There are few series’ of the past decade more notable than Far Cry. What started as a tech demo for a new PC engine has evolved into one of the most strikingly gorgeous and narratively daring video game properties out there. I recently played and reviewed Far Cry 3 and marveled at how this series has evolved into an almost seamless gaming experience. Well, it’s been a bit of a long road from the experience of the first game which was one of my most anticipated titles back in the day.
Far Cry led the way with cutting edge graphical technology and an attempt to give the player more of an open-ended experience as far as objective completion is concerned. How has it held up? Hit the jump to find out.
Far Cry was the inaugural game by German developer Crytek. It developed a proprietary PC engine (called the CryEngine — are you sensing a theme here?) and chose a tropical island setting with its water, foliage, and draw distance effects to demonstrate its power. Upon its release in 2004, this game blew minds and video cards alike.
Its story feels like it’s ripped from a Mack Bolan novel, which is to say it presents a (at best) B Movie type of story. You play as Jack Carver, a former special forces operative who runs a boat charter business. He ends up washed ashore on a mysterious island after transporting a reporter there and getting his ship blown up. You make your way through over twenty massive levels as you uncover an Island of Dr. Moreau-esque conspiracy and are the only thing standing in its way. So basically, it’s dumb. Really dumb. On the other hand, you’ll likely spend so much time admiring the scenery and cursing lethal enemies that you won’t even really notice or care.
The levels in this game tend to alternate between being jaw-droppingly amazing and frustratingly awful. While the indoor areas are at-best mediocre corridor shooting, Far Cry shines in its outdoor sections which include mountains, valleys, rivers, roads, bunkers, and towers; all of which is navigable. I’ve played through this game three times, and each time there are entirely new areas that I have encountered. Most impressive at the time (and even now to be honest), the draw distance stretches as far as a kilometer in every direction. Early in the game I was able to pick off a sentry from a different island with an M-16, throwing the mercenary camp into a tizzy while I slowly swam over.
This freedom Far Cry affords is however marred by an incredibly restrictive auto-save system. At certain invisible tripwires throughout a level, the game will save regardless of what is happening or your condition. On more than one occasion, I had to deal with an autosave as I was two seconds away from eating a fatal bullet, forcing me to reload from two saves back. This is unforgivable for a PC game not just for the reason stated above, but it hinders you from wanting to explore the environments at risk of getting stuck in a remote area and having to restart.
The most impressive thing about the outdoor levels is when you need to infiltrate somewhere like a bunker. Tagging enemies, scouting the environment, and devising a plan of attack adds a tactical layer to the gameplay, but it too is undone by the absolutely superhuman vision that enemies have. There is a radar which shows enemies that have been spotted with the binoculars which is handy for knowing where shots are coming from. From a sneaking perspective, it’s all but useless because if you can see an enemy they can almost certainly see you and kill you quickly. Even on the lowest difficulty Far Cry can be infuriatingly challenging, particularly in its concluding sections.
2004 was a year full of graphical benchmarks on PC. It was the year both Doom 3 and Half-Life 2 were released as showcases for their creators’ new engines. CryTek’s new engine revealed itself through Far Cry to be every bit as powerful as the others, and even arguably a little more so. After the release of this game, the developer and publisher parted ways (with Ubisoft getting the IP in the divorce). CryTek continued to push performance boundaries and improve on the design flaws with the Crysis series, while Ubisoft forged ahead with more of this series. This game is impressive on many levels and hints at cool innovations, but at this point it is still a *ahem* far cry from true greatness.
[+Still looks amazing 9 years later] [+Massive, open-ended environments] [+Variety of cool weapons and vehicles] [-Awful save system] [-Indoor areas underwhelming] [-Seeing eye enemies render stealth obsolete]