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vg.deathmatch: Crysis 2 vs. Halo: Reach
by Andrew Testerman

As gamers, we love competition, action, and a titanic struggle to the death. What better tussle is there than watching two games go head-to-head in mortal combat? In the tradition of the Mario and Sonic days of yore comes VG Deathmatch, GGTL’s recurring clash of the digital titans.

This week, we’re looking at two titles featuring everyone’s favourite character archetype: the space marine! First introduced in science fiction writer Robert A. Heinlein’s novel Starship Troopers, and popularised in gaming by titles like Doom, StarCraft, and Halo: Combat Evolved, the space marine has been a staple in the modern gaming character pantheon, along with the samurai, zombie, and princess in disguise since the era of the Atari.

In the role of challenger is Crytek’s Crysis 2, featuring open-ended level design, multiple styles of play, and a brand new graphics engine for rendering space marines at their shiniest. Will it be enough to take down the reigning champion of space marine games, Halo: Reach, with its epic storyline, enormous set pieces, and industry-standard design?

1: Main Character

Crysis 2 puts players in the role of Alcatraz, a US Marine dispatched to assist an ailing New York City in the throes of a catastrophic alien virus. Unfortunately, Alcatraz is soon attacked and badly injured, but is saved at the last minute by Prophet, a character from the first Crysis. Prophet bestows his Nanosuit to Alcatraz, giving him solace from his injuries, as well as a multitude of Justice League-esque powers. The setup is compelling, but Alcatraz (aside from having a name reminiscent of an exotic dancer) is one of the most glum-and-blah protagonists I’ve played in a while. Perhaps Crytek was hoping to generate some Gordon Freeman appeal, as Alcatraz goes through the entire game without uttering so much as one syllable. Unlike Freeman, though, Alcatraz spends the entire game taking orders. He has a suit that can kick the crap out of a small country, but he happily takes orders from some geeky pseudo-Otacon for a good chunk of time? I don't buy it.

Halo: Reach casts a similarly silent lead character, but Noble Six is far from a generic “you are the player” cypher. A trained Spartan III, Noble Six stays steadfast and supportive throughout, offering words when necessary, but mostly letting his (or her) actions speak in lieu of them. He's not the diety-esque pillar of strength that was Master Chief, nor the non-entity that The Rookie was in Halo 3: ODST, Noble Six acts as a true team player through the events of Reach; supporting, leading, following, and giving his all for the success of the mission.

Winner: Halo: Reach
The differences are subtle, but Noble Six’s dedication to his team and peerless leadership in the field gives him a decisive edge in this comparison. With few words but strong characterization, Noble Six was a protagonist I grew to appreciate, as I did the entire Noble Team in the game. As for Alcatraz, I was weary of his constant order-taking far before the experience was over. No contest.

2: Setting

Crysis 2 takes place in a bombed-out, post-disaster New York City, and surely The Big Apple has never been as detailed as it was in this game. Sun pours through clouds of dust and thick smoke, ordinary shops and streets are left barely, but hauntingly, recognizable, and buildings eventually collapse and crumble from the turmoil. If only this was the worst that happened. CryEngine 3 lends itself well to the small environmental touches, giving the game a populated, lived-in feel, and much of the area is readily explorable. There are occasional invisible walls, but for the most part, the atmosphere and splendour of the environment make post-virus New York City the most beautiful place you will never, ever want to visit.

Halo: Reach’s titular planet has an excellent variety of game environments, and they’re all gorgeous and interesting. The scale in particular harkens back to the first game players would look at the horizon and watch the Forerunner ring wind up, up, up until it came right back around to the other side. Reach’s settings are painted in broad strokes, and though they look good from afar, they aren’t necessarily the prettiest when seen up close. Still, they are nonetheless effective in establishing a mood and “feel” for each location, which can hardly be a bad thing.

Winner: Crysis 2
Crysis 2’s portrayal of New York gone to crap is, hands-down, one of the prettiest and best-realised game spaces I’ve seen on the Xbox 360. The crumbling buildings, burned-out reminders of lives interrupted, and winning ambient noise-design create an atmosphere that is at times almost overwhelming. There is one early section of the game in particular that leads through an abandoned subway tunnel that particularly stayed with me after playing - I was all but crawling up the walls with fear of what might be down there due to the frightening, memorable aesthetics. Reach doesn’t necessarily drop the ball with its locations, but Crysis 2 is simply that much better.

3: Weapons

Crysis 2 occupies an odd middle ground in weapon design: most of the weaponry seems to have been informed by Modern Warfare 2, despite the overtly sci-fi flavour of its story and setting. Even some of the exotic guns (such as the Mike, a gun that shoots microwaves to cook enemies from the inside out) feel far more like they’re shooting bullets than death rays. Perhaps this is the point, but I firmly believe that there is a middle ground between Ratchet and Clank and SOCOM 4 when it comes to weapon design. Heck, look at the Resistance series! Crysis 2’s guns do have a nice weight to them, though I am saddened by their lack of flair.

