Crysis 3's amazing visuals are a pleasure to behold, and the game is plenty of fun, though not up to the high standards of its forebears. There are aliens out there in the chin-high foliage. You hear the rustling and glimpse a black carapace between blades of grass, but you can't tell if you're being stalked by a single grotesque beast, or a horde of them. You sprint through the derelict trainyard, surrounded.
A disgusting alien leaps upon the car as well--and you gun him down with your electricity-infused submachine gun. The creature erupts in goo, and you scan the yard, looking for more telltale signs of crazed attackers.
It's a tense sequence in a gorgeous first-person shooter. "Can it run Crysis?" was a criterion for the value of a gaming PC upon the release of the original, yet as wonderful as Crysis 2 looked, it never inspired the same system-crushing awe among PC enthusiasts. Crysis 3, however, seeks to annihilate modern PCs, many of which will suffer under the weight of its "high" setting, let alone "very high." And you can admire the fruits of developer Crytek's labors the moment you enter the first level as returning character Prophet. Your buddy Psycho gets up in your face so that you can see every pore and every facial tic. The pouring rain clouds your vision, sheets of water bending the light and prompting you to head to the game's menus and tweak the settings, seeking that sweet spot between beauty and performance.
There's no shame in lowering your settings even if your machine can handle most other games without trouble: Crysis 3 is undoubtedly a beauty even on medium settings. Crysis 2 left behind the original game's literal jungle for one of the urban type. Crysis 3 melds the two, returning you to a New York City where destruction and decay have been softened by overbearing greenery. The private military company known has CELL has erected a dome over the city, turning the crumbling metropolis into a gargantuan greenhouse in which trees take root in building foundations and rise through their stairwells towards the sky.
This mix of nature and destruction makes Crysis 3 look striking; you couldn't accuse its makers of sacrificing artistic creativity in favor of technology, though like its predecessors, this sequel aims for realism--or at least, as much realism as can be expected for a game featuring high-tech nanosuits and flame-spewing extraterrestrial walkers. The attention to detail is astounding, even in the character models, which is just as well, considering how often you get up close and personal with your co-stars. Only in a few select cases does the camera pull back and let you see Prophet from a third-person view. This means that you always see supporting characters express their anger, fear, and distrust from Prophet's point of view, which magnifies the tension of various personal exchanges.
Indeed, Crysis 3 tells a much more personal story than the previous games, focusing on three main characters: Prophet; former Raptor Team comrade Psycho; and Claire, Psycho's girlfriend and communications expert for a group of freedom fighters seeking to take down CELL once and for all. CELL has ripped Psycho's nanosuit from his body--a painful process that has only fueled his abhorrence of them, and leaves Prophet as the sole "post-human warrior" left to fight. Claire doesn't trust Prophet, who sees him more as hardware than human, and for good reason: his nanosuit makes him increasingly prone to visions apparently originating from the grandaddy of ceph aliens known as the Alpha Ceph.
Prophet's connection to this being fuels much of the story, as does Psycho's seething desire for revenge over those that forced him to be simply human. There are a number of touching moments that spawn from rising tensions--a newfound emotional heft that the series never before portrayed. The final level, unfortunately, is problematic, because it leaves behind the game's make-your-own-fun structure and requires only a little stick maneuvering and a button press. But you can at least come to Crysis 3 with the comfort of knowing that the game brings the series' continuing story to an apparent close.
Happily, several hours of entertaining action precede this moment, and it's the game's futuristic bow that sometimes drives that entertainment. With it, you zoom in, pull back, and unleash silent fury on the human or alien grunt of choice. Firing standard arrows has just the right feel: you sense the weight of the pull and release, and feel the impact when the arrow reaches its mark.
As before, you can activate your nanosuit's cloak to hide in plain sight, which amplifies the feeling of being a bow-wielding predator in the urban wilds of New York. Special explosive arrows and those that electrify liquid can also be a blast to play with, just for the kick of finding new ways to make CELL soldiers die horrible deaths. The bow's downside is that combined with cloaking, it makes the game too easy; you can annihilate a huge number of foes this way without breaking a sweat or fearing the consequences of being caught. It doesn't help matters that Crysis 3's soldiers and aliens are not the intelligent type. While they're not the dunderheads they could be in Crysis 2, enemies take no notice of arrows that land right next to them, run into obstacles and just keep trying to run, and sometimes ignore you even when you're in plain sight.
You can boost the level of challenge by choosing higher difficulties, and if you find that the cloak-and-arrow method is too exploitative, you can go in guns blazing. Even so, Crysis 3's battles lack the grandness of its predecessors'. Remember Crysis Warhead's raging exosuit battle? What about Crysis 2's Grand Central Station encounter with the pinger? Crysis 3's central battles are fun but not as thrilling, and its two primary boss battles are easily won, requiring little in the way of tactics. Certain stretches do a great job of drawing you into the world, flooding your vision with awe-inspiring collages juxtaposing nature's bucolic touch, the remnants of humanity's metal-and-stone triumphs, and fearsome alien technology. But the tension such exploration creates is not always relieved by explosive battle.