Crysis Warhead

Game Description: Take on the fight as the volatile Sergeant "Psycho" Sykes in a new parallel story taking place during the events of Crysis. Psycho's secret mission will take him to the other side of the island on a ruthless pursuit of a North Korean general hell-bent on obtaining powerful technology. With the versatile powers of his Nanosuit and an arsenal of fully customizable weapons & vehicles at his disposal, Sykes will do whatever it takes to carry out his top-secret objective. Action on the other side of the island is more intense, the battles are fierce, and the mission protocol is no longer "Adapt to Survive". As Sergeant Sykes, now you must adapt to dominate the battle. Twin SMG's blazing, seizing new vehicles, or going stealth, the action and the victory is on your terms.

Crysis Warhead Review

Crytek's flagship shooter returns with a bang

Crysis Warhead Screenshot

HIGH Combating scores of aliens while being pursued by nanosuited KPA soldiers through dense, frozen jungles.

LOW Realizing it has to come to an end.

WTF Plasma cannon? Oh yeah!

Crysis was, to many, a brilliant game. It really nailed the open-ended, player-centric combat experience in a way that no shooter had yet achieved. It was a thinking man's shooter, a game that rewarded players not for slogging through a series of predictable scripted events, but for exploring and experimenting with ample weaponry and interactive environments to conquer intelligent and often unpredictable foes. To others, Crysis was an exercise in frustration. The advanced graphics engine was perhaps the single greatest selling point of the game prior to its release, but gamers quickly discovered that even the most robust systems had difficulty playing the game at its eye-popping maximum settings. Crysis was ahead of its time, figuratively and literally.

Now, a year later, the franchise has returned with Crysis Warhead. Warhead is not a sequel but rather an expansion, a game that recounts the story of Sargent Michael "Psycho" Sykes, in events that run parallel with and tie into the first game. In Warhead, Sykes is in pursuit of a mysterious weapon being transported across the country by the KPA, and he'll battle through icy wastelands, dense jungles and underground labyrinths to capture it. While Nomad-the original's protagonist-was measured and predictable, Sykes is brash and reckless, heavy on firepower and doing whatever it takes to finish the job. Yet he also shows an unwavering commitment to his comrades, defying direct orders to rescue a downed pilot and nearly losing his life and his mission to save another. It was hard to know what to expect with Warhead, because creative mastermind Cevat Yerli had said that the game was going to feature more scripting (leading some to speculate that it would have more in common with the Call of Duty series than the original), but also that he and his team at Crytek had listened to the criticism and were planning to emphasize the non-linear gameplay of the original. Well, which was it going to be?

The answer is unequivocally both. Warhead is both less linear and more scripted than Crysis, combining the best elements of the Call of Duty archetype and melding them seamlessly with the dynamic gameplay that made Crysis such a standout shooter. Not only is it a dramatic improvement over the already impressive original, but it stands as a beacon of progress to the glut of first-person shooters stuck in their rigidly scripted ruts, showing that open-ended gameplay and carefully scripted dramatic tension need not be mutually exclusive. As before, the highly interactive environments and cunning artificial intelligence of the enemies combine with the broad palette of weapons and abilities to create near-endless ways to experience the game. Warhead rewards players for their creativity, not their memorization skills.

Crysis Warhead Screenshot

As if to reflect Sykes' adrenaline-pumped personality, Warhead is a tour-de-force of big set pieces and dramatic action. One level finds Sykes crawling out of a frozen ship to confront a squad of nanosuited KPA soldiers, then thrust into a tense hovercraft chase across massive frozen ocean waves. But despite such scripting, the game does not lose its player-centric focus. One of the later levels involves a train plowing through the jungle with the aforementioned precious cargo. In nearly any other game, this would be a restrictive, on-rails sequence (pardon the pun). But in Warhead, players are free to disembark from the train at any time and progress through the expansive surrounding jungle in whatever creative ways they so desire. There are tons of vehicles scattered about the levels and a number of scripted sequences involving them, but they are always optional. Some concessions in logic have been made to accommodate player freedom-for example, the aforementioned train comes to a stop at certain points until the player catches up, and in another sequence an escaping vehicle seems to attract enemy fire only when Sykes is manning the gun. But save for some minor concessions in believability, Crytek have expertly capitalized on the dramatic flair that characterized the final levels of the original game, yet retained the sprawling, complex levels that allow players plenty of freedom to get creative with the various weapons and nanosuit abilities at their disposal.

