The Far Cry franchise has been around for some time now and the evolution of the series has produced some radically different games which for the most part each manage to represent their own individual era and the tropes associated with it. For this reason I’m going to write a four part series with an article covering each game. I had originally intended to review just Far Cry 4, but quickly realised that doing so without referencing the others in the series would be difficult at best as a Far Cry game can only really be judged as one among others, not alone. This week is the start, looking at the original Far Cry. This game is of a reasonable age but don’t let that put your off, it is responsible for spawning no less than two separate game franchises and deserves the honour of doing so. Far Cry was the baby of Ubisoft and Crytek, a partnership that ended in divorce and the Far Cry legacy was divided between parties with Ubisoft surprisingly taking the game and transforming it into the quite different and experimental Far Cry 2 whilst Crytek continued on to create the Crysis series, a varied but on the whole strong set of games in their own right. Crysis however is the not subject of this series, that would be Far Cry and whilst I am itching to discuss Far Cry 2 we should really begin with the genesis point of the whole affair: Far Cry.
The original Far Cry was something of an interesting creature. At the time its paradise-like tropical island setting combined with its very impressive graphics engine to produce a visual treat which would make my cheap GeForce FX card sitting inside a tweaked Dell workstation scream in pain. Alas my first experience of Far Cry was this, barely scraping the system requirements and this really was the game that sparked my interest in PC customisation and building. I eventually got to experience Far Cry properly and my was it a good game.
The gameplay itself was quite something: if it must be described as a corridor shooter then the caveat would surely be that the corridors were immensely wide. Unlike its actual successor Far Cry 2 the original is not an open world, however many of the levels were very large and open which really allowed Far Cry to shine in doing what it does well: choice. Previous first person shooters had mastered the narrative experience, guiding the player and having them deal with certain enemies in certain ways. Half Life and its sequels are of course the master of this, Far Cry however goes a different route with the choice of approach. Even earlier shooters are notable for having large sprawling levels, but only a limited variety of gameplay styles available to utilise on these maps. Far Cry does it differently, it doesn’t mandate stealth in stealth sections, or gun heavy blasting in straight up shooter sections, instead the player is given the choice on how they approach the enemy and the objective. It’s possible to whack the difficulty down and blow through the game all guns blazing, just blasting everything into dust. Alternatively you can stick the difficulty up and take advantage of the stealth mechanics which for a non-stealth centric game (like Thief) were well developed. The line of sight mechanics, soft cover, intelligent adaptive AI and sound modelling provided a rich environment for those that enjoy a good sneak. This is a trend that the franchise has carried on throughout its various iterations, however it started here with the original. There are of course some issues to be found in this form of game design, glitches and the like which naturally occur from a series of interacting game systems that allow such a great variety in permeations. This is something that has scared many developers away from creating this form of single-player experience, as ridiculous movie-like scripted bullcrap like Call of Duty and the woeful Battlefield campaigns show an approach to game design that is so afraid of players seeing the seams that it becomes bland and featureless. Far Cry is one of the few triple-A game franchises that still isn’t afraid of showing the seams occasionally, even if they do then feel that it’s necessary to maintain a forced ironic self-awareness of the procedurally generated flaws and imperfections, however that is for later iterations mostly. The first in the series is no stranger to a little self-awareness, as the narrative and protagonist read much like the games’ early predecessors in the FPS genre: it’s only an alien invasion away from Doom’s space marine trope, and that’s perfectly fine. Far Cry doesn’t try too hard with this, it doesn’t need to because whilst its successors feel the need to inject forced juvenile irony into themselves as a self-defence mechanism against the critique of the ridiculousness created by their dynamic worlds, the original is largely immune from such issues. Far Cry at the time was not a trope in the same way as it is today and therefore the light hearted humour, silly story and self-awareness worked in the same way as in the recent Wolfenstein. (No, I won’t shut up about that game, it’s fantastic, go play it).
Far Cry remains an absolute staple in shooter history and is still a great deal of fun today. Whilst it may lack many of the bells and whistles that modern shooters have brought to the table: in-game economies, weapon customisation, open-world gameplay, etc, the fundamental shooter elements that make a good and entertaining shooter are absolutely present. Far Cry retains the old-school shooter approach of having one weapon per type and that’s fine, because in the original Far Cry that’s all you need, because it is very much of the old-school shooter era and form. There’s a degree of purity in it thanks to that: no side-missions or fetch quests or collectibles to spend hours running around hunting down, instead there is just an unadulterated shooter experience that focuses on exactly that, the shooting. Whilst I do appreciate the direction that the franchise has moved in terms of game mechanics and design, the original represents almost the polar opposite of what the franchise is today.
