Monday 24 January 2011

Crytek - A Love Story

Loyal readers will recall a post of mine way back when, where I talked at length about my love for the game company Infocom, the company responsible for some absolutely awesome adventure games. Today, we take a look at another company responsible for moments of gaming awesomeness.

Established in Germany in 1999, Crytek are a primarily German developer based in Frankfurt (though they now have more offices in five countries - more on that later), most notably known for creating the Far Cry and Crysis franchises. For those not familiar, I'll discuss the games in greater depth as we go along, but put it this way: would this post exist if I didn't think a fair bit of them?

It's often said that people should play to their strengths. The folks at EA Sports probably would struggle to make a music game without a fair bit of time to practise (I'm sure they could get along with it, as they're talented lawyers have advised me to say), and so it makes sense to think that all developers should at least focus primarily on their strongest genre, even if they don't dedicate themselves to the genre completely.

Crytek are probably one of the better examples of why developers do this. Although you'd be hard pushed to find an entry in their catalogue which doesn't stray from the first-person shooter (though there is yet to be much information on Codename: Kingdoms, their exclusive Xbox 360 title unveiled at E3 2010), the game developer most definitely knows their stuff when it comes to this style.

Crytek first caught my eye in 2004 when I was living in France and working as an English Assistant in a French high school (absolutely true), and found myself with a fair bit of free time to kill. Rather than do traditional things like 'making friends', 'integrating into a brand new culture' or any of that bollocks, I decided to play a shit-ton of video games on my new laptop, which to this day is still working over 6 years later. Every time I hear someone say I should get a Mac, I simply pity them.

Anyway, one of the games I packed and took with me was Far Cry, Crytek's first offering, released in 2004. The game sees you take the role of Jack Carver, who gets himself washed up on a strange island with no seeming reason for why his boat was destroyed (which becomes clearer as you go along). You then have to explore the island, completing objectives, in order to find out the secret of the mysterious island and escape.

One of the great things about Far Cry, that struck me about the game very early on, was just how impressive it was technically. The first game to use CryENGINE, the beginning of Crytek's all-out war with gamers and their fantastic-spec PC. The graphics were incredible for the time, and to be fair my only other experience when I first got out there was Football Manager. It'll sound strange to say, but actually the most impressive thing for me was draw distance.

I was able to be stealthy, hiding inside bushes and watching closely for movement in leaves and passing through the undergrowth, and then pop off a few rounds to take them out. It's a testament to the skill of the developer that the trick I just mentioned worked just as well at a hundred yards than at ten feet, and many was the time I amazed my French corridor buddies with my marksmanship and vision. Gone are the days when I didn't suck at games, regrettably, so now I tend to see the enemy just as they put one between my eyes. And a bullet. Wa-hey!

Anyway, technically the game was superb. Granted, you found yourself wondering why the first thing Carver didn't do on the island was take off his Hawaiian shirt, but at the same time the reasons for exploring the island were completely compelling. The gameplay, too, was spectacularly good. Because of the nature of the game, the entire island was explorable, so players could just as easily hide in the bushes down one side of a path or swim across a river trying their best to keep out of sight.

One particular highlight that sticks with me is a set piece when you were trying to destroy a ship, only to be attacked by a helicopter as you placed the last charge. At this point, the player has a number of options. You can either stay on the ship and try to take out the helicopter before the ship sinks and then swim for it, or you can leap from the ship as soon as you place the last charge and take your chances from the mainland. It's openness like that which attracts me to a game, and developers who embrace the concept of doing things in more than one way always hold a special place in my estimation.

As a result of the fun times I had with Far Cry, I looked forward to their next release immensely. That release became known as Crysis, and was released in 2007. The story here is that the game is set in a fictional future, and the US have sent in their new 'Nano-suit' soldiers to a remote island where an alien structure has been found. Scientists have been kidnapped by North Korean soldiers, in order to have the structure analysed. Your task (as it originally begins) is to rescue these scientists.

