When the first Crysis game was released last year, it taught gamers a couple of important lessons—first, that well made PC games can still have a technological edge over their console cousins, and second, that taking advantage of said tech will likely require you to shell out a couple grand for a computer that can handle it. Those who could run Crysis also discovered that it certainly wasn't perfect and had an occasionally dragging pace and a dry multiplayer component. Fortunately for sci-fi shooter enthusiasts, Crysis Warhead competently addresses the flaws of its predecessor, although it turns out to be a shorter and less significant experience overall.
Crysis Warhead technically isn't a sequel to Crysis—the plot actually takes place at the same time and on another part of the same island as in the first game. You play as Sargeant “Psycho” Sykes, a smack-talking Brit who is also a member of the elite squad of super-suit clad marines that starred in Crysis. Though the same island-wide events take place in both games (but don't expect to understand what's going on if you haven't already played Crysis), Warhead takes a slightly different angle as far as storytelling style is concerned. Psycho spends most of the game's length chasing down a mysterious weapons container, and it plays out more like a summer action flick than an epic narrative, sporting a whirlwind pace, plenty of coarse language, and a dense schedule of explosions. The story also attempts a more meaningful character-focused sub-plot, and even flirts with moral questions, but it's difficult to take it seriously in the context of the game, and a couple of the cutscenes feel needlessly brutal. The campaign is also short—it can be completed in four or five hours, coming in at roughly half the length of Crysis.
The gameplay itself will be familiar to anyone who's played Crysis. It's fairly standard first-person-shooting, albeit with occasionally open maps to explore and on-the-fly weapon and ability modification. The levels are more often linear than in Crysis, and while there aren't entire valleys to survey this time around, there are still small open sections, like a sequence that has you storming a beach resort. The weapon mods and nano-suit abilities are very much the same as before, meaning that you can, with a few clicks, swap scopes, ammo, and silencers on your guns, or instantly activate a temporary cloak or super strength with your suit. There are also a handful of additions to the arsenal, like anti-vehicle and anti-personnel mines, which are fun to play with but don't change the fact that assault-rifle head shots are the quickest way to get the job done. Multiplayer has also seen some improvements, and now comes with more maps, a new team deathmatch-style mode, and a streamlined Power Struggle mode that feels like a Battlefield game. It's pretty solid, but it still won't draw players away from multiplayer titans like Call of Duty 4 and Team Fortress 2 for long.
One of Warhead's most substantial improvements over Crysis is its technical optimization. Warhead hasn't lost any of the quality that made Crysis the most visually realistic game ever, and yet it runs much better than the first title could on less powerful systems. While the high end graphics options seem to look and run marginally better than before, the low and medium settings manage to both look quite good and far outperform their older equivalents. Mind the system requirements, though, Warhead will still need some significant horsepower behind it, even if it isn't as much as for Crysis.
Really, anybody who likes shooters and has a PC with the guts to run it should pick-up Warhead. While it loses some of the large-scale epic excitement that made Crysis special, it manages to improve on the formula in so many small ways that it warrants some attention. It's retailing at a modest $30 price point, too, so gamers yearning for a brief but explosive romp will find plenty of bang for their buck here.