Playing Crysis Warhead, I really felt like was playing Crysis again. I mean it really felt like it, in that there's pretty much nothing here that hasn't been imported from the main game. Whether that's a bad thing is debatable, as I'm certainly enjoying myself. Again.
Still, Crysis itself did feel very much like Far Cry, and with Far Cry 2 showing off its fancy non-tropical island environments there's a real danger of Warhead straying into been-there-done-that territory. There's one good reason to go back to Crysis though: it's still a great game.
Ding-Ding, Round 2
Yes it had issues, but as Will pointed out in his review Warhead fixes them all. Mostly. If you're still running a 256MB graphics card, like me, don't expect much more than Medium settings if you're actually considering shooting things.
The sudden disappearance of the Korean forces has now been explained, as they were on the other side of the island fighting Psycho instead. What this means is that the whole of Warhead is fun and not just the first half.
Remember that simple pleasure in Doom of getting enemies to fight each other? I still love games that do this, and while Crysis shamefully ignored this pleasure, Warhead doesn't.
As in Crysis, with Warhead it's the moments you create yourself that live with you. My favourite here was sneaking past a pack of aliens, discovering a gang of Korean soldiers just over the hill, then chucking a grenade on top of that hill so that both parties went to investigate and clashed in the centre. I intervened to even the odds occasionally, but they didn't notice me until I picked off the last survivor. By uncloaking right in front of him and chucking him down said hill.
Warhead is more linear than Crysis, but the array of options the game gives you (and the improved AI) ensures that no battle is the same twice, even in the claustrophobic mine levels. This makes the price seem even more reasonable.
Warheads thunder might have been stolen by Far Cry 2 by the time you read this, but I really enjoyed returning to Crysis. It may just be a mission pack ("parallel story" my arse), but it ranks with Half-Life: Opposing Force for quality. Still can't run it properly though.
Download Crysis Warhead
I DON'T BELIEVE that any game has ever created the rubric of an astounding action movie around the player as well as Crysis. The very best actioners have a tangible feeling of chaos and seat-of-the-pants decision-making, films like Raiders of the Lost Ark or Die Hard, and Crysis just nailed the sensation that astounding action scenes, made possible by your decisions, were falling in fiery pieces around you. Crysis Warhead pulls this same trick again, only with extra Schwarzenegger. No, three Schwarzeneggers. Actually 10 Schwarzeneggers, each smoking three cigars, driving a burning Humvee into an oil refinery.
But of course, Crysis had issues. Some adored it despite its flaws, others were miffed by it - the mailbag was a criss-cross of sparring Nomad-based opinion. However, what is undeniable, is that the decision to replace free-form Korean-throttling tomfoolery two-thirds of the way through the game with relentless alien bashing was stifling; sky-high system demands shut out people unwilling to play the game with half the engine switched off, and the North Koreans' AI would occasionally have soldiers standing blankly on a beach with nothing but a worried grimace. Warhead promised to fix all this, and has done so with aplomb - plastering up the holes of Crytek's earlier effort, and then using any leftover plaster to mould frescoes and porticoes to make the whole affair more attractive. What with its budget price and improved multiplayer, there's more than enough here to cheer nay-sayers.
With a runtime of five hours, there's an argument that says in older, more innocent times Warhead would be known as an expansion pack. Despite its standalone nature, this is perhaps true: it follows the concurrent travails of a different character, it's budget-priced, it adds some super-powered weapons, it features the same menagerie of foes, and it has a story that doesn't hold water.
Then again, to call it a mere expansion would be a huge disservice to a game that's so uniformly excellent in its art design, ballsy level concepts and exceptional gameplay. It's from the Paul Ross school of criticism to label something as a "rollercoaster thrill ride", but if Warhead doesn't fall under that umbrella then I don't know what does. Apart from, maybe, Spy Kids 3.
The hero of Warhead is Psycho, the angry cockney from Crysis whose dialogue is (praise the maker) both improved and somewhat distilled from his previous appearance. He even gets a catchphrase that manages to raise three individual laughs on the three individual occasions that it's used.
The MacGuffin of the piece, meanwhile, is a piece of alien hardware that the Koreans have snaffled from beneath the noses of the American forces - and it's down to you to follow it over frozen sea, through a decrepit mine and along rattling train tracks.
One of the most striking things about Warhead is the way it shakes the template Crysis snowglobe and has its constituent parts drift and settle into surprising new patterns. In Crysis encounters with enemies were heavily cordoned off from each other, in Warhead anything goes. Nanosuited enemies, revamped aliens, bog-standard Koreans, a whole bunch of the monolithic Hunter tentacle beasts... they all tumble out of the Crytek level design tombola in an unpredictable order, often fighting against each other in-between times.