Again, the game was technically superb. I once remarked that if there was a company who was expressly designing a game that would actively destroy computers, then it would be Crytek. Admittedly, id Software have come along since then and developed Rage, but I still stand by the statement to a large extent. Graphics were improved, the jungles were much thicker with trees and foliage, making cover options more available still. However, the 'Nano-suit' technology and streamlined game interface was what made this game awesome. That, and the ability to change the soldiers' spoken language to English or Korean for a little added difficulty.

The 'Nano-suit' allowed players to choose between four in-game abilities, all of which would recharge once depleted, meaning that they had to be used strategically in order to maximise results. The default setting was 'Armour', which acted as your over-shield and stopped your health from dropping. There was also 'Speed', which allowed you to run at twice the normal speed through environments, 'Strength' which permitted you to jump higher as well as punch or throw objects with considerably more force, and finally 'Cloak'. 'Cloak' was probably my most frequently used power during the course of the game, and the use of it is sort of easy enough to guess really - you cloak. It's a cloaking shield.

See, what was great about it was that these powers had to be used sensibly in order to progress through the game without being dispatched by the North Koreans and any enemies you may meet along the way. Using your 'Speed' five hundred yards away was pointless, as was enacting 'Cloak' when you're right up close to someone. Careful and considered use, however, meant that you would be unlikely to take a significant amount of damage. It was hard, though, make no mistake. Crytek have contempt for two things, apparently: custom-build gaming PCs and the concept of playing an entire game through without dying a fuckton.

But yet again, here is great game design at work. Using those powers carefully, players can even 'Cloak' in the right places and maybe never even have to fight any patrolling enemies. You can use 'Strength' to lob a grenade from much further away than you traditionally would. Thanks to destructible buildings, rather than go into a house and kill a guy, you can use a rocket launcher and bring the shed down on top of him. That works, by the way. You can even carry a watermelon. It's a bit like Dirty Dancing, only not made of shit and wank.

Ultimately, though, the games could be technically proficient and still suck, and this is another area where Crytek are strong. The interface on Crysis in particular is nothing short of inspired. Players can adjust suppressors, laser sights and other weapon additions with the touch of a button and a few quick clicks, all without the action being broken up by pausing the game. Of course, nobody in their right mind will make those adjustments mid-firefight unless they're particularly sadistic and deep-down want to fail, and in that case fuck 'em frankly.

So there you have it. Crytek, never stop doing what you do, and here's hoping Codename: Kingdoms turns out to be the absolute tits, just like we're secretly expecting...


This warm ensemble comedy that delivers all the charm and surprise of Swedish Midsummer! The wonderful Swedish-American cast includes Luke Perry (Beverley Hills 90210), Lisa Werlinder (Munich) and Olle Sarri. Sumptuous food, steaming saunas, and midnight skinny dipping are the tradition on Swedish Midsummer, a day when the sun never sets. This year, friends have gathered at the country house of Emil and Susanne, the perfect Swedish couple.

In attendance are Eva, who is looking for something (someone) to take her mind off of her recent split with Patrick. Anders and Maria the nude hipsters who are trying for their first child, Micke and Katrina who are about to have their first any day, and finally Sam, the American friend who engages the proceedings with a twinkle and a smile. Expectations are exceeded when Emil's big planned surprise goes awry - leaving them all turned around for good!

Thanks to our friends at Elevation Sales, we've got three copies of A Swedish Midsummer Sex Comedy on DVD to give away! For your chance of winning, send your name and full postal address to before midday on Monday 31st January, making sure to put "Swedish Midsummer" as the subject. The first three entries out of the electronic hat after the competition closes will receive a free copy each!

Don't forget to put "Swedish Midsummer" in the subject line. Incorrectly labelled or blank entries will be discarded.

A Swedish Midsummer Sex Comedy is available on DVD from Monday 31st January, priced £15.99.

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