Crysis 2 multiplayer preview: Situational shooter

Having spent quite a bit of time with the first game on PC, I found myself in a far better position at the outset than most when suiting up for the sequel, Crysis 2, at a recent multiplayer preview event at San Francisco.

That isn't to say that Crysis 2 is the same as the first game; Crytek has streamlined the use of the game's core feature, the Nanosuit, through a surprisingly intuitive control scheme, giving you the ability to utilize more than one suit function at the same time. This gives Crysis 2 more tension and asks you to work harder to manage the suit's myriad functions, making for a much more enjoyable and energetic multiplayer experience compared to its predecessor.
%Gallery-114903% Given that the previous game wasn't on consoles, a lot of you out there might not know what the big deal is when it comes to this billion-dollar technical marvel, the Nanosuit. It amplifies the abilities of the wearer, allowing them to jump higher, run faster and tap intro strength reservoirs inaccessible to normal (non-professional video game journalist) human beings. You can kick cars across parking garages, quickly scale a building and move at speeds that can only be described scientifically as ridiculous. And the best part about Crysis 2 is that these functions are now passive; you don't have to turn on a strength mode, you simply punch a car or just hold down the A button on the Xbox 360 controller (the console on which Crytek was demoing the game) to tap into the suit.

Of course, the other abilities return too. Tapping the left bumper turns up the armor, allowing you to withstand more damage, turning you into a bipedal tank. The drawback is that you're about as slower as ... well, a tank. Pushing the right bumper activates stealth mode, a Predator-like cloak great for sneaking up on enemies and executing close-quarter assassination moves. The drawback is that if you're spotted (hitting down on the d-pad turns on thermal vision, allowing you to spot invisible enemies) and have to open fire from this state, your energy meter will drop to zero.

It's a big change from the first game, which executive producer Nathan Camarillo says was the goal from the outset. "It's about letting players do what they always wanted to do in Crysis. Now it's about making it much more accessible to them, letting them layer things like stealth and armor on top of the mobility options, not restricting them. In the first game, you couldn't do these things like sprint and power jump while in stealth -- it wasn't an option at all, but now you can."

"We have about 50 hours on average to unlock all of the modules and attachments and weapons and everything that you can unlock your first time through."- Executive producer Nathan Camarillo

Everything you do with the suit draws from a single, renewable power source, visible in the bottom right-hand corner of the HUD. When in stealth mode, it'll drop constantly. The same goes for when taking damage in armor mode, as the damage is directly absorbed by the suit. It's paramount that you're careful with suit abilities and constantly mindful of the energy meter. If you spend a minute power jumping and scaling up a building in an effort to get in on the action, you may find that once you get there you have no energy left.

You can't use one tactic to win each encounter. If your squad is slowly trudging along in armor mode, like an unstoppable meat train, somebody is going to cloak and sneak up behind you for a quick assassination. Or, if you're close enough together, a couple enemies could drop down from above with a ground smash, earning them a multi-kill. Maybe you're scared about moving around, maybe you're going to camp in a corner, invisible, waiting for an opponent to walk by so you can assassinate them. Nope! The distance and clarity of the infrared vision is going to give you away over and over again. It's all about analyzing and adapting to the situation as quickly as possible -- most times in a matter of seconds.

Outside of the suit, there's a persistent online persona you can customize and manage through a variety of cosmetic and functional upgrades. You can unlock and equip various weapons and suit perks, which can amplify the strength of your stealth, armor and even your power consumption. You can also equip unique side packs that have benefits for your team, such as a maximum radar that pinpoints all enemies on the radar for your team. These are all purchased through an in-game store with points you accrue as you gain levels.

And this is where I became concerned. A lot of multiplayer games these days either seem to have high, near-unreachable ceilings (Call of Duty and Halo: Reach), while others throw players against a wall relatively quickly -- Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood and Battlefield: Bad Company 2's kit unlockables come to mind. Executive producer Nathan Camarillo says, "We have about 50 hours on average to unlock all of the modules and attachments and weapons and everything that you can unlock your first time through." At that point, you can "reboot the suit" (up to five times) and go for it all again, similar to the prestige system in Call of Duty.

"We tried to find the sweet spot where we found a good mix of not just gameplay balance, but the time of combat and the type of tactics people used in combat and the readability of combat of what other people were doing. When you have six players, you have to be really efficient as a team."- Nathan Camarillo

Another unusual thing about Crysis 2's multiplayer component is that it's limited to six-on-six. The prevailing trend in multiplayer shooters has been the opposite, with each game trying to cram more and more people into each match, in a game of bullet point brinksmanship. Despite whatever's been motivating this push, Crysis 2 is taking a step backwards with its approach. Camarillo says that this is in favor of a less chaotic multiplayer experience focused on putting more responsibility on each individual player's shoulders.

"When you have a ton of bodies in there, that's what you wind up with: just a ton of bodies. Everyone's getting shot from all directions, all the time, and the tactics start to fall away. If you go too small, you might have problems finding a target. We tried to find the sweet spot where we found a good mix of not just gameplay balance, but the time of combat and the type of tactics people used in combat and the readability of combat of what other people were doing. When you have six players, you have to be really efficient as a team."

During this preview event, I can't say I saw a lot of that -- loud press events are hardly the place to test out how efficient a team can be and how it changes the tenor of a match when a group coordinates. But to his other points, I agree: I never found myself looking for a target for long and there was nary an instance where I'd get stuck in a cycle of being spawn killed.

After a few hours of play, I was on the cusp of level 10 and I'd retooled my custom class about three times, adding various modifiers and weapons as I unlocked them, but I never managed to coordinate with my team. But the pieces are all there -- and that, coupled with the knowledge that the multiplayer component is built by Crytek UK (yup, of Free Radical and TimeSplitters fame) should help Crysis 2 stand out from the crowd.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.