The Crysis series has always been defined by bleeding-edge tech, each instalment a lucid demonstration of apex videogame visuals and the great pulsing brain powering successive CryEngines. In Crysis 3 we have the pinnacle - the undisputed best-looking game of all time - but beneath the glitz, Crytek's shooter isn't quite as progressive as it seems.
Twenty years after an alien invasion, deadly epidemic, mass exodus and probable house price plunge, mega corporation CELL have encased New York in a 'Liberty Dome' - think a cross between Kew Gardens and The Simpson's Movie. This nature-reclaimed city is prime habitat for CryEngine 3. Gaming's best deer prance down gaming's best streets over tangled swathes of gaming's best flora. Gaming's best sun breaks between blades of gaming's best grass and shimmers in pools of gaming's best water - where you'll also find gaming's best toads.
You are now heir to a fearsome arsenal thanks to the Nanosuit 2.0
Before it all stands an entirely otherworldly feat of engineering: Nanosuit 2.0. This time, Prophet's the man in the tin can, leader of Raptor Team who, in the first game, were sent to rescue a group of scientists on Lingshan islands. In Crysis 2, he stepped outside to let newbie Alcatraz Nano-up, but now he's back, and with an even more formidable arsenal. On one side, balls-to-the-Wall-Street action incorporates armour defence boosts, car-flipping melee and the superhuman strength to grab and throw both men and mailboxes. On the other, stealth play revolves around invisibility cloaks, heat vision and the hacking of turrets, mines and doors.
Mostly you'll mix and match. One level surrounding a towering research base can be surveyed at distance by power-leaping to vantage points and tagging enemies using your telescopic visor. This is where the compound bow comes in, a fearsome bit of retractable kit that's always on you, able to be loaded up with arrows electric (they fry fools in water), explosive, and thermite-tipped. Its string can be tightened, which decreases drawback time but lessens arrow damage, and it's the only weapon in the game you can fire without having your cloak instantly dissipate. In theory, of course, you could choose to forgo weaponry altogether and sneak in through vents, right under CELL soliders' boots. There's always more than one option
At which point, the first problems hit: inevitably, best intentions descend into violent chaos thanks to a lack of stealth meter (a 'threat gauge' instead displays how annoyed everyone is). As well as that, you'll have to cope with enemies seemingly assisted by a sixth sense and, ironically, maps so busy it's often hard to tell bloke from building. Far Cry 3 solved stealth; Crysis 3 hasn't.
When it does go all Expendables, some lustre is lost. Enemies are a hive mind - alert one, alert everyone - and when they're not barraging you with pinpoint tracers at squinty distances, they're endlessly lobbing grenades or charging blindly. Being shot from numerous unknown positions, unsurprisingly, isn't much fun. That's why you have to play Crysis 3 on hard.
Blast through the game, and there's the nagging feeling you're not playing properly
Caution, not chaos, is where the game excels, and Ceph Stalkers provide perfect evidence. Effectively introduced in a memorable moment amidst pea-green head-high fields, on hard mode they're a foe to respect, slasher-flick baddies whose circling footsteps and menacing mechanical growls demand constant vigilance. On easy, they're just annoyances at the end of your gun. This distinction is important: it's entirely possible to cloak up and bypass levels in minutes, but when you do there's a nagging feeling you're not playing properly. Crysis 3 is an experience to savour rather than slurp, laced as it is with multiple avenues, optional suit upgrades and bizarre in-jokes. (For some reason, there are a lot of corpses sitting on toilets.)
And 'savour' is definitely the word in a game only five to six hours long. There are seven levels, with the first and last wasted on linear corridors and most of the rest set at night. Though always stunning, less than a quarter of your play time unleashes CryEngine 3's majesty in full daylight.
And that raises another issue: your choice of platform will heavily influence what you get out of the game. What was, in Crysis 2's time, a minor rift between PC and console has now deepened into a titanic gulf. On a high-end PC, it's five-to-six hours of constant gawping awe; on consoles, inevitable graphical compromises means Crysis 3 loses that spark and spectacle.
PS3 and 360 players will find framerates dip between 15 and 30fps, shadows flicker in like a bad Windows Movie Maker transition, and distant objects pop in and out of existence. Relatively, it's still a fine-looking title, but against the superior PC version it appears almost last-gen. These hitches and imperfections characterise a console in its twilight pushing hard against limitations.