When it was released to an adoring PC public ten months ago, Crysis was largely bagged by media and enthusiasts alike for its steep system requirements and nonsensical story ending.
Although Crysis didn't actually require a computer that could cure cancer to run, most pundits jumped on the bandwagon and declared PC gaming in jeopardy, pointing at consoles and loudly proclaiming a victory for the one-size-fits-all brigade.
To be fair, enabling 16xAA on Vista was a fast way to make your brand new $900 video card look obsolete, but pushing your machine to the limit wasn't necessary to appreciate what the developers at Crytek had achieved. The CryEngine 2 was a triumph (rumours of memory leaks be damned).
Amidst all the controversy over a title that computer hardware merchants kept in a frame above their retail desks, Crytek announced they'd had enough of PC exclusive titles, and were going to start a push towards the console market. It came as somewhat of a surprise then, that a little over a month later Crysis Warhead was announced, amid promises of more refined graphical updates and a parallel story to the original title.
Five months on, and here we are. Crysis Warhead hasn't taken particularly long to develop at all, but then it's better to consider this as a stand-alone expansion pack, as the story can be completed comfortably within six hours. You play Psycho, the British renegade who would think nothing of charging enemy positions equipped only with a sharp stick, if that was what the situation called for. You may be on the opposite side of the island to the story that unfolds in Crysis, but you're constantly being drip fed information over your suits intercom, so despite the lack of a physical team presence you're hardly alone.
As this is an expansion, you will find yourself dropped into combat right from the start, so expect to come out guns blazing. You're equipped with the US-issue assault rifle, which you'll quickly trade for North Korean weapons when the ammo runs out, and you may get the feeling that the targeting system has been tightened somewhat, as more of the long-range shots seem to find their mark. There isn't really too much difference in weapon variety, other than the introduction of a larger-capacity grenade launcher, along with various new mines and weapon combos, and even Psycho's nano-suit is the same model employed by Nomad in the original story. But then, these aspects were never really derided in Crysis so it would make little sense to alter a winning formula.
What has changed is the AI. No longer will you be able to out-flank hapless members of the North Korean army, or take them totally off-guard by strolling up the road and lobbing a grenade in their general direction. Basically, everything underwhelming about the Crysis AI has been addressed - not only do the soldiers actively seek out relevant, believable cover, the alien AI isn't averse to tracking your movements and applying their own set of predictions as to what you'll do next. It's clear that Crytek took community criticism to heart, because Warhead really makes you feel like you're in the heat of combat.
Speaking of which, there's no shortage of good, old-fashioned FPS material here. Where Crysis was intense action punctuated by long periods of boredom, think of Warhead as Crysis without the boredom. If you're more of a run-and-gun type player you might be in for a shock, as you won't be able to always skip past mission objectives simply by hitting your suit's speed function and heading for the hills. One bug caught me out - upon the AI accidentally destroying one of my objectives, I decided to leave the zone in a vehicle, only to be ordered back under threat of death. As APC's don't tend to reverse as fast as they move forward, I was labelled a deserter and had to start the mission again from my last save point.
But enough about all this - you can't put the word "Crysis" in the title of a game unless it has state-of-the-art visuals, and you can't have state-of-the-art visuals without a relatively good PC. So where does this leave the majority of the market? Well, here are the official recommended system specs for Crysis Warhead;
- Core 2 Duo 2.2 or AMD Athlon 64 X2 4400+
- Nvidia 8800GTS 640MB or ATI 2900XT 512MB
- 2GB RAM, 15GB HDD space
Despite these specifications being relatively cheap to obtain in today's computer hardware market, Crytek has listed the minimum requirements as simply anything better than a 2.8Ghz P4 with a 6800GT. Although admittedly, if you actually are attempting to play this game on a system that antiquated, you'll probably have to turn off anything that makes Warhead look good anyway. This would be a shame because it looks very, very good - everything that made the original game such a joy to behold is back, and optimised to allow you to enjoy it at more than five frames per second. If you've played through Crysis then you're perhaps not going to spend the same amount of time shooting branches off trees, or slithering through the undergrowth like a demented snake, but it's nice to know that you can.
Although the story really hasn't changed from the original, there's plenty of material here to keep you occupied, and - without ruining it too much - you're going to get a lot more alien appearances earlier on in the game. Things get a bit chilly around the same time, so be prepared for some Arctic action amidst some stunning visuals that the artists at Crytek have clearly laboured over. And hey, if you tire of the non-stop firefights with the AI, the crazy vehicle action (including hovercrafts, helicopters and even a train), then you're either mad, or you'll be wanting to try out the revamped multiplayer mode. Just remember to install the multiplayer from the second DVD, and you'll be able to enjoy the new Team Instant Action, as well as a host of new maps that will hopefully encourage a better online experience than Crysis provided.
Sure, it may have the completely-useless-and-probably-cracked-by-now SecuROM, but don't let that put you off. Crysis Warhead is dangerously close to the game that Crysis should have been, and is ultimately only let down by the short story. Everything else about Warhead is better - visuals, sound, AI, multiplayer - these are all improvements over the original. If the extremely attractive RRP of $50 doesn't entice you, then the mere fact that Crytek has actually listened to the community and gone out of their way to improve an already amazing experience should be more than enough reason to seriously consider it.
If your PC can play it, this is a must-have.
Our review machine used an Intel Q6600 CPU, an Nvidia 9800GT 512MB GPU, and 2GB RAM. At no point did we notice smoke emanating from it. For more Crysis Warhead action, check out GP Downloads.