A Blast from the Past review
FBT dons the Nanosuit and a cockney accent. You muppet.
Having replayed Crysis, I was curious about this add-on. I remember playing it, but I don’t remember it being any different, other than we played Psycho instead of the might-as-well-be-silent hero Nomad. Given Warhead doesn’t have any notable changes from the original and is set parallel to those events, can it be headed anywhere but the same place? We see Psycho at the end of Crysis so I know he makes it. Not exactly setting us up for a one-way mission is it. He does do a disappearing act for the final third of Crysis, but it’s that third where Crysis ran out of steam once everything turns to ice. Let’s go see if Psycho can warm things up a bit.
Still a Blast?
Opening after Nomad assaults the Harbour in the original Crysis, Psycho is on the other side of the island. It’s the same look, but even now, some ten years later the detail packed into this game is insane. I get tempted to go for a swim, wandered the jungle and get a Pina Colada at the beach bar. Why am I here?
There’s no great change to the process, style or gameplay of the original. This time though, we’re in the shit from the get-go; whereas Nomad’s game was, for the first half anyway, a slow and steady stealth-based mission as we tried to extract the research team, Psycho’s story picks up at that mid-way point where the US invade and the Koreans fight back and the Squiddys get involved. I should stop crouching then and get stuck in. The Nanosuit’s cloak, speed and strength settings are all very fancy but the island has turned into a war zone so a lot of the suit’s capabilities seem redundant other than armour.
Psycho’s missions are largely supporting the Military, taking down detachments, clearing paths for our boys and generally repeating the same beats of the original. Often I forget I’m playing as Psycho and keep thinking I’m still in the original. An early assault on a beach café the Koreans are dug into is great fun, but nothing unique. Eventually though, Warhead distinguishes itself by giving you sequences that make the Nanosuit redundant – we drive an armoured RV protecting a downed pilot, and later we pilot a hover craft – those Koreans brought everything. Warhead is more of a military, set-piece driven actioner as opposed to the original’s more subtle, tactical approach, it’s so firefight-friendly I keep forgetting to use the suit but rather than start grumbling this is a Call of Duty knock off, I realise that does make sense; the war is in full swing, we know there’s Squiddys in the mountain and the Koreans are up for a fight; no point repeating the original’s slow burn and after-all, we’re playing as a guy called Psycho – not going for subtle here. Warhead is a lot more scripted but it does pick up the pace and becomes very focused, no small task for a non-linear game, and although there’s an air of Modern Warfare about it, the suit (once you remember to use it) comes into its own and Warhead shapes up to become a really good shooter. And then the Squiddys break lose. Thanks Nomad.
I never liked the Squiddys. They just weren’t fun to tangle with. Once you get spotted they rush you like a floating bull, all horns and hooves. When Nomad sets them free and the island freezes I’m all set to get grumpy, but Warhead cuts them down to size and makes it much more interesting to fight them. There’s open space, easier routes and more opportunities to take them down. It’s still a bind and keeping the shotgun loaded is your best route – just wait for them to get in range - but they tend to appear in nice, well designed areas you can at least have some fun tackling them in, rather than the original’s tendency to just put them in the way, and now they have more room to move, they take on a more sinister, alive feel – putting on Cloak and just watching them mooching around is quite scary. Especially when the suit battery gets low. The game also mixes them up with the Koreans who survived the ice blast, making it less of a Squiddy slog and it’s fun to watch them slug it out while you sneak past. Of course, the Koreans are sneaky too.
Although we occasionally tangled with them in the original, this time the Nanosuited-Koreans (Nanoreans?) are all over the shop. Arguably tougher than the Squiddys, Nanoreans are on an even level with Psycho and go invisible, leap and lob stuff about and have much more powerful weaponry than the grunts - they also work as teams, flanking and distracting you. Facing them means you’ve lost the superiority so it’s all down to your battle smarts. Great. They also have e-grenades that knock out your suit giving them a serious edge – thankfully we get them too, leading to both sides lobbing grenades willy-nilly like some snowball fight. They’re tough but it’s not one-sided, which is a mark of a good shooter; it’s only as unfair as you are incapable.
Eventually we discover the Koreans have captured Squiddys and are trying to get them off the island – we’d already seen torn up containers in the original and Psycho reappeared in that game with a new pet, so we know where we headed, but to get there Warhead takes some unexpected turns. Having secured a Squiddy Container, Psycho draws the attention of both it’s buddies and the Koreans, leading to a standout moment battling on a moving train and seeing how Psycho got his name; he's more emotional than the name suggests – it’s a great character moment you rarely see in shooters, let alone a second-tier add-on. Nomad was a boy-scout but Psycho is a much more rounded, interesting arm to play.
If Warhead has it’s flaws, they’re mostly inherited from the original – the suit’s battery is frustratingly under-powered, often ruining plans - which are much more critical in this hot-zone, and being powerless and surrounded by Squiddys means you’re dead quick, while Psycho can only manage two main weapons which is a real hindrance in this scrambling to survive environment; just stretching to three would have really opened things up - it’s one thing to never know what’s around the corner, but it’s a real frustration to dump a sniper for a shotgun then one cutscene later find yourself with no need for a shotgun and no way to return for the rifle. The Squiddys are still simple on or off threats and the iced-up island is flat-looking, but Warhead explores this event much more successfully and there’s areas untouched by the freeze, giving us a nice reprieve from the relentless bright ice. There’s also a whole subplot with the pilot, who is pissy with Psycho because he washed him out of the Nanosuit selection process. By the end they settle their differences and fight the Squiddys together but it feels undefined. I’m sure the Crysis sequels will treat Psycho with respect.
I half-expected Warhead to be a rage quit once the Squiddys arrive, but it’s a good scrap and thankfully avoids getting itself involved in the original’s ridiculous ending, instead going for an almighty firefight with the Squiddys before the Koreans turn up and we get an awesome movie-style ending that reminds you of how convenient the Nanosuits are. The island is a lot better planned out too, it has a more rugged feel which reflects the aggressive, pressured feel. Psycho, for all his cockney-geezer bants is a great lead and much more interesting than Nomad. It’s rare that a sequel surpasses the original, but although it’s shorter, Warhead is a better game and one of the better shooters out there, a stealth-tactical experience in a full-scale war setting and a thinking-man’s shooter. Warhead is criminally underrated and shows what an Add-On can do instead of modern DLC reheat cash-in’s; this is a treat rather than a retread. Have a go, you muppet.
2008 | Developer, Crytek | Publisher, Electronic Arts