Hey! It's a Jungle out there
Far Cry ushered in a whole new level of gaming experience and offered panoramic, large, highly detailed vistas for exploration and general mayhem. That was a while ago now, and the game beat back a lot of competition even then. It introduced an almost free-form, free-roaming exploration element into the large island that reminded many of us of the glory days of Midwinter and its ilk.
That was on the PC.
Many of us stood up and took notice when Ubisoft said the words, Far Cry and combined them with Xbox. There was a lot of laughter, scepticism and general finger-pointing until Far Cry: Instincts blasted onto the console and shook the world with its thunderous roar.
Is it Far Cry?
One of the things that is immediately obvious about FC:I is that its not just a warmed-over and re-hashed version of Far Cry this is a whole new game built to spec for the Xbox and it really, really does pull out all the stops.
Jack Carver, ex-merc and general all-round womanising tour-guide to the Jacutan Island chain has had things go from bad, to worse. He took a routine trip to the Islands providing transport for a pretty young woman, now he's fallen foul of the Islands' mercenary force and his boat's been blown into smithereens.
He's alone, outgunned, outnumbered and in more trouble than he's ever been. It's the kind of story that wouldn't be amiss in a big Hollywood Action-Blockbuster and the pacing of the game moves it on perfectly.
There are twists and turns, but I will leave you to figure those out since later on in the game Jack runs afoul of the merc commander and learns first hand, about being the hunter and the hunted.
FC: I combines adrenaline soaked gameplay, hectic gun battles and impossible, over the top action with slinking, stalking and sneaking around. It tries to give you as much freedom as is possible and lets you play the game your way, if you want to run in guns blazing you'd better be able to keep up with a ruthless and relentless clever enemy force. Or you can become the ultimate hunter, slipping quietly through the trees and laying a number of branch-whip traps. All of this is as simple as tapping a button and switching to trap mode.
When you have your traps lain, throw a rock or make some kind of noise to alert the enemy and if you're lucky they'll come looking. A word to the wise, these traps are low-tech and they don't differentiate between friend or foe, so keep an eye to where you placed them or you'll be the one sailing through the air looking for health or lying in a pool of blood on the ground.
Jack begins with a limited amount of equipment and weapons; he can take anything the enemy drop and scrounge up ammo/guns from various hiding places. He's a fairly responsive character and he's been given a few neat gameplay moves to help with the stealth side of the game.
He can roll over onto his back while in crawl mode, this allows Jack to shoot through floorboards and take out enemies silently (providing you have the right weapon). Of course he has a butterfly knife, which can be used to stealth-kill unsuspecting foes and as a last resort when the ammo runs out.
Dual pistols and sub-machine guns can be wielded at the expense of the usual grenade-lobbing, twin P-90s is truly an amusing sight to behold later on in the game. But no game called Far Cry: Instincts would be complete without the addition of the truly fun FERAL ABILITIES.
Later on in the game Jack's injected with a DNA altering concoction and implanted with a device, this will unlock Feral Abilities as the game progresses. These are things such as night vision, feral speed, tracking by scent and extreme feral strength (Allowing you to rip out emplaced weapons and use them). Jack's own hand-to-hand abilities increase from this and he can unleash a bestial attack that pours on the hurt against his foes and sends them flying backwards for hundreds of feet.
Jack can jump while in feral speed and tapping the attack button at the right time pulls off a two-handed clawed attack, this is really great fun for surprising the mercs and causing them extreme pain.
Feral Abilities draw on adrenaline and the gauge recovers over time, it can be supplemented with pick ups and by stalking unsuspecting prey. Enemies in FC: I have several states of awareness and the minimal HUD shows this on the mini-map with various coloured dots.
Accessing Feral Abilities is as simple as hitting the Y button or holding it down, the system is quick and easy to use allowing you to focus on the action.
The game is sprinkled with a liberal array of weapons from silenced pistols, to heavy rocket launchers, shotguns and assault rifles. There's even the Sniper Rifle for those people that prefer the long-distance kill approach. Claymores and Grenades make up the alternative arsenal and as previously mentioned, Jack has unlimited branch-whip traps for the stealth approach.
Not content with offering a huge island to explore, albeit with level loads between certain sections (parts of the game) Ubisoft have helpfully sprinkled the large areas with vehicles to help you traverse the earlier sections of the game. There are water based vehicles such as the Jetski and Motor Boat, along with Hovercraft, Humvees and Jeeps for the ground (There's even a Hang-Glider for those who can track it down). Each vehicle handles differently and some of the sections require you to elude/evade enemy forces while under constant harassment from the air.
I'll go out on a limb here and say that FC: I brims with gorgeous jaw-mangling graphics that bring the jungle and island to life, the texturing, lighting and effects are superbly done and create a very tangible atmosphere that transitions from densely packed exterior environments to interior/claustrophobic scientific research corridors.
The forest/jungle areas at day are places of life where the sky soars overhead and the engine delivers, without slowdown, some of the most panoramic and detailed vistas seen in a game since the PC version.
