“Welcome to Fantasy Island.”
The last year has been an interesting one, gaming wise. When id software showed the first screenshots of their upcoming Doom 3, everyone was pleasantly stunned. At E3 2003, Valve showed up and demonstrated their new upcoming sequel to one of the greatest PC games of all time, Half-Life 2. We were given our first glances of how the next-generation of PC first-person shooters would look like, and that they’d both be ready just in time for the winter holidays. Well, the rest, as they say, is history. Both titles were delayed, and here we are still waiting for them with eager anticipation. All the while, a relatively obscure German developer has been working hard on their next-gen FPS, Far Cry. What started as a tech demo for the venerable GeForce 3 graphics cards has become a spectacular title that has paved the way for what we can expect in the future.
Set in the near future, you play Jack Carver, a charter boat owner in Micronesia, whose current job has him escorting a journalist named Valerie Cortez to the island of Cabatu. Shortly after the journalist takes off on her jet-ski, the boat comes under attack and is destroyed, leaving Jack to flee to safety. After the short FMV sequence, the game starts with Jack waking inside a cold, dank cave. Once you complete the obligatory tutorial on how to move, and various other commands, you come in contact via cellular phone with Doyle, who acts as your guide, giving you objectives and suggestions en route to finding the girl, and much more. Of course, this is all horribly clich?d, but who cares when it works as well as it does here. The game has all the trappings of a classic B-movie; a lush tropical island owned by a mad scientist bent on creating a new breed of genetic super soldiers, and, of course, like all mad scientists with their own tropical island, he has an army of mercenaries to keep his research a secret from the world. Fantastic stuff!
There is no doubt in my mind that Far Cry is one, if not the, most beautiful game I have ever seen. You are given your first instance of this once you leave the cave you start in. I sat in my chair and gawked for a few moments at the incredible view that was presented to me: lush tropical jungle, sun soaked beaches, crystal clear waters and a view that seemed to go on forever. I half expected Ricardo Montalban and that little guy to pop out from behind a palm tree and welcome me to Fantasy Island, wishing me a pleasant stay. Alas, no, it was not to be. I got mowed down with gunfire instead.
Back to the subject at hand?Using the powerful CryEngine, Far Cry is a treat for the eyes. The outdoor environments are nothing short of incredible. I was impressed after playing the demo, but that left me with the nagging feeling of maybe that’s all this game would be; one big outdoor environment and, though pretty, it would have been very boring. Yet Crytek have managed to pull out all the stops to make this fun to play. The outdoor environments are rich with detail and completely believable as you make your way through them. Adding further to the realism, you are free to explore the islands how you see fit; so you can take a stroll on the beautiful beaches, take a swim in the inviting ocean, or hike through the dense jungles, admiring the fauna along the way…ever-watchful for the heavily armed mercenaries, of course. Indoor environments are treated with equal care. Often claustrophobic, they continue the game’s sense of believability.
All the tricks of the trade are used here to great effect, pushing the latest graphics card to new limits: dynamic lighting, real-time shadows, bump mapping, near perfect looking water, and so much more. However, all this does come at a high price. While the game’s minimum spec requirements are fairly modest, to get the best out of Far Cry you’re going to need an impressive rig. I was using an AMD2600, 512mb RAM, and an ATI 9700 and still was not running to the best it could be set to. Thankfully, the game is highly configurable and, with endless tweaking, you will be able to get it running as good as your system can manage.
Along with the graphics, Far Cry is also an aural delight. Outside, you can hear the wind, the crash of the waves on the beach, the birds and insects as they fly around above you. When looking through your enhanced binoculars you can pick up conversations between guards. The guards can track you by sound as well as visually, and will hunt an area if they hear something unusual and can even be thrown off track by the simple throw of a rock. Each of the different weapons has its own distinguishable sound. This is used to great effect with the sniper rifle and rocket launcher. Fire the rifle and the echo of the shot fills the air, and when a rocket is fired, the sound of the explosion echoes convincingly into the distance. The voice acting is a little disappointing, mostly due to the cheesy dialogue used by the main cast and the mercenaries, yet it is easy to overlook this minor detail. Thankfully, the game’s soundtrack does an apt job of keeping up the creepy atmosphere; while not great, it doesn’t detract from the game play by being distracting.
