Going the distance.
With technical marvels like Half-Life 2, S.T.A.L.K.E.R and Black and White 2 looming large on the horizon, many of us knew the need to move to 64 Bit CPU Country was fast approaching. Crytek, a modest German developer, may have just pushed the clock forward a bit. Their newest tropical FPS, Far Cry, doesn't actually require a 64-bit CPU, but it's just about as fancy as you can get.
Indeed, Far Cry actually makes a pretty strong case for an upgrade. The single-player campaign is deftly built, running on a very innovative - and resource hungry - game engine. And while the action and gameplay aren't wildly original, it all comes together for an exciting 20 hours of spent gun shells and wisecracks.
Speaking of which, you play as freelance mariner Jack Carver. Jack had hoped to collect some sizeable loot after escorting a lovely reporter named Valerie over to a secluded tropical Eden. But Jack's life quickly starts to suck when his boat is curiously attacked by mercenaries, at which point he is separated from his shapely employer. Left with little choice and even less cash, he decides to take on an entire island teeming with well-trained mercenaries in order save Val (and more importantly, to get paid!). It's not long before our square-jawed hero senses something ain't right - and that's when things get really creepy. Despite what some may think, the story isn't quite movie material, but is reason enough to shoot up a lot of stuff.
After all, what's an FPS without the S? [Answer: MYST! – Ed.] This little shooter is replete with one intensive gunfight after the next. Essentially you run and occasionally sneak your way through lush, expansive outdoor areas, shooting, driving, boating and even hang-gliding your way to the next checkpoint. The few industrial indoor areas break up the low-level monotony and provide tense close-quarters battles. There is a bit of item acquisition along the way in the form of a few key cards, but the bulk of the gameplay relies on shooting relatively brainy enemies, both human and, well, let's not give anything away. Succinctly put, the gameplay is solid.
Still, there aren't really any new weapons seasoned shooter fans haven't seen before. You'll get your mitts on various types of automatic heat like the classic M4 Carbine, the super-fast P90, the standard MP and the brutal AG36 and OICW assault rifles, plus a rocket launcher, frag and flash grenades and several others munitions. One the best is the AW50 sniper rifle, really the only weapon to take advantage of the game's boasted 800-meter draw distance. With 4 or 5 levels of zoom, enemies can be dispatched from insane distances with this monster. It's pretty sweet.
But don't think the enemy is just standing around waiting for you to fatten them up with hot lead -these guys are on the ball and work together really well. The baddies will investigate questionable sounds and/or alarms. Some will seek cover and then come out shooting while moving to a closer point of cover, all under the protective cover fire from others in the group. They'll even toss grenades to root you out. Overhead, helicopters will lay down suppressive fire if you're spotted from the air. These guys just don't give up – I love it.
I also love the look. Far Cry is a beautiful game, quite possibly the best looking shooter so far this year. The engine, dubbed the CryEngine, really pushes the limits, sporting all the geeky tech jargon one could ask for: dynamic lighting and shadows, dense and meticulously detailed fauna, polybump mapping, advanced rag doll-style character physics, motion-capture, destructible terrain, etc. The game even gets its name from the engine's ability to render huge outdoor areas, leading to some seriously long-distance gunfights (which come into play more in the game's multiplayer modes).
This, coupled with the game's audio feast, produces an intense and immersive experience. The lush landscape is full of life; bullets "zing" by and change sounds depending on the surface on which they strike. Birds can be heard flying overhead, and the recreated Doppler Effect adds a great touch to incoming helicopters and the sound of the islands' insect life buzzing in and out of your ears. A visual and auditory smorgasbord, Far Cry nearly has it all.
What's missing is some real gameplay innovation. While the running and gunning is great, it isn't revolutionary and plays out like any typical shooter from the last few years. Enemies tend to spawn in the same areas, so memorizing these spawn points after several play-throughs is usually how you make it to the next checkpoint. The enemy A.I. is at times a little too good, when the slightest sound can put an entire compound on alert. This is made a bit worse with no 'save anywhere' function, so get used to replaying scenes a few times. Other small problems crop up: you can't shoot from ladders, vehicles are poorly implemented and that awesome 800-meter draw distance doesn't come up too often in the single-player game.
Instead, look to the multiplayer for long-range firefights, since players tend to go for the sniper rifle and the zoom-enabled assault rifles. But even here the game doesn't shine quite like it could have. Only three game types are offered - Assault, Free-For-All and Team Deathmatch - and with each you get a mere handful of maps. Hopefully, the included engine editor and design tools will open the door to some "far"-out mods.
It's not gonna revolutionize the way you think of FPS gaming - that's a job forHalf-Life 2, we hope - but Far Cry will give you a great 20-hour adrenaline shot in the arm. The impressive technology and sheer fun lead to a good choice for FPS fans with hefty rigs.