Finally, it’s here! This is the game that has made appearances in my dreams on more than one occasion. A lot of top-notch multiplayer shooters have been released recently, but the offering has been considerably weaker for single player fans. Far Cry seeks to ease the suffering for the single player gamer with some of the best looking graphics around and amazing sound. As an added bonus, this game actually comes with a fairly original and interesting story that covers both multi and single player modes.
I’ll start from the beginning. You are Jack Carver, a guy with a Special Forces background who happened to be sailing peacefully along when your boat is blown to bits by a rocket. Even though you survive and make it to the nearby island, for you it just isn’t good enough. Besides being pretty well pissed off you want to know what’s going on and probably wouldn’t mind putting an end to this. During your quest you encounter some new friends who see your special talent for mayhem and destruction. It doesn’t take long before the story unfolds in front of you, and before you know it you’re knee-deep in fights involving mercenaries and some beasts that you aren’t likely to come across in your backyard forest.
As you might have already figured out, most of the game revolves around killing bad people and blowing things up. There’s a very serious shortage of good-guys on the island, so whatever moves is usually a good target. Even though the majority of your traveling is done by foot, you also get to use a number of vehicles. You have a buggy, a four-wheel drive jeep, a small boat, a paraglider, and a few other nice toys to run around with. Most of these vehicles also have weapons mounted on top which can be very effective against humans and monsters alike.
Your weapons arsenal isn’t too shabby either. You start with your average pistol and M16 but it doesn’t take long until you find more contemporary weapons. Most of the repertoire consists of SMG’s and rifles such as the P90, the M4 Carbine, a sniper rifle, the AG36 assault rifle, and the OICW to give you a good selection of mid-range weaponry. Beyond that you’ve also got The Jackhammer Shotgun, a shiny new rocket launcher, the M249 machine gun, and assorted grenades (frag, flashbang, and smoke.) Many of these weapons have alternative firing modes, which in the case of the OICW lets you fire small explosive rounds, or in the case of other weapons let you zoom in to various degrees. Now and then you also get to use stationary weapons which are mounted on the ground such as a machine gun and mortar; the former for almost unparalleled crowd control, and the latter for long-range surprises.
You can only carry four weapons at a time, not including grenades, so it’s a good idea to choose suitable weapons that work well for various scenarios. Also, in your inventory you have a pair of binoculars that not only automatically detects enemies and places them on your mini-map, but they also let you zoom in up to 24 times and can let you eavesdrop on conversations. Listening in on the mercenaries can be entertaining in itself since they tend to chat about some fairly strange things. Last but not least, a bit into the game, you get something called CryVision in your options menu. CryVision is essentially a combination of night vision and thermal goggles. I’m not sure if that’s physically possible in the realm of reality, but I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt. CryVision can only be enabled for very brief periods at a time. Because of this you need to use it sparingly as during the second half of the game it’s essential to your survival thanks to its ability to make spotting enemies from a distance very easily. Fortunately the CryVision batteries recharge, but it can be annoying to run out and know you have to wait about a minute before you can continue your hunt.
Stamina is another of the more interesting game metrics in Far Cry. At the bottom right portion of the screen you have a blue bar indicating your stamina level. Actions like sprinting and swimming underwater drains your stamina level. Additionally, by holding the appropriate key you can also use it to extend the zoom of your sniper rifle and it even improves the stability somewhat. Sprinting can be vital to your continuing health, so it can be quite frustrating when stamina is in short supply. You can improve your speed by holding a light weapon, but you’re likely to find yourself having to take short brakes to recharge the stamina. You can’t always fight your way out of every situation, so running is sometimes the only remaining alternative.
