Saturday, January 31, 2009

Crysis Warhead Review

For many PC gamers, Crysis is still a benchmark, despite being over a year old. You either have a computer that can run it, or you don't. For those that don't, maybe they're content, or maybe they're thinking about upgrade. Those who have computers that can run Crysis are satisfied in the knowledge that they can go to a store, pick up a game off the shelf without looking at the system requirements, buy it, install it, and play it with the graphics turned up.

More recently, the Crytek people have delivered us Crysis Warhead, a game that's billed not as a sequel but as a standalone expansion. Warhead uses the same engine, is shorter than Crysis, and the story takes place during Crysis. However, Warhead does not require Crysis to run.

To give a quick recap, an alien spacecraft was discovered on some island, and both the Americans and the North Koreans are after it. Raptor team, a special Delta Force unit equipped with special "nano muscle suits," was sent in to rescue some scientists that the North Koreans had kidnapped. The team is scattered pretty much from the moment you start playing, and the original Crysis focuses on the faceless soldier with the call sign "Nomad." Warhead tells the tale of Sergeant Michael "Psycho" Sykes, one of the more memorable characters from the first Crysis, who apparently had some adventures of his own while Nomad was doing his thing.

The gameplay in Warhead is identical to the first Crysis. Psycho has the same nano muscle suit that Nomad does. The suit has its own energy bar above your health bar, and it has four modes of operation:

-Maximum Armor: The default mode, which uses the suit's energy to absorb damage. The suit's energy will be depleted before your health is, and as long as you're not getting hit the suit's armor will recharge.

-Maximum Speed: Probably the least useful ability in my opinion. With this ability, you can run really fast, but the suit's energy drops pretty fast in this mode. When it runs out, you're back to normal speed, and the suit's energy will recharge. It recharges at a moderate speed if you hold still, but if you're still moving, it recharges at a trickle, meaning this ability is only good for very short bursts.

-Maximum Strength: In this mode, you have increased melee damage, can lift heavier objects, and can throw objects farther. All you'll really use it for, though, is to jump higher and take less damage from high falls.

-Cloak: With the cloak, you can become invisible. The energy gauge will constantly drain in this mode; just a little if you're still, but at a more moderate rate if you're moving. You'll almost constantly shift between Maximum Armor and Cloak. The Cloak is great for moving undetected from cover to cover, or getting the drop on unsuspecting enemies.

The original Crysis moves at a better pace. You spend a lot of the game looking for the scientists and fighting Koreans, but you eventually move through the aforementioned alien spacecraft, after which you're pretty much done fighting Koreans and shift to aliens (I don't think I'm spoiling anything here, since the aliens are on a screenshot on the back of the box). By the time you fight the aliens, you're tired of fighting Koreans on a tropical island, and by the time you finish the game, you realize that fighting Koreans is more fun than fighting aliens.

Due to the fact that Warhead takes place in the middle of Crysis, on a different part of the island, the aliens are introduced much sooner, and you'll often find yourself alternating between fighting aliens and fighting Koreans. This serves to annoy you with aliens much sooner, but also keeps the alien encounters to a minimum. Combining the much earlier annoyance with a shorter game that has fewer distinct environments makes Warhead less entertaining, although still good.

One thing Warhead was touting over the original Crysis is its ability to be run on more hardware than the original. Generally, I found that to be not necessarily true. Basically, they just changed the names of the settings, so that instead of "Highest" you have "Enthusiast" and instead of "Medium" you have "Mainstream." Now, maybe the engine's been optimized so that Warhead on Mainstream looks better than Crysis on Medium. But I played the original with all settings on a mixture of High and Highest, and Crysis ran fine for me until the snow level, at which point the particle effects dragged my frame rate down until I turned things down to Medium, and I played Warhead with all settings on a mixture of Enthusiast and Gamer until, again, I ran into snow and had to turn things down to Mainstream. To me, that's pretty much the same results for both games. In any case, both games have the same minimum requirements.

Ultimately, Crysis Warhead is a competent and fun shooter, that's a bit weaker than the original due to pacing issues and a story that's reliant on knowledge of the previous game. Fans of the original Crysis should definitely check it out, but if you haven't played Crysis you're better off playing the original first... if your computer can handle it.

Final Score: B-

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