The year 2004 was a strong year for first-person games. The ridiculously hyped and marketed Halo 2 released that year in November, as did Nintendo’s under-hyped and under-marketed Metroid Prime 2 a week later. Half-Life 2, the first-person shooter that is still considered the gold-standard for the genre by many gamers, came out a day after that. So it was that German developer Crytek’s first game, Far Cry, had already been on the market since March of that year and ran into some very stiff competition that Christmas. Far Cry received glowing reviews when it came out for its AI and graphics tech. While still an enjoyable game, there are some pretty big flaws in Far Cry’s presentation, controls, and level design that I’m truly hoping that Crytek fixed in the sequels.
The biggest strength of the game is its enemy AI. You CANNOT run and gun through this game (trust me, I tried), as you’ll get shredded. Your character is basically taking on a whole army of mercenary soldiers, and these guys aren’t your typical assault rifle fodder. They’re very alert, they all recognize you on sight, and they will use strategy to try and take you down. This causes you to have to take a slower pace through the game, using your binoculars and night vision when you need it to scope out an area before moving forward.
If you’re asking yourself why you’re taking on a whole mercenary army at this point, well, that leads me to the biggest weakness of Far Cry: its story and presentation. Simply put, they’re awful. The actual story premise of the game, told through cut-scenes and in-game dialogue, is somewhat interesting: a group of scientists are doing experiements with humans and apes to make a type of super-soldier. However, the way it’s presented makes it feel like you’re playing a game version of a movie made for the Sci-Fi channel. Much of the voice-acting is horrendous, including your character and the enemies you’re fighting (‘OH, YOU WANT SOME OF THIS?, YOUR ASS IS GRASS!, COME GET SOME, MO-FO! RIGHT BETWEEN THE EYES!). It’s so bad that it almost feels intentional. I can’t imagine even a German developer like Crytek listening to this and thinking this is quality voice-acting and how Americans talk. Maybe it’s supposed to be some kind of homage to 80s American action flicks or something, I don’t know. Suffice it to say that it’s bad. Comically bad. If that’s your thing, it might not bother you. It didn’t bother me most of the game, but it would have been nice to have a story and characters that I actually cared about, especially towards the end of the game when the difficulty ramps up significantly.
Another problem is that the game just goes on too long. Halfway through the 20 levels that you fight through, it feels like any fresh ideas from the developer have run their course. You’re still having fun, but nothing new is being introduced. The last level of the game is basically a short series of very difficult kill-rooms, which is completely inconsistent with the slow-paced, somewhat strategic gameplay of all the previous levels. It almost feels like they had made up their mind beforehand that this game was going to be 20 levels come hell or high water. If that meant adding kill-rooms as filler at the end of the game, so be it. It feels very tacked on and unnecessary, since the game was already an adequate length.
Another issue I have is that though you’re playing as a trained special agent, apparently physical conditioning was not part of your training, as you can only run for about 10 seconds at best before you get winded and have to slow to a walk. Your character’s lack of stamina is a constant annoyance throughout the whole game. Most of the time, it’s not a huge deal since the game is structured for a slower pace. However, towards the end when the enemies are more difficult and ridiculously agile, it becomes a big problem. Your character moves like a tank and the enemies you’re trying to take out are literally flying from one end of your screen to the other in one jump by the time you get to the very end of the game. It’s ridiculous and why I didn’t even bother finishing the last level.
Far Cry has it where it counts though, which is gameplay. The game is well-paced and mostly well-balanced in the difficulty department, and the enemy AI I talked about before is fantastic. They’re kind of annoying sometimes in how smart they are. You can choose to play on easy mode right from the beginning, but normal provides a healthy challenge. You will die, but not so much that it’s frustrating. During most of the game, I wanted to keep playing and nothing seemed insurmountable. That is, until that last level I already mentioned in which I just lost interest.
The setting of the game plays a big role as well. You’re on a tropical island with lots of water and greenery. The greenery adds to the gameplay, as you’re using it constantly as cover to hide and carry out ambushes on the enemy when you’re outdoors. On the flip-side though, the greenery can actually block your bullets when you’re in a firefight which, while annoying, is excusable given the technology limits of the time. I do know that was fixed in the sequels.
The whole game has an open-world feel to it. Unlike FPS games like Half-Life and Call Of Duty which are much more linear and constricted in where you can go, Far Cry’s outdoor environments let you go pretty much anywhere you want. You see that island way out there in the distance across the water that is in completely the opposite direction of where your next objective is? You can go there if you want. That doesn’t mean you necessarily should as you may get gunned down on the way, but you can go there. There really isn’t anything to do in those out of the way places other than look around, but I’m expecting that will change in later games in the series. You can tell Crytek was going for a more open-world feel to Far Cry, as it is more free and explorative than a lot of FPS games for its time.
As you may have guessed by the tone of my review, I don’t play a ton of FPS games. While I do like and respect the genre and its history and its influence on game design in general, it’s not my favorite genre. And when I do play them, I tend to heavily gravitate toward ones with meaty single-player experiences, or games that are not even FPS games, but first-person RPGs or adventure games (Deus Ex, Metroid Prime). I love the Half-Life series, but don’t care for the Halo series, and I’ve only played the original Call Of Duty (though that will change in the not-too-distant future). So, that was my context when I played Far Cry. Despite its flaws, it has a core and a soul that are promising, which is why I’ve already purchased Far Cry 2 on Steam and am looking forward to see what improvements Crytek made to its sequel.