I've got a number of gripes and a number of compliments for Far Cry, which I'm near to completing. If I'd played it before having played Half Life 2, I'm sure that my take on the game would have been different, but of course, Half Life 2 set a new standard for First-Person Shooters.
You are Jack Carver, running your own boat charter business in beautiful Micronesia. With a past best left behind you, you'll be focusing on your present assignment: escorting an ambitious journalist named Valerie Cortez to the island of Cabatu. It seems like a piece of cake, but you'll soon learn: paradise can be hell.
The game's premise is that you're escorting a beautiful girl to a scenic tropical island. It's a job, but it seems more like a vacation. But what the trip turns into is a Far Cry from a vacation. Get it? Anyway, Penny Arcade's comic, although it's about the XBox version (titled Instincts), puts it pretty well.
The graphics, while better than most games I've played, weren't nearly as good as those in Half Life 2. Still, the game designers did a good job of making large maps with dense foliage that actually make you feel like you're in a jungle. The maps are almost too big - there were a couple times when I got lost and had to reload. I actually think that there are a couple levels where if you accidentally fall off a bridge into the water or slide down a steep ridge, you may not be able to get back to where you need to be. At least, not without doing some serious long-trek backtracking.
A number of things took some getting used to. Any time you approach a door, it opens itself. It freaked me out a few times when a door I was walking past would swing open, and I'd spin around, ready to unload on an enemy, only to find that I'd actually opened the door myself. Grenades are handled differently than I'm used to - rather than having the grenades be another selectable weapon a la Half Life, they're in a separate inventory, and you can map a key to toggle the type of grenade you're throwing. Then you throw it with the G key. Using a separate key was no problem - I actually began to prefer it. But toggling grenades becomes a huge pain when the pictures that represent the grenades are all nearly identical. I'd throw one expecting it to be a flash-bang, and it would be a smoke grenade. Wonderful. Even more difficult was the alternate fire of various weapons. Rather than letting you right-click to use a gun's grenade launcher, you have to toggle the launcher on, then fire, then toggle back. This was such a pain that in the end, I just never used the grenade launchers at all. I also had to get used to Far Cry's prone position. In Far Cry, you can stand, crouch, or lie completely prone, which is useful in sneaking or in sniping. But it takes a lot of getting used to.
Another thing. Far Cry is hard. Far Cry is very hard. Far Cry is so hard it just might go back in time and kill your ancestors. I was playing on "Challenging", which was difficulty level two of five, and the game was still harder than most games I've played on the "Hard" difficulty level. This was partially due to level design and partially due to the game's AI. The mercenaries that populate the island really like to flank you. And more than once, a merc would pop around a corner directly into my sights and kill me before I could pull the trigger. I was also killed many times by enemies who shot me before I ever knew they were there, and by grenades I never saw.
But by far, the most deadly enemy in the game is The Ladder. I was killed by ladders more often than you would believe. I found it nearly impossible to descend a ladder without jumping off halfway down. And getting off the ladder once at the top was also difficult. Not a big deal when you're not being shot at, but you can't always rely on not being shot at. In time, I learned extreme caution with ladders, but there were still many times when I knew I could gain strategic advantage or some good items by climbing up a ladder, but still avoided them. Steam was a similar foe. Sometimes, the steam was just a pretty environmental effect. And sometimes, walking through it caused you to instantly die screaming. There was never any way to know.
On the bright side, having Jack scream in pain when he's shot, falls, or is run over by a forklift was a nice touch. Being shot will sometimes blur your vision, and a nearby explosion will make your ears ring. The effect of a flash-bang grenade going off nearby is very cool. The screen whites out, and the afterimage left behind gives you the impression that you can't move, when in fact you're moving normally - you just can't see what you're doing immediately - the burned-in afterimage will gradually transition to normal vision. Hard to explain, but trust me - it's a nice effect.
