Format: 3 CDs (USA), also available on DVD in Europe
Release Date: March 2004 Worldwide
Genre keywords: FPS, shooter, action, realistic, military
I wanted to like Chrome, I really did. Breed seemed like it had some potential too. Both first person shooters with multivehicular action, huge environments, lots of weaponry and seemingly open approaches to obstacles. Unfortunately, Chrome was nearly unplayable due to the erratically invincible AI, and Breed ... well, let's not go there.
So when Far Cry finally came out, after having secured a spot on my "Most Wanted List" (and then getting kicked off when the first screenshots came out), I was fairly skeptical. This wasn't improved by the mediocre quality of both demos, with AI that was too jerky and eager to shoot me in the head from entirely too far out, to fairly linear progression from A to B. Note that the full game has very fluid AI movement and quite toned down its rabidity as well. I assume the demos were rushed code to beat the E3 hype frenzy.
Thankfully, the full game dispels all of those woes and worries, even if the beginning seems to be aimed right at all stereotypes of shoddy FPS games. After the extremely chaotic intro movie which tells you nothing at all (typical!), Jack Carver (the square-jawed, yet Hawaiian shirt wearing hero) wakes up in the dark, dripping bowels of ... well, you're not sure what, but you're thinking "OMG! Sewer level in the very beginning of the game!" This can't be good.
But then you get to throw a rock to distract the guard, dive through the shaft of sunlight briefly illuminating your outline and presenting a tempting target, dodge bullets as wood splinters around in a hailstorm of lead, then duck into another room as a voice on your comm unit orders you to MOVE IT! You grab a pistol, put on some armor over your hideously conspicuous Hawaiian shirt and step out into brilliant sunshine, a light breeze, and a tropical paradise as far as the eye can see - literally, the visibility distance is tremendous. The fun begins.
The entire game is structured like this: a breather, reload and rearm, then you're launched into action. From hiding out in a flimsy hut as bullets rip away the walls (thin walls no cover from lead, Confucius sez!) and ricochet into you, taking potshots at troops advancing from all sides (yeah, all sides - amazing), to getting raided by an Osprey VTOL plane and rappeling mercs, to taking out choppers with a missile launcher, or racing across sand dunes rocketing dune buggies and desperately trying to keep alive - the game takes you from one tactical situation (tactical situation, that's a military term for complete chaos) to another, with small breathers in between.
In between these frantic bouts of action you will find savepoints. That's right, Far Cry does not believe in quicksaving. The savepoints are laid out fairly consistently, and while they may be one or two occasions upon which curses will be directed to the developers, in the long run it is a minor issue and of no detriment - quite the opposite, the raised suspense aids immersion. This is opinion of course; those with aversion to savepoints may want to see if a quicksave patch is forthcoming.
So it's a very well done shooter at heart, with the usual paper-thin story. In addition, it has some neat tweaks done to the gameplay that easily set it apart from the competition.
Death by AI. That's right, the much vaunted AI in Far Cry is no laughing matter. It will trap, dominate, and mess you up with tactics such as encircling, grenade lobbing, using multiple approaches and taking cover behind trees and rocks. Fortunately, there are also built-in handicaps such as standing entirely too close to explosives or firing in bursts with long pauses, or yelling out their battleplan - "Go left! Go left!" - so it balances out quite well. I have also not seen any instances of stupid vehicle using - all of it was quite purposeful and intent on hunting me down; they'll even hop out if the car takes too much damage and proceed on foot! All in all, it does quite a lot of what was promised, even running away in panic on occasion - I'm willing to overlook the few times it runs into the line of fire (which becomes more and more rare the more you play), because on average it's more lethal than stupid. The variety of real military weapons (Colt M4A1, FN P90, Jackhammer shotgun) adds to the spice and tactics of encounters.
Death by Physics. We've had Max Payne 2 and Deus Ex: Invisible War try to offer us the next generation physics - both failed, although Payne's laughably exaggerated Flying Corpse Brigade was at least amusing, whereas DXIW's was just wrong. Far Cry's physics are useful and plentiful, in that "blow up a gas tank to send deadly shrapnel and people flying" manner. You can run into things with a vehicle to send them on their merry way as well, or push barrels down the hill into oncoming mercenaries to hear them yell in righteous indignation. There's a lot of ways to have fun with this. In addition, bodies finally have accurate reactions to bullets, and slump, fold and topple over in an extremely convincing manner. No more freaky DXIW twitch-flying corpses, thank you. What's even cooler, Far Cry doesn't rely on Havok to generate physics; they're actually part and parcel of the CryENGINE (sic! and TM, of course).
