Far Cry has players controlling freelance mariner Jack Carver, who has recently arrived at a tropical island. Jack accepted a large sum of money to transport a reporter named Valerie to the island, but when they arrived, the boat was fired upon and sunk. Valerie is now missing, and Jack finds himself alone and outgunned against a mysterious militia. Shortly after heading into the jungle, Jack finds a militia insider who discloses the group's true intentions. What was expected to be a relaxing day in paradise has now turned into a fight for the human race.
Far Cry runs on developer Crytek Studios' own CryENGINE, which features unpredictable enemies that use group tactics to make Carver's job more difficult. Enemy units include scouts, stalkers, snipers, and grenadiers, each of whom can call for reinforcements to arrive by land, sea, or air. Fortunately for players, Carver will gain access to a variety of weapons and items, such as motion-sensing binoculars to help in isolating targets from afar. Fighting, however, isn't always the answer when one is severely outnumbered, and players may choose to rely on stealth tactics to help see them through.
Far Cry is a game that caters to the hardcore FPS gamer. Technically, it's a sight to behold. I can't help but be amazed at what first-time developer CryTek has achieved with their rookie release. Far Cry doesn't just boast cutting-edge technology and a surplus of breathtaking visuals, but also pulls off the amazing triple play of open-ended gameplay far beyond the standard A-to-B-to-C of most shooters. Each of Far Cry's twenty levels is a little world unto itself, and you could spend days exploring each one. It may not be perfect, but it's the rare shooter that's actually interesting to play more than once, and that's something well worth talking about.
Far Cry is a "tactical" first-person shooter set among a series of tropical islands in the South Pacific. The game relies on real-world weapons and physics, and you can't take more than a few bullets without dying, so a strategic approach is encouraged. Odds are you'll enjoy the slick intro movie (which runs in reverse, Memento-style), but unless you've read the game's manual, you won't understand a lick of what's going on, since you're thrown into the game without much explanation. Thankfully, we can remedy that here.
You play Jack Carver, a former member of the "Ocean Patrol" who's since left for reasons unexplained. Now, Jack has set up shop ferrying passengers and cargo around the islands on his boat. However, when a job escorting a journalist to an uncharted island ends with the boat being blown out of the water, Jack uncovers some most disturbing proceedings and soon finds himself fighting for his life on the islands.
There aren't many cutscenes in Far Cry, as most of the plot is driven by your two-way video link, with a mysterious ally named Doyle on the other end constantly feeding you information and objectives. And that, really, is all you need. Part of the joy is being told, "Go there," and discovering there might be a dozen different ways of doing it. The islands / levels are designed almost like a theme park: there might be a few choke points here and there, but for the most part, there are multiple routes from one point to another, and it's often possible to bypass entire groups of enemies. This makes levels worth playing multiple times, just to see what you might have missed, or if there's a better way through.
You could easily get lost in these areas, but a compass continually points you towards your next objective, and a "stealth-o-meter" helps you track if you're about to be spotted. There's a nifty set of binoculars that highlights enemies and even lets you listen on their conversations to boot. It's all cool stuff, and contributes to the concept that you've really been turned loose on these islands and are free to plot your own course of action.
This kind of freedom, however, is often a double-edged sword. If you're not being led by the nose, who knows what kind of trouble you'll find? You might be able to scope out the safest path through the level by using the binoculars, but more often than not, you'll find yourself inadvertently walking into an ambush and getting shot down or blown up with next-to-little warning. With some trial-and-error, you'll figure out where all the enemies are, but expect a lot of reloading along the way.
One of my most frustrating moments in Far Cry came early on when trying to reach the deck of a wrecked ship. I'd kept a low profile my first time through, but when I reached the roof, I found an entire army of mercenaries -- and an attack chopper -- waiting for me. It took about thirty or forty reloads before I finally wiped everyone out and could safely make my escape (yes, there was a lot of profanity involved). What I didn't realize until later was that I could have made this section easier on myself by sniping enemies earlier when I had the chance. In fact, it was possible to bypass the entire rooftop battle by backtracking down a level and freeing up an escape boat by leaning over the side of the ship.
In some ways, scenes like this reminded me the traps that were so prevalent in 2003's Delta Force: Black Hawk Down: some guy hiding on a rooftop or lurking in a window, almost always meaning certain death the first time through. Unlike BHD, however, the traps in Far Cry aren't necessarily on purpose -- you just got unlucky and approached an area from the wrong direction. So there's a little bit of pain as you get your bearings on each level, but it's a small price to pay for the ability to enjoy these levels over and over, a rarity among shooters. In Far Cry, the first cut is the deepest.
