It’s the 15th anniversary of the Far Cry franchise, and fans of Ubisoft’s series have a lot to be thankful for, since there’s never been a truly bad entry in the last 15 years. Despite being officially only up to five numbered titles, the franchise actually features more than double that number, with last month’s Far Cry New Dawn being the latest fun addition. With Far Cry, Ubisoft has cornered the open-world FPS market, but I’m not sure I’m happy with that. The Far Cry series hasn’t been always open-world, and honestly, I think it was better before it went that way.
A far cry from Far Cry
The first game in the series to go open-world was the flawed but compelling Far Cry 2 in 2008, and while there were other console-based spin-offs such as Instincts and Evolution, if we’re talking non-open-world we really mean 2004’s Far Cry 1. Going back to it now, it’s almost unrecognizable as a Far Cry game. Even the series’ iconic hang-glider has been ditched by this point, in favor of the admittedly-better wingsuit. Other than guns, greenery, and being stuck in a hostile environment a far cry from civilization, there’s not much to connect Far Cry 1 to Far Cry New Dawn.
It’s also the only game in the series to be developed by Crysis and Hunt: Showdown developer Crytek, which is how the series got its name, since the developer used to like to work its name into its game titles (see also Ryse: Son of Rome). As Crytek went off to work on Crysis for EA, the studio sold the Far Cry name to Ubisoft, who has developed it internally ever since… as an open-world series.
But Far Cry 1 wasn’t an open-world game. It wasn’t strictly linear, either. With both Far Cry and Crysis, Crytek pioneered story-based FPSs with massive open environments which weren’t completely open-world. You know how Outposts are the most entertaining part of Ubisoft’s Far Cry games? A huge area but a specific enemy-occupied building to take on? Imagine a game based around these encounters, getting steadily more epic as the game moves on, with vehicles, clever soldiers, and even hideous monsters. That’s Far Cry 1, and it was glorious.
Trigen me on
What makes Far Cry 1 such an epic, endlessly playable game (despite arguably not being truly free) is that it’s every single great FPS ever made. Crytek was deeply concerned about making a splash with its first game, especially with both Half-Life 2 and Doom 3 due out that same year. Consequently the studio worked hard to appeal to every FPS fan, to the point that Far Cry constantly surprises with new ideas, features, or level design.
First you face an outpost very similar to something from Far Cry New Dawn, with patrolling enemies that you can take out through stealth (tag with binoculars, sneak, use rocks to distract) or assault. Then you’ll have a huge battleship to infiltrate. Then an exciting jeep-powered race through the jungle. Stalking clever soldiers through a forest, even over an Ewok-like tree village. An explosive boat chase. A shootout in a giant meteor crater. Far Cry continuously surprises.
Then, just as you’re getting comfortable, it changes genre and introduces the Trigens. These hideous mutants combine the worst/best of Valve, Bungie, and id Software’s monster design, so you’re soon finding yourself in a three-way battle between intelligent soldiers and powerful rocket-armed monsters. It even basically has Nazis in it. You remember when I said that Far Cry is every FPS ever made? I meant it. It never gets boring.
Since it got the IP Ubisoft has developed 18 million Far Cry games (or more accurately, seven and a load of DLC), and while they’ve all been entertaining, I’d argue that none of them have been true classics. Each one, from Far Cry 2 to New Dawn, has had significant flaws that have held them back.
Far Cry 2 was frustrating and didn’t hold much stock in its story. Far Cry 3 was great until Vaas died and you’d done all the Outposts, at which point it became dull. Blood Dragon was hilarious, but just an expansion, and could’ve gone much further with the parody. Far Cry 4 copied too much off Far Cry 3, so much so that you felt like you were playing the same game again. Primal was boring. Far Cry 5 had uninteresting enemies, an occasionally bland environment, and was tonally all over the place. New Dawn is fun, but it’s just a cut-down version of Far Cry 5.
Far Cry 1 had “ideas you had to get used to” rather than flaws. Probably the oddest is including the one type of FPS Crytek should have left out: the tactical shooter, which is what the game plays like. The shooting is more exact, slightly realistic, and less forgiving than other Far Crys, hitting somewhere between Half-Life 2 and ARMA. Get used to that, though, and you’ll learn to take things slowly and think tactically rather than rushing in. The only other “flaw” is the lack of a quicksave system, but that can be easily modded in if you want it (and Far Cry games haven’t ever had quicksave anyway).
It’s challenging, not “missing or broken features” like Far Cry 2-New Dawn, and as such I say not only is Far Cry 1 still the best Far Cry game, the series shouldn’t have left the jungle and gone open-world. It’d be better that way. Imagine a new Far Cry game with wide open areas, challenging firefights, base assaults, and even monsters, but slightly less obscenely tough, with less-tactical shooting mechanics and a better checkpoint system. None of the trappings of open-world games either, so no maps, no towers, no gathering plants, no driving for ages to get to the fun. Just fun. That’s the Far Cry I want to see.
Although I will accept that the only real problem with the first Far Cry is that it’s the basis for arguably the worst video game movie ever made. Can’t have it all.