Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Crysis 2: You are here

There's a moment in Crysis 2 when a massive explosion separates you from the Marine unit you've been assisting. The fight continues, but, unusually for a video game, it continues without you. From the the distance you hear gunshots echoing off the skyscrapers, the thumping artillery occluded by steel and concrete. The smoke has drifted into the air above you, and the reflection of the streetlights casts an orange veil over the street. If not for the barely perceptible sounds of battle, you might think you were the last person in New York left alive.

Unreality intrudes. An objective pops up onscreen. REJOIN THE MARINES.* A blue arrow on your HUD leaves no question about where they are. And your surroundings, which are nothing more than a long, narrow street with no doorways, leave no doubt about how to get there. You had no control over the explosion that stranded you here, and you have barely more control over how to return to the action. You need only to hold down the left stick in the right direction.

This is standard videogame stuff. You can bemoan the lack of player agency, especially in a game whose stated goal is to let you choose your tactics for every scenario. You can resist such heavy-handed design, and run around in circles, jump up and down, fire your weapon into the air. You know that you'll hear the same faint sounds of combat for as long as you stand still, and that the battle isn't really happening. The Marines will live or die based upon whether you show up, yes -- but, like Schrodinger's cat, they will be alive and dead, firing at their enemies in perpetuity, until you cross the invisible checkpoint that springs open the box.

Ironically, though, you do have a choice here. You can engage the game as it asks you to do. You can play with urgency. You can run toward the firefight. If you do this -- if you watch how the smoke intensifies the closer you get, and listen to how the gunfire and shouts grow ever louder and more desperate -- then you will find something very strange happening. You will find that you are sprinting through the streets of New York, about to throw yourself in danger, because you know you are the only one who can help.

Crysis 2 has its issues. But for that one moment at least, when I wasn't blowing up helicopters, wasn't skulking around invisibly, wasn't even firing my gun, it grabbed me and said: You are here. And I believed it.

*Or something like that.


Kirk Hamilton said...

I really like this game. Haven't beaten it yet, but I think I will, which is getting less and less common these days. I've sort of gotten sidetracked by other games, but I'm a little bit beyond the part you describe.

It's like... the game has so little personality, and is kind of this joyless thing, but it plays so well and I really do find myself enjoying it.

It's also made me go back to the original game, which I played earlier this year and found I really liked, too.

inner zen said...

Insightful. Thank you.
I prefer these reviews because I can relate to them. Unlike the standard IGN review which seems to ignore the personal experience of playing a game in favor of demanding you submit to the game.
Brink looks promising, no?