One of the major selling points about Far Cry has been the ability to truly fight from a long range. Since the levels you play in are huge, and for the most part outdoors, you can often spot people from afar. On some levels the developers intentionally give you perfect vantage points for sniping, which is of course a lot of fun. However, you’re better off actually employing a strategy beyond just shooting whoever you see. The artificial intelligence is quite interesting because at least the human mercenaries tend to work together in groups. Most of these are led by a special, often stronger mercenary. In some cases a radio is also located nearby. If you just shot some random guy then the mercenary closest to the radio would call for backup, often resulting in a helicopter hunting you down or dropping in reinforcements. Luckily you can avoid this by shooting and destroying the radio before they get a chance to make the call. Next you’d want to shoot the leader since, without him, the rest of the group tends to become less organized which essentially makes it easier for you to hunt down the remaining cannon fodder. I also find it interesting how the enemies actually pick up weapons if they run out of ammo. They may hop into a nearby buggy and chase you, but you can bet they’ll at least try to flank you. When playing you often feel that you cleared an entire area from whatever vantage point you found, but just then some sneaky pest got past your guard and unloaded a M16 clip into your back. Soldiers don’t spawn right out of nowhere, they just know how to hide, which adds tension – in a good way. Unfortunately, while the artificial intelligence in Far Cry is a definite step in the right direction it isn’t without its fair share of flaws. The highly trained mercenaries can get stuck in a lot of things, or just act very strangely. If they fall into the water they’re pretty much lost and I’ve seen plenty of monsters fire aimlessly at a mountain or even a tree. In terms of difficulty I think the game fits its difficulty descriptions fairly well. The game is challenging on medium difficulty but I’ve heard of people having a hard time even on the easiest setting. My only complaint about the difficulty is that, at least on medium, the final stage of the game goes from “medium”, to “impossible”. I honestly don’t see why the end has to be so ridiculously hard and I even suspect it’ll force some people to cheat their way past it, which is a shame.
The save game system isn’t perfect either. You automatically save as you get to a certain new area. This is typically right before or after a particularly challenging fight. In some cases this can be annoying such as when you’re close to getting to a save-point but can’t seem to actually get there without being killed. It can also be annoying if you have a lot of mercenaries or monsters chasing you, the game saves, and you’re killed a second or two later. For these reasons it’s a good idea to make sure you kill everything, or that nobody is chasing you, before the save.
Far Cry is also said to have, at least to some extent, open-ended gameplay. What this means in the general sense is that you can do things in different ways. In Far Cry’s case it basically means that you’re given one or more objectives, and have to solve them your own way. The open-ended feeling is actually generated by the level design. If you have to, for instance, clear a mercenary encampment you’re often given a set of ways to get it done. There’s usually one main road leading to wherever you’re going, but if you look closely it’s often easy to spot alternative routes, which often lead you to better vantage points, or at least to places from where the enemy didn’t expect an attack. Sometimes these alternative routes mean extra resistance but can in turn provide you with a new weapon or other nice things.
Of course, the graphics in Far Cry are simply to die for. Far Cry is easily the best looking 3D game to date. A lot of people have focused on the gorgeous water, which is indeed beautiful, but there’s just so much more. Far Cry takes place outdoors for the most part, but it doesn’t overuse dynamic shadows like some games have. Many of the objects that you can interact with, thanks to the excellent physics engine, have dynamic shadows but you won’t find it on all the trees, the hills, etc. Instead the game makes excellent use of lightmaps. Much care has been put into making the environments come to life. The trees and the foliage are always moving, if only slightly. You’ll see butterflies here and there, birds flying in the distance and fish moving about underwater.
Much of the game is also played indoors. Here the game uses bumpmapping on just about everything related to the floor, walls, and ceiling – be it stone, steel, or whatever else they could throw in. Plenty of shader effects are used, making lights reflect properly off rock and metal surfaces, but that’s just one of many examples. The polygon count is also so ridiculously high in some cases that I was left dumbfounded over the fact that this was able to render in real-time while staying very smooth. Both environments and characters are to some extent based on height-maps. The uses of height-maps in these environments enable you to zoom and get much better performance than you would than otherwise. Regarding characters, the height-maps enable you to get high polygon detail from a low polygon character. This essentially means that you get very realistic looking characters, without needing an insane amount of processing power.
