The gorgeous first person shooter Far Cry blew a lot of people away when it arrived early last year on PC, and now at long last us console gamers get to play this beautiful game of survival, set on a tropical paradise island full of men who want to kill you with their big guns, knives and worse. But it soon becomes apparent that Instincts is no straightforward port of the PC game, the story and the maps have been completely re-written for the Xbox.
The story starts as you (Jack Carver) take a pretty reporter lady to the beautiful island paradise so she can investigate something or another, and whilst she zooms off on your jet ski to explore you take a nap. You’re rudely awakened by two Black Hawk helicopters buzzing your boat, and things soon get noisier when they start shooting at you with heavy machine guns! You dive into the water to escape the exploding yacht, and the adventure starts…
From the start of FCI you get a good idea of what to expect – freeform gameplay with as much stealth or running and gunning as you like – after scratching around for weapons initially and following a linear path, after a while the way you approach the task ahead is up to you. Early on it makes you act stealthy as you have no firearms, but soon you get tooled up and even get to drive the gunboats and armed Humvee jeeps (there are many other useable vehicles including ATVs, hovercraft and even a hang glider). The hunters soon become the hunted, and you can even take control of the Humvee’s rear-mounted machine gun with a quick press of ‘B’ and shoot the bad guy’s Black Hawk choppers down. This beautiful game’s prodigious draw distances game cry (far cry?) out for a sniper rifle and good old Ubisoft deliver it just at the right time; you come across a camp with a watch tower and the sniper gives himself away as the sun glints off his rifle’s scope – wow.
You’ll need your wits about you to survive the wicked AI of the enemy (they hunt you down when alerted, and will call for help from their numerous buddies), but to help FCI also lets you set wicked Rambo-style sprung-branch traps on almost any tree you come across. And far from being the fiddly procedure I’d imagined, it’s incredibly simple and instinctive to do; you get close to a tree, tap the black button and hold the trigger to set the trap, then retire to a safe distance and throw a stone to attract an unsuspecting guard to his death! (see sequence below) When I first saw it I really wasn’t sure about this feature but it works so darned well that I’m converted – it’s even possible to set traps in the multiplayer games.
Thanks to Havok physics very few things are tied down, and explosions send crates and oil drums flying all over the place, as well as any bad guys who happen to be standing too near. FCI’s ragdoll physics do the job but haven’t changed since the 18-month old PC game, and look a bit basic by today’s standards – but at least the bodies don’t melt away. Blood splatters all over the shop too, and this combined with the number of times you’ll just run up to an enemy and whack them to death makes the game feel way more brutal than the PC original.
The Far Cry levels are just so big and sprawling that they put even Halo and Ubisoft stablemate Ghost Recon 2 to shame, and the stunning draw distances (that I was sure would have to be sacrificed on a console conversion) are still there, if slightly less than before. The handy binoculars (‘up’ on the D-Pad) let you see a long way and you can often pick off enemies or plot their positions and plan an attack (or evasion) from hundreds of yards away. The graphics are amongst the best we’ve seen on Xbox for a while, with textures, lighting & shadow effects to die for. The jungle and the sheer amount of undergrowth is a delight to behold, and the interior locations (like rusting aircraft carriers or hi-tech installations) all look great too.
As I previously mentioned FCI isn’t a straight port of the PC story and now you get to possess (or maybe be possessed by) feral powers after (deep breath) a mad scientist injects you with a serum designed to enhance the subject’s physical prowess and level of aggression and thus produce the ultimate human warrior... or something etc. etc. yawn… Yep, the mutation thing has been done before, but never so well. Your strength, speed, eyesight and sense of smell are all enhanced. This means you can:
A) thump bad guys REALLY hard, something that is dead cool when you run out of ammo. There is nothing quite like zooming up to a beach on a Jet Ski, jumping off without losing a stride and sprinting up to a poor unfortunate guy who’s been shooting at you with his machine gun, and then swiping him one SO HARD that he flies 30 metres into the water, dead.
B) See better in the dark, and this means you will actually have the drop on many enemies, because they can’t magically see in the dark like in so many other games.
C) Run faster and jump long distances. Good for attacks and escapes, your speed will keep you alive.
D) Track enemies by scent. A lot of reviewers have found the ‘ferals’ to be a clichéd addition to the game, but they’re so well integrated that they add an extra bit of variety to an already diverse shooter. The sameness of the PC game did get a bit tiresome towards the end – not something you can accuse FCI of.
Multiplayer modes for 2-4 players via split screen, or 2-8 via system link or Xbox Live are incredibly playable due to the varied, fast or stealthy gameplay – due to the amount of cover it’s entirely up to you. The diversity of the default maps, some of which are tight, claustrophobic affairs and some that sprawl further than the eye can see really add to the appeal as well. Depending on the map, all the vehicles in the game are available (including the hang glider) and these add tremendously to the gameplay – you can even give a mate a backie-ride on a jetski or a quad bike! – But the default maps are just the tip of the iceberg…
Far Cry Instincts also features a remarkable map editor, and it really is something special. We've seen a few attempts on consoles before, with the likes of Timesplitters and Pariah, but nothing comes close. You start off by picking a general theme for your island - Tropical, Jungle or Swamp. These affect things like the ground textures, foliage and water. You then get to choose what sort of "brushes" you'll have available; Military, Ruins and Research. These decide what items you have to place in your level. (Ruins has lots of ancient Aztec-styled buildings, for example) There is a huge amount of freedom here - you have a very large blank canvas to work with, and can draw in your level. You can raise/lower, bump & smooth terrain to get things looking exactly the way you want. When you're done with that, you can then choose to "paint" your level. By default low lying areas have a "sand" texture, with that gradually turning to "grass" the higher it goes. This works rather well, but if you have a specific look you want for your level, you can choose from sand, grass or cliff (all of which look different, depending on the main theme you chose at the start). You're also able to set the time of day, fog density & distance. Once you have a basic island done you can start placing objects on your map. These include lots of buildings, rocks, crates, bridges, ramps and more. You can place the majority of these objects (known as "brushes") wherever you like in the level, adjusting the height and rotation for each.
You're able to put 300 general brushes on any map, and up to 500 trees! Once you've done that you can start placing your weapons/health (50 per map) and all your spawn points and objectives (you can make maps that support all game modes). The great thing? At any point when making a map you can just hit the ‘back’ button and jump right in. No loading or low quality textures etc, it's a fully functional map- instantly. This works fantastically when you're tweaking your map, and is one of the things that makes it so good. When you're in first person, you're also given a frame rate gauge, which helps let you know if you've placed too many objects in one area, so you have an idea of how well the game is running. Keep it in green, and your map will play very smoothly.
The only down sides? While you have a huge empty level to work with, it's sometimes very easy to loose your sense of scale, and make a map too big. Even if you've got a small island, the play area is always one fixed size, so if you've got boats you'll either have to fence the area off, or people will just be able to go to the very corner of the map and stay out of the way (a real pain in ‘steal the sample’ games). It's also a lot harder to make a good map than you would imagine, and with all the freedom you have, it's hard to know where to start. I find it best to actually plan out a map on paper first, trying to think what would actually play well, rather than just diving straight in.
A varied and exciting first person shooter/adventure, Far Cry Instincts entertains and excites, and (dare I say it?) was a heck of a lot more fun to play through than Halo 2. The multiplayer games are fast and refreshingly different too, and the map editor means you’ll be designing the most beautiful deathmatch levels for a long time to come. The game could also have used some more online modes – how cool would a co-op mode have been?