Let's cut straight to the chase. Even after two years of hype, Crysis' visual achievements are incredible. Jungle vegetation has never looked this lush before, nor the harsh daylight streaming through the trees looked so beautiful. The fog and mist effects put any other atmospheric effect you might have seen before firmly in the shade. The level of textural detail is astounding. The water effects, whether the ocean waves surrounding Crysis' Asian island paradise or in the rivers and mangrove swamps of its interior, are unparalleled. Smoke, explosion, fire and other particle effects are dazzling. The character rendering and animation is superb. Crytek wanted to push the boundaries of photo-realism and they have succeeded. Forget Call of Duty 4, Gears of War and Heavenly Sword - Crysis sets a graphical standard that I can't see any other game reaching for years.
Of course, not all of us are going to experience it in its full glory. With an Intel Core 2 Extreme X6850, an Asus GeForce 8800 Ultra and 2GB of DDR2 800 I was still only able to play the DirectX 10 version on High settings, leaving me to wonder what sort of machine is required to play it on Very High. Frankly, High is probably all my eyeballs can take at the moment, Switch to DirectX 9 and Medium and you have to do without some of the beautiful lighting, shading and atmospheric effects, but it all looks pretty stunning and you should be able to get away with marginally less impressive hardware. If you can only manage it in Low, upgrade: the whole thing looks flat and lifeless, and you won't get the real Crysis experience.
Bear in mind, too, that Crysis really does need a balanced system. I started off playing it on an old system based on an Athlon X2 3800 and 2GB of DDR 400 with the GeForce 8800 Ultra thrown in. This setup had got me comfortably through Half-Life 2: Episode 2, Enemy Territory: Quake Wars, Bioshock and Medal of Honor: Airborne, but Crysis practically killed it. On Medium settings it could only maintain smooth movement for about two seconds at a time before jerking uncontrollably. If you're trying to eke out the life of an old single core or low-end dual-core system, then Crysis will be a step too far. Now is the time to say ‘out with the old' and ‘in with the new'.
The real question, of course, is ‘is it worth it?' Well, I'm as much a sucker for eye candy as the next man, but for a while Crysis left me wondering. Initially it feels a lot like Far Cry with a sci-fi twist. The wafer thin plot - an unholy composite of bits from the Aliens and Predator movies with a nod to Half-Life here and Doom there - isn't particularly inspiring, and the all-important nanotech-powered combat suit seems underdeveloped. On Medium difficulty level the North Korean bad-guys seem ridiculously impervious to bullets, while their characterisation - or rather, caricature - makes Team America: World Police look like a sympathetic depiction of George W. Bush's third least favourite nation. For the first hour or so I was stymied: Crysis had me gobsmacked, but was I actually having any fun?