Far Cry

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.

FarCry

With their attentions set firmly on creating an engaging single player experience, Crytek taps an audience anxious for attention these days. In many ways the FPS genre has turned away from its roots and dedicated itself to the path laid out not so many years ago by Unreal Tournament and Quake III, strong multiplayer focus with a token single player mode. Far Cry flips that new model and turns the spotlight on the single player with barely adequate multiplayer modes to fulfill what is almost a prerequisite of late. ThereÂ's no question that for games of the highest caliber a strong market remains for single player focused shooters, but it is a less forgiving direction than it once was. ItÂ's not enough to be a good single player experience anymore, now the market demands virtually the amazing; a game that integrates scripted events, a compelling story, a wealth of weaponry and gadgets, an immersive world, and non-linear structure. Far Cry arrives with a lot to live up to if it wants to not be lost in the crowd.

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, itÂ's virtually impossible not to be impressed. The CryEngine is as amazing a visual accomplishment as IÂ'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.

Farcry Far Cry

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 IÂ'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 weÂ've seen of CarmackÂ's coming work. High praise indeed, but letÂ'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 donÂ'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 – IÂ'll speak to the questionable narrative conceits soon enough – 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.

Far Cry Far Cry

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 itÂ's wholly possible that youÂ'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 youÂ'll enjoy creeping through the foliage to lure the AI goons toward certain doom. In fact, much of Far CryÂ's fun is in skulking through shadows to gain the upper hand. To reach this end youÂ'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 youÂ'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. ThatÂ's a disappointing moment when the game goes from openly tense and scary to beautifully rendered rat maze. DonÂ't let me overemphasize this point, because IÂ'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 doesnÂ't feel quite right, does it? Just a really good game should be more than enough, and for the most part it is. YouÂ'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 wonÂ't tell you it wasnÂ'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, itÂ's a helluva fight for sure, but itÂ's not the same feeling as if the rookie knocked out the champ. ItÂ's just hard not to be a little disappointed. Maybe thatÂ's not fair, but there it is.

Far Cry is a very good game, one of the better single player games IÂ'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 isnÂ'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.

Far Cry Far Cry

First of all, and itÂ's a point that IÂ'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 thereÂ's no excuse IÂ'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 IÂ'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 arenÂ'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. ThereÂ'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 clichés, 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 isnÂ'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 IÂ'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 youÂ'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 youÂ've seen the face of the enemy after what was a nice stretch of tension, thereÂ's very little left to fearfully anticipate. ThereÂ're almost no significant scripted events, never really a sudden crash behind you of something unseen, nothing genuinely surprising that drops your jaw.

Far Cry Far Cry

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 canÂ't really use them to your advantage most of the time. ItÂ'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 Â"… 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 itÂ's not likely youÂ'll spend much time with it. ItÂ'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, itÂ's worth repeating that Far Cry is easily the best single player game on the market recently. ItÂ'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 wouldnÂ't be accurate, itÂ'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, itÂ's more than adequate to say that Far Cry is quite fun, immersive, visually stunning, and at times notably creepy. The truth is youÂ'd be remiss as a fan of single player shooters to give it a miss.

- Elysium

Comments

I'm looking forward to getting my Breed and Far Cry in the mail.
I have a suspicion Breed may actually turn out to be a hidden gem of some sort.

Good review. I'm passing on FarCry for now (hey, I can't even afford UT2004 yet!).

But I need to point out that Half-Life stumbled much in the same way, although more like 3/4 of the way through. And even though everybody pretty much agreed that the alien levels were lame, it is still considered a "great" game, not just a "very good" game.

Good review, Elysium. Pity I haven't the messianic-level hardware nec. to run that bastard.

Good review. You convinced me to pick it up. $29.99 at Fry's today. I have to get just to show off my "messianic-level hardware".

*edit* add on.

The first time I shot a mercenary in the head and he dropped dead right there as I really wanted him to, I knew I liked the game.

When I wrote my name in the wall of the carrier so I could see my name in lights, I knew I was hooked.

When I shot out the bridge supports and the group of merc's fleeing my muderously accurate M4 fire were dashed to bits on the jagged rocks below... well... I knew I was addicted.

Oh yeah, I like Far Cry.

But I need to point out that Half-Life stumbled much in the same way, although more like 3/4 of the way through.

I considered talking about what separates Half-Life from Far Cry in the review, but didn't want to get too distracted. I agree that Half-Life did stumble in the alien missions, but I'd say it was more like 7/8ths of the way through (or some arbitrary number that indicates it was a relatively small percentage of the total game), and what came before in Half-Life had a lot more of those amazing immersive moments and scripted areas I was talking about. Far Cry loses its pace a lot sooner in the process, and there's just not that Half-Life level of individual memorable moments that are possessed in HL.

