To quote the immortal words of A Clockwork Orange's anti-hero, Alex: 'gorgeousness and gorgeousity'. He may have been referring to Beethoven's 9th, but I'm using his declaration of beauty in reference to Ubisoft's latest FPS, Far Cry. Using the proprietary CryENGINE, the developers of CryTek have managed to create one of the most visually stunning video games on the market today.
Graphics are not the only measure of a game's worth, however, and Far Cry doesn't rest on the success of its visuals alone. CryTek has delivered an enjoyable first person shooter that, while it doesn't break any new ground in the FPS concept, introduces an excellent enemy AI, a good storyline and a more open-feeling style of play than most FPS games currently available.
The game opens with your character piloting a young woman to a remote island on your boat. After she takes off on a jet ski, a rocket from shore takes out your boat, landing you alive but dazed in the water. You make your way to shore and into a cave (all accomplished by a cut scene that does a good job indicating what lays ahead for you). At this point the cut scenes stop and the game begins. The initial several minutes are spent moving about the cave and old bunker while you learn the interface. Very early on you pick up a radio that has you communicating with the mysterious 'Doyle'. Doyle teaches you how to get around the game, gives you your missions and leads you around the island as you seek to complete them. The initial goal is to find Val, the reporter, and rescue her from the large number of mercenaries stationed on the island. Finding Val turns out to be just the beginning of your adventure.
As you progress, the game's story begins to flesh out and a simple rescue mission turns into something much deeper and darker. The words 'science gone awry' and 'mutations' might give you an idea of what to look for in Far Cry. Throughout the story you'll work your way through firefights in the jungle, in ruined bunkers, in underground labs and even in a volcano.
The graphics, as mentioned already, are amazing. Gamers have been eagerly awaiting the release of Doom III and Half Life 2, both games that promise next generation graphics but Far Cry beats them both to the punch. These are truly next-level graphics, and they are stunning. Of course, you'll need a hefty machine to pull off a lot of the features, but I was able to achieve gorgeousness with my P4 3.0GhZ, 1GB DDR RAM and an ATI Radeon 9800 128MB.
One of the features you'll hear everyone talking about is the extreme draw distance of the game: somewhere around 2 kilometers of game space. Basically, everything you can see (and it's quite a lot) is real game space with which you can interact. Launch a rocket at a distant rock face and you'll see not only the travel of the projectile and far-off explosion, you'll also see light effects on surround foliage from the passing rocket flame and the detonation. Use your binoculars and you'll see enemies at extreme zoom who will still be there doing their thing when you eventually make your way across the island to them. Blow those enemies up and you'll enjoy the rag doll physics as their bodies flail about through the air.
Far Cry strives to immerse you into the game with the graphics. Pass under trees and the shadows on your gun and hands will reflect the fact that there are leaves partially blocking you from the sun. Foliage waves and ripples in the wind. The clouds and sun are reflected in the glassy tropical waters surrounding the islands. I spent a couple of minutes just enjoying the scenery and watching schools of fish swimming near the shore.
The sounds in Far Cry are on par with the graphics, and provide not only atmospheric enhancements, but necessary auditory data for the player. The atmospheric sounds are excellent and help immerse the character into the game world. Music is also well done, surging forth with the flow of battles and receding during quieter moments. What the sound really does, however, is provide you with an idea of what's around. You can hear the chatter of the mercenaries as you sneak up to their campsites. You'll hear the low growl of angry 'animals' both behind closed doors and deep in the jungle. And you'll hear the rustle of the brush and the soft fall of footsteps as sneaking mercs attempt to locate you as you lie hidden in the brush.
The only fault I found with the sound was the laughable voice acting. While most of the voice acting was passable, there were times when the delivery made me laugh out loud due to the over-the-top delivery. It's a minor quibble, but it would have made the game even more immersing if the characters didn't sound like they just got onto the WWE stage.
The controls of Far Cry are pretty standard FPS fare, consisting of the mouse and keyboard combo. WASD is the standard keyboard layout, but all controls are re mappable via the options menu.