Now, it doesn’t matter how pretty a game looks, or how great it sounds, if the enemies you face are as dumb as plank. Fortunately, the AI used in Far Cry is wonderful. You can set the game to various difficulty levels and can set the AI to auto adjust according to your skill level. I would recommend not starting on easy, as it is exactly that, easy, thus preventing you from facing any real challenge. I started on the second level of difficultly, and the guards are extremely intelligent, although sometimes too much so. How you play the game is up to you, but be forewarned, going in guns blazing is a surefire way to get yourself killed very quickly. Guards will call for backup when hurt, use group tactics to find you, hide and take cover when under fire, set alarms off to alert their comrades and even call for air support. It can be quite unnerving when fighting in the jungle, hiding in the long grass, or behind a palm tree, to hear the sound of an incoming helicopter circling overhead.
When inside buildings, they use different tactics. They will use alternate routes, if available, to come and attack you from different directions. This is not to say the AI is not without fault, though. On occasion you will shoot someone with the silenced machine-gun, and the guard beside him will pay little attention. Also, it can be said at times that your enemies have incredible sight, especially during the night, and they can pick you out with amazing accuracy. As you progress further into the game, you face better armed adversaries and better trained mercenaries that present a higher challenge. Also, as the story progresses, you face the creatures that the mad scientist has been working to create. The game encourages you to be stealthy at times, and I agree. While it is not possible to get through the game without killing anyone, say like Splinter Cell, it is not necessary to kill everyone you see. Rarely will you make it from area to area unscathed, and you will always be more than happy to see that first aid kit and body armor left lying around.
This leads to one of the game’s most controversial points. The save system, or the lack thereof, is the bane of many players, I’m sure. Much like Halo, the game offers a series of landmark based checkpoints as you progress through each chapter. This, again, highlights the need to be careful in how you play. If you choose to run gung-ho through an area, you will most likely revisit the same checkpoint many a time before you realize that a different method is needed. I may be alone here, but I actually like this method, as it makes you think more on what to do next and how you should go about it. The level design is extremely well thought out, so you should never run out of ideas. While there sometimes could be a few more areas on where the save is made, it does feel immensely satisfying to see the words ‘Game Saved’ pop up on the screen. No doubt in the near future the developers will succumb to demand and offer a patch that will allow quick saving anywhere, but I, for one, will think twice about implementing this as I enjoy the game’s challenging nature.
Far Cry handles weapons very well. There is a wide range to choose from; each one taken from the real world, and each one with its own advantages and disadvantages. However, you can only carry four at one time. I like this idea, as it promotes a further sense of realism. Ammo is limited and, as the guards all carry a different array of weaponry, you cannot always assume you will get the required ammunition for your gun. I would highly suggest re-binding the grenade key, as it is very easy to mistakenly press it instead of the use key. Many times did I curse as I clumsily dropped a grenade at my feet when I meant to call an elevator or jump into a jeep. The physics engine shines here also, with bodies reacting well when hit; slumping in different ways dependent on their surroundings and, of course, flying impressively through the air when caught in an explosion. So much more could have been done with it, though, especially after seeing what was shown in the Half-Life 2 demo at last year’s E3 exhibition.
There are a variety of vehicles in Far Cry for you to use; including jeeps, boats and a hang glider. While they are fun to use, they don’t add as much to the game as they maybe could have. They do, however, react well. The jeep shudders realistically against the bumpy terrain and the boat sails equally as well on the water. The enemy also uses them to great effect at times, and it can be unnerving to see them jump in a jeep and head towards you, using the mounted weapon; or to be swimming in the ocean and see an incoming boat hurtling towards you – with the guard firing the mounted mini-gun at you. During the night, you can see the headlights of incoming vehicles, so you can run away with a little more warning.
All in all, Far Cry is an exceptional game, with very little to complain about. The single player campaign will easily keep you occupied for at least 15 hours or more, which is great. The story, while unoriginal, will keep you on your toes as you discover more. I found it amusing that they used FMV in certain areas. However, with a graphics engine this advanced they could have easily done as good, if not a better job, using only game play graphics instead, much like in Silent Hill 3 or Metal Gear Solid, for example. The multiplayer mode could use some work. It almost seems like it was added as an afterthought by the game’s developers. Fortunately, with the inclusion of the easy to use CryEngine Sandbox editor, I am sure in the near future we will see a multitude of mods and levels available to spruce up the multiplayer side of Far Cry.
If you want to play, what I consider to be, the best first-person shooter since Half-Life, and own a PC strong enough to run it, then pick up Far Cry today. I guarantee you will not be disappointed.