there is an actual countdown going on (and even then, it’s aggravating).

  22. Mumbles says:

    Johnen Vasquez tweeted about how terrible the story in Crysis 2 was and then attempted to write his own FPS:

    “Eh…there’s maybe waypoints, and a guy bossing you around so you don’t have to think, and soldiers…and..aliens, and…damn. Barrels?”

    He said the story picked up later, but I don’t know if he was being facetious or not.

    1. Bret says:

      He said it improved with a QTE of sex with an Octopus.

      Pretty sure he was being facetious. Or Crysis is more daring than I gave it credit for.

  23. Raygereio says:

    You just stand there and wait to be told to do something. Gordon Freeman lacks a voice, but Alcatraz doesn't have his own will.

    Wait, Shamus. Did you play a different Half Life 2 then I did? Because while it’s been a while, I distinctly remember Freeman meekly following other people’s orders.

    1. Shamus says:

      It’s all about motivation.

      HL2 sold me on the immediate goal, so I was doing these things because I wanted to.

      In Crysis, I was doing it because I was told to.

      Gordon doesn’t speak, but he doesn’t need to.

      Alcatraz really, REALLY needed to speak up at several points in the game, and didn’t.

      1. Raygereio says:

        “HL2 sold me on the immediate goal, so I was doing these things because I wanted to.”
        I can buy this. I’m probably one the few non-HL2-fanboys on the Internet and HL2 didn’t sell me on the immediate goal, thus I ended up doing things because other people told me to do so.

  24. Slothful says:

    Well, one of the reasons people are still talking about the Half-Life cast is that the series is still continuing…

    Right Valve?


    1. Zukhramm says:

      Valve will make a reply to this question “when it’s done”, but they promise the answer will be here soon.

      1. Dude says:

        After fifteen fucking years, it better be good!

  25. Tizzy says:

    “Of course, you don't play Crytek games for the story, so it's not fair to pick it apart.”

    Damn! I totally bought it!
    I guess the fact that the title of the post was “Crysis 2: Story” should have been enough to recognize this obvious trap…

  26. Patrick the Bemused says:

    I played HL2 because my brother forced it upon me. I would say overall I liked it, but it definitly needed something. Or less of something.
    I’ve always thought the marriage of a highly evolved tech society in a mountain of rubble was akward. Seriously, I can barely keep track of all my computer cables behind my desk. And having a HD plasma hooked up to a wirelsss router, PS3, Wii, Theatre system and cable box is a nightmare of cables and connectors. Moving my entertainment center to vaccum is a planned event in my house, requiring three people, one of which needs to be an electrical engineer. How the F**k do you have an intergalactic transportation system next to a demilitarized zone and Zombieville? The contrast between the two doesn’t work for me, like having Tijuana hookers in the White House.
    And I know some people found the mystery behind HL2 interesting and compelling but I think it was overdone. At some point you have clue the player into WTF is going on. Seriously, whats my motivation here. Exactly why am I single handedly waging war on an unknown alien force? And besides this suit how am I doing this? If it is just this suit, can’t I spend my time making more suits rather than crusading across the wasteland by myself?
    Perhaps the future of post-apocolyptic America doesn’t need Gordon Freeman as much as it needs a good seamstress?

    1. Bret says:

      Well, if you were paying attention, the whole “Gordon sits on his butt doing science” was Plan A for everyone. He’s a MIT grad and general science whiz, seemed a better use of his time than commando work, even if he does have a terrifying natural aptitude for it. (Half-Life 1 was Gordon having a VERY BAD day at work. Like, the army, zombies, and aliens attacking him at once bad. It’s why everyone thinks of him as a badass, and why the G-Man hired him. John McClain syndrome.)

      It’s just circumstances prevented that. Repeatedly.

      The high tech stuff for the white hats all has a cobbled together junkyard aesthetic. It’s the greatest minds in the world working on a project, so yeah. It’s good.

      The Combine having fancy tech in the middle of zombieville is intentional. They want the cities to look safe and everywhere else to be nightmarish so people can keep in easily monitored locations. Or do you mean the crappy run down eastern European architecture? Because that’s how the real places Valve modeled from look. If you don’t care about aesthetics, then there’s no reason for a future-tech prison to be any better looked after than it has to be.

  27. Jarenth says:

    Re: the annoying NPCs: I thought the most annoying NPC faction in the entire game, bar NONE, is the damned suit. It never shuts up.

    Walk here. Run there. Now crouch. Now run some more. Stealth, now armor, now shoot these dudes. Flank there. Look, a thing is happpening. Shoot these dudes.

    Shut the hell up, SUIT. I’ll deliver these goddamned tissue samples to Gould when I’m good and well ready.

  28. Quicksilver_502 says:

    funny you should say the writer at crytek is getting better since it wasn’t actually written by him or at least, a lot of it wasn’t. Richard morgan wrote a lot of it which makes it all the more beffudling since he is a fantastic sci-fi writer, admittedly usually more cyberpunk and noir. still, a shame.

  29. Natureguy85 says:

    As usual, I’m just now finding this old article. My only criticism is that, while it isn’t a design excuse, Alcatraz being silent makes sense within the story. As you can suspect and eventually learn, Alcatraz is pretty much dead. The suit is just moving his barely functioning body around while Prophet installs himself like a computer program.

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