If PC gaming is more than a casual thing for you, there invariably comes a title which reminds you that your system is outdated. Back in the early- to mid-90s this was often an Origin game, like Ultima VII or Strike Commander. id Software's Quake series did it for a lot of people, later in the decade, but the rise of consoles has flattened out the upgrade path considerably, to the point where two- or three-year old systems are still up to modern games.
The crucible titles are still coming however, and for a lot of people, the most recent one was Crytek's Crysis. I mention this because ironically, my system was actually fine with it - it's the expansion, Warhead, which is giving me trouble. Despite a 2.4GHz Core 2 Duo and a GeForce 8800 GTS, I had to scale down detail to play, something I hadn't done in any serious way for ages. Let this be a warning then: rather than go on about system requirements, I'll just say that if your system didn't handle the original Crysis fluidly, Warhead will cause problems.
Borrowing a page from the first Half-Life's expansions, Warhead is set in a timeline parallel to its parent. Players control Sgt. “Psycho” Sykes, a character who was central in Crysis, but often seemed to disappear right when you needed him. Warhead conveniently fills in the gaps, assigning Psycho to track down dangerous cargo on the other side of the island.
This is both a strength and a weakness. While Psycho is undoubtedly a lot more interesting than the previous protagonist, and gets to exhibit even more personality here, the story often feels incomplete - it assumes you remember everything from the original plot, which may be a mistake given that you can play Warhead without having Crysis installed. For a newcomer, the events might seem like random acts of fate.
Thankfully, this doesn't impact the overall enjoyment of the game. The core mechanics haven't changed in any significant fashion; players still get to roam around massive environments, using their nanosuit to either evade the enemy or take them head-on with a variety of weapons. You won't see any dramatically different enemies or scenery, and the challenge level is roughly identical, if more grueling in spots.
The game's developers have made an effort to spice up things though, beginning with guns. A new submachine gun has been added, which Psycho is able to dual-wield, making close combat a bit more practical. Ranged fighters can meanwhile exploit a grenade launcher, and make better use of the gauss rifle, which now stores more ammo and has more to find.
Vehicle combat has been enhanced in its own right, mainly through the addition of a hovercraft, and an IFV whose turret is almost too powerful. North Korean forces are also a bit more lethal, however, with access to anti-tank rockets and turrets. The game also defaults to a third-person perspective when driving, which takes some getting used to but should eventually seem more convenient.
Scenery is a definite strength of Warhead, almost a reason in its own to keep playing. Much of the game takes place in the same jungles as last time, naturally, but they're still impressive, and you will see new beaches and cliffsides. There are also a variety of setpiece environments, such as a large underground cavern, and a bay whose waves have been frozen mid-surge. Clearly, Crytek was prepared against the possibility of level fatigue.
Though the game has no integrated multiplayer per se, it's accompanied by Crysis Wars, a separate install which serves the part. There's nothing radically different in it; the game modes are even identical to those in the original Crysis, being limited to Instant Action (deathmatch) and Power Struggle (capture-and-hold). Technically players now have access to a Team Instant Action mode, but this would hardly be worth mentioning as a bulletpoint.
Having said that, the multiplayer does hold up quite well, especially since there are 21 maps, tailored to different server sizes. The new weapons and vehicles carry over, and it's simply hard to fault a game with superpowers and customizable guns. I would caution that multiplayer is even more demanding on hardware than single-player, but it's worth tweaking detail in order to jump in.
I almost want to hang myself for thinking this, but in effect, Warhead delivers because it's exactly what its developers promise: more Crysis. It doesn't take any daring risks, but neither does it have to. As a follow-up to one of the best first-person shooters of the decade, any significant changes might have wrecked its attractive qualities. I only wish that the story had been fully fleshed-out, and that promised performance enhancements had borne fruit on my PC. It's a shot across the bow, I suppose.