Even though a lot of effort has been put into making sure the game runs smoothly, you will need a fairly powerful PC to get the game running well. Most of the strain is put on the videocard, but I can tell you that the game looks nothing less than breathtaking on a Radeon 9800XT.
The audio is also top-notch. Each and every sound effect sounds just about perfect. The voice-overs are about as good as you could ever want and I had no problem believing that the in-game characters could have the voices they did. The dynamic music also works very well when it comes to adding tension and suspense to already dangerous situations. It can sometimes feel a bit “off” but for the most part it’s a good match. Music is also used randomly to keep you from getting bored, but it’s not so intrusive that you can’t be stealthy and listen in on things. The only problem I have with the audio is unfortunately quite annoying. On some soundcards you randomly lose many of the in-game sound effects and voice work. More specifically you lose the sound of your own weapons firing, but you do hear the shells falling to the ground, and the bullets hitting metal. This is resolved by quitting the game, starting it again, and loading the last savegame. Since the game does take a reasonable amount of time to finish you may have to do this quite a few times, each time adding to the annoyance. Some say this can be fixed by disabling EAX 2 and reducing the hardware acceleration in your soundcard, but by doing that you’re losing detail and channel separation in the audio, and I can’t accept that.
Actually, Far Cry has some of the best sound effects I’ve ever heard. It’s not only very realistic; it also has enough bass to give whatever sub you may have a workout. If you have a set of surround speakers you’re truly in for a treat, especially if you turn the volume up. I used the Logitech Z-680 speakers and I can say for sure that the 5.1 surround-mixed audio played a big part in the immersion experience.
The multiplayer mode isn’t too shabby either. You can choose between three modes which include assault, deathmatch, and team deathmatch. Assault is a team based mode where one team protects special sections of the map which the other team tries to capture. By capturing one point the entire focus is on the next one because you can’t re-capture points as you can, for instance, in Unreal Tournament 2004 and Battlefield Vietnam. Deathmatch and team deathmatch should be self-explanatory, but there are a total of 11 maps to choose from. These are all fairly varied although most tend to take place outside close to the gorgeous water. It’s a lot of fun to race around with the boats, running over people with the vehicles, and sniping people from afar. However, you can fairly easily spot people from far away thanks to light reflecting from them. This is great for the most part because it makes it much harder for campers to ruin the game. Some people do like the freedom of being able to completely hide oneself so it would’ve been great if you could this feature on or off when hosting a game. There are actually several more settings I would have liked to adjust when hosting a game, but it should be sufficient for the most part.
I’m sure the recent flood of multiplayer shooters can provide you with a lot of fun but these games offer very little in terms of a story which is where Far Cry comes in. If you like games with a strong on single player mode then you should run out now and buy the game before someone else grabs the last one. The wait really was worth it so long as you spent it upgrading your PC. I love the fact that someone has finally made a game that can look truly good and take advantage of higher-end PC hardware instead of going for less detail in order to allow more people with slower PCs to run the game. You shouldn’t buy this game if you use an old video card because it simply won’t run very well. If you do have a DirectX 8 or DirectX 9 compliant video card then you’re in for eye-candy beyond what any game has been able to offer thus far. If you have a good sound system you’ll be able to make that investment worthwhile as well.
The jaw-dropping effects and overall visual and audible quality of Far Cry makes me wonder what games will look like in a couple of years. I think, and hope, that the environments will get more destructive than they are at this point. You can blow up a lot in Far Cry but not go all out. Soldner should be very interesting in that regard.
Far Cry’s multiplayer is solid, but even so a bit lacking. It doesn’t have a lot of modes, and it doesn’t have some of the settings you’d find in other games. There are no bots for multiplayer matches either but what you’re left with is good on its own merits.
2004 will be an awesome year for shooter fans, there’s no denying that. Far Cry is one of the year’s truly awesome single player experiences, so if you have the right hardware then run and buy it now.