The game's HUD is nice, it shows your life, armor, and stamina in three bars, your weapons (you can carry up to four), and a neat little radar screen that indicates your goal as a blinking blue spot. This was not only valuable, but downright necessary. Without it, I'd have gotten lost WAY more than I did. Once you receive binoculars, you can view enemies with them, and they'll afterwards appear on your radar screen as blips. This makes it very important to survey an area before going in, since any enemies you don't see through the binoculars will not appear on your radar, and will probably sneak up behind you. There's also a stealth meter, which increases when enemies are more aware of you. Often enough, this is nothing more than an indicator of when your enemies are about to open fire, but there were times when I could hit the dirt or jump behind a rock to stay hidden, so it becomes very useful.
I came into Far Cry expecting it to at least partially be a stealth game, but I quickly learned that stealth in Far Cry, while technically possible, is hard to pull off. Enemies can see you a quarter mile away while you're crouched in brush. They won't always see you, but they can. Lying prone and crawling on your belly helps if you've got a half hour to spend crawling from point A to point B, but there are no guarantees. At least the game is helpful enough to color code enemies on your radar, indicating their level of awareness. At the beginning of the game, the tutorial told me to throw a rock to distract an enemy, but it never told me how. After trying for a while, I gave up. I'm on the game's final level, and I still have no idea how to throw rocks.
The vehicles are a mixed bag. I do like the fact that the game included air and water vehicles. For the most part, these were better done than land vehicles. The hang glider allows you to use weapons while you're gliding, but there's an annoying tendancy for Jack to let go of the hang glider as soon as it approaches any surface, be it horizontal or vertical. The boats are also very well done, although I still haven't figured out why you can use your binoculars from the inflatable raft and not from the patrol boat. My biggest gripe about the boats was the "beached" mechanics. Whenever a boat is beached, you're prompted to "push the action button to push the boat into the water". This was generally no problem. But the first boat you encounter is hanging forty feet above the water by a couple chains. Never having used a boat before, when you're given this "beached" prompt, you assume you're supposed to push the action button. Of course, since the boat is chained, there's no way to simply push it. You have to shoot the chains. But there's no way of knowing that, and it seems like a bug. What a pain.
The land vehicles, for the most part, were a huge pain. More often than not, jumping into a jeep just made you a target for any idiot with a rocket launcher. And there always seemed to be some idiot with a rocket launcher. (isn't there always?) Also, any time you're going downhill, you will not be able to see the road AT ALL. If the road takes a corner, and there's a cliff, expect to go off it. The dashboard takes up the portion of the screen where you'd be able to see the road. The only real fun I had with land vehicles was the level where the girl drives and you work the guns. That was a nice twist.
I really enjoyed using the microphone to eavesdrop on the mercs' conversations from afar. My favorite was listening to one merc explain the Atkins diet to another. But sometimes, the dialog cues were just horrible. When I shoot a merc and he says "Did you hear that?", all believability goes out the window. Likewise, in the levels where The Girl was with me, every time I'd kill one, she'd say "Damn, they're good!"
Speaking of The Girl, I quickly learned that she had a bad case of TFP. Too few polygons. Her face was more angular than a rubik's cube. It made me want to turn away in the game's token semi-nude scene. And she is immortal. If a merc fires a few rockets into her, she'll scream in pain, but she'll live. I suppose that this is necessary given how stupid she acts. I can't imagine how difficult it would be to try to keep her alive otherwise. When I was trying to sneak up on enemies, she'd jump out and start blazing away with her peashooter, destroying any attempt at stealth. One time, she simply stopped following me. I found it a blessing at first, but when I reached the end of the level, she wouldn't follow me to trigger the cutscene that ends that level. I even tried prying her out of her niche with grenades, but she wouldn't follow. In the end, I had to reload.
Which brings up another gripe of mine - the checkpoint system. In other games, such as The Chronicles of Riddick, I'd enjoyed the checkpoint system. It freed me from having to worry about remembering to save every so often. But perhaps because of the extreme difficulty of Far Cry, I found it agonizing to have to redo such large portions of the game. The standout for me was the Dam level, where you're dropped in the middle of the jungle, surrounded by dozens of creatures who can leap fifty feet forward and kill you with one claw-swipe, and given a gun with ten bullets. Ten. I still don't know how I made it through that one.
You can view another Far Cry review I enjoyed here.