With Crysis 2, the series developed a dual personality. It veered from an open-world jungle playground to a tunnel of skyscrapers. The sandbox had shrunk from the whole world to a long chain of arenas. Could Crysis 3 be a satisfying compromise of spectacle and freedom?
Watching the game in action leaves you with the feeling that Prophet has become far badder in the ass department. To put it another way, his ass has had a promotion, to Bad Lieutenant. The new Bow and Arrow might not be suit-boosted nanotechnology, but that merely means Prophet doesn't have to break out of see-through stealth mode to use it. It also looks like a one-hit kill deal, at least on the armoured jelly Ceph who form the alien front line.
This bow is the most obvious symbol, we're told, of Prophet's transformation from the hunted to the hunter. It's a cliché so brazen that a couple of sniggers rasp in some unidentifiable nostrils. But the sentiment behind it, of a battered man picking himself up, dusting himself down, and blowing his enemies up with an exploding warhead-tipped arrow, has power nonetheless. It's a bit of a reunion, too - Prophet is backed over the earpiece by Psycho, from Crysis Warhead. Whether that will lead to co-op play is a question for a later announcement.
The suit has been doing some extra-curricular study of its own. Crysis 3 takes place twenty years after Alcatraz's story came to an end, and Prophet's long-term exposure to Ceph technology means that it's becoming more and more compatible with their weaponry. This opens up a world of powerful, exotic joyride guns, including a massive, cumbersome cannon plucked from a corpse that fires out what look like glowing saw-wheels. This is, how you say, a less subtle path.
That's why Prophet is a particular target of CELL, the people responsible for divvying New York up into a series of themed biodomes. Each is modelled around the different terrains - swamp, forests, grasslands, desert - slapped onto a backdrop of skyscrapers and streets. CELL want the suit, which represents a union between human and alien technologies that could turbo-boost their world domination plans. Whetever their in-game purpose for recreating seven discrete biomes, the result is graphics. The reportedly next-gen-proof updated CryENGINE is looking as sweet as you'd expect. CryTek are nothing if not technically adept.
One thing we're glad to see is missing - the tactical options that appear when you use your Stratego-Vision goggles. Tagging different paths through the maps with "Stealth" or "Destroy" is one way of pointing out the options open to the player. It's another, and more effective, way of pointing out how limited those options are. While there's no explicit shift back to the open-world approach of Far Cry and Crysis, it's definitely a step back from Crysis 2's branched-and-tagged linearity.
That said, Crytek didn't do themselves any favours by showing the same level, played identically, to the smaller demo groups later in the event. Nothing dispels the illusion of an emergent, unscripted sandbox more comprehensively than watching a pixel-perfect playthrough. But this whole situation really feels like a genuine attempt to build a kissing bridge between the sandbox of Crysis fans and explosive set pieces of Crysis 2. The Ceph AI even seems more satisfying, with the emphasis firmly on "seems" - this was a hands-off demonstration.
Crytek is evidently trying to be all things to all men - another cliche, but one the studio has a fair chance of pulling off. People who say Crysis should go back to the jungle? They've created an "urban rainforest". People who say Crysis should be more gung-ho? See also: Psycho plus glowing saw wheels. And people who say the Cry games are only fun while you're fighting humans, and always turn to crap when you're fighting aliens? Providing the Ceph do their homework, this could be the start of a welcome new trend.