Once you've gotten the hang of things, it's hard not to be impressed with the AI of Far Cry's enemies. Basically, if you can see them, they can see you, and that means big trouble. Sometimes they'll come running at you, sometimes they'll bring friends, and sometimes they'll sound alarms. Enemies will circle around you, and they'll even get in vehicles and chase you down. Some of the creatures you encounter later in the game will often come leaping right at you the second you're spotted, so while Far Cry is a first-person shooter first and foremost, it's often best to stay out of sight until you're sure you can get in the first shots or the area is safe. Overall, the AI provides a nice ebb and flow to the combat and adds real tension to the game, and that's pretty good in our book.
Aside from the frustration of sudden death and regular reloads, a few other things take away from the fun. Some vehicles (boats, for example) handle just fine. However, try to drive a jeep through the jungle and you're in for some frustration. Neither the first- or third-person view is entirely satisfactory; from a first-person view, it's hard to see where you're going, and trees can often obstruct your view from a third-person angle. It's also much harder to aim from third-person, so you'll find yourself regularly switching back and forth, which is a little hard to do when you're being chased. For some reason, the camera control is somewhat sluggish compared to the normal controls -- unlike the Battlefield games or UT 2004, the camera lazily swings into place as you move the mouse, only adding to the frustration.
It's also worth mentioning Far Cry's save-game system, which has proven to be a sore spot among some gamers (myself included). There's no way to save your game manually -- the game simply auto-saves as you pass invisible checkpoints in each level. It's certainly not as bad as the system from XIII (there are usually 6-10 checkpoints per level), but there were a lot of points where I wanted to save my game but couldn't. Other times, the game would save right after a huge battle, leaving me with little health to survive the next section, forcing me to backtrack a checkpoint and replay the section. In a game that should really encourage exploration and experimentation, it's a shame that it's save-game system promotes the exact opposite.
From a visual perspective, Far Cry may well be the single prettiest shooter I've ever seen. Yes, you should read that sentence again, because it's not a statement I make lightly. It's just spectacular. The jungles are gorgeous. The sky is breathtaking. The water is stunning. I could ramble like this all day, but it's probably more useful to look at our screenshots. Nearly every shot looks like a postcard. Part of this is thanks to the new graphical engine developed by CryTek, which provides all the eye candy you could want -- lens flare, water effects, ragdoll physics -- but there's also a great use of color and architecture that makes each level a joy just to stand in. Far Cry is, unquestionably, stunningly beautiful to look at, and it's amazing to think that this is only CryTek's first game.
The new graphics engine isn't just for show, either -- there's some gameplay tied into it as well. In one section set in a cave, I could tell an enemy was coming because I could see his flashlight shining on the way ahead of me. The second I turned on my flashlight, he spotted me and the fight was on. In another section, I could tell enemies were nearby because I could see their shadows approaching ahead of them through a doorway. An advanced physics model is also in place, complete with ragdoll character physics and other nods to realism.
Unlike the graphics, production values for the rest of the game fluctuate a bit. The musical score is well done, with the intensity changing depending on the situation. The sound effects are equally effective, but the voiceovers are pretty cheesy. And a note to the director: if your cutscenes are going to have horrendous lip-synching, you might want to steer clear of long close-ups while your characters ramble on and on. In this end, though, it's really more of a minor nitpick than anything.
Once you're done with the single-player game -- which will take you a significant amount of time, Far Cry also boasts a multiplayer element that's more than worth a look. There's deathmatch, team deathmatch and "Assault," where one team attempts to achieve a series of objectives while the other team defends. It's nothing revolutionary, but has a unique flavor: since it only takes a few shots to kill you, and snipers seemingly lurk everywhere, you need to stay out of sight as much as possible instead of the typical run-and-gun of most games.
There's also a "Sandbox" editor for Far Cry, with which players can build their own levels. It's not something you can pick up and learn in a few minutes, but it'll be extremely interesting to see what the community can build once they've spent some time with it.
In fact, it'll be interesting to see what developers do once they get a good look at Far Cry. Despite the high technical requirements and some occasionally frustrating sections, it's a game that only gets more enjoyable as you play it, and it shouldn't be long before other developers start ditching the linear approach to first-person shooters in favor of more open-ended design like this. Far Cry's sprawling environments and effective AI make it more than just a pretty tourist attraction -- it's these islands are somewhere you'll probably want to visit again and again.
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