Last year, German developer Crytek unveiled what was perhaps the best-looking video game of all time. Crysis, the "spiritual successor" to Crytek's own Far Cry (PC version), pitted you on a North Korean-controlled jungle island, where you battled both North Korean soldiers and alien invaders. Crysis, much like Far Cry, was noted for giving you freedom to pursue mission objectives any which way you like (although the game got a bit linear towards the end).

However, as amazing as the original Crysis looked, it was a poorly optimized and glitchy hardware hog that, in some cases, couldn't run stably on even some of the most beefy computer systems at the time.

Crytek sought out to respond to these criticisms through Crysis Warhead, created at Crytek's Budapest studio. What Crysis Warhead promised was better optimization for more meager PCs.

Crysis Warhead is a standalone expansion pack for what was often labled as 2007's PC Game of the Year. But rather than continue where the first game left off, you instead play on the same timeline as the first game, but with a different character. In the case of Crysis Warhead, you play as Michael "Psycho" Sykes, a foul-mouthed former British SAS operative, who appeared as a supporting character in the first game.

As Psycho, you are called on a mission in another section of the vast and lush island. You will continue to battle North Korean soldiers and extraterrestrials (who attack soldiers on both sides); not much has changed from the first game, but there are a few surprises.

Where the first Crysis was more cerebral, Crysis Warhead is far more fast-paced and intense, while allowing you just enough time to strategize your course of action. Also, while the first Crysis provided plenty of opportunities to be creative while playing the game, by the second and third part of the game, it became hopelessly linear -- it was as if you were playing an entirely different game. Crysis Warhead, while not without some linear arcade-like portions, nonetheless feels more consistent. And this expansion pack is so fun to play and, as a whole, even better than the original game.

As I mentioned earlier, Crytek sought to make a better optimized game that would run on smaller systems. Did they deliver what they promised? Yes. However, the game is not without its flaws from a technical standpoint. On my system, there were plenty of freezes, lock-ups, and hitching (sometimes making the game unplayable), which could probably be solved with a patch. But the game is also much more stable in parts that the first game had trouble with, namely the snow levels.

From a GPU standpoint, the game runs better than the first, and it looks even better, too, with improved lighting, more detailed environments, and more epic explosions. The series continues to be highly interactive, and the physics are nothing short of amazing.

Another criticism of the first game was its sometimes lackey AI. In Crysis Warhead, there is a notable improvement upon it, although it still has ways to go. The enemy AI is still glitchy, both aliens and soldiers, but their improvement makes them more fun to do battle with them. The friendly AI, on the other hand, is extremely bright. When you're with other squad members, they intelligently fend for themselves and really do make your job easier.

Crysis Warhead is played more as a Hollywood summer movie in that it never lets up. It's sort of like what would happen if the original Crysis and the Call of Duty games were mashed into one. The strategic portions of Crysis (the first half) are toned down, but the linear portions that made the player feel like a drone following orders of the Call of Duty games are toned down, as well, creating something in between. And it's a very nice balance.