The dramatic falls of Lance Armstrong and Oscar Pistorius have left our culture in a soul-searching funk about the sad state of hero worship. Both men were lionized in sappy magazine profiles and melodramatic self-narrated Nike commercials as beacons of inspiration for overcoming extreme physical impediments (cancer, amputeeism) to succeed at high-profile athletic competitions. But with Armstrong now unmasked as a sociopathic cheater and Pistorius soon on trial for the murder of his supermodel girlfriend, a lot of us are left shaking our heads and wondering if the sacrifices our heroes make to become great also costs them a portion of their humanity. Or to get all Biblical about it: “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?”
It’s a deep question that Crysis 3 pretends to be interested in as it tells the story of its hero, Prophet. The third entry in Crytek’s first-person shooter series insists that we consider Prophet’s poor soul and how a fancy super suit of nanotech armor might be destroying it. He’s killing himself, of course, for a noble purpose—rescuing the Earth from powerful alien invaders and a corporation called CELL, which has somehow managed to force everyone into a life of indentured servitude by becoming the world’s most evil utility company. (Take that, Enron.)
The suit makes Prophet look like a cross between a robotic ninja and an Olympic downhill skier, and in addition, it gives Prophet enough superpowers to make Batman quiver with jealousy—extra strength, agility, bullet-soaking armor, and a personal cloaking device. The downside to all of the wonderful toys? The suit alters his DNA so that the marine formerly known as Laurence Barnes is now something of a human/alien hybrid thing.
“Do you even have a face anymore?” asks Prophet’s teammate, a foul-mouthed hooligan of a Brit with the unfortunate nickname of Psycho. Prophet’s allegiances are doubly doubted by Psycho’s girlfriend, a resistance leader who appears to be physically sickened by our metallic hero’s appearance. The game’s characters pay plenty of lip service to the trouble with Prophet, but beyond a verbal slip where he accidentally refers to other people as “you humans,” a few trippy visions from the alien hivemind, and a sudden interest in statistics, it’s hard to see what’s so terrible and tortured about him. He’s sentimental, wise, and did I mention he’s saving the Earth from aliens? Unlike Lance Armstrong and Pistorius, men who seemed to be hiding their dark sides behind masks of public relations, the Prophet’s mask is literal—existing only to protect his face against the rain of enemy bullets.
But even if Crysis 3’s ambitious attempt at character study falls flat, it does one hell of a job as the World’s Greatest Predator Simulator. The series has always felt like a homage to those action films, with Prophet playing the title character in reverse—a good guy who exploits his technological tricks and combat wiles to stalk and kill aliens. The third game even hands Prophet a high-tech, yet primitive bow called, you guessed it, Predator. The transition from the jungle setting of Crysis to the urban realms of Crysis 2 also matches the trajectory of Predator, which switched from the scenery of a Central American forest to the concrete jungle of Los Angeles in Predator 2. The third game is a little of both—a beautiful but haunting blend of flora and cityscape in a post-apocalyptic New York backdrop, where vegetation chokes crumbled landmarks and timid deer wander what used to be Wall Street.
Many shooters confine you to a narrow corridor of action in which to operate, and others grant the freedom to roam essentially anywhere, but Crysis 3 presents a third way. Bottlenecks in the form of elevators and sewers eventually lead to grassy fields or cratered city blocks that serve as a large, violent playground for Prophet. You’re then free to decide how you want to reach your destination.
Pairing the silent but deadly Predator bow with the power of the Nanosuit renders Prophet nearly unstoppable, especially if you opt to play the game as a stealthy hunter. The suit features two primary abilities, super-armor and cloaking. The first one lets you go toe-to-toe with guns blazing against CELL soldiers and fearsome aliens, but it’s an unimaginative way to play. I upgraded Prophet’s camouflage and hacking ability until I could either pick enemies off with my bow, surprise them by reprogramming automatic turrets to turn on them, or walk right past. I even went 45 minutes without firing a single shot—harvesting the ubiquitous crates of ammunition only through sheer habit. Not shooting things in a shooter might sound boring, but I found the act of playing hide-and-go-seek with dozens of clueless enemies completely satisfying—especially since it’s not nearly as punishing as a game like last year’s stealth hit Dishonored, which can make non-violence feel like a chore.
Gun violence is necessary, however, in Crysis 3’s many flavors of competitive multiplayer. Like most shooters these days, Crysis 3 mimics Call Of Duty with its overly elaborate customization system and rewards for unleashing a “kill streak” without being killed yourself. But the Nanosuit offer a refreshing change of pace. Since your suit is so energy-dependent, you have to constantly decide whether or not it’s worth it to consume precious juice by turning on your power armor or stealth functions to get a possible edge against your foes.
The most compelling offering among the usual suspects of deathmatches and defend-the-territories is a game type called “Hunters.” It begins with two of 12 players playing as aliens and the rest assigned as ordinary human soldiers. The goal is simple—if you’re a marine, you try to survive for two minutes. This becomes difficult because when your friends are killed, they come back to life as aliens—i.e., playing for the other team.
The tension ratchets up incredibly fast, especially since you can hear the beeping of a motion sensor if one of the gang of hunters is nearby, but you can’t see through their invisibility cloak. A single two-minute round of running desperately for your life in “Hunters” contains so many heart-pounding scares, it’s hard not to feel downright heroic if you manage to survive a round. I can’t wait for my own Nike commercial to talk all about it.