Crytek was kind enough to provide me 30 minutes of hands-on time with Crysis: Warhead, the upcoming stand-alone sequel to last year's graphically-intensive first-person shooter. Due out on September 16, 2008, Warhead fleshes out Crysis' unfinished single-player storyline by illuminating the activities of Sergeant Michael "Psycho" Sykes, one of the original game's secondary characters.
Crysis drew acclaim before and after its release for its hardware-intensive, visually astounding graphics, so it's certainly no surprise that Warhead is a stunningly beautiful game. The two levels I played featured familiar environments: a lush, tropical setting and a frozen-over wasteland, both populated by hostile North Korean forces or extraterrestrials. Both were gorgeous and impressive. Crytek indicates that they haven't recycled a single area from Crysis and all of Warhead's environs will be new to the player,
What was a surprise was game's performance, enhanced by major optimization to the Crytek engine. According to Crytek, the demo I played was running on a PC that cost about $700, with two gigabytes of RAM and an Nvidia GeForce 8800GT, at 1280 x 1024 resolution and high detail settings. And it looked terrific, running at what looked like about 30 steady frames per second. Crytek's goal in optimizing the engine was to make solid performance available to the average user on modest hardware. They plan to release official recommended PC specs for Warheadnext week.
Another pleasant surprise was Warhead's retail sticker price: $29.99. Crytek says the game's single-player campaign will be just slightly shorter than Crysis' campaign, but will include enough backstory that gamers won't need to have played Crysis to keep up with the story.
Warhead's combat controls and basic gameplay are nearly identical to Crysis, with the player retaining access to cloak, armor, speed, and strength nanosuit abilities which may be used at will. They've added new weapons, including a grenade launcher and a plasma burst weapon. There are also two new vehicles, a hovercraft and a Humvee-like armored support vehicle.
Crytek says they've populated Warhead's storyline with more scripted events, squad-based combat, dialogue, and radio chatter, and this definitely seemed to be the case in the levels I played, which featured planes screaming overhead, alien/North Korean skirmishes, and a steady stream of other contextual content. They've also addressed one of the main criticisms of Crysis by completely scrapping any mandatory vehicle sections. According to Crytek, although there are frequent vehicle opportunities, there's not a single level in Warhead that forces you behind a wheel or turret as the latter portions of Crysis did.
Crytek also reports making significant AI improvements for Warhead. It's tough to hope for better human AI than Crytek built into Crysis, and to be honest the flanking and use of cover I saw from the North Korean enemies in Warhead looked impressively familiar, if not noticeably improved. The alien AI, though, is obviously overhauled, with extraterrestrial enemies now using cover, employing shield devices, running from grenades, and even healing one another.
Warhead's multiplayer component, entitled Crysis Wars, will include 21 maps, including the 14 maps previously released for Crysis and 7 new maps exclusive to Warhead. Although I didn't see the multiplayer game, Crytek indicates the new maps are smaller-scale and designed for more concentrated action. In addition, all the original maps have reportedly been revamped with optimized spawn points and other improvements. Warhead also adds a much sought-after new mode, Team Instant Action, which is essentially a team deathmatch mode. Crytek says they intend to continue to develop Crysis Wars as a separate multiplayer component, for which fans can expect long-term support.
My overall impression of Crysis: Warhead was extremely favorable. With the improvements on Crysis' successful design, the technical optimization, and the tempting price, it's looking like a very worthy addition to Crytek's shooter showcase.