Ok kids, time for a pop quiz. When I’m playing a video game, which of these do I care about:
- Graphics – it’s all about how the game looks
- Challenge – if I’m not challenged enough, I get bored
- Story – if the plot sucks I get annoyed
I mean, I still think that Morrowind is one of the finest games ever made – despite the fact that all the characters in it look as if they were suffering from a nasty case of facial elephantiasis. My new gaming rig is a beast, but for the last few years I was always lagging behind the bleeding edge of technology. I had to play games on low resolution settings and with all the fancy shading turned off. Did I care? No, of course not. If a game was good, It would draw me in even at the lowest visual settings.
Here is a question – have you ever bought a game made in the last 2-3 years and failed to enjoy it because it didn’t look good enough at the highest settings? Have you ever enjoyed a game less because it didn’t have some sort of bump shading feature, or water reflections were not ultra realistic?
No, of course not. Visuals are important to a point, but we are at a stage where you can hardly find a game that doesn’t look absolutely gorgeous at a high resolution with all the effects cranked up to 11. I am no longer impressed by video game graphics. Visual fireworks almost never cause me to go “holly shit, this was awesome” – only gameplay or story can do that these days.
Making “the best looking game ever” is a bit of a self defeating goal. The game will only be best for a few months, or maybe up to a year if you are lucky. The technology marches on, and sooner or later someone will create something that looks even better. Games with unforgettable stories, and great gameplay are timeless.
Crytek seems to be in business of creating good looking games, at the expense of the plot. Crysis Warhead has literally no plot. Or rather, it’s plot can be summarized in a single sentence:
Koreans are moving an alien artifact through some jungle, and you – a special forces space marine, with a super-powered armor – need to intercept it.
That’s it. The whole game is basically you chasing after some Korean asshole general who tries to move a big crate from point A to point B. Every time you almost get him, he incapacitates you or slips away during a cut scene, at which point you have to chase him again fighting through wave after wave of troops and/or alien squid things armed with freeze rays.
Where did the aliens come from? What are they doing here? Who exactly are you fighting for? These things are sort of ignored or merely hinted upon. Which I can sort of understand because Warhead is a sequel. I’m guessing that the game already assumes we are familiar with the aliens and so it doesn’t seem to bother re-explaining them. So I’m not going to complain about this detail, even though it bothered me a bit. It’s my own fault really. I wanted to review Crysis, but I accidentally grabbed the Warhead box thinking it was the same thing.
Warhead uses most of the cut scenes on “character development” rather than exposition. Sadly, I wish they haven’t done this because their pathetic attempts at characterization fail so miserably, my brain was actually hurting while I was watching them. For example, halfway through the game your character seems to have some sort of mental breakdown. He fails to rescue some nameless soldier, cries about it like a little girl, then goes and drowns a Korean soldier in a fit of rage and cries like a girl again. I guess it is supposed to show you that despite being this tough guy in a nano-armor, he is still human. But… You can’t just brute force scenes like that. You have to have some sort of lead up to this.
I mean, I just mowed down 300 or 400 Korean soldiers, and I was using my allies as meat shields and decoys. The whole game is about mindless killing, and letting your generic, faceless followers to take a bullet for you while you reload. To have the character to be all emo about killing in the middle of the game is just silly. It felt contrived and forced, and I didn’t like it one bit.
What’s even worse, the game actually robs you at the end. Throughout the game the Korean general is a total ass. He tortures you, calls you names, taunts you and is generally annoying – but only during cutscenes when you are defenseless and at the mercy of the bad script. At some point you realize that at some point you will probably get this guy outside of a cut scene, and he won’t be so tough then. Sadly, that doesn’t happen. In the final cut scene, your character decides to be merciful and spare his life, leaving him at the mercy of invading aliens instead. WTF kind of ending is that?
Naturally I knew that the game is going to be like that before I bought it. Here is what surprised me though: the gameplay itself was actually kindoff fun. I loved running around in the jungle, sniping at people, using the stealth mode to sneak up on tanks and install explosives on their hulls. Most of the time the game is very open ended in how you achieve your goals. You can go in, guns blazing and try to circle strafe your way out of trouble. You can use stealth, and shoot people in the back. You can hide somewhere and snipe. You can commandeer a vehicle and rampage across the jungle. It’s fun.
Whenever the game puts you on rails, or makes you crawl through tight corridors or mazes, it loses a lot of appeal and becomes a boring grind. But the open ended, running around is actually quite enjoyable. You can carefully pick your avenue of approach, make sure you get in a good position and etc. Those where the only parts of the game when I was actually compelled to think an use some strategy.
Sadly, you only get to do that for 15-20 minutes at a time and then the game goes into mandatory no-fun mode such as running around in linear dark corridors, car chase where you have to follow someone, or a literal railroad shooter where you are on a train and shoot everything using a turret. The whole thing seems to be incredibly rushed. There is hardly a time in the game when you actually get to stay in one area for longer, or when you can afford to take your time. When you try to be sneaky or do some proper recon, you get chastised for it on the radio and are told to move your ass and stop fucking around.
I guess I should comment on graphics a bit, since that is the main thing this game is known for. The jungle looks really good and realistic. Um… I don’t know what else to say here. I mean, the game is so rushed that I hardly had any time for sight seeing.
Ok, here is a confession: the by default the game set all the video settings to “Gamer” default which is the second to highest level. I cranked everything up to “Enthusiast” (the highest level) and I honestly couldn’t tell the difference. I mean, if I had two screens side by side I could probably see the quality jump. But after I hit the “Apply” button, and my screen flickered and came back, I really couldn’t tell if the game looked better or not.
So that’s that. Crysis Warhead is very short, and very forgettable game with a plot that could be summarized on a postcard with some cringe inducing cut scenes that try to tell the story of a very boring and very shallow grunt with a very annoying British accent. Yes, that dude’s voice and manner of speaking is like nails on chalkboard to me. And I usually find the British accents pleasant to listen to. So go figure. The open ended gameplay is fun, but there is too little of it to actually make a big impact.
Will I pick up Crysis? Probably not. I found Warhead to be underwhelming. But I might check out the new Farcry game which is supposedly all about wandering in the jungle and killing people and light on central plot. The brief moments where you were actually allowed to have some limited freedom to roam around were arguably the strongest parts of Warhead. So perhaps a Crytec game hat has a big open ended world, and little central story may actually be semi-decent.
Oh, and I wanted to thank EA for forcing me to fucking crack the game to even be able to play it. If that invasive securom bullshit makes my machine crash and bleed, I will be really upset. Last time I checked, there were about 15 Warhead torrents on mininova and each had like 300 seeds so clearly it ain’t working. But I’m not even going to rant and rave about this here. I mean we are talking about EA here – the most evil and clueless company in the industry.