Bringing together the foliage-filled beauty of Crysis and the annihilated urban jungle of its sequel might daunt other teams, but not Crytek. No, the studio that practically invented the sandbox shooter in 2004's Far Cry has a knack for inspired science-fiction-fuelled storytelling that matches its technical prowess. Its third entry heads back to the Big Apple 20 years after the events of Crysis 2, where returning crooked corp CryNet has erected enormous domes over the iconic metropolis.
It seems that after the last game's city-levelling mayhem, CryNet has attempted to contain the remaining Cephalopod - the series' signature alien uglies - with the structures. Dubbed 'Nanodomes', the half-sphere edifices not only host the human-hating Ceph, they also house what Crytek development director Jan Lechner refers to as the "urban rainforest of New York." Apparently, these domes - and specifically the Liberty Dome, where the story unfolds - possess some sort of mutant-greenhouse power. The unexpected side effect sees the city, once defined by skyscrapers and subways, consumed by hyper-accelerated organic growth. Or, as Lechner sums it up: "Nature is taking back control."
Of course, achieving this look requires more than simply swapping the previous game's concrete colour palette with a green one. Within this urban rainforest are distinct areas which Crytek calls the 'seven wonders', each sporting specific themes based on extreme variations of nature seen in jungles around the world. "It's not just putting some vegetation on top of the city," says Lechner. "It's really nature taking over, affecting the architectural structures."
But Crytek's goal isn't simply to turn Manhattan into Mother Nature's personal vegetable garden. Lechner assures us that the rich urban-rainforest setting will challenge anxious trigger fingers as much as it engages the eyes. "Each of these environments provides not just unique visuals per theme, but unique gameplay opportunities," he says. Director of creative development Rasmus Hoejengaard, expands upon this: "That's where the whole theme of the seven wonders comes into play. We wanted to mirror seven very different types of rainforest settings, and we wanted to make sure this gives us a great opportunity to push a certain style of gameplay - but without dictating it."
Our look at the game, taking place early in the story, unfolds in a swampy area that has essentially turned Chinatown into a backwoods bayou. The mission (titled "Hell's Around the Corner") introduces Crysis 3's hero, Prophet - the fan-favourite character who played a pivotal supporting role in the first game, then was killed off in Crysis 2 before making a miraculous and mysterious return for that game's cliffhanger conclusion. According to Hoejengaard, the resurrected soldier represents the series' most relatable character to date: "Crysis 3 is fundamentally a revenge story, with Prophet driving it. He's been kicked around a lot in the franchise, but he's been brought back and, this time, he's taking things into his own hands."
Outfitted in the series' trademark Nanosuit combat armour, Prophet cautiously ascends a stairway leading into what was possibly a posh Chinese restaurant in its previous life. As he enters the structure, passing the rag-doll corpses of C.E.L.L. soldiers - CryNet's private army goons introduced in Crysis 2 - we get our first glimpse of nature's virus-like grasp on the city. In addition to the obvious over-growth of vegetation, the ground is marked by murky puddles and the steps look more like a cascading waterfall than a man-made entryway. Complemented by moonlight-pierced darkness, the scene could almost convince us Prophet's entering a haunted crypt rather than a place where patrons probably gobbled down dim sum 20 years prior.