Review: Far Cry

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There are a few first-person shooters that left indelible marks on the genre, and it’s hard to argue Far Cry isn’t one of them. If nothing else we’re up to the seventh entry in the series which says something about the formula it pioneered. That formula is the open-world shooter, oft maligned by those who’ve tired of sprawling maps and innumerable points of interest to investigate, but the original is rather a far cry (I tried to stop myself) from the form its successors have taken. And while the original Far Cry is still a grand, action-packed journey, the distance between it and the recent entries can become a surprising barrier to enjoyment.

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Man’s man Jack Carver and his ladyfriend Valerie are vacationing in a tropical archipelago when party crashers pop their boat with an RPG. Jack makes it to shore and begins a one-man war against the mercenaries dead-set on making him dead. Turns out he’s stumbled across the island complex of a definitely-not-mad doctor performing all kinds of genetic experiments, and he’s got Val as insurance against Jack’s rampage. With the help of a mysterious fellow named Doyle he’s still got a shot at getting her back, assuming he can blast his way through dozens of encampments and bases scattered across the island chain.

Far Cry’s big selling point was its entirely open map which, for 2004, was quite the revelation. In stark contrast to the boxed-in linear levels of Quake, Half-life, and even Unreal to an extent, the levels in Far Cry are fully-modeled islands you can wander at your leisure. They’re designed with a flow to them, of course, but you’ll always have the option of leaving the main path, forging through the jungle, circumnavigating the island, or even swimming to surrounding landmasses. On top of that you’ll have an assortment of trucks, boats, and even hang gliders to expedite your travels between the coves and bunkers and cliffs and beached ships that you’ll be guided to.

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These exotic locales will be packed to the brim with mercenaries out for your blood, but if you’ve played a recent Far Cry don’t expect the chaotic slaughterfests they offer. OG Far Cry had a very strong stealth angle to it, far stronger than what you might be used to now. Your binoculars can mark enemies on your mini-map, giving them colored arrows indicating their facing and alertness. Then you have your own visibility meter to help you gauge how well foes can see you, and acres of ferns and bushes to shimmy through to stay out of sight. This is key because even on the lowest difficulties your opponents will shred you with incredibly accurate shots if you get caught out in the open. You’ll always want to be moving in cover and aiming for heads, because you’re not going to win a fair fight.

It’s an attempt at realism that sings when it works, but frustrates when it doesn’t. Enemies have complex AI that allows them to track where they last saw you and not where you are now, which gives you the chance to create diversions and lead your foes around. But their sight lines are broader and sharper than you think, leading to more than a few painful reloads of checkpoints. I appreciate the more cerebral pace of combat but it still sucks that a single mistake can end you, unless the AI breaks like it does sometimes. Then there are the mid and late-game enemies which follow entirely different patterns and will punish you for caution over reflexes, and have been the biggest cause of me aborting playthroughs.

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The bottom line is that Far Cry is a classic for a reason, but those reasons can be hard to appreciate now. Its successors have refined and adapted the formula so much that the old frustrations of highly attentive and accurate enemies can really start to grate after a few attempts. There are scenes where you’re dumped into the middle of a hectic firefight, and it might seem like you can cut loose but really you need to find cover and carefully pick off your attackers. If you want to experience the lush open world here you’ll have to adjust to a slower, more measured pace, but it’s still worth it if you can.

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