It’s really late at night and your friends have all gone home. The beer’s still sloshing around your brain so you stick the TV on for want of anything better to do. There’s some horrible Jean Claude Van Damme film on, but instead of sensibly switching it off and going to bed you, out of some morbid fascination, keep on watching. Then, not only that, after about ten minutes of hammy villains, iron chins and big explosions, to your horror you realise that you’re actually enjoying it. Well that, right there, is Crysis: Warhead.
The very first moments are a good indication of what’s to come. The Crytek logo appears on screen and a raspy and serious sounding voice announces ‘MAXIMUM GAME’. Maximum game? That doesn’t even make any sense. But then, it sounds kind of exciting, and that’s really the point of Warhead. Dumb enemies, big guns, pretty explosions and shallow excitement.
It could have been so much more.
Warhead, like it’s forefather Crysis, is brain-searingly pretty, and capable of throwing you into vast playing areas. For the first two hours of the game you’re given an objective and left to your own devices. I have to assault a base, and I’m told it’s probably a bad idea to attack it head on. To test exactly how bad an idea it is I steal a car and drive it full speed at the front gate. I dive out and watch the car slam into the barrier, exploding and taking out a few guards. Then I jump over the wreckage and pull out my grenade launcher. Ten minutes of pure gaming joy follows. At times like these, Warhead is top class action fare.
Your nano suit gives you the ability to switch between various abilities. Super speed, super strength, extra armour and a Predator style cloaking device. Used in combination these abilities grant you a glorious array of options when choosing how to tackle the next enemy base. But, as with Crysis before it, Warhead refuses to let you have the freedom you really want. The nano suit is a few Duracell batteries short of full functionality and you can only deploy each ability for moments at a time. Frustratingly, you’re always stuck a few seconds short of being a superman.
Not only that, but after the first few sections, Warhead takes everything away. The world freezes over and the Koreans are replaced with aliens. The once living bases are frozen and empty but for these glowing blue machines. They don’t panic, run for cover, throw grenades, use vehicles or man turrets. They’re soulless, predictable and dull. There’s no point in cloaking and going for a stealth kill when all you have to do is point at them and fire. The delight of experimentation is gone.
Then you’re dragged indoors. Into an aircraft carrier, down some mines. Suddenly it’s just another corridor shooter and you’re left wondering what on earth happened. The guns are still meaty and dangerous, and it still looks gorgeous, but it’s brainless. Turn corner, shotgun the guy on the left, grenade the ones in cover over there. No need to use the suit, just stay in armour mode and plough on.
Emerging from these sections in the latter stages does little to cure the feelings of disappointment. Everything that was brilliant about the first hour has, by that stage, been systematically dismantled. The glitz and razmattaz of the powerful engine and the showy set peices against boss enemies can’t do much to redeem a game that tragically repeats all the mistakes of its predecessor.
Like that bad late night action film, it’s fun in its way. You’ll be fine so long as you don’t think about it too much. If you do you’ll find yourself imagining everything Warhead should have been, and against that, the reality is a sad thing.