It’s interesting how well received Crysis 2 was, and yet at the same time there was still that little bit of disappointment that loomed over it. It wasn’t the graphics and gunplay, as both aspects of the game received universal critical acclaim. No one had anything bad to say about the representation of Manhattan either, the only criticism there being towards its vague similarities to the ‘modern day war’ scenarios that Call of Duty is infamous for. The problem was choice. After all, fans of Far Cry and the original Crysis fans were waiting for another opportunity to roam a detailed sandbox of destruction. Crysis 2 was good, but it was also linear, which is what makes Crysis 3 so incredibly exciting. The possibilities are truly endless – they can right that wrong.
The fact of the matter is that sandbox games have some of the highest bars set in the industry when it comes to quality. Gamers love their ability to play within a system and there’s no other genre that pushes what the boundaries of surrealism and freedom may be. Fantasy games like Skyrim try to ground realism in an environment where the norm is slaying dragons and slinging spells, while titles like Just Cause 2 work to strip physics away from reality like the skin off an orange. Each one fills their own little niche, and Crysis is no different. As a series it’s pretty hard not to see how an engine that supports becoming a superhuman gun wielding ubercop won’t appeal to just about anyone. Toss in some bonus powers alongside the obvious beyond-human strength and speed and you’ve got yourself a more detailed and higher octane version of Crackdown. A game that (in case anyone could forget) was fairly awesome.
So why didn’t Crytek just come right out with the next generation of sandbox? Probably because it was a lot to digest at the time. Many were concerned that the game’s graphical capabilities were going to make playing (and enjoying) the game on a console almost impossible, and beyond that there were doubts about whether the single player would even be fun to begin with. Naturally these concerns wound up being unfounded, but Crysis 2 was the chance to show what the engine could do, not what it was capable of being pushed to accomplish. Now the players have a good understanding of what can be done with Crytek’s engine, creating the perfect environment to exploit said technology is the goal of their next entry into the franchise.
It’s interesting to view the physics and graphics engine as a progressive storytelling tool, but for sandbox games, how players interact in the environment is just as important as what players can watch themselves do in said environment. Unlike RPGs where the storytelling experience is deeply rooted in how players progress alongside their characters interactions with NPCs, sandbox titles are more about the possibilities the world itself has to offer. Though it’s fair enough to admit that Crysis 3’s ambitions won’t probably look further than unique ways to kill the enemy (probably with a bow) in a high resolution jungle-city, the experience becomes the story.
The idea that gameplay is the driving force behind the content experience isn’t really a new one, but there’s no denying that our expectations from one genre to the next are very different. No one expects an action game to offer the same kind of general content that a first-person shooter or JRPG does. When it comes to sandbox titles, games that are meant to be a personal journey with minimal hand holding or guidance, the pressure is always turned up a little more on the developers to get it right the first time.
To keep it simple, with Crysis 3, Crytek has the opportunity to create the ‘story’ that should have been delivered, but we may not have been quite ready for. Introducing a plethora of new stuff in a single game would have threatened to overwhelm us. But now that we’ve had a taste of what the possibilities are it may just be easier to jump into the game the way it was meant to be played.
That’s not to say that we’re tired of the experience that the prior installment had to deliver; but rather that we know that more can be accomplished, and we’ve only just received a very small taste of what’s possible under Crytek’s engines. Either that, or Crytek has just set the bar a little bit higher than it can reach.