Far Cry (Windows)

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Written by  :  Ashley Pomeroy (233)
Written on  :  Jul 02, 2006
Platform  :  Windows
Rating  :  2.14 Stars2.14 Stars2.14 Stars2.14 Stars2.14 Stars

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One more step along the world I go

The Good

Far Cry reminds me of a lot of games, ranging from antediluvian classics such as Midwinter and Hunter, to relatively recent titles such as Delta Force, Trespasser, and Operation Flashpoint. Like all of those games it takes place mostly in the open air, and gives you considerable freedom of movement and action. You can hide in the bushes, steal buggies, climb up mountains, and sneak around. And you can also blow things up with a small arsenal of explosive and projectile weapons. The basic plot is that you are a beefcake man and you are trapped on an island and you have to follow a voice on the radio and you have a sidekick who is a thin bulletproof woman with hotpants and you have to kill a scientist who is old but muscled (like an old wrestler) and there is a twist and then you kill a second scientist THE END.

Far Cry is a game of two halves. It is rather like Half-Life in this respect. The first half is excellent. Far Cry starts off as an arcade-style variation of the "soldier sim". You are in the jungle and you have to kill mercenary soldiers and blow things up. With a nip and a tuck and more work this could have been an excellent Vietnam War / Malaya Emergency game, although it does boil down to a series of little encampments that you assault one at a time. You cannot run very fast, you cannot run or swim indefinitely, you can only take a few hits to your uncovered body, and you cannot fall great distances. Your weapons resemble real-life weapons rather than science fiction laser guns. The mixture of stealth and fighting is well-balanced, and best of all the baddies are clever. They duck behind cover and wait; they try to run around you, and they move realistically, rather than the aerial flea-hopping of other games. If you alert the enemy, they will come after you, whereas in other games alerted baddies tend to flap about for twenty seconds before returning to their patrol, even if their buddy has just been shot dead right next to them. You can steal buggies and speedboats, and also a surprisingly addictive rubber dinghy that feels fast, because your viewpoint is six inches about the rushing, undulating water.

The graphics are famously attractive and also famously hard on your computer. No matter what you have under the hood, Far Cry wants more; a faster processor, faster and more memory, and a better graphics card. Thankfully the game will run on relatively modest equipment, and although the water effects are simplified, it still looks mighty fine, like a woman. Some of the game's vistas are breathtaking; on several occasions the levels are designed so that you exit a cramped tunnel directly onto a sweeping mountain view. Far Cry's terrain is undulating and the foliage is detailed. The game prompted me to cry a tear for the notoriously unfinished Trespasser. Like that game, Far Cry has lots of plants and trees and a physics engine, and it takes place on an island, but it all hangs together whereas Trespasser fell apart. Far Cry's physics engine is of the standard bouncy-moon-gravity variety, and plays no real part in the gameplay, although there are a few instances when you can push barrels onto the heads of the baddies. It is noticeable that your bullets are not affected by gravity, and consequently long-range shooting is trivially easy.

The Bad

The second half of Far Cry is less impressive. The game can model indoors and outdoors environments at the same time, but generally there is a level load between the two. The indoors segments are relatively uninteresting, because they are like a lot of other, similar games. The maps have lots of detail - not as much as Doom 3, although there is more variety - but they are just standard techbase maps. There are fewer opportunities for stealth whilst indoors, and the immersion is broken when grenades and gunfire do not alert enemies in the next area.

For a game that looks so good, the cutscenes and dramatic sections are very poor. The pre-rendered cutscenes are unattractive and add nothing to the drama. The in-game cutscenes are reminiscent of Resident Evil, from as far back as 1996, in that the actors gesticulate wildly and continuously as they talk. Every phrase is accompanied with hyperactive shrugs and points. I suspect that the programmers wanted to show off their ability to capture realistic motion, and therefore decided to have as much motion as possible, any motion, all the time. The voice acting of the main characters is decent. Our hero Jack Carver seems to be modelled on Bruce Campbell. The soldiers that you fight have a set of stock phrases that they use over and over again. It made me appreciate, yet again, the brilliance of Half-Life, in which the stock voice phrases were sparingly used, or distorted so as to become sinister. In Far Cry, you are attacked by mercenary soldiers who sound like beach bums, and shout "How'd you like *them* apples!" over and over again, as they attack you. There isn't even a good end-game sequence.

The third strike is fatal, and kills the game for me. As with Half-Life, Far Cry has a stock of inhuman monsters to compliment the human ones. Whereas the monsters of Half-Life were imaginative and well-executed, the monsters of Far Cry move like men in ape suits and look like shambling blobs. They are apparently mutated monkey-men. Most of them can kill you with a single swipe of their claws - from what looks like beyond their arms' length - and they take a great deal of damage before expiring. This kind of instant death gameplay does not appeal to me. The big ones generally stand still, and fire missiles that travel slower than you can run, which looks ridiculous. Some of the monsters can leap like Spiderman, but without Spiderman's commitment to justice and fair play. Some are invisible. They are uninteresting and bore me. And when they are involved, the difficulty level goes off the rails. It is as if a second team of programmers had been brought in for a few weeks, to finish the game off, and these people were angry at the world. The difficulty level goes through spikes, in that there are a small number of extraordinarily hard sequences dotted throughout the game. It is hard, in an unfair way. The big monsters simply absorb too much ammunition before they die, and there usually isn't a "clever" way to get around them.

The game has a day-night-day-night cycle. During the night-time you can only see with your torch, which is ineffective in the open air, and with your night vision goggles, which run out of power after a few minutes. Thankfully they recharge, but this is a slow process. The game therefore often becomes a cycle of advancing with night vision, waiting for a few minutes, and then advancing again, as you cannot afford to blunder around in the dark.

During the final quarter of the game you have a sidekick. She is not as stupid as most other computer game sidekicks, but she is nonetheless not the brightest star in the firmament. A lot of the time she waits for you to clear out the next area, which is fine by me, but the concept of sidekicks reminds me too much of those old levels from "X-Wing", whereby you had to protect a damaged Rebel Alliance cruiser / hospital ship against wave after wave of TIE Fighters and - oh dear - after half an hour it would be destroyed by a sneak attack and you would fail the mission.

The Bottom Line

This game is part of an evolutionary chain. At the beginning of this review I mentioned Midwinter, a British computer game from 1990. Midwinter was set on a frozen island, which was rendered in solid 3D with attractive, undulating terrain. You were a resistance leader, and there were several ways you could retake the island, most of which shooting at or capturing people and vehicles. Far Cry is much the same, but less grandiose, with a level-based structure, and modern technology. There will be others like it. I wonder what will come next?