SPOILER WARNING: For those unfamiliar with the Backloggery Beatdown series, these are not reviews, but instead clairvoyant appraisals. The assumption of this series is that readers have already played the game, and are interested in further reflection.
I made it my “midyear resolution” in 2016 to play through all of the FPS games that I owned in my backlog. I was not looking forward to Crysis 3. The descent of Crysis as one of my all-time favorite FPS games to the current state of the franchise is meteoric, as is that of developer Crytek. I had to re-read my own article on Crysis 2 from a few years back as a refresher because the game is that forgettable. A modern IP with an open world, yet molded in a traditional FPS framework was reduced to a grandiose outdoor corridor crawl. ‘scust.
Disappointed as I was with Crysis 2, I was compelled to see the trilogy through its tragic end. At least this time, Crytek attempted a return to the open-ended gameplay that made made Crysis magnificent. I say attempted, because the banal, closed arenas of Crysis 2 were not completely eliminated, but enlarged. As a result, players can theoretically benefit from an expanded assortment of options to dispatch enemies, but not to the degree that the first Crysis provided, and which the Far Cry games still benefit. The path to achieving objectives is still relatively linear, much like a radial cone.
I must say, however, that the predator bow is Crysis 3‘s saving grace. Stealthy with recoverable arrows that can be fitted with a variety of heads—explosive, electric, hard point—and utilizing adjustable drawstring weights—low for rapid fire, medium for moderate-distance skirmishes, and strong to pin enemies to walls—this weapon made me feel like a Yautja when combined with a stealth nanosuit. (Fans of the Aliens vs Predator games will be fondly reminded of the speargun.) The only game mechanic stopping me from clearing squads of enemies while remaining undetected was the heavily-nerfed and now pathetic Nanosuit energy that forced me to decloak or retreat to recharge at the most inconvenient times. In the very least, I could circumvent enemies altogether straight to the objective if I ever became bored with the throngs of enemies thrown in my direction as if I were playing Call of Duty: Modern Warfare.
The story in Crysis 3, much like those featured in its AAA peers, is ludicrous. Crynet Enforcement & Local Logistics, or C.E.L.L., represents the mega-corporation trope that has all but enslaved humanity. As we (may) have learned from Wolfenstein: The New Order, there is always a resistance in these scenarios, because there has to be hope, right? Sure enough, a former member of Raptor Team, Michael “Psycho” Sykes, is part of a resistance that is so generic that it does not even have a codename. His mission to begin the game, is to rescue Prophet.
To round out this excursion of long-standing tropes is the game’s overarching theme of what it means to be human. The first time this is brought forth is when Psycho introduces Prophet, the player-character, to Claire Fontanelli after freeing him from a C.E.L.L. cargo ship. Her response is one of repugnance, and she asks the rhetorical question concerning Prophet, “Is it even even human?” Not long after this encounter, the pair of P’s infiltrate a location as equally generic as all the others that hosts a lab for the purpose of unlocking more of the nanosuit’s power through the removal of inhibitors—another tired sequence reminiscent of Nathan Gould’s diagnoses in Crysis 2. In this scene, Psycho inadvertently stumbles upon (de)classified video files revealing that Fontanelli was participant, and conductor in the “skinning” of the nanosuits from the bodies of soldiers unfortunate enough to still have them, including Psycho himself, an excruciating experience for all all and the death of many. With this discovery, one should reexamine Fontanelli’s initial response to Prophet. Is she even aware that the original Prophet commits suicide not only because he was infected with the Manhattan virus but also so that the nanosuit would bond with Alcatraz’s decaying body? I have my suspicions, because Crysis 3 avoids directly addressing Prophet’s identity. On the other hand, she might be expressing not only remorse, knowing that the “skinning” process was agonizing due to how the nanosuits fuse with the hosts’ bodies to render them meta-human, but also disgust because of the way in which she became aware of this knowledge through that very same “skinning” procedure.
At any rate, Psycho is more reactive than introspective here, and understandably goes…psycho. Prophet attempts to intervene, but only succeeds in taking the brunt of Psycho’s verbal abuse:
[Fontanelli was] Just following orders? Who does that sound like, Prophet? I’ll tell you one thing though; she was right about you. You might as well be a ****ing machine because you sure as hell ain’t no human being anymore. I mean you never were much good to begin with but J— C— look at you know!
Whose face are you wearing under that helmet, Prophet?
Do you even have a face under that helmet anymore?”
In the most dramatic scene of the franchise, Psycho, who now wants to be called “Michael” as a coping mechanism in response to the realization that he is no longer the solider that he once was when he possessed a nanosuit, gives “Prophet” the business, for reasons similar to those I outlined with Fontanelli.
There are a few more scenes of note that are necessary to mention before returning to this motif of humanity. Karl Rasch, the leader of the resistance, turns out to be a Ceph slave, as the alien components he had used to extend his lifespan had consumed his body like a cancer. He emanates a fatal current through Fontanelli that paralyzes Prophet, but Michael intervenes so that Prophet can flee. Before the encroaching Alpha Ceph destroys Rach, he manages to relay, “You have something the ceph will never have…or understand.” As he mourns the death of his lover, Michael despairs at his humanity in the face of an enemy like the Ceph. Prophet reminds him that the suit allowed Rach to pin him down, and if he also had one, they would all be dead (and not just Fontanelli).
Skipping over to the finale, with Michael’s assistance Prophet must defeat the Alpha Ceph in order to close the Einstein–Rosen bridge it has opened for the purpose of summoning forth a mothership in outer space within close proximity of Earth. Prophet curses his malfunctioning suit, remembering that it is made from Ceph technology, and Michael reminds him, “It was never just about the suit,” as the former is sucked into the vacuum of space. From there, a defeated Prophet monologues:
When they came to me with the nanosuit, I sacrificed Lawrence Barnes, the man the man i was, to be come Prophet. Maybe the greatest tactical combat machine the world has ever known.
But if you’ve sacrificed everything you’ve had to become a perfect a cold, hard, logical machine, and that machine fails, what happens then?
When Prophet fails, what’s left?
It is then that he remembers the Archangel, a satellite weapon similar to the GDI ion cannon of Command & Conquer lore, was deactivated to prevent the mass destruction of earth, but he turns it toward the mothership emerging from the wormhole. The resulting explosion blasts Prophet back toward Earth. One can–must–infer that he endured planetary reentry through the atmosphere and survived, because the ending features a nanosuit-less Prophet looking in the mirror as his skin seemingly regenerates. He discards the dog tags into a nearby lake and goes into stealth mode, queuing the credits to roll, but not before another monologue:
First week of boot camp, they taught us a lesson. A good soldier knows there is only one thing the he can rely on when the chips are down. Not his cutting-edge intel, not his state of the art equipment, not his top of the line weapon; just himself. Took me a long time to remember that. For now, the war is over. I made mistakes along the way, but after all, I’m only human. My name is Lawrence Barnes; they call me…Prophet.