Death by Stealth. That's right, Far Cry can be played as a crossbreed stealth game. By crouching or going prone you can minimize your movement noise and improve your accuracy - some weapons are louder than others, and you can see the noise you make on your radar as concentric circles. You also have a machete, two whacks of which make mercs dead in a silent manner. Finally, the radar shows the agitation state of enemies - green for calm patrol, yellow for alerted, orange for alerted and actively seeking, and red of course stands for fiery death by bullets. By watching your radar carefully, running in bursts to seek cover, and using the machete vigorously, you can postpone and minimize your discovery - it's very tough though, pros only. With the significant quantities of bad guys in each scenario, getting a stealth kill is its own reward.
Death on Four Wheels. Far Cry boasts solid and entertaining vehicle support. The cars are quick, responsive and have turrets, while the boats are slightly more sluggish, feel like they're really on water (they bob up and down quite nicely), and ... have turrets. It's a sure sign of genius when every vehicle has turrets in a game where you generally blow stuff up and make a nuisance of yourself to the local arch-villain. Far Cry doesn't mess about, but sends several vehicles at a time at you, sometimes equipped with rockets. Some fast wheeling and shooting is required, and every such encounter is a blast (hah, hah, blast!...ahem) to play. Every vehicular bit is spread out between walking and sneaking - pretty fair balance, although I still wish there was more driving about.
Graphics and Sound
All of this is rendered on the magnificently fast and beautiful CryENGINE (formerly known as the X-Isle Tech Demo for NVidia), which is quite possibly the prettiest 3D engine in existence at the moment. I'm not running the fastest machine in the world, but I have no problems running the game at a decent speed - visibility is unparalleled, and the level of detail is pretty nice too, although I'd to like to crank up my textures one more notch. There are enough options provided that just about anyone with halfway decent specs can play the game and enjoy it. Performance is slightly less in indoor areas, and they don't look as good as the outside - fortunately the gameplay takes you inside and outside in even intervals. I can't understate how breathtaking it is, in this genre of games, to start a level in a dark, dank ship cabin, navigate for several minutes through the beached ship, and step out into radiant sunlight, blue skies, sandy beaches going on for miles and miles - we've accepted claustrophobia in FPS games for far too long.
The sound is also very good, from weaponry to vehicles to incidentals, such as sneaking your way through the undergrowth or bottoming out your boat. The cool binoculars you get to use throughout the game come with a directional mic, so you can eavesdrop on merc conversations - and I suggest you do, some of them are doozies - very corny stuff. The one area that is lacking is the sound of enemies moving in your direction - I repeatedly get surprised and shot in the face by enemies I have no idea are right behind the next tree. I should be able to hear boots stomping or leaves getting brushed aside, or equipment jingling as the mercs get closer ... something. As it is, they're frequently too quiet in an otherwise rich world. The sound gets a bit of a ding for that, as knowing where the bad guys are is absolutely vital.
That's the only sad part, that the single player campaign has to end at some point. There's still the multiplayer, which is a fairly bland deathmatch affair turned snipefest (the vehicles blow up too fast for the engineer class to be worthwhile, so long range death is your main option), and the somewhat complexified map editor - not for amateurs, although maps are already being produced. In the end however, Far Cry is the game you should go out and buy right now if you enjoy shooters in the least. Just don't look for plot or stellar voice acting - just a lot of tight-packed and challenging action. Best thing of all? It's already here (unlike Half-Life 2 or Doom III) and it's cheap - (35 USD from Amazon), if so inclined). Not bad for what was initially a pretty tech demo!
November 2004 Updates
Doom III came out and is vastly inferior to Far Cry, providing extremely repetative gameplay, no vehicles, little exteriors, boring environments, and few alternatives in dealing with the enemy. And this is still cheaper - what're you waiting for?
I suspect Half Life II will blow Far Cry out of the water, however. It's still a good FPS, worthy of having in your library.
November 2008 Updates
Nope. Half Life II came and went without learning anything from Far Cry. It turned out to be a stilted, linear shooter made up of (admittedly very well-made) setpieces, each bluntly showcasing a different technology that the Source engine was capable of. However, in October 2008, Far Cry 2 came out which made it all better. Again.