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FarCry Review

By Jeff Buckland, 4/26/2004

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Ubisoft has been on a roll for the last year or so. Even when their games don't sell (example: Beyond Good and Evil), they're still critically hailed as excellent titles. They've had a few misses, sure, but they are doing pretty well. When they decided to pick up Far Cry to publish a while back, no one had heard of the game or its German developer, Crytek. But Crytek has shown us a great first impression with its excellent engine, and the gameplay is entertaining to boot!

Crytek's custom engine made for this game is simply fantastic. Far Cry supports great special effects and can display huge outdoor terrain that can go on for almost literally miles, and it can show this with only moderate hits on the frame rate. While this is one of the most demanding games I've ever played when it comes to system requirements, the way this game looks is probably the best reason yet why you decided to spend $200-$300 on a video card.

It's not just the special effects and view distances that make Far Cry's engine so unique, though. The model detail is excellent, and the indoor areas haven't been left out either - a pseudo-DOOM 3 lighting system is included. While it's not so detailed as to have all light in the game come from an actual, tangible light source, it does a great job of a quick-and-dirty approximation that is pretty convincing.

While most players will never actually try it, the editor is where the magic really happens in Far Cry. The game's editor is extremely intuitive and makes it blissfully simple to try out new stuff. There's already a community of people busy at modifying the game, and that looks to only get better.

The biggest issue I see with Far Cry's engine is simply that many people will not be able to enjoy the game to its fullest extent on slower computers. It really is a game that requires a fast computer, and I do mean fast by today's standards - even "fast" a year ago is going to run pretty slow if you turn up the resolution and detail a good amount.

I'm also a little miffed about Ubisoft's copy protection. Not only does Far Cry (as well as a couple of their other recent games) check to make sure the original CD is in the drive, but it also will refuse to run if you have certain CD imaging software installed and/or running. The box doesn't even list what exact software they're talking about, but I'm pretty sure that both Alcohol 120% and Daemon Tools are on that list. I think this protection goes too far, and it has caused some players plenty of grief because the game will sometimes still refuse to work even after getting rid of the offending software. Let's face it: those who want to pirate this game are doing so happily anyway by means other than the software Ubisoft is looking for. Publishers need to start coming up with solutions that deter piracy without causing paying customers any problems, and right now, is the biggest offender when it comes to invasive copy protection.

Far Cry has a pretty simple interface for first person shooters, but it should be noted that the game does include plenty of options and key bindings that even some of the more hardcore FPS games miss out on. The menus are pretty easy to get around in, and you can do plenty from them. The in-game multiplayer server browser isn't the best I've seen, but it works well enough. If you've sworn yourself to an external server browser, this one isn't going to convert you back.

One specific thing I feel I have to sound off on is the separate grenade key. The Tribes games did this, as well as Halo and Max Payne 2, and it's very worth having that extra key. Far Cry includes this as well, and it makes grenades something I actually do use in normal play. Not having to switch weapons in order to throw a grenade feels really cool, and I suggest that those who never bother to throw them in these games actually give it a try here.

The multiplayer interface also works well, and it allows you to switch classes and the like whenever you want. Crytek and Ubisoft have taken some heat about purposely leaving out a quick save and quick load system - more on that bit later, as it really does affect the gameplay a lot.

There have been many games that have attempted to draw huge outdoor scenes, but most of them don't even make an attempt at the amount of vegetation that is shown in Far Cry. For this to work, the game needs not only an excellent Level of Detail system (which replaces high-quality art with stuff that takes up less memory when it's far away), but it also needs excellent source art. Then, the game needs to quietly slip these different models in and out on the fly without making it obvious to the player as he/she is moving around. Far Cry handles all this perfectly, with excellent source art for vegetation and world objects and a system that smoothly fades between high- and low-quality graphics.

The character models do look great, but there's quite a lack of variety here. Basically, you will find yourself fighting a standard Rambo-looking 80s tough guy through a majority of the game, and you'll come across a few guys in hazmat suits or some scientists every once in a while. Then there's the mutated creatures that litter some of the islands, which are pretty boring to look at most of the time.

The indoor scenes, while not as impressive as the massive tropical islands seen outside, are still very well done. Surprisingly, the frame rates were not as good as I expected; sometimes, I had worse frame rates looking at a single room than I did looking at a square kilometer of island just outside the door. Not that the game's ugly when inside - not by any means - but I feel that this game mostly excels at doing outdoor stuff and maybe should have stuck with that a bit more.

There are a few graphical touches that are subtle but effective. You'll see various tropical birds fly out of a tree the first time a gun is fired nearby; the sand will shimmer in an "over-bright" fashion when you look down at it; and in multiplayer modes, you can see a reflection of an enemy's sniper rifle scope when it's pointed at or near you. Some of the game's effects are based on DirectX 9 pixel shader effects, including the game's absolutely gorgeous water as well as the motion blur that pops up when you take damage. If your video card doesn't support this stuff, I'm sad to say that you're really missing out on some of this game's real beauty. Upgrade!

Let's talk a little about the game's plot: you're Jack Carver, an ex-specialist who's taking a woman named Valerie on a little trip. She's there to do some spying on some mercenaries on string of tropical islands, but you get spotted. Your boat goes kaboom and you manage to escape, but Valerie's gone; it's time to find her. On the way you'll get some help from someone over a communicator, and you start to find out about the crazy experiments going on in this island chain.

Most levels are set up in an open fashion that allow you to pick from several ways to achieve your goals. While you can use stealth to slip past the guards, it's just not that rewarding or fun here; Far Cry lacks the little nuances or interesting characters that make a good stealth game unique and entertaining. Instead, you'll probably just want to find a way to put a few bullets into everyone you see - the strategy you'll have to use is in figuring out how to do it without being swamped by ten guys at once.