Halo: Reach has perhaps the most satisfying arsenal of the entire Halo universe of games. To create such broad weapon diversity, Bungie brought back many of the series’ staple guns (the Assault Rifle, Plasma Pistol, etc.), jetted many that didn’t work (goodbye, Covenant Carbine!), and expanded the roster with a collection of excellent new weapons (the BAR, Needle Rifle, etc.) to complete the set. There are even a few “fixed” weapons, such as the new and now-useful Needler. Each weapon has a different feel and handling technique, giving single and multiplayer matches a nice, healthy dose of variety.

Winner: Halo: Reach
When I first heard about the Mike, I thought this category would be a no-brainer. Now that I know how disappointingly similar it is to regular old real-world guns, I’m falling back on the old favourite: the Magnum from Reach. Restored to its overpowered, sniper pistol glory, the Magnum is perhaps one of the best guns of the modern FPS. Both games have a fun arsenal of weapons to choose from, and both include excellent shotguns. In the end, though, only one can have the Magnum

4: Enemies

Crysis 2 pits players against the Ceph (…alopods. I see what you did there, Crytek), a race of bipedal beings that look like a cross between Michael Bay’s Transformers and that squid-looking robot from the first Matrix movie. The first time they’re introduced, they create a strong impression, resisting bullets and leaping from ledge to ledge all nimbly-bimbly. As the game goes on, though, the Ceph start to wear out their welcome, and become a bit of a nuisance. Even the advanced versions don’t change their tactics too much, only becoming sponges for even more bullets from uncreative guns. The Strider-esque Pings are a cool idea, but even these huge, tripedal walkers come off as more of a nuisance than an intriguing threat.

Halo: Reach features the Covenant in a way that hasn’t been seen in almost ten years: as strange, fearsome beings that will sooner tear you a new one than shout anything in English. I remember coming *this* close to wetting myself in Halo when I heard an unseen, guttural cry and saw myself get torn in half by an unexpected Beam Sword. The different races that make up the Covenant give the enemies some variety, and mandate a changing of tactics in order to avoid being overwhelmed.

Winner: Halo: Reach
Both the Ceph and Covenant play the same basic role in their respective games, but the Covenant contribute too strong a presence to Reach to lose this fight. With the Covenant, I’ve learned to fear the sound of a Hunter’s cannon, rethink approaching a nest of Jackals vs. a group of Elites, and laugh at slaughtering Grunts like it was going out of style. With the Ceph, I merely sigh when I see a Heavy, because I know a long and relatively tedious battle will ensue.

5: The Suit

Crysis 2’s Nanosuit is a veritable Swiss Army knife of applications. It can gain extra armour for more damage, implement a cloak for sneaking, point out different strategic opportunities on the battlefield, and even render a huge, car-crushing kick to inhuman enemies. All of this comes at a price, however, as the suit can only exert so much energy at one time before needing to recharge. It's unfortunately delicate as well, managing only a few hits before announcing the user’s health as “Critical.” Even more problematic, the Sprint function consumes energy that is also used by the Cloak and Armour functions, which created several annoying situations during my playthrough when I was unable to flee from certain death because my Armour unexpectedly failed. Still, the cloaking ability turns Crysis 2 into the stealth game I’ve always wanted, letting players toy with enemies Batman: Arkham Asylum-style.

Halo: Reach’s MJOLNIR Mark V armour is the peak of combat technology in the Halo universe, and Bungie added a few new tricks to it for Reach. Among these are Armour Abilities, app-style add-ons to the MJOLNIR upgrade that add features like springing, hologram projections, and jetpacks. The MJOLNIR also has an onboard shield generator which absorbs a great deal of punishment before failing, and recharges relatively quickly. Armour Abilities can only be implemented one-at-a-time, though, so good luck trying to choose between Armour Lock and Sprint.

Winner: Halo: Reach
While the Nanosuit gains points for its ability to do multiple things at once, the MJOLNIR Mark V gets this round because, frankly, the Nanosuit would get its ass handed to it in a fight between the two.

And the Winner Is…

Halo: Reach
In a fight between two excellent sci-fi shooters, the champion continues to reign supreme over space marines everywhere, netting four rounds to Crysis 2’s one. Crysis 2 put up a solid fight in the Suit and Weapons categories, but couldn’t quite snag the title from Reach, though its impressive scenery and atmosphere were more than enough to win it at least one round. If you haven’t played either of these games, you’re missing out on some quality, open-ended FPS action, and I encourage everyone who is even minimally interested to check out both titles. Happy shooting, and I’ll catch you again next time on vg.deathmatch.

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- Andrew Testerman

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