We can blame Call of Duty for establishing the FPS mold, but really the blame for the stagnation that modern FPS games suffer under has to be spread around evenly. So desperate are developers to latch onto the success of Activision's behemoth that they copy it like it's a textbook of FPS game design. Almost every FPS does the following now: "lead the player down a prescribed path, and then provide them with a slightly larger area with some enemies to shoot up".
There's no room for the player to make mistakes in this kind of game, because the focus isn't on challenging the players. It's more akin to a roller coaster ride: guaranteed thrills on a predictably safe path with no room to step off and come crashing to the ground. Sure some poor hand-eye coordination will force a restart from a nearby checkpoint but with most FPS games there's no room to think, or even breathe, through what you are doing. As a guy that likes to be engaged on an intellectual level when I play a game, the FPS genre now leaves me claustrophobic, and lacking any sensation of achievement.
And so Crysis has appealed to me because it has no interest in either extreme violence or treating its players like idiots. There's violence of course, but only just enough to provide feedback for killing an enemy - it's restrained, even elegant, and not an assault on the senses. And while the game's story is entirely linear, what players do between those set cutscene points is largely up to them and indeed the game actively encourages experimentation. Because of that this series is the FPS for the thinking man, or the adult gamer that has grown up enough to realise that sometimes a little bit of ambiguity has a greater impact than being shown every gory detail. It's mature, in other words.
After the first level the game does indeed open up. Players need to cleverly use the usual Crysis range of cloaking and shielding abilities to outflank and stealth kill the enemies, because in a straight up gunfight you're in trouble even at the lowest difficulty level. Levels are nicely designed with places to duck into and hide from enemy sight, and there's plenty of upgrade options to customise the avatar's abilities. Amazingly for a modern FPS there are moments where you'll need to take the finger off the trigger, scout out some optimal terrain, and even engage in some strategic guerrilla warfare, and as such Crysis 3 is more engaging than the vast majority of its peers.
Sadly the AI doesn't quite keep up with stealth strategies and even if you are noticed all you'll need to do is run and hide for a few seconds and the enemy will lose its coordination, but otherwise there's a stiff challenge to be had from the AI hordes, and some of the later firefights can be incredibly intense even on the lowest difficulty level.
Because the bow is so central to the arsenal, the other guns generally lack for personality and don't feel nearly as good as in most other major FPS titles. It hardly feels like a loss in the single player game, but Crytek again struggles to bring a compelling multiplayer experience to Crysis as a result. There's a really nice new play mode where two players take on the role of the "hunter" and get to play with a bow, while the other ten players attempt to survive using conventional weapons. If one should die, he/ she respawns as a hunter, and so the odds of battle slowly shift from the "human" team to the hunter side. This mode is so compelling because it accurately emulates the appeal behind the single player game, but, frankly, the rest of Crysis 3's multiplayer is still a dud compared to the likes of Call of Duty and free-to-play titles like Dust 514.
This is the end of the Crysis trilogy now, and I hope Crytek takes the opportunity to reset and look for new ways to innovate the FPS genre. No one else is, and with Crysis 3 the developers have pushed this current formula as far as it can go. In a couple of years I'll want something new and exciting, but for now I actually have a FPS that I want to play.
- Matt S
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