It was startling how the month of March began with virtually no significant new shooters on the market, and ended with more action goodness than any one person has a right to. This was great news for gamers, doubly so for the folks over at Epic and DICE (developers respectively of Unreal Tournament 2004 and Battlefield Vietnam) who went head-to-head in their releases, but under the radar of the point-of-purchase multiplayer cavalcade Far Cry hit the shelves with relatively little fanfare. A shame, because in some ways Far Cry brings more substance to the table than either of its big brothers.
Far Cry grabs your attention right from the start with the sheer technical achievement of the CryEngine. Empowered with the capability of virtual draw distances over 1km, one can traverse massive and detailed open spaces seamlessly. The first time you scale one of the island mountains, turn back and see the boat and carnage on the beach a half-mile back still quietly smoldering the way you left it, itÃ‚'s virtually impossible not to be impressed. The CryEngine is as amazing a visual accomplishment as IÃ‚'ve enjoyed in the past five years, the first game that seems to put you in a genuinely open world without artificial borders and hard edges. Though, you will need a hefty system and video card to enjoy it to its fullest.
Honestly, Crytek could have rested on those astounding accomplishments and left me on an island hopping adventure from start to finish, and I would have gushed with great enthusiasm, but the engine is so much more functional than just drawing long lines of sight. Fact is, for as open and free as the outdoor landscapes feel, the indoor environments can be every bit as confining, moody, and detailed. For months now IÃ‚'ve drooled over Doom 3 shots, stunned by its unparalleled photorealism, and the truth is that the CryEngine seems to be a technical peer to what weÃ‚'ve seen of CarmackÃ‚'s coming work. High praise indeed, but letÃ‚'s not get ahead of ourselves. Leave it suffice to say that Far Cry sports what I believe are the best visuals of any first person shooter yet released.
Additionally, for you level makers and modders out there, Far Cry is released with an extremely intuitive editor, the Crytek Sandbox. I donÃ‚'t claim much confidence in creating more than a vaguely square shaped room in most editors, but the relatively few minutes I spent with the Sandbox not only made some degree of sense, but put me in touch with tools that seemed to scale to the users ability. One, if one is hopelessly incompetent in this practice, is left with an editor that will allow you to easily generate some functional terrain on which to toss the occasional crate and/or bad guy. Meanwhile, for those creatively and technically minded, it is possible to create situations and missions of deep meaningful complexity. I mention this now because it is yet another highlight to the functionality and versatility of the CryEngine, of which I could literally sing the praises for a fortnight.
As always, an engine is only as good as the game married to it, and fortunately, exploring the islands of Far Cry is not just a sightseeing adventure but one fraught with some rather tasty dangers. The omnipresent pendulum swing of ambushing mercenaries and then being pursued by an AI that is usually bright proves, for the most part, an entertaining experience. As Jack Carver you are a one man army whose greatest strength is in the element of surprise. On a mission to kill all the bad guys and escape the islands Ã‚– IÃ‚'ll speak to the questionable narrative conceits soon enough Ã‚– you crawl through tropical under brush, hide in the shadows, and pick off your enemies one at a time all the while avoiding enemies that at times really can seem to work together. Even as the game changes introducing new enemies and new elements it comes down to that fundamental model: hide, pick your moment, attack, pull back and regroup if necessary.
The AI can be exploited into situations where your enemies parade into your line of fire, but by and large the engagements are superior to most other games on the market. It was also a bit annoying how the enemy seems to have an uncanny ability to detect your slightest movement, and even if lying prone under a bush itÃ‚'s wholly possible that youÃ‚'ll be detected by an enemy perched on a far distant cliff. Once detected the AI will try and use teamwork to flank you, which again works beautifully in some cases and not so well in others.
On the positive side, you will enjoy some terrific firefights every bit as much as youÃ‚'ll enjoy creeping through the foliage to lure the AI goons toward certain doom. In fact, much of Far CryÃ‚'s fun is in skulking through shadows to gain the upper hand. To reach this end youÃ‚'re given some clever gadgets including a pair of binoculars that locate and highlight enemies by sound (additionally allowing you to listen in on their conversations) as well as thermographic imaging CryVision goggles allowing you to see what is lurking in the dark. And once youÃ‚'ve gotten through the first three or four missions of the game, those CryVision glasses will come in handy as the sun sets across the horizon and you enter one of the many dank, rusted, buildings.
That brings us to the overall feeling of Far Cry, which is at first turn a bright open expansive shooter, and then suddenly a claustrophobic, dark, and significantly eerie game. Then Far Cry did something that I found rather unexpected, it became a little predictable, a little repetitive, and a little stale. ThatÃ‚'s a disappointing moment when the game goes from openly tense and scary to beautifully rendered rat maze. DonÃ‚'t let me overemphasize this point, because IÃ‚'m still quite a fan of Far Cry, but something happens to this game halfway through that loses the track of being an amazing memorable game, and plants itself firmly on the well trodden path of being just a really good game.
