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Welcome to the jungle: 'Crysis 3' takes a bite out of the Big Apple

In the sci-fi shooting game "Crysis 3," players step into the super-suit worn by the super-warrior known as Prophet — part man, part machine and perhaps even part alien. And while the developers at Crytek who created the highly anticipated game have clearly gone the extra mile to turn this masked hero into a character players genuinely care about, they have also clearly put a lot of care into developing another character: the city that is the game's backdrop.

That is, New York City.

The hit sci-fi game series Crysis returns today. It returns for a third-installment in the alien-fighting, sci-fi saga that has captured gamer imaginations for five years now. It returns with the kind of smart, versatile and highly polished shooting gameplay that has earned the series legions of dedicated fans. And it returns players to New York City like we've never seen it before.

In "Crysis 2," players saw New York attacked for the first time by the aliens known as the Ceph. But "Crysis 3" takes place 24 years after those events and the world's most famous city has become something different altogether. New York City has been ravaged by alien attacks, corporate wrong-doing and, most importantly, by nature itself.

Streets that were once choked by cars are now choked with fields of tall grass. Lush jungle flourishes while towering skyscrapers crumble like sandcastles on the beach. Monuments to mankind's triumphs sink into swamplands and get swallowed by rivers. Having already spent some time with the game, I can tell you this: Crytek has given us a Big Apple that is absolutely gorgeous in its devastated and decayed state.

"In essence, we had to really go in and re-imagine what the city would be like," "Crysis 3" producer Mike Read told me in a recent interview. "This really gave a lot of freedom to our designers to come up with some creative designs."

Things have certainly changed for New York City between "Crysis 2" and "Crysis 3." Not only have 24 years flown by, Read explains that, during that time, the nefarious CELL Corporation has built a massive dome that covers Manhattan Island. Why? Because they discovered an unlimited power source buried beneath. And it's this containment dome and the alien energy inside it that has caused accelerated erosion of New York's terrain and structures.

Once inside the dome, players will find the famed city split up into seven distinct landscapes — the Seven Wonders Crytek calls them. And each of these seven zones offer not only different terrain to explore, but different enemies to fight — from the CELL soldiers to various Ceph monstrosities. (See InGame editor Todd Kenreck's full review above.)

Read says that creating these Seven Wonders was no easy task.

"One of the biggest challenges that we encountered with this game was creating the environments themselves," he says. "Each one is so drastically different, it required a massive amount of new assets and careful art direction, not only to make it happen, but for it to feel immersive."

But as distorted as the world's most famous city has become in this dystopian future, Read says players will still see signs of the New York City they know. (See if you can spot Lady Liberty in the screenshot below.)

"There are definitely locations, landmarks, and references that players will recognize as they traverse through the campaign," he says. "Each one of the Seven Wonders is set in various areas of Manhattan such as Chinatown, Downtown, Midtown, Eastside, and the Brooklyn Bridge."

When I asked Read why he and the developers at Crytek decided to return to New York City to wrap up the Crysis trilogy when they could have gone ... well ... anywhere, he had this to say: "Coming back to New York City was more of a story driven thing. As to why? You’ll have to play through the game and reveal what that secret is."

For a further look at the altered New York City vistas that greet players in "Crysis 3," check out the images below.

Winda Benedetti writes about video games for NBC News. You can follow her tweets about games and other things on Twitter here @WindaBenedetti and you can follow her on Google+. Meanwhile, be sure to check out the IN-GAME FACEBOOK PAGE to discuss the day's gaming news and reviews.