Sykes packs a fair bit more firepower than Nomad did, carrying more ammunition, a nice variety of new explosives, and some killer new weaponry that I shall not spoil here. He'll need it, too: enemies are packed much more densely than they were in Crysis, and they do a much better job of reacting, planning, and coordinating their attacks. Significant improvements have been made to the alien AI in addition to introducing a number of new otherworldly foes, making them much more imposing adversaries than they were last time around. Moreover, KPA soldiers are often entangled with the aliens as well, making for some dramatic full-scale battle sequences that are as tactically challenging as they are grand in scope.

Crytek also aimed to address many of the criticisms that Crysis was unreasonably system-intensive; even the highest-end rigs couldn't play the game at maximum detail. Crytek boasted of many optimizations to the engine for Warhead, and indeed they have delivered. Far more impressive than the performance improvement though is the dramatic increase in graphical detail. Environments are stunningly lush and vibrant, filled with weather effects, wildlife, dense and detailed foliage and It's not without its flaws. There are some bugs with textures not streaming in properly, DirectX 10- the default in Vista-is sluggish (again), and the performance drops a bit from in the ice levels. Still, Crytek's engine remains the unmatched standard in visual fidelity, even when the settings aren't cranked to the max. This isn't just a showpiece for realism, either; as before, the set pieces are large, complex, and dramatic. The icy landscapes and lush jungles are full of tasteful and creative artistic flourishes, from massive frozen battleships to schools of fish swimming through the ocean. Even the game's indoor sequences prove to be surprisingly robust, full of imposing steel and rock structures and teeming with interactive objects.

Warhead expands on the forward-thinking ideas presented in Crysis and truly takes them to the next level. The pacing is better, the action is better, the scripting is better, the enemies are better, the levels are better, and the graphics are better. The game is relatively short-I completed it in about six hours on "Delta"-but like the original, its open-ended nature lends it to virtually endless replayability. In fact, prior to Warhead's release, I still played Crysis on a regular basis. If Warhead has a weakness, it is still in its rather typical near-future science-fiction motif, which compares weakly to more compelling backdrops like S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Clear Sky's post-apocalyptic battleground. But although its setting is a familiar archetype, its gameplay is a progressive vision that, a year after Crysis shattered boundaries with a new level of open-ended gameplay, continues to be the standard bearer for what this longstanding genre can achieve. Rating 9.5 out of 10

Disclosures: This review is based on the 1.0 version of the game

Parents: According to the ESRB, this game contains blood, strong language, violence. The game is not graphic in the sense of being gory or over-the-top; however there is some blood and it is very intense and violent with a fair bit of profanity. Though it's no worse than a R-rated action movie, it's clearly not intended for children.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing: The game does allow subtitles to be enabled for scripted dialogue, but the action relies heavily on contextual aural cues, such as enemy soldiers talking to each other, aliens whirring about, and gunfire coming from all directions.