Today playing a campaign mission in a Far Cry game is a chore, a scripted sequence filled on-the-rails adaptation of CoD ridiculousness and an absolute farce of the focused and clean experience of the original Far Cry. The original game represents the single-player focussed campaign style that the series has forgotten, by the way of attempting to modernise the model to follow the hand-holding tropes of today. Somewhat sadly the things that make the newer games in the franchise entertaining are not the same as those that make their origin entertaining, instead the openness is what was taken from the original and expanded at the expense of the story campaign. Perhaps Far Cry managed the balance perfectly, an open enough world that still allowed for a focused narrative, perhaps its open-world offspring are attempting to have their cake and eat it too in attempting both enjoyable open-world game play and a narrative centric story mode. I don’t really think so and in fact I believe that in the design of the story elements of modern Far Cry games there is a huge amount to be learned from the original. The open-world nature of modern Far Cry games screams to be used in story missions much like the sprawling levels that made the original so appealing and revolutionary. Yes there are issues with this approach: things might break and QA becomes a nightmare of attempting to explore every possible approach and outcome that might break the mission scripting, however surely it must be better and more faithful to the franchise than the current dialectic structure of the fantastically open-world game play and the scripted hand-holding of story missions. I will explore these issues in more depth in the appropriate parts (parts 3 and 4 to be precise) however it remains relevant here as the original is the gem of the franchise in terms of a directed but open experience.
As I have mentioned, the story of Far Cry is of the eighties action movie variety with a holidaying ex-soldier forced to confront a tropical island filled with mercenaries and worse. There’s not really much more to it and there doesn’t need to be, depth in narrative is not really one of the game’s aims (unlike the new Wolfenstein which actually managed to pull off a surprising amount of depth, and yes maybe I will marry it as I love it so much!) Latter Far Cry games approached story in differing ways with the second actually coming the closest to some real depth with its heart of darkness adaptation. The most recent ones, as I stated earlier, tend to use a forced sense of irony and self-awareness to cover up the inevitable seams that show through their open-world silliness. I’ll discuss these in more detail in the relevant articles, but lets just say that Far Cry 4 is probably the most extreme variant of this whereas the narrative in Far Cry 3 needs a lot saying about it elsewhere. The original Far Cry got away with what it did at the time, probably because it existed in a world uninfluenced by the tropes of its own creation, however I feel that even released today it wouldn’t do too badly although again it would be seen as an ironic or retro statement of game and narrative design, although such theorising is irrelevant because it just ends in a paradox. Far Cry is a product of its time, a focussed shooter that offered a tantalising view of what shooters may be able to become in the Half Life 2 era and with advances in technology.
Speaking about the graphics and aesthetics of a game in hindsight is often a minefield as the Morrowind-effect enters the frame. Everyone remembers Morrowind as being far more visually appealing and gorgeous than it actually was, anyone that has gone back to it will be able to tell you as much. Far Cry doesn’t quite suffer as badly as Morrowind however it is far from immune. The poly count is noticeably low as is the texture resolution, giving the game an attractive yet cartoony look. It isn’t bad to look at per se, but it certainly hasn’t retained the visual finesse of its much lauded half-brother Crysis. That isn’t to say that Far Cry is unplayable like some games of its era and once a short acclimatisation period is done you’ll probably be quite accustomed to and happy with the fidelity, just don’t jump clear from Far Cry 4 to Far Cry 1 and expect a similar graphical fidelity. System requirement-wise, Far Cry is an old game which means pretty much anything should be able to run it in some form or another. The last computer that I used that struggled with it had a Pentium 4 and an old Nvidia GeForce that I scraped together pocket money to buy. I believe that it’s still Windows only however I’m fairly certain that in absolutely dire circumstances it may well function in Wine.
Far Cry really was a fantastic game, and to a good degree remains so, as long as you’re not expecting too much from it. The game followed and expanded many of the tropes of its time and managed to spawn two separate offshoot game series from the two principal actors involved in its creation and the only other game that I can think where such a thing has happened is the venerable yet brilliant Operation Flashpoint. It’s also cheap as chips more often than not and if you haven’t played it then I would recommend getting hold of a copy and playing it through. That recommendation is just about on par with my recommendation to play Half Life and Half Life 2 for the general game fan and is up there with FEAR for the shooter fan. It’s a bit of gaming history, so much so that we’re still seeing its relatives released every year or so. Give it a shot next time you get the chance.
Far Cry on Steam: