Reviewed: October 10, 2005
Released: September 27, 2005
Far Cry revolutionized the FPS genre on the PC when it released last year. Sure, the gameplay didn’t evolve beyond what we’ve been playing for nearly a decade now, but the scale of the game with its “go anywhere you can see” world design was a first for the PC.
When I heard they were going to “try” and cram this massive universe into the Xbox I was skeptical to say the least. After all, the Xbox offers only about 70% of the minimal system requirements of the PC version and nobody plays with minimum settings.
But after almost three weeks of intense island exploration and exciting combat Far Cry Instincts has not only given me new respect for the power of the Xbox (in its final days), but a whole new respect for the guys at Ubisoft and Crytek who put this package together. The game has been in the works for nearly two years and everything leading up to the final release had indicated this game was going to tank.
Thankfully, rather than trying to port the PC game directly over to the Xbox the designers chose to redesign the game from the ground up. Those who played the PC version will see some familiar scenery and even some architecture but the levels are totally different. And while the game manages to maintain that massive epic scale, it does so through frequent checkpoints and streaming memory loads. The only time you will ever see a real load screen is between the major chapters.
The game starts off much like the PC original with Jack Carver piloting a charter boat for a female journalist who claims to be doing research in the Jacutan archipelago. When she takes a jet ski to check out one of the islands the inhabitants prove they don’t like trespassers by sending some attack choppers out to shoot up Jack’s boat. Diving overboard in the nick of time, Jack is left on the nearby beach with a knife and his “instincts” to keep him alive.
Far Cry Instincts adds some new elements to the original gameplay mix including a lot more vehicles and places to drive them, as well as new feral abilities that brings out the animal in Jack. Setting claymore and branch whip traps is introduced early in the game and initially proved to be quite fun.
When available you could grab a branch and pull it back creating a spring-loaded trap that would smack unsuspecting enemies when they tripped it. You basically set the trap then lured the enemy into it with one of your limitless supply of rocks. The only problem was that the designers created this really cool device then never used it. In fact, other than the initial trap tutorial and one other time very early in the game I never even saw another opportunity to set a trap.
Jack might only have washed ashore with a knife but the islands are home to a small army…a very well equipped army complete with more than 15 weapons ranging from pistols and machine guns to sniper rifles and shotguns. Unlike most FPS games where you can carry all the weapons available in the game, Jack is realistically allowed only two weapons (or three if you count dual wielding) at a time.
Broken down into smaller primary weapons and larger secondary weapons, you can easily cycle between the two with the D-pad and an extra tap on the left will go into dual weapons mode for pistols and smaller machine guns. There is an added level of strategy involved with this limitation. You might prefer the stopping power of the shotgun or the limited zoom of the Carbine, but if all the enemies are wielding P90’s then you’ll probably want to switch over to the more abundant supply of ammo.
And even though a sniper rifle is great for taking out those guys in the guard towers, you might need a rocket launcher for the occasional chopper attack or the larger machine gun for larger creatures. You’ll also get to toss around the occasional frag grenade or take over gun emplacements, both stationary and vehicle mounted.
Controlling Jack is really smooth and totally intuitive. The D-pad not only provides instant access to your weapons, but also your binoculars, and the left and right triggers are used for independent firing when dual wielding. This gives you the tactical advantage of using one weapon until empty then firing with the other while reloading the first – not entirely realistic, but it does give you continuous fire while ammo supplies last. Of course it’s hard to resist not holding down both triggers and unloading both barrels into your target.
Targeting is often a problem on console FPS games but Instincts gives you a liberal auto-aim assist function that will have the crosshair turning red even when it’s several reticule-widths away from the target. It might seem like an unfair advantage at first, but without the precision of mouse-aiming it would be nearly impossible to move and fire at the speeds necessary to complete this game.
There are a lot more vehicles in Instincts and the levels are designed around their use. Some levels even offer multiple transport options. In the canyon level you can take a hang-glider for an aerial tour of the level, sniping enemy patrols from the skies, or you can take the low road and borrow a boat or jet ski for a wild river ride.
There are many exciting chase sequence where you will be driving a jeep while being pursued by other jeeps or even helicopters, or you might be weaving through a slalom of water mines on a jet ski while ducking bullets from snipers on bridges or pursuing gunboats. All of these vehicles handle differently with a physics engine that is based more on fun than realism. The controls allow for driving in one direction while pivoting your view and firing in another. Trucks and boats with mounted turrets are just a single button tap away from switching between driving to firing, making it easy to move into position and use the more powerful machine guns.
Stealth plays a fluctuating role in the game. Some areas allow you to sneak around while enemies in other areas are instantly alerted to your presence. Usually the levels with buildings and alarms will allow you to at least try and sneak through. The level design is overflowing with trees and other jungle growth making it easy to move around undetected.
Your HUD will show nearby enemies and their alert status, but only for those enemies you have visually spotted or have heard. This is a great feature that doesn’t give you an unfair advantage by allowing you to know where everybody is hiding. If you can successfully manage to sneak up behind a soldier you can silently take them down with a stealth kill, but much like the traps, I never really did this outside the tutorial.
About halfway through the game Jack will be captured and injected with a serum that turns him into some sort of experimental beast-hybrid. This is a totally new concept that was never part of the original game and lends itself to some new gameplay elements including some powerful feral abilities.
When Jack unleashes the “animal within” he will start to tap into an adrenaline reserve. During this time he will have heightened sight and smell allowing him to see in the dark or sniff out the trails of enemies, which show up as glowing orange paths. He also has increased speed and massive jumping abilities plus a powerful melee attack that will send enemies flying right off the island.
There are some scripted portions of the game that require Jack to use these abilities, such as seeing in dark caves, or sniffing out the paths of enemies through dark swamps or forests. All of these powers and abilities are accessed with quick taps or a hold-down press of the Y button, and the closer you get to the end of the game the more you will rely on these abilities.
I tend to choose games based more on gameplay than graphics so perhaps I am blinded by the sheer brilliance of these graphics, but I can’t remember any console game that has looked as good as Far Cry Instincts. Most of my outdoor games are games like Ghost Recon and the countless WWII and Vietnam games and are pretty barren when it comes to landscapes.
The levels in Instincts feature enough foliage for two games. I