All hail Crysis, the "Maximum Game". How odd it feels to revisit this legendary mass-melter of motherboards, this bane of frame rates and comparison threads, on what passes for a budget gaming laptop 10 years down the line. The intro especially rouses much the same sense of everlasting absurdity and pathos you might get from Hadrian's Wall or a Microsoft Zune, an orgiastic showreel in which bullets flatten themselves against quivering artificial muscles, and North Korean troopers gape at all the high-octane graphicsability coruscating around them as they're hurled headlong into their friends. Once upon a time, you think to yourself, we called this the future. Alas, futures seldom age that gracefully.
Crytek owes its existence to its knack for such glitzy spectacle - the company's breakthrough project was a dinosaur wilderness sim named X-Isle in 2000, a piece of graphics card benchmarking software that became the basis for the original Far Cry. Nowhere is that inheritance more evident than in Crysis, a moderately open cybernetic shooter whose omni-capable Nanosuit armour is a bulging, flexing metaphor for its own technical achievement. At a time when browser and mobile games were the fashion and blockbuster PC exclusives were on the wane, Crysis was a bastion of hope for custom hardware junkies. To run it back in 2007 was to join a proud club of macho super-consumers, to straddle the cutting edge with cowboy hat in hand while filthy casuals and the less affluent made do with caveman fare like Call of Duty 4. The Warhead expansion leans into this crude stratification of player culture by purchasing power explicitly, with graphics options that range from "Mainstream" to "Gamer" - no prizes for guessing which is the higher setting.
To play Crysis today is to remember that selling your art on the strength of its supporting tech is essentially writing the epitaph on the back of the box, though the game is still very handsome, with sprawling draw distances and sun rays fizzling through restless foliage. Beyond the odd smeary rock texture or, say, the absence of an animated transition when you collar a guard, it's that addled fixation with Operating at the Max that dates it the most. There are still plenty of technophiles around and lest I sound too much like the sneering hipster I undoubtedly am, there's nothing wrong with preferring a higher resolution or a faster frame rate, but PC gaming has come to be celebrated for its diversity and conceptual ambition rather than brute power. The idea of sticking it to the PlayStationistas with some hardcore anti-aliasing now seems deeply comic, like trying to restart the War of the Roses by egging a chipshop in Manchester.