It's this need for strategy where I had the most fun. You can carry four weapons with you at all times, and you can choose any four out of the whole arsenal - even if they're heavy as hell. Of course, the whole arsenal isn't open to you at once, but powerful automatic weapons are available very quickly. With your four weapons, you'll have to take down a camp full of guys which can range in numbers from four to fifteen. On top of this, the game's huge scale actually affects gameplay here, as a sniper rifle is almost totally necessary to take out enemies at very long ranges.

Vehicles come into play fairly often, and liven up the action. There are a couple of boats you can pilot, one with a mounted machine gun and even sometimes a mounted rocket launcher. There's a forklift for comedy purposes, a buggy with mounted machine gun for speedy ground traversal, a Hummer with mounted machine gun and rocket launcher, and even a glider for taking an in-air shortcut to a destination across a ravine. The vehicles aren't as essential for gameplay as we've seen in some other games, and you can get by using hardly any of them. Still, they're a hell of a lot of fun, and their handling feels just about right.

The game does include a physics engine custom made by Crytek for this game, and its ragdoll physics are pretty accurate with a few exceptions. We don't get quite the feel of "asshole physics" that was so fun in Max Payne 2, but it's still hilarious to see in the right situations.

The enemies are not easy to gun down, and that's why you'll have to use some strategy when taking them on. Usually it's you hunting them - not the other way around - and they respond to your attacks with some fairly decent AI. Do get stuck on a rock or wall on rare occasion, but it does work great a vast majority of the time. It's about as good as the AI in Half-Life, but it may not seem that way at first because of the wide open areas that the AI has to process; and for some reason, the developers made them actually speak out their commands to each other. This makes it a bit easy to figure out what they're doing, and no, I don't really understand why highly trained mercenaries are incapable of using hand signals. I guess I could see a need to show off the voice work, but it's not like the voice acting is particularly good.

Far Cry is most definitely a tough game. Put this game on normal difficulty and turn off the AI auto balance, and you're likely to find a maddeningly frustrating experience by the time you get near the end. This is all compounded by the game's auto-save system and an intentional lack of quick saves or quick loads. Honestly, while I do appreciate that the developers are looking out for those of us who stoop to saving our game every five seconds, I still want to happily lapse into weakness for a while.

What I'm saying is this: let me decide when I save, and I'll play through the game again if I feel my first trip through was too easy. We've been promised a patch to put quick saves into the game, but as of this writing - roughly a month after the game hit stores - it's still not out. The one thing I really want to knock Crytek for is for not delivering this patch sooner, as it really is limiting some people's enjoyment of the game.

The mutant enemies that the player faces later in the game drag the experience down because they're frustrating, powerful, and show little intelligence. The rocket launching big guys take way too much firepower to kill, and the blast radius from their weapons means that you'll inescapably take splash damage pretty often. Many of the enemies have a melee attack so powerful that they'll kill you in one or two smacks, and insta-kills in a single player game are rarely fun to have to deal with. Combine this with sparse save points, and some players will be smashing keyboards in anger. In the end, I found most of the combat with the mutants just plain un-fun.

Some are calling this the best first person shooter since Half-Life, but I just can't make myself agree. The game's plot and action winds up playing out like a bad 80s action movie, and while that isn't necessarily bad, it's just so much better when things seem a bit more plausible. Jack Carver goes against legions of mercenaries who (badly) talk trash the whole time, and he gets all the cool toys for killing while they sit and wait for him to show up and decimate them one by one. The whole thing just feels kind of goofy, and while the exceptional graphics and tactics required to win a big fight are the shining moments, there's too much going against it in my opinion to start calling it anything near Game of the Year material.

Far Cry's multiplayer game is a no-frills setup with a few modes that'll have you playing for a week or two. Unreal Tournament 2004 is the new standard in multiplayer FPS experiences, and while this in no way actually lives up to UT2004, it's still a fun romp with some pretty good gameplay to check out.

The three gameplay modes are well-done, but will feel a bit familiar to FPS veterans. We have the standard deathmatch and team deathmatch, both of which are more or less fun depending on the number of players on the server and the size of the map. Then we have Assault mode, a game where two teams will take turns defending or attacking a string of control points. Assault includes a rudimentary class system that allows you to play as a support class, sniper, or a soldier. Throw in some vehicles and structures that engineers can build (or destroy), and it becomes fairly interesting. Overall, the game's multiplayer is good stuff, but there just isn't enough content compared to the games that were built with multiplayer in mind from the start; instead, Far Cry's multiplayer is a decent diversion for a week or two after the single player campaign has been completed.

The bad 80s action movie feel I mentioned is most obvious in the game's voice acting. Hulk Hogan could have done a more entertaining job of acting out Jack Carver than the guy who actually did. Valerie's boring, Krieger is a standard snarling villain, and the enemy mercs say the goofiest stuff. My favorite line is "Right between the eyes, mofo!" Yes, that line actually is said in-game, and while I think Crytek tried to make a fun tribute to the less imaginative 80s action movies, it just doesn't work right in my opinion.

On the other hand, the weapon sounds and the music are both surprisingly well made. The music comes in at the right times and isn't 100% bad heavy metal. It fits in well with the tropical atmosphere, and the sound effects match the weapons as well.

Far Cry's excellent graphics, decent multiplayer, and good single player combat make up the meat of this game. The editor shows huge promise, while the cheesy voice acting and frustrating enemies near the end of the campaign hurt what I was expecting to be a great experience. It's still a great game, though, and it sure can make you feel good about spending $300 on a video card!

Overall: 89%



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