Crysis Warhead: The Layman's Guide to Essential Optimization


Crysis Warhead Screenshot

Crysis Warhead is finally upon us, and that can only mean one thing—more tweaking! Before reading this guide, it is imperative that you read my original Crysis optimization guide here, as I'm not going to re-explain how to alter configuration files or access console commands. The engine is largely the same, and all of the information from the previous guide is still valid. Fortunately though it is far less necessary to use "tweaks" to get great performance from Crysis Warhead due to heavy optimization of the game engine. In fact, I currently play the game with only four commands saved in a system.cfg file in the main the Crytek > Crysis folder:

con_restricted=0 (allows the command console to be accessed in-game)

r_getscreenshot=1 (allows screenshots to be taken at any time during the game by pressing F12; the screens are stored in the Documents > My Games > Crysis Warhead > Screenshots folder)

r_motionblur=5 (enables Object Motion Blur in DirectX 9)

r_useedgeaa=2 (increases the level of edge smoothing in the game, greatly improving the appearance of trees and vegetation)

Of course, should you wish to play the game using the "tweaked" settings described in the previous guide, performance will be better, though there is a loss in visual quality (though sometimes very subtle) when compared to the vanilla Enthusiast settings.

Performance

Prior to Warhead's release, Crytek made much ado about the performance optimizations to the engine, presumably in response to the complaints that Crysis was unreasonably system-intensive. In my experience, Warhead does indeed run a fair bit more smoothly than the original in most cases. The level of graphical detail has been amped up considerably, so this is no small feat. However, there are some issues with performance that need to be addressed.

First, it should be noted that DirectX 9 runs much better than DirectX 10. This is a significant disappointment, as most Vista users will likely not bother to run the game in DX9 mode (assuming they even know it's possible), and the performance difference is not trivial. Not only is DX9 considerably faster than DX10, but DX10 also appears to be poorly optimized for dual-GPU configurations. I ran a simple test, using the in-game r_displayinfo command to measure frame rates, to assess the difference in frame rates between DX9, DX10, and single vs. dual-GPU configurations in both modes. All settings were at maximum, or "Enthusiast" settings, with Object Motion Blur force-enabled in DX9 as described above:

SLI Enabled:
DX9: 35 fps
DX10: 18 fps

SLI Disabled:
DX9: 18 fps
DX10: 14 fps

The difference between 35 frames per second and 18 frames per second is absolutely huge—the kind of difference people upgrade their video cards to achieve. The former is very smooth and playable, while the latter is choppy and unresponsive. Keep in mind there is no visual difference here; it's simply an optimization issue.

The game can be played in DX9 simply by right-clicking on the game icon and selecting DX9 from the drop-down menu. To change the game so that it always launches in DX9, right-click on the launch icon and click "customize". With the first option highlighted ("Play"), click "edit", and at the end of the tag line in the "Target" box, add "-DX9" at the end, without quotes. If you are using Steam, right-click and select "Properties", then "Launch Options", and write "-DX9" (again without quotes) in the space provided.

Bugs

It should be noted that DX9 comes with one caveat: it automatically disables Object Motion Blur. This is one of the more impressive visual effects in the game, so it's not a small loss. This feature can be force-enabled in DX9 using the command r_motionblur=5, but it causes some visual errors with aliens, nanosuits and characters' faces during cutscenes. Hopefully Crytek will correct this issue with a future patch.

Also significant is that Warhead introduces some major bugs with texture streaming. While the command r_texturesstreaming=0 was an easy way to improve visual quality in the first game, in Warhead many users, including me, experience frequent crashes to desktop when texture streaming is disabled. This is very disappointing, as there are a number of texture-streaming bugs in the game; textures sometimes fail to load, and distant textures don't always display as they should. Texture streaming is automatically disabled when texture settings are on Mainstream or lower, and those settings seem to be relatively bug-free; however this comes of course with the caveat that overall texture quality is reduced.

Closing Thoughts

Crysis was fun to tweak, but it's rather fortunate that similar performance can be achieved in Warhead without laboring over configuration files. A few inconsistencies remain, and DX10 performance is an absolute joke, but overall the engine has been very well optimized since it was introduced last year. Here's hoping that Crytek can continue to optimize the engine, bring DX10 performance up to par, and fix the relatively minor bugs plaguing the game at its release.