At night later on in the game under the effects of a storm, the forest/jungle takes on a sinister light and again the effects/textures/lighting are perfectly created to soak you in the atmosphere that's part Resident Evil and part the Island of Doctor Moreau.
To go along with this sumptuous graphical bonanza and adrenaline powered gun-action-fest the developers tuned, tweaked and shuffled the original Far Cry AI somewhat to provide a different challenge for the console gamer. The AI in the game had already been acclaimed as some of the best AI to date and still lives up to that claim quite nicely; the enemy will call in reinforcements, work as a team, take cover, throw grenades and generally hunt you down.
They're smart but they can be outwitted by relocating your player, throwing rocks, ambushing them or causing some other kind of distraction. If they're feeling particularly vulnerable they'll panic and flee from your vicinity to get into cover or find a place to hide.
There are different kinds of AI as well, each built to handle a different enemy type. From the soldiers to the...creatures, but I won't say anything else upon that. I'll let you find out for yourself. Simply put the FC: I AI is still one of the best AI systems in any game, prone to a few bloopers but when the bullets are flying you don't really have time to care.
Models and Animations
Ok. I do have a few gripes with games that should have ladders worked out by now, the animation for ladder climbing is...well...Ok and that's about it, you have a single side-arm but it again feels like you're floating ghost-like against the ladder and its about time in this day and age developers got this part right.
The rest of the animations are truly great though, the enemy animations are wide and varied, and they'll use a few hand-signals and reload as well as lying prone and crawling through the undergrowth. Weapon animations are good, giving you a feel for the weapon you're using.
There are some nice death animations and when you combine this with the physics system, it makes for some gorgeously over the top combat. There's something quite satisfying about punching an enemy fifty feet into the air and watching them slam into a tree, sliding down it to the ground.
Ragdoll impact effects, barrels that explode and roll, these are the staples of the engine and they are nothing we haven't seen before. But they work nicely and do the job they're designed to do. Especially when punching a foe with feral strength.
FC: I comes to life with the sounds of the jungle, both at night and during the day, coupled with the chatter from the mercs as they go about their routines or try to hunt you down it's a very visceral auditory experience. The weapon sounds are good quality and there are some nice subtle and not-so subtle spot effects, the ricochet of bullets and the whump of grenades rattle the speakers.
Vehicle sounds, both enemy and your own grind in the background as you're churning through the dirt roads and dodging gunfire as it bounces off your ride's armour.
Jack's breath and various growls, snarls and other sounds as he enters Feral Abilities are an excellent counterpoint, making it feel like you are a true hunter/animal and everyone else is your prey.
The enemy screams are a little odd in places, but they don't detract from the game at all.
The game has some nice music, but that's only to be expected when you have the likes of: Paul Haslinger (Minority Report and Tomb Raider) to do the score. His soundtrack evokes the mystery and struggle of the Jacutan Islands and mixes in nicely with the rest of the action/exploration.
Jack Carver is voiced by none other than Deacon Frost, or should I say: Stephen Dorff who lends his vocal talents to the gruff, take-no-prisoners ex-tour guide and mean-merc himself. The rest of the voice cast stand up nicely to Dorff's work and the whole game's vocal cast provide good quality performances that are right up to scratch, bringing to life the various characters.
With a game like FC: I you can't really talk in terms of levels, the environments are expansive and extremely well modelled, allowing you to walk, run, jump, climb, swim and fly around to your hearts content. There is a linear story and as you move from A->B you will discover that there is level loading, but its fairly quick and the segments are usually extremely large taking quite a while to ferret out all the routes and secrets.
LIVE, System Link, Split Screen - it's all there and all accessible. There is the usual mix of game types, akin to deathmatch, team deathmatch, capture the flag (steal the sample) and so forth.
One of my favourite modes however is the Predator mode, where one player is kitted out with a small arsenal of weapons and Feral Abilities. The other players have to team up and try and take them down, guns versus super speed and bestial strength. Those are my kind of odds.
Multiplayer is great fun and setup is quick/easy.
There's one more addition that elevates this game to the heights of greatness.
To put it bluntly the level editor that allows you to make FC: I levels for death-matching etc, is stunning. It allows for some truly insane heights and twisted maps, tailored to take advantage of the game engine, complete with vehicles and all the game types. It's extremely powerful and takes quite a while to get the best out of, once you're used to it you can export your maps to system link/split-screen or share them over LIVE. Pariah had a similar editor, but this editor leaves that one in the dust. It's a true WYSIWYG (What you see is what you get) editor and with a tap of a button you can hit the level, explore it, see where it needs a touch-up or and swap out into the editor again.
There are a few irks with the AI, when it does commit a blooper or you can sometimes (very rare) get stuck somewhere on the map. Some of the sections are a bit repetitious and tend to be an all-out blast-fest, but if that's what you want then you're going to love the game.
The vehicle controls are a little twitchy, and it might help if they didn't switch to 3rd person when you were driving them. A toggle between 1st and 3rd would have been nice. But these are teeny-tiny gripes and they do nothing to spoil the game.