The game itself features a compelling storyline that will keep you moving through mission after mission. Much like the original Half Life, the story sucks you in and keeps you playing the single player game until conclusion. Unlike the original Half Life, there aren't nearly the number of puzzles to solve in order to move ahead on the map. Far Cry only gets as complicated as 'find the card key' or 'find the explosives then plant them'.
There are vehicles scattered throughout the game that the player can pilot. They range from patrol boats to buggys and 4WD humvee-style machines. I found them mainly useful as machine gun platforms, but not all that easy to maneuver on the erratic island roads. They seemed over-sensitive to controller movements and the combination of WASD steering and machine-gun/vision mouselook made it somewhat disorienting at times. The machine guns do make it easier to take out encamped mercenaries though.
I'd mentioned the open-feeling game play of Far Cry earlier in the review. What I meant by that statement is this: while the game provides you with definite objectives, you can arrive at those objectives in a variety of ways. You could always run in guns-blazing (which I did most of the time, because it was nice and direct), you could attempt to sneak your way through a map (time consuming and not always an option) or you could take advantage of the massive scale of the maps and try to approach your objective from a different angle. I did the latter a few times and found the most success by flanking an objective placed out on a lake with only one visible access point and discovered a zip line connected to the objective from an overlooking guard post (which I'd cleared out neatly). It was nice to have options and to be rewarded for approaching a target from something other than the obvious option. However, the openness of the game play is mostly an illusion: eventually you're going to just have to shoot everyone and get to the objective.
Another excellent feature of this game is the implementation of a solid enemy AI. While not 100% perfect, this AI features some of the best enemy reactions I've ever seen. There were several times during the game where I was startled enough to jump a bit in my seat as I suddenly stumbled up on a mercenary I'd alerted earlier waiting for me behind a door (not stuck in a pathing issue, but crouched and waiting) or behind a tree stump in the jungle. Enemies react more intelligently that most games' enemies: they will call to their friends for assistance, take cover when fired upon and even retreat when the odds aren't in their favor. As mentioned before, they will patiently wait for a character, sneak slowly through the foliage in an attempt to ambush the unwary and even split forces to attempt a flanking maneuver on the player's position. There were a few times when they'd get stuck in a pathing issue, or stand about idiotically, but the majority of the time the enemies reacted in an intelligent manner.
Far Cry doesn't revolutionize the FPS genre with its game play. There is nothing most players haven't seen before, albeit it hasn't been presented in as nice a package before. Under all that pretty packaging, it's a simple game of kill everything that moves before it kills you. However, the compelling storyline, the good enemy AI and the excellent graphics really do make Far Cry a cut above the average FPS. It may not revolutionize the genre, but it certainly raises the bar for the competition.
Multiplayer in Far Cry consists of three games: Assault, Free For All and Team Deathmatch. Assault is a class-based game similar to UT in that it consists of controlling key locations on the map. There are three classes to choose from in Assault: Grunt, Sniper and Support. The Grunt gets the best overall weapons, the Sniper gets the long-range weapons and the Support characters gets tools to build and destroy objects in the game as well as health packs to provide to teammates. Free For All is traditional deathmatch and Team Deathmatch is what its title implies.
There are multiple maps to play on and, much like the game, they are generally huge. Combined with the intensity of the game's graphics and the less-than-stellar netcode, the size of the maps adds to the lag issues that many people have experienced. It's possible that someone will develop a compelling mod for the engine, but right now comparisons with the original Half Life will have to end with the single player game (besides: who can compete with a Half Life mod like Counterstrike?).
Far Cry is a compelling single player game with good, if somewhat straightforward, game play. The graphics are absolutely stunning and the sounds are useful and well implemented (except for the voice acting). The combination of a good story, excellent combat with a strong enemy AI and the sheer beauty of the game makes this a FPS every fan should have in their collection. CryTek has thrown down the gauntlet to other developers. By delivering a game as advanced as Far Cry this far in advance of notables Doom III and Half Life 2, CryTek has come out of left field to claim the title of Best FPS Currently Available. Of course, by delivering the game this quickly, they also introduced several bugs which were addressed in a patch that was released a day after the game arrived in stores. That aside, Far Cry is an excellent game which should provide a nice FPS fix for players looking for a good single player experience and who possess the necessary hardware.
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