Crysis Warhead Review
1.66Ghz Core 2 Duo CPU
8800M GTS Video
3GB DDR2 RAM
Windows Vista 32-bit
Crysis was one of those games that players simply couldn't ever agree on. Some found it to be a fun, immersive experience with solid action, excellent graphics, and a lot of fun coming from the power of your character's powerful Nanosuit. Others couldn't see what was such a big deal, especially after having played the arguably more innovative first-person games that have come and gone over the past few years. Still others couldn't even play the game at all, as Crysis' system requirements are still the most demanding you will find on the PC. So when developer Crytek promised a new stand-alone expansion with better performance and more of the same action, gamers had a similar reaction as they did once the first game was released: no one agreed.
Once I got playing though, I was lost in the world of Crysis all over again, and Crytek has mostly delivered what they promised. The problem is that there are a few key ways that they didn't, and in the end that really drags down this follow-up. To start, it's nice that Warhead doesn't require the original game to run, even if the story doesn't make a huge amount of sense if you haven't played the first. But beyond that, this time around the experience is more linear and structured, removing some of that freeform style that made the first game - and Crytek's other big FPS, Far Cry - so fun to play. The system requirements are basically the same and overall performance isn't much different, though, so if your computer couldn't even remotely play Crysis and you haven't upgraded since then, well, Warhead is not likely to fix the problem.
Oh, sure, there's a small boost in speeds with the optimizations to the CryEngine 2, especially during heavy action, but in the end Crysis just doesn't pull you in as much when you play it at low detail (as opposed to a game like Half-Life 2 whose story will still keep you immersed even on a low-spec PC). EA has tried to make this a little easier by releasing their own Crysis Warhead PC which they're charging $700 for (it includes everything you need but the game itself and a monitor) and supposedly play the game at "High" (now known as "Gamer") settings at an average of 30fps. And it will play it at those settings, as long as you're also playing at a fairly low resolution like 1280x1024 or less. The frustrating part is that there's no demo for the game available as of this writing, so it's kind of hard to see if your system takes to Warhead any better than the original game without just outright buying it and hoping. The only comfort is that even if you don't buy EA's PC, it'll cost you hundreds less to build or buy a Crysis-capable PC than it did last November.
At some point we should probably talk about the game itself. Crysis Warhead takes place mostly during the events of the first game where you played as an American supersoldier codenamed Nomad. Here, you play as his squadmate Psycho, also wearing a powerful Nanosuit, soon after the two split up near the beginning of the first game. You'll hit the other side of the large Korean island where a massive discovery has been made and American and North Korean forces are fighting to play keep-away from each other. There's a little more story and a serious attempt at character development in Warhead over the original game, and you'll find quickly that the developers assume you've played Crysis so they don't spend so much time setting up the setpieces. Instead, the crazy developments are often just thrown at you, including the aliens that the whole discovery revolves around. Some gamers hated the aliens the first time around, and here you'll still be fighting a lot of them, but at least this time Crytek has mixed it up so you'll fight the Korean military here and there even after the reveal.
The unfortunate part of this is that to achieve this inside the story - one where any soldiers not in Nanosuits in frozen areas are turned into ice cubes - Crytek had to send you indoors a few times to alternate between the fights with aliens and the KPA. It's good for pacing, but these underground levels kind of drag on with their linearity and don't play to the developers' or even the game's strengths. Come to think of it, other than a few open-ended bits near the beginning of the game, Crysis Warhead takes you on a linear path that offers little in the way of strategizing on the many ways to take on a large installation full of troops and vehicles. And that was a key part of Far Cry's fun, and it's been stamped almost completely out to make a more scripted, conventional FPS experience here. It makes me wonder if Crytek ever really knew (or cared for) what parts of their games players found to be the most fun or original, and instead just did it their way.
Crysis Warhead includes a separately-installed multiplayer mode called Crysis Wars that builds on the original game's online action by adding the new, simplified Instant Action mode while keeping the complex Power Struggle mode (where you capture points and eventually try to nuke the enemy's base, gaining a type of money and spending it on weapons to spawn with). The new IA and Team IA modes just dump weapons throughout a map like an older FPS does, and generally makes the game much less involved - the problem is that this doesn't allow for the more subtle nuance of the Nanosuits, which is what adds so much to Power Struggle, to come through. In the end, you'll find that Crysis Wars is fun if you liked the original game's multiplayer, and you won't if you didn't. But either way, make sure you've got a powerful computer: even on the minimum settings the online play demands some powerful hardware, much more so than the single player game.
While Crysis Warhead tries to innovate with a more cinematic, carefully-sculpted experience and tosses in a couple of new weapons (and a hovercraft, which is severely underwhelming) and more multiplayer action for a reasonable $30 price tag - either in stores or over Steam - it's not enough to fix the problems of the original game, nor does it take advantage of Crytek's strongest gameplay of years past. The system requirements are still rough, the freeform combat has been minimized, and the experience is pretty short if you aren't going to be getting into the online play too much. And the weirdest thing? Crysis Warhead's single player game doesn't have any actual warheads or nukes. Hell, the original had that tac nuke cannon that was grossly underused but still at least present, but there are no nukes here. Odd. Either way, it's worth picking up if you really dug the original and want more of the same, but if you had issues before, then Warhead isn't likely to address them for you.