Also, bear in mind when you are comparing Far Cry to Half-Life you're putting it in that high eschelon of FPS gaming. Even saying that Far Cry approaches that Half-Life tier but falls short is a huge compliment.

Not to derail the conversation, but I've just never understood the huge amount of praise that HL gets. It was a damn fine game, don't get me wrong, but even if I ignore the Xen levels I still don't find it to be the godly game so many other people do. What am I missing? Really? The only thing that really stood out for me was the A.I. which seemed head and shoulders above everyone else at the time. It just never felt that epic to me.

As to Far Cry, I think you're pretty dead on for the most part Elysium. I'm 14 levels into it, and it's lost a bit of it's luster at this point. But that by no means is an indication I'm no longer enjoying it. I think I give it a bit more leeway simply by virtue of there being so few truly engaging SP FPS over the last 5 or 6 years. I don't know how much I have left of the game at this point but if this were to be the last level I think personally I'd rate it higher than HL.

Big points off for lack of save-anywhere though. Stupid developers just don't get it!

Not to derail the conversation, but I've just never understood the huge amount of praise that HL gets.

I think the issue is what Half-Life was at the time it was released. It was just so far beyond anything I'd played at that point, totally immersive, visually impressive, strong multiplayer, full of scripted sequences, amazing. I think when people compare to Half-Life they are comparing it to the measure of what Half-Life was when it was released.

at the beginning of any genre (of any form, music, film, tv, etc) there always seems to be large jumps in technique and technology. as the genre ages and is proliferated with compounding numbers of new offerings, those jumps become less significant and seemingly, game by game, less noticeable.

Half-life was much earlier on in a fairly young genre, and it was a huge leap for FPS's. I think that grants it a lot more prestige as a pioneer and "Classic Game". It was good, I loved it, but I don't think that it is the sacred cow that cannot be bested. Has Far Cry done that? I don't know, but it is certainly HL's equal in my opinion.

With any genre theres been steps forward. Half-life was a giant leap forward for FPS's. Can you say Far Cry leaps just as far? I find it doubtful.

As long as we're off topic,

Taking a leap forward does not nessecarily mean a better game. Theres no question that HL added to the genre, I'm not arguing that, but what I am saying is those things didn't add up to a significantly better game. For me at least, and I do recognise that I'm probably in the minority. The fact is when it's all said and done I expect I will look back at the time I spent playing Far Cry as a more enjoyable experience than the time I spent with HL. Chalk me up as a weirdo - I also didn't care for Deus Ex, I did like Dungeon Siege, and I still prefer deathmatch to team based, goal oriented multiplayer. So there!

Disclaimer - I'm not knocking on HL. I really do think it's a very good game just not the mind-blowing experience so many others do.

Drunk, would you call me a weirdo if I tell you that I loved HL and Deus Ex and Dungeon Siege, and I love Far Cry and still don't mind ocasional butt-kicking in a healthy DM although I enjoy any team-based game very much?

I'd simply call both of us gamers. The rest is matter of preference, taste and habbit.

Let's enjoy ourselves, we're the wise ones. The rest of the world will never catch up with us, because you can't catch up with 15-20 years of dedication to something you love, not even with billions of dollars worth of research and development. We beat them to it, this is OUR sport. hehe

Talk about going off topic... Sorry.

The fact is when it's all said and done I expect I will look back at the time I spent playing Far Cry as a more enjoyable experience than the time I spent with HL. Chalk me up as a weirdo - I also didn't care for Deus Ex, I did like Dungeon Siege, and I still prefer deathmatch to team based, goal oriented multiplayer. So there!

Weirdo.

I was really excited about this game and I thought it was a "real world action-movie" game. i.e. that there were no sci-fi monsters in it.

When I read that there were monsters in it, the whole game dropped a few notches on my 'want-to-buy-O-meter'

I dunno, I just thought that it'd be kinda cool to have to fight against south sea islanders/pirates and rogue navy. Or if you absolutely have to maybe some lesser incarnation of cuthulu.

Crytek ~ Ryleh ? eeh eeh??

I am not super far into the game but I am finding this game every bit as enjoyable as I found Half-Life.

Now I do not play UT but I did buy unreal 2 (fool that I am) and played many of the other single player fps.

I find Far Cry to be head and shoulders above any single player fps I played in a long time. Just as Half Life was head and shoulders above the others at the time.

Not being able to save is annoying.

One point though I actually used the vehicles a lot. I cleared beaches, downed aircraft, and basically ran over and destroyed a lot of stuff with the jeeps and boats.

Perhaps we approached using them a different way.

Hopefully it does not go stale as I am having a blast playing currently.

I felt exactly the same way at first, Maladen. I hope the shine lasts for you.

Anything with Cthulhu in it is good stuff.

I was just about to buy a new PC capable of running Far Cry (and UT2K4), when I nonchalantly made a mistake of buying a house instead and sinking all available funds towards that purchase.