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Crysis 2 vs. Rage

Crysis 2 Screenshot - 866947

In 2011, two shooter heavyweights go to head to head; id Software's RAGE and Crytek's Crysis 2.

id are the veritable granddaddy of the first person shooter. Way back in the 90s, the Texan software house–now owned by ZeniMax–made the genre what it is today with their pioneering games: Doom, Quake and Wolfenstein 3D.

id's upcoming RAGE – a post-apocalyptic FPS - is a comeback of sorts. It's their first big in-house production since the divisive Doom 3 – the 2004 reboot of the Doom series. Doom 3 wowed gamers with fancy graphics but was a bit of a curate's egg in the gameplay department. The original Doom was a fast paced, frenetic shooter, but Doom 3 replaced the large arenas with tight, repetitive corridors and introduced a notorious mechanic that meant you couldn't shoot and hold a flashlight simultaneously.

What's more RAGE isn't just an important game for id – it's the companies first substantial new ip since 1996's Quake. Can id pull off a modern FPS, with all the qualities contemporary gamers demand - an engrossing world, story and killer gameplay - or should they just stick to making pretty graphics engines?

Crytek are a newcomer by comparison, but some of the same questions apply to their forthcoming Crysis 2. Founded at the turn of the millennium in Germany, Crytek created waves with their debut, FarCry, released in the same year as Doom 3.

The real star of this show was Crytek's in house CryEngine, which allowed large outdoor environments to be rendered in unprecedented detail; providing you had a meaty PC. While the island-hopping environments of the game created some interesting skirmish-style gameplay, FarCry started life as a technical demo, and it shows. The story is perfunctory and generic, and the gameplay gradually becomes more constrained, ending up as – you guessed it – a linear corridor shooter.

Crysis, the company's second game, built on the FarCry's success. With the original brand owned by publisher Ubisoft, Crytek partnered with EA for the release of their next project. Once again set in large, tropical environments, Crysis injected a bit of extra interest with weather-changing aliens that create blizzards and frozen conditions later in the game. The player also has wears a high-tech nanosuit, which lets you switch between enhanced speed, strength, armour or cloaking abilities.

Despite the – once again – astonishing graphics – Crysis is regarded by many players as a case of style over substance. GameZone's Jim Sterling has already given the title a bit of a tongue-lashing, even though our 2007 review gives it a stonking 9.3 score. The nanosuit mechanic, in particular, proved to be this game's equivalent of the Doom 3 flashlight – most of the powers proved pretty useless, so players would often complete most of the game using the armour ability alone.

With 2011's Crysis 2, Crytek have promised to address the most noticeable limitations of its predecessors. But can you teach an old dog new tricks? Do either of these old-school shooter developers have what it takes to compete in a crowded marketplace? We've put them head-to-head to try and find out.

Launch Date Unless things go seriously awry at Crytek, Crysis 2 will have a considerable lead on RAGE. You've only got a couple of months to wait for Crysis 2 to hit – March 22nd, to be precise. In comparison, RAGE will be hitting the scene half a year later – September 13th 2011. But should you part with your cash for Crysis 2, or wait for RAGE?

Graphics (Technical) If you needed to pick a category that both these games are likely to excel in, it would have to be bleeding-edge graphics. It's the underlying engines that are really going head to head for supremacy here – Crysis 2 is based on Crytek's CryEngine 3, and RAGE on id Tech 5. Their respective shooters are the debut outing for both engines, and there's a bigger prize at stake than just a hit game; both companies want to see their engine licensed and adopted by other developers.

As well as featuring plenty of technical bells and whistles like volumetric lighting and multi-core processing, both competitors are focusing on accessibility. John Carmack, id's chief technical wizard, is promising to make his tools more user friendly, and better at supporting multiple platforms. Crytek are going as far as making a free version of the engine available for budding developers, and anyone who wants to take CryEngine 3 for a test drive.

At this stage, it's hard to tell who has the edge, but both games are guaranteed have seriously eye-popping tech.

Graphics (Design)

Crytek should receive a lot of credit for bravery; Crysis 2 ditches the literal jungles of Crysis and FarCry in favour of an “urban jungle” - a futuristic New York City devastated after an alien invasion. The crumbling cityscapes we've seen so far certainly look good, with a lot of attention to detail. The major question for me is this; can the developers keep the vistas varied, or will the game end up looking repetitive? Whenever I read “urban environment”, there's a little part of my brain that says “grey concrete corridors”.

There's no reason that this sort of thing can't be done to perfection, though – just take a glance at Half-Life 2's superbly designed City 17.

RAGE is all about decay, as well. The post-apocalyptic setting is easily comparable to Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas, but there's a pinch of Mad Max and a dash of Borderlands in the mix, along with a few new ideas all of it's own.

To call RAGE beautiful wouldn't be stretching the truth – this is a game that's all about making an ugly world look very good indeed.

Gameplay Crysis 2's gameplay is all about ironing out the flaws of Crytek's previous games. The nanosuit has had an upgrade – strength and speed have been combined to make the option more attractive, and the stealth option has had a makeover as well. A new “tactical” mode rounds out the package, and players can also use two modes simultaneously for brief periods. Perhaps this time round, gamers will really get the feeling of power that the first game strove to convey.

RAGE is more ambitious. A shooter at it's core, the id team are cramming in cross-genre aspects. A big part of the game will centre around driving upgradeable vehicles, and there are also RPG-lite features like a player inventory. We're not quite sure exactly how many surprises RAGE has in store, but it's great to see id taking creative risks once more.

Story For Crysis 2, Crytek have done what gamers have been clamouring for for years, and hired proper screenwriters. Richard K. Morgan and Peter Watts are responsible for the game's script, and while we doubt the plot of Crysis 2 will trouble the Nobel committee, we're hoping for deeper emotional engagement and better dialogue than the boiler-plate alien invasion affair that was Crysis. There wasn't anything glaringly wrong with this fight-some-Koreans-then-some aliens military procedural - and it certainly beat FarCry's awkward jumble of disparate elements – but the story in Crysis 2 is set to be far superior.

Then there's RAGE. The scenario for this one is interesting – rather than being set after the customary nuclear apocalypse, it's a pesky asteroid that caused all the trouble in RAGE. The player emerges after being kept in cryogenic suspension so as to survive the crysis – sorry, the crisis. Other than that, it's a bit of a blank slate at the moment, but Doom 3's Matthew J. Costello is working on the plot. That's either a good thing or a bad thing, depending on whether you like audio logs.

There's an argument that no-one really plays these games for the story, but try telling that to the legions of gamers that loved Bioshock's social critique or Call of Duty's hollywood theatrics.

Crysis 2 or RAGE? Of the two, it's RAGE that's got me most impressed so far. They're both out on 360, PS3 and PC, so there's no need to play favourites when it comes to hardware. These are two big blockbuster graphics titles, but they've both got loftier ambitions that deserve your attention. With only a couple of months until Crysis 2 arrives, it's make your mind up time – RAGE, Crysis 2 or both?

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Stuart Young
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