That doesnÃ‚'t feel quite right, does it? Just a really good game should be more than enough, and for the most part it is. YouÃ‚'d be missing out on one of the best FPS games of the year by skipping Far Cry, and I highly recommend taking a turn at it, but I wonÃ‚'t tell you it wasnÃ‚'t disappointing to think this was becoming one of the all-time great FPS games and have it suddenly stumble. Imagine watching some monumental underdog step into the ring with a prizefighter and lose in a split decision, itÃ‚'s a helluva fight for sure, but itÃ‚'s not the same feeling as if the rookie knocked out the champ. ItÃ‚'s just hard not to be a little disappointed. Maybe thatÃ‚'s not fair, but there it is.
Far Cry is a very good game, one of the better single player games IÃ‚'ve enjoyed with an envelope pushing graphic engine, and from this point on hold that fact with you. Far Cry is a very good game, but it isnÃ‚'t a great game. The reason this is distinctly notable is because Far Cry _could_ have been great. It needed to do a few things.
First of all, and itÃ‚'s a point that IÃ‚'m just never going to let go of, the decisions made on the save system are flat out dumb. The game saves automatically at admittedly regular checkpoints, leaving the player no option to save at will. While not as painful a save system as some of the more annoying console setups out there, it can be annoying. Putting aside the fact that thereÃ‚'s no excuse IÃ‚'m willing to accept for eliminating the save-anywhere option on a PC game, the Far Cry save system is purely a design choice. As it turns out, through a basic console command you can circumvent the menu system and save anywhere after all. It just appears that Crytek made the conscious decision to not give the player that option which the game engine already supported, and if I were putting a score of some kind at the end of this review then IÃ‚'d deduct several points simply for making such a ridiculous decision. A decision that Crytek has since backed off from promising within a day of release to add a quick-save menu option.
But some poor choices in save system arenÃ‚'t enough except in the extreme to ruin a great game. The real issue I take with Far Cry is in its narrative, its inability to sustain tension, and its notable lack of scripted interesting events. The story of Far Cry surrounds your character Jack Carver who through a series of barely notable events ends up shipwrecked among some bad guy laden tropical islands. ThereÃ‚'s a mad scientist, a girl, a strangely knowledgeable guide, and some monsters. Add one part Dr. Moreau, one part Jurassic Park, a handful of FPS clichÃƒÂ©s, a dash of vermouth, shake, strain, toss in an olive or two and enjoy. Far Cry is certainly not the first FPS burdened with a barely cursory narrative, but a strong reason to keep pushing forward would have been much appreciated. Instead Far Cry is like the classic joke retold: Why did Jack Carver cross the islands? To get to the other side! It just would have been nice to have a better reason.
Even putting those two points aside, the real reason that Far Cry isnÃ‚'t elevated to a more lofty perch has more to do with its eventual inability to sustain its level of tension. A great game, and IÃ‚'m talking about the best here, manage to keep raising the stakes, demand your attention, keep you invested not just in the story but in the survival of your character. The level of tension is not just a function of the number of bad guys, or even how many bullets it takes to kill them. A great game requires misleads, surprises, a sense of isolation against impossible odds, uncertainty, and, if possible, a narrative arc. It is here above all else that Far Cry falls short. The best games out there turn the tables on you at the moment you think youÃ‚'re the safest. The scariest games are not dark all the time, because they realize that the scariest moment of all is when the lights suddenly go out. The most engaging games of all have stunning scripted events and a wide variety of enemies.
Instead Far Cry follows a straight path and very rarely turns the table on you. Its interiors are relentlessly dark, and once youÃ‚'ve seen the face of the enemy after what was a nice stretch of tension, thereÃ‚'s very little left to fearfully anticipate. ThereÃ‚'re almost no significant scripted events, never really a sudden crash behind you of something unseen, nothing genuinely surprising that drops your jaw.
Consider also that the implemented vehicles are more of a surface addition with little functional purpose in most situations. They do a nice job of getting you from place to place, but you canÃ‚'t really use them to your advantage most of the time. ItÃ‚'s just a better idea to get out and crawl around the underbrush.
The weapons are standard fare, a sniper scope, a rocket launcher, an MP5, an M4, a Jackhammer shotgun Ã‚"… sound familiar? Grenades, got those too: flashbang, frag, smoke. You get the picture. The sound effects for the weapons are varied and familiar, and the sound overall immersive beyond just being functional.
As for the multiplayer, well there is one, though itÃ‚'s not likely youÃ‚'ll spend much time with it. ItÃ‚'s enough to simply say there are far better multiplayer shooters on the market right now, and virtually every major FPS release of the past month is more fun to play online.
In the final analysis, itÃ‚'s worth repeating that Far Cry is easily the best single player game on the market recently. ItÃ‚'s a very good game, weighing in at roughly 20 hours of single player gametime, and a stunning technical achievement. I apologize if it ended up sounding like I was dissatisfied with the game, because honestly that wouldnÃ‚'t be accurate, itÃ‚'s just that I keep seeing where Far Cry could have escalated to the ranks of the all-time greats and for whatever reason just missed the mark. On a more relative perspective, however, itÃ‚'s more than adequate to say that Far Cry is quite fun, immersive, visually stunning, and at times notably creepy. The truth is youÃ‚'d be remiss as a fan of single player shooters to give it a miss.- Elysium