Crysis Warhead is a stand-alone expansion for last year’s hit PC title, Crysis, which means it doesn’t cost too much money and you don’t need the original game installed to play it. If you're an "average gamer," odds are you didn’t play it for the sole fact that your PC couldn’t handle it and you didn’t feel like spending two thousand dollars for one game. I can’t blame you, but for anyone with a PC that could handle it, the flawed but entertaining Crysis gave some of the best FPS gameplay of last year.
The story of Warhead follows Sergeant Michael "Psycho" Sykes of Raptor Team, the meathead smart-ass squadmate from the original Crysis. Psycho is trying to find and secure a large cargo container that is usually used to transport nuclear warheads. Apparently, Crytek decided that the most cliché of the original cast needed more fleshing out, and he now has his own five-hour adventure that takes place during the events of the original. For anyone who didn’t get a chance to check out the original, it followed Nomad, soldier in the US Army’s special Raptor Squadron; a group of highly trained soldiers equipped with highly advanced Nano Muscle Suits. These Nanosuits can be used to give the soldiers enhanced abilities including speed, strength, and armor boosts, as well as having a limited invisibility option.
Nomad and the rest of the Delta Force were sent to North Korea to find and rescue a group of archeologists captured by the North Korean Army. After pressing through the jungles and finding patches of frozen land, Nomad finds that the archeologists were being tasked with identifying a space ship discovered off the coast, and before long, the entire island is under attack by robotic alien life forms. This actually doesn't really become a huge point in the game until the end, and the idea of combat with aliens is teased for the entire game, and only delivered upon at the end - one of the title's missteps, since the creatures were featured prevalently on the box. They weren't fooling anyone. The title’s climax takes place inside of the ship, where Nomad must navigate a dizzying zero gravity environment while battling alien creatures. Upon exiting, a large sphere surrounds the area, freezing everything to -200 degrees.
The original Crysis had many issues, ranging from the previously mentioned issues with the alien enemies and pacing problems. For a title that was essentially supposed to be gun porn, there were overly long segments that involved simply walking from place to place. None of this matters in Crysis Warhead, as it takes place on the other side of the island, where things were much different for both the people and the developers.
Warhead fixes all of the issues from the first game. All of them. When Crysis came out it was the best looking game ever made, and nothing has caught up in the months since it’s release. Warhead manages not only to top the original in terms of visuals, but has also been more properly optimized. In other words, if your computer could run the original on “Medium” you can likely run Warhead on “High” now, and it will look better than the original did on that setting. While it still won't run on your eight year-old Dell, it has been cleaned up a great deal, so it should, on the whole, work on more computers.
The fixes continue into the gameplay. While the original dangled the carrot of alien lifeforms too long, Warhead does it right by not treating them as the end-game. Before long, Psycho is thrown face first into waves of powerful alien enemies, living up to the promises of Crysis. Only an hour in, he's tackling colossal foes and attempting to fight off different forms of extra-terrestrial foes. The pacing is also much improved, and there is as much combat in the four or so hours of Crysis Warhead as their was in the entirety of the original game. It’s nonstop fighting from beginning to end, and represents Crytek’s complete understanding of gameplay crafting and level design. The areas are huge and expansive, too, giving players an infinite number of ways to approach any given situation. With all of the ablities of the suit, it's impossible not to become obsessed with taking down foes in creative ways, making it feel more like you're in control of a Predator than Psycho.
There is a multiplayer mode included that plays more like deathmatch than the original Crysis’s multiplayer, which was a convoluted Battlefield clone, as to make it a better pick-up-and-play game. This is good, since the Crysis servers were never all too filled (likely because of the system requirements), so getting a team-based game going never worked well. Even now, it's going to have trouble pulling most people in, though it can provide some good fun, and the game's lower price tag should make it great for LAN parties.
When I originally reviewed Crysis I called it gun porn. It did very little in terms of storytelling and innovating gameplay design, but brought fast paced gameplay with the sexiest graphics in gaming. Warhead continues this tradition, but has a slightly more coherent and focused story, even better gameplay and even more impressive graphics. It still absolutely feels like it fits into that category, but it does so in a much better way, really embracing itself and going as far as possible with the concepts planted in the original. With its five or so hour story, Crysis Warhead has a Portal feel in that you can complete it in a dedicated sitting from time to time if the mood strikes you. This is something I can see myself doing, if not only to flex my PC's muscles from time to time. Warhead is only $30, so there isn’t any real excuse not to pick it up if you have a PC that can handle it. Hell, at least it should hold you over until Far Cry 2 comes out.