Recently, I witnessed what I thought was the most entertaining thing I have ever seen. Whilst having my lunch by a river I spotted a duck running around with a large piece of pizza held in its beak, chasing it was another duck and two pigeons. The pizza-less duck was too slow to catch it, the pigeons had the speed, but were beaten off by a clever body-swerve. A few minutes later and three crows joined the chase, with their speed and cunning one of them managed to snatch the pizza from the ducks grasp.
A quick piece of aerobatics to avoid the challenges of his friends followed, and the triumphant crow soared off over the horizon with his prize. To my knowledge the conflict still rages to this day. However, having indulged myself in Far Cry, I must change my views on what is my favourite form of entertainment, the rivalries of my local wildfowl must unfortunately take a back seat.
The Far Cry demo is possibly the most talked about demo since the Doom Shareware release and has introduced the gaming world to what was a bit of a dark horse. Half Life 2 was the one people were placing their hopes on, its physics and graphics introducing realism we had never seen before. But Half Life 2 sadly remains a collection of Mpegs and hacked Alpha code, Far Cry is here and now and is one of the greatest games I’ve ever played.
If you imagine a strange hybrid of Die Hard, Jurassic Park and Half Life then you should be on the right tracks for imagining how Far Cry is played out. You play as Jack, handily an ex-marine, who is running a chartered boat service and is wearing a quite shocking shirt. Hired by journalist Val Cortez you set sail to a collection of South Pacific islands only to float a little too closely to them. Their new inhabitants, a group of mercenaries…and certain others, object to you being there and promptly blow your boat from the water…separated from Val and with mysterious stranger, Doyle, on the end of a radio link, the quest to find out just what the hell is going on begins.
It’s impossible to play Far Cry without being completely blown away by the graphics; the game engine is THAT good. If you imagine a game capable of handling landscapes of a similar size to Operation Flashpoint with no load screens, but with a level of detail comparable to the likes of Unreal 2 and Half Life 2 then you should be able to appreciate what a stunning achievement the technical side of the game is. The islands stretch on forever, there is no limit on the draw distance, stand at the top of the highest mountain and you can still see the waves breaking on the shore of the beach miles below. Obviously this has an influence on the way you play the game as well as how it looks.
Comparing the game to the demo, a few graphical glitches I encountered in the demo have gone, plus the overall performance seems better. My system, is an AthlonXP 2400+, Radeon 9800XT (4.3 Cats), 1Gig PC2100, SoundBlaster Audigy and I’m running at 1280×1024 with Very High settings on everything but shadows, plus 4xAA, 2xAF and EAX 2.0 and it is perfectly playable. If you can turn up the eye candy it is certainly worth it, polybump techniques give an amazing finish to some textures, particularly in the dark caves where the guards searching flashlights make the wet walls glint and pipe work shine or the sun shinin on the unpleasantly sweaty mercenaries’ bodies…
The physics are also a subtle, but important factor, sitting on a hill slope and seeing your bullet cases bouncing and rolling down the side is quite something. There are all kinds of things to play around with too, barrels accidentally knocked will roll around believably, vehicles react to uneven ground in the correct fashion (aka: big air!) and of course, bodies slump and crumple as you would expect.
The game is structured into set levels, each one taking place on a different island; this could be in the likes of dense jungle, caves, laboratory areas or a mix of areas. The environments are large enough to allow lengthy exploration and offer you many paths towards your given objective; an early example would be the entrance to a wrecked Carrier ship. Guarded from all angles and patrolled by an armoured boat crew you have to get inside…I literally spent an hour just examining each approach route to decide how best to take on this task. The islands themselves are alive with activity, fish, birds, insects and other animals make an appearance, the dense, swaying vegetation looking genuinely organic. You couldn’t wish for better looking surroundings.
One of the things that has really sealed the deal for me on just how great Far Cry is is the number of events I’ve witnessed that have made me want to grab friends and relatives and tell them great stories of my encounters. A lot of this is down to the enemy AI, which is, for the most part, quite brilliant.
Generally, if you take on a large group of enemies without a plan they will team up, call for reinforcements, flank you, corner you and kill you. And so far, I have only really played on the normal difficulty setting, there are three higher levels yet! You need to be aware of your enemies positions, and this can be done using your binoculars, spotting an enemy troop adds a tag to your radar for that person. The interesting bit being that you will be lucky to spot everyone and so if you rely 100% on the radar, the one guy you didn’t see will put a bullet in the back of your head. And to make things a bit more interesting, you won’t always be fighting humans either…but I’ll say no more on that one!
The save game system is a controversial choice, there is no save anywhere, saves are carried out via invisible checkpoints through the level. Not to everyone’s taste I know, but so far it hasn’t really bothered me. The fact that AI is so unpredictable does make up for this, a few tricky battles I have needed to replay have often had quite different outcomes. One scenario saw me trying to take out five mercenaries in thick jungle, the first few times I was totally out-maneuvered by the group and so I attempted a few grenades. The sound of the explosion traveled so far that a small patrol group on a nearby beach jumped in their jeep and drove up a mountain track to support the five men I was assaulting. Spotting this I quickly apprehended said jeep and used the mounted machine gun to clear my path!
Sound is very important to the game, if you have access to a Dolby surround set-up you are in for a treat, many a time it has helped me determine the position of an enemy troop that is out of my sight. Another interesting example of AI reacting to sound I saw took place when I fired a few rounds at a petrol canister at some docks, hearing the explosion two guards span around, drew their weapons and then slowly approached the scene of the explosion, moving between cover, trying to determine what had just happened. I was so shocked I almost forgot to use the diversion as an opportunity to sneak past.
I must point out a few bugs in the AI though, I have seen a guy just sat in a jeep completely oblivious to the fact I was standing in front of him and also spotted two guys jumping out of a boat and just treading water next to it instead of attacking me. One other problem I encountered was a crash at the start of the 2nd level which was only avoidable by a console command to skip to the next stage…not something that pleased me, hopefully problems like this will be patched shortly.
In terms of equipment you can take up to four weapons at a time as well as a variety of grenades, including some amazing looking flashbangs, plus thermo-goggles and a healthy selection of vehicles that can create some amazing sequences. Speeding along a jungle trail in a jeep I shot over a ridge and landed in front of a small convoy of mercenary jeeps, I had no choice but to go all gung-ho and so rammed one jeep into a river at full speed. Then I jumped from my own jeep, dropped a few grenades, ran into the undergrowth and hit the dirt. Seconds later the jeeps were in pieces, some pieces flying high into the air, a smoking wheel landing just in front of me, the mercenaries all dead. Exhilarating.
Multiplayer is a difficult one to discuss as obviously the community is non-existent at the moment, but suffice to say the ingredients are promising. The regular modes are in place as well as an objective based Assault mode including Wolfenstein style player classes. The combination of huge maps and vehicles should make for some unique gameplay. I would personally like to see the size of the maps being made use of, perhaps a more intelligent style of play, one man team trying to infiltrate a building guarded by a large team of other players. Mod makers should have a great time anyway as the game is packaged with a revolutionary ‘what you see is what you play’ editor.
I think I have said my piece by now, I could write another couple of thousand words and still not fully describe the experience of playing this game. And so, I will wrap things up by spelling things out in plain, simple English. Far Cry is a game that you simply must play. Buy it. You will not regret it.