The most awe-inspiring level starts off with you fighting Nanosuits, then moves into a remarkable hovercraft chase over frozen seas: it's simply a triumph in art design. Frozen waves, suspended by a sudden alien ice blast, stand in arctic silence as they crash against the hulls of battered ships - after which the level is punctuated by Korean battles against a goliath Hunter, squad combat against aliens,'and a fight with another Hunter that puts the closing boss of the original to shame. It's a frenzy of intelligent and original level design, far away from the Far Cry model that Crysis aped. And this is only the second level.
In fact, there are only two sections that are the traditional 'survey, sneak, attack' levels - Warhead encourages you to be constantly on the move, often in vehicles with big guns, and always with fire and broken fuel storage tanks left in your wake. However, this is not to say that you can't take your time if you want to. Another level begins atop the back of a train, complete with various miniguns on its sides, that rattles through a valley to the other side of the island - complete with a brief sojourn in the ice sphere.
Now you could happily sit there on the guns and protect your metal steed from the many and various helicopters, jeeps and small encampments along the way - but if you fancy some elongated Predator-style hunting then there's nothing at all stopping you from jumping off and catching the train up later. In this way both pyrotechnic-demanding sorts and sneaky snipers are catered for, and replay value is virtually guaranteed. Once again, the Nanosuit's different modes (armour, invisibility, strength etc.) lets you add skill, finesse and trickery to your tactics - even if the constant bombardment and increased number of on-screen enemies will entice you into staying armoured a smidge more often than in Crysis. Still, the feeling of successful showboating among the Korean heavy armour is a paramount joy.
I could prattle on about how great the mine section is too, but I'll start giving away each and every level. Suffice to say, when I heard over the radio "You're going to have to go through the nearby mine," a little bit of me died inside (because I think we've all been damaged by three-texture FPS mine sections over the past decade or so). As it turned out though, it was so wonderfully envisaged, so entirely mine-like and so full of loose equipment to throw about the place that it was probably my favourite part of the game. Plus, you even get to pick up rats and throw them at people. Also: they squeak.
But are the aliens better? Well, a fairer question might be "are the aliens as oddly unexciting as last time round?" -the answer to which is a straight no. They're a lot more dynamic now, they get into scrapes with the Korean army and they jump from rock to rock with AI routines that have a lot more in common with your be-nanosuited foes. They're good fun to be around (apart from when there's too many pumped in, which certainly occurs at one point), but certainly still not as engaging as the human vs human combat found in the game. Still, the improvement is marked -just as it is with Korean AI that may not have a vast number of new tricks for you to be flanked by, but still makes it unlikely that you'll come across a soldier displaying gormless brain-funk. The game does stumbles somewhat in its mundane tale of camaraderie with a rogue pilot called Sean O'Neill. He makes Han Solo-esque flying visits every now and again, and stars in a sequence of confusing audio flashbacks between levels. This never dips into a naffness that particularly harms affairs, mainly because the forever-just-out-of-reach container provides enough impetus, but it seems misplaced nevertheless.
Another storyline talking point the game is sure to raise focuses on a scene shortly after a bridge encounter towards the end of the game. Warheads cutscenes are a lot longer and better produced than those in Crysis, and this one deals with the unasked question of exactly why Psycho is called Psycho. Just what effect does power-throwing ovens at people have on the human psyche? The resulting cutscene is either one the best moments in gaming ever, or one of the most embarrassing. I honestly, truly am unable to make up my mind.
As with Crysis the best experiences you'll have with Warhead aren't anything I can predict here - and that's half its magic. The most thrilling event that happened to me came from a casually thrown grenade in Warheads closing airstrip level - a jeep thundered around the corner of a nearby hangar and drove toward me with what could only have been the intention of running me over. With beautiful timing its back-end was directly above my hopefully lobbed grenade at the point of ignition. The jeep's fiery hulk was then somersaulted directly over my head, before landing on the remnants of its smouldering wheels a few metres behind me.
This sequence could have been dropped in from one of the very best action movies - and yet it was completely unscripted. Warhead honestly is the finest burst of action gaming released so far this year, and if you're canny then you'll be able to pick it up for a mere $20 from online retailers. It's a five hour tour-deforce that's plugged the holes in Crysis with diamonds; underlining just what a shame it was that those holes were there to steal outright greatness last time round. Psycho is many things but, as he'd tell you just before thowing you into the sea, he's certainly no muppet.
Warhead to head
Crytek give multiplayer glory anot
Crysis' Power Struggle mode was decent if you buried yourself deep inside it and played with subterranean friends, but it was too complex to catch the hearts of the online hordes. Warhead makes everything more obvious: more arrows, less UI clutter and more visual parallels with Battlefield and Counter-Strike - the games it so consciously melds together.
The impetus on team deathmatch has also been upped, with spawnpoints that keep you with friendlies, and some excellent new maps around mountain-top monasteries, graveyards and treehouses.
Now present as a separate package entirely, called Crysis Wars, it's likely to arouse more interest than before - but it still won't challenge the big boys.