First things first, Crysis Warhead is not the next instalment in the planned Crysis trilogy. Rather, Warhead is a slimmed-down version that covers (roughly) the same events as the original albeit from a different perspective. It feels more like an expansion in which the developer has addressed almost all of the criticisms that were levelled at Crysis.The action still focuses on the nano-enhanced Raptor team as they take on both the North Koreans and icy extra-terrestrials on a tropical island, but this time we have a new protagonist. Warhead recounts the events of the first game from the perspective of the Raptor team’s resident cockney nutjob, Psycho. He is tasked with tracking a container, thought to contain a nuclear weapon, across the island with the intention of keeping it out of North Korean hands. However, as anyone who’s played the first game will know, nuclear weapons are not the most threatening thing on the island.The decision to focus Warhead’s narrative on the straight-talking, bombastic Psycho reflects the design ethos behind this semi-sequel. This is a leaner, Hollywood version of Crysis that eschews any subtlety in favour of action-packed set-pieces and predictably gung-ho cut-scenes. If this is sounding a little too Pearl Harbour for you, don’t despair just yet. The good news is that the new approach works very well and Crysis Warhead is a well-paced, slick first person shooter.The main difference between Warhead and its predecessor is the pacing. Crytek clearly listened to those FPS fans who thought that there was too much downtime in the first game and has structured Warhead accordingly. There’s far less trudging through the jungle, encountering small groups of enemy soldiers. Instead you feel Crytek’s considerable hand on your back pushing you from set-piece to set-piece with little in the way of respite. Luckily the set-pieces are well-designed even if they don’t pack the same jaw-dropping punch as the original. If anything you’re afforded a little more freedom this time around, especially once the aliens turn up (which, for the sake of better-pacing, happens earlier).Crytek did well to recognise that freedom is what made Far Cry so popular and saw to make it an integral part of the Crysis experience. Thankfully, Warhead retains this open-ended approach making the game a real joy to play. You must choose how to approach conflicts in Crysis; do you charge in all-guns-blazing or do you hang back, tag all the enemies with your binoculars and snipe them. Add to this the nanosuit powers (which remain the same – speed, strength, armour and cloak) and you have a hell of a lot of options. You can use speed to zoom into an enemy camp, get what you want and then get out again as quickly as possible. Or perhaps you favour the stealth approach, using a combination of cloak powers and silenced weapons to achieve the objective. Or maybe you’re feeling whimsical and want to kill your enemies by hurling chickens at them. The choice is yours and this lends a lot of replay value to Warhead. Which is fortunate given that the single player campaign will only take you around 5-7 hours to complete.However, those 5-7 hours are pure, concentrated action and you’re unlikely to come away from Warhead feeling short-changed. For instance, you’re guaranteed to remember the excellent train section which, despite being “on rails” by definition, lets you move along the train or even jump off it if you please. There’s no sticking you behind a mounted machine gun for five minutes as you hold down the fire button, taking aim at wave after wave of enemy. It’s a clever developer that can give you so much freedom in such a linear section of the game.There are still some minor annoyances present in Warhead, however. Despite paying a lot of attention to shooter fans when designing the game, Crytek still felt the need to include everyone’s least favourite FPS mechanic, the “defend A while he plants a bomb at B” section. It wasn’t fun in Goldeneye ten years ago and it’s not fun now. It feels a little out of place when compared to the excellent level design on offer elsewhere in Warhead. The over-reliance on explosive barrels also adheres strictly to FPS convention, although Crytek clearly thought it was necessary to showcase the impressive physics on offer. The game also features the occasional technical hitch and we experienced a horrific framerate drop during a hovercraft chase. It’s a shame because it looked like a thrilling vehicle section but the slideshow we were given was virtually unplayable. Which brings us to what everyone wants to know: will Crysis Warhead run on my PC?The answer is ‘yes’…probably (PC hardware is a minefield at the best of times). Crytek’s claim that Warhead has been optimised to perform better on modest PCs than the original certainly seems to be true. The game now looks much better on lower settings meaning there’s less of a visual compromise when you try to improve performance. Impressively, Crytek has also ramped up the visuals at the other end of the spectrum making an already-beautiful game look simply stunning in places.Crysis Warhead is a great example of a developer listening to its audience. It took heed of gamers’ criticisms of Crysis and, to a large extent, gave them what they want. It’s basically the Crysis ADHD remix and it’s undoubtedly a fantastic FPS experience. Although it is very short in single player mode, the game ships with a serviceable, if not amazing, online component (Crysis Wars) which now features a new Instant Action game mode. Also, EA has marketed the game appropriately and it’s hard to complain about the length when you look at the £14.99 price tag. We can only hope the developer continues to listen to its audience when creating the next game in the trilogy.
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