The best games always start with a bang of some form or another, whether that’s the emotional impact of Alyx getting impaled at the start of Episode Two or the more literal explosions and ricochets that mark the beginning of Crysis Warhead.
It’s worth remembering though that the big bang at the start isn’t the thing that necessarily makes a game great, and if there isn’t any substance or zest to be had when the smoke clears then that big bang can work to the detriment of the final game.
And unfortunately for a lot of people, that’s the first thing that’s going to be obvious about Crysis Warhead. It starts off with a big bang; lots of explosions and gunfights as you join the plot of Crysis at the mid-point, but then the game just fails to explain anything about what’s going on, leaving you helpless.
That isn’t going to be true for everyone of course, and if you’re well-versed in Crysis’ backstory then you should be fine, but there’s a strong chance that a lot of people will be confused by the way Warhead opens.
If you know all about Prophet, Dane, Nomad and the KPA then you’ll be able to plunge straight through into the good stuff and try your hand at the big, dramatic action pieces that are Warhead’s central schtick. If not then you might want to hit Wikipedia up for the essential details. There’s quite a bit of backstory here to assimilate, some new and some old.
The old stuff is fairly simple. The predictably evil Korean army has found some alien technology on a tropical island and a specially outfitted group of America super-soldiers go into investigate. The obvious redshirts are quickly culled and the sleeping xenomorphs promptly wake up and start unleashing hell – starting by flash freezing the island. In the original game you take the role of Nomad and start leading a major offensive at the hostiles.
And in Warhead you play Nomad’s British teammate, the totally-not-Jason-Statham-rip-off, John ‘Psycho’ Sykes, and you start doing pretty much the same thing, but on the other side of the island.
The issue is though that Warhead doesn’t explain any of this. You join the story of the original game at the mid-point pretty much, just before the island is frozen, but none of the vital information is given to you. You don’t know who you are, where you’re going or what’s going on and you’ll be blindly following radio orders until you figure things out. It puts new players at an enormous disadvantage.
The good news though is that the new parts of the story that get introduced, like your mission objectives and so forth are tremendously well handled and it’s clear that the writers have actually tried to layer in some subtlety here. They should be commended for that, even though they obviously forgot to explain the main bulk of the story for some reason. The side-story between Psycho and his enormously bitter support pilot O’Neill is especially interesting and takes some strangely potent power from the way it slowly unveils.
Next, we'll see if the gameplay holds up to the same scrutiny, or if Crytek forgot to include any of that either - though, to be honest, as long as the game still includes the ability to shoot the tyres out on cars as they come speeding round a corner, sending them rolling into the underbush faster than child with a magnifying glass searching for an ants nest, then we'll be happy.