Crysis Warhead is a standalone game, but you'll get more out of it if you've played Crysis. That's because it's essentially an expansion pack that you don't need the first Crysis to play, one that sets you in the role of a different character on the same island, at the same time as the events of the original game. Call it Crysis Gaiden if you like, but this side story is a shorter and more-focused take on the action found in the previous game. If the original Crysis left you wondering when the action was going to finally heat up, look no further.
Warhead puts you in the nanosuit of another member of your squad from the original game. Here you play as a guy with the codename of Psycho. He's essentially Jason Statham as Chev Chelios from Crank but with a crazy suit that gives him enhanced ass-kicking abilities instead of the Beijing Cocktail and the ability to have sex with Amy Smart in public.
It's a toss-up, really.
Anyway, the suit gives your British guy the same powers that Nomad had in the original Crysis. The standard mode is an armor mode that treats the suit's energy as a rechargeable shield, but you can also set it up for speed, strength, or a cloaking device that turns you invisible for a brief period of time. The more you move while cloaked, the more it drains, which makes it tougher to run up behind people while invisible and smoke them, so the cloaking function isn't quite as cool as it initially seems.
You'll also have guns, of course, such as a few rifles, dual pistols or sub-machine guns, a shotgun, various grenades or mines, and so on. The weapons themselves aren't so great, but your ability to customize them makes up for that. You'll find additional scopes and attachments that you can apply to your weaponry at will, so if you feel like going silent you can slap on a suppressor. If discretion isn't your game, there's always a grenade launcher. Or, you know, a flashlight.
Crysis Warhead gives you these tools and plops you into the jungle area of an island filled with evil North Koreans, eviler alien creatures, and somehow even eviler North Koreans. The story is set alongside the events of the original game, but it doesn't really stop to point those events out to you. If you haven't played Crysis, then you'll be left wondering why everything around the middle of the game suddenly turns to ice. And then why, after completing that section, you never see iced-over bodies of water ever again. So things are a bit easier to follow if you at least read up on the events of Crysis beforehand, but since the story doesn't really go anywhere too interesting on its own, you're probably not missing much if you ignore all that stuff.
The original Crysis was a game set apart from its shooter-brethren by its attempts to create a cohesive, more-open world to play around in. Combat wasn't as frequent as it perhaps should have been, but occasionally you'd stumble onto a camp full of enemies who haven't spotted you yet, and you'd be able to sit back and devise a way to tear it apart. Warhead gives you the same options, but it's also much more linear-feeling game. You never feel like you're randomly stumbling upon encampments or other random events. You feel like you're working your way from one end of a first-person shooter level to the other. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, as it also tends to focus the action and firm up the pacing of the experience when compared to the original. It's also shorter, and will probably show you the ending around the six-hour mark.
I enjoyed playing through Crysis Warhead, but ended up feeling like it didn't give you enough time to really savor the tools at your disposal. Shooting enemies in the face is, as you'd expect, the quickest way to do them in. So abilities like super speed and super strength end up having limited usefulness. I went back and hacked around with the game's console and cheated all to hell, ending up with infinite energy, ammo, and weapons. Obviously, that takes out all the challenge. But it also gives you time to toy around with the enemies and really explore the game's technical side. Switching to strength mode, grabbing Korean dudes by the neck, and tossing them away, for example, is one of those in-game guilty pleasures that only cheats and sandboxes can provide.
Warhead also comes with a second disc with its own install process that gives you the multiplayer portion of the game, Crysis Wars. There's a new mode here that wasn't in the original Crysis, but the experience is largely the same. You shoot dudes, said dudes fall over and die. Sometimes you shoot at the shadows of dudes, since you can still see the shadows of cloaked soldiers, making the cloak almost entirely useless in most situations. It's a perfectly serviceable online shooter with decent map design, but doesn't really stand out to me in any way beyond the game's trademark visuals.
Oh, right, those. Remember how Crysis is still sort of the best-looking game ever made? Warhead looks like that, provided you turn the settings up. The game has supposedly been optimized a bit to run better on lesser machines, but it can still be a beast if you want to turn it up all the way. The game has an auto-detect function that will look at your system and set itself up accordingly, but it seems out of touch with reality. Here are the basic specs of my machine:
- Vista SP1
- 2GB RAM
- Geforce 8800
- Quad Core 2.4Ghz CPU
The game defaulted to "mainstream" on this hardware. I can't even figure out what that's supposed to mean. The game has default settings marked minimum, mainstream, gamer, and enthusiast. This makes no sense, but given the order they appear in the dropdown, I've taken it to mean that minimum is, like, minimum. And enthusiast must be "stupid dope greatest graphics ever" mode or something. When I flicked everything up to "gamer," textures started disappearing left and right, leaving me with enemies that had a flat shade of gray where their face and skin should be. Mainstream looked decent and had a great frame rate, even at 1680x1050. But the level of detail distance on that setting is criminally low, and caused me to miss a few items here and there because they weren't being drawn when they were more than, like, 20 feet away from me. Sing this along with me: Your Mileage May Vary!
One of the best parts about Crysis Warhead is the price. With an expansion-minded retail rate of $29.99, Crysis Warhead is inexpensive enough to make many of its issues feel very minor. Taken with the optimizations that may make it a friendlier game on more hardware configurations and its action-focused pacing, it's also much more approachable than the previous game.