Crysis 3 takes the survival theme laid down by its predecessors and lets it sing. Dave Cook speaks with producer Mike Read to find out why it could be the pinnacle of the series.
Crysis 3 is developed by Crytek, and launches on PC, PS3 and Xbox 360 across Europe on February 22nd.
The game’s multiplayer is being developed by Crytek UK – formally Timesplitters studio Free Radical Design. It recently released a trailer for Crysis 3’s online modes. Check it out here.
Crysis 3’s achievements leaked recently, and we’ve got the whole list right here. But as always beware of spoilers.
Crytek’s ‘7 Wonders’ video series shows off a new element of Crysis 3 each week. Check out the latest episode here.
That’s the word Crysis 3 producer Mike Read uses whenever people ask him to sum up the game. It’s a strange choice, as an augmented super-man running around a giant goldfish bowl battling aliens is the last word you’d think of when trying to describe the human condition. It’s hardly a picture of normality, or what we perceive as everyday human life. Yet weirdly, he’s bang on the money
It starts to make sense as you stalk Cell operatives among the thicket that has reclaimed New York City’s Chinatown district. Many people once lived here, but now their homes stand crumbing like ancient temples in some faraway, forgotten jungle.
There’s a real density to Crytek’s environments and a harrowing sense of isolation made worse by the deafening silence that breaks up bursts of engagement – battles that are dependent on the raw human instincts of survival and preservation, underlined by the simple thrill of the hunt.
The choice of “human” to summarise Crysis 3 runs beyond the thematic and into narrative and technical areas. Read explained, “There’s a whole list of reasons that I say that, and it ties in with the story, and it ties in with the way that we’ve done with performance capture.
“Over the years things have evolved from guys in the studio doing mimed mo-cap, then doing voice-over, then VO guys doing the voice tracks. We’d then put that all together and tweak the animations and stuff, but what we have in this one is full performance capture.
“Also, Crysis 2 was almost completely devoid of talking. Alcatraz didn’t even talk the whole game. The only time you heard talking was other characters you didn’t play, like when Prophet gave the nanosuit to Alcatraz, at the end and all the NPCs in between.
“There wasn’t really an emotional connection to it,” Read continued. “The story is much easier to follow this time and it actually has a lot more meaning to the Crysis series in general.”
The decaying urban jungle of New York City feels more alive than it did in Crysis 2, thanks to radio chatter from Prophet’s back-up team, and the menacing shouts of Cell troops as they attempt to goad you out of hiding. These people feel believable, tangible… human, and it works well with the slow laboured approach of the stealth route to create something almost reflective in tone.
That said, there is still absolute scope to play Crysis 3 as a straight-up shooter, even if stealth gameplay runs hot throughout. Plus it looks incredible running on a high-end PC rig. Thick, wonderfully-detailed undergrowth, cut-throat enemy AI, shimmering spotlights and multiple routes through complex geometry show CryEngine 3 at the top of its game.
“Crysis 2 was our first entry to the console market,” recalled Read, “and we didn’t know what we were doing. We said, ‘OK lets develop for consoles, let’s make our engine work on consoles, while developing an engine in tandem, alongside a new game. That’s a recipe for a lot of headaches and pain.
“We learned a lot from that and it did some great things for our business and for CryEngine 3 itself. We’re seeing an increase in licenses and people pitching to use our engine. We’ve got a free XDK – not just being used in games – but by architect firm, TV and film for pre-visualisation and other things.”
It’s an engine that has come to prominence over the last five years. Few can deny that Crysis 2 was without flaws, and top of the list for many gamers was its easily-confused AI troops. I asked Read if he and his team now feel more confident in their handling of console formats, given their past experience.
“Yeah absolutely. Developing for formats you have no experience of, with an engine you were trying to put into a next iteration at the same time… There’s a number of companies out there that have done a similar thing, and it’s a big challenge.
“So this time around we knew what we were doing with consoles, and we knew where our starting point was before we began development. But we were able to – at a certain point – separate the two out and put consoles on one side and PC on the other and go, ‘OK, how far can we push where current technology is and still make it future-proof to go past that?’
“You can max this out, but you’ll still be able to go a lot further in the next generation of hardware.”
Being the technical wizards that they are, I asked Read if Crytek felt as if they were next-gen ready, to tackle whatever new console boxes Sony and Microsoft hurl at them. As it happens, Crysis 3 has been superb homework for the developer.
“We’re totally ready for it”, Read stressed. “That’s really what we were aiming for towards the end. How much can we do, how much can we implement in the next-generation of hardware? There’s a lot of interesting things happening in the industry right now.
“Streaming technologies are becoming a lot more predominant – Sony’s purchase of Gaikai is kind of a big deal. You’re seeing Nvidia talking about its current technology as well, with all the streaming of server-side technology. It’s going to be interesting to see where Valve goes with Steam Box.
“The next five years – well, probably the next three years – will be very interesting in terms of the industry’s technological advances as a whole, and being in the position we’re at, we’re pretty well up on those. We’ve looked at a lot of that stuff in-house as well, so we’re ready to adapt.”
That’s probably a better word to describe Crysis 3’s tense jungle survival, where you’re forced to constantly react to what’s going on around you. It even has connotations in the wider games industry, as Read suggested. It’s poignant given how much difficulty some companies have in adapting to the volatile console market amid falling financials.
It’s poignant because adapting is something we’re all going to face going into next-gen, as many consumers struggle to accept the wave of DLC battering our senses daily, the rise of touch screen control methods, the blocking of pre-owned sales and the digitalisation of the high street.
This is the future of the industry as we know it, and as ever Crytek is there, right at the forefront, ready for whatever comes next. Will you be ready, able and willing to adapt in kind?
If you’re hungry for more Crysis 3 you can read my full hands-on preview of everything above right here on Monday. The game hits PC, PS3 and Xbox 360 across Europe on February 22nd
Disclosure: To write this interview, Dave attended a recent EA showcase event in London. All travel and food was paid for by VG247. Catering at the event was offered but not accepted. No code, merchandise or advertising was accepted.