There’s also a sense that Crytek is more in control of the overall structure this time around. Arguably, Crysis – like Far Cry – lost its way a bit two-thirds of the way through. The aliens and the frozen landscapes made for some impressive spectacle, but the action wasn’t as exciting as it was when it was just you against the North Korean troops.
In Warhead the aliens are brought in earlier on and they prove much more challenging, working efficiently in groups and behaving more aggressively, even outflanking you or swarming you on occasion. The game also plays smarter in its three-way conflict, providing more battles between Nanosuited North Korean and US forces, US forces vs alien invaders and – best of all – scraps involving all three parties.
Make no mistake: this isn’t a game where you can grumble about the lack of set-piece encounters. It would be enough that Warhead repeats the Half-Life 2 trick of making vehicle-based sections interesting. In fact, there’s a chase sequence involving a hovercraft that’s actually downright thrilling. Yet Warhead goes further – mixing up large, open battles, fights in constricted spaces, bold assaults and last-ditch defences with real aplomb.
There are some stunning examples of what you might like to call boss battles, and yet never in any of this do you feel that you have to do things in the one approved way. If you want to ditch the hovercraft and take that whole level on foot, tackling each enemy on your way, then you’ll find it hard going but you should be able to do it. This is without a doubt the most continuously excellent work of FPS level design we’ve seen since Call of Duty 4 and Half Life 2: Episode 2.
And Warhead also does what I think nobody expected it to do: it actually trumps Crysis for visual spectacle. Now, I’d take some of the talk of lower system requirements with a pinch of salt. Last year, my – at the time – state of the art gaming system (a Core 2 Extreme 6850 with a Asus Geforce 8800 Ultra) coped with Crysis at 1680 x 1050 on high detail levels. The same machine struggled with Warhead at the equivalent settings without a drop in resolution to 1280 x 720 and anti-aliasing switched off. That said, it’s worth having the fastest system you can get.
If Warhead ‘only’ had all the lovely, photo-realistic effects we saw last time around it would still be one of the best looking games on any system, but this time Crytek has worked harder to produce jaw dropping scenery or weird vistas that make strange juxtapositions of the tropical environment, military hardware and the alien ice. Interior sections that might have been drab are enlivened by fantastic lighting or gorgeous little details. It’s safe to say that Warhead is a new benchmark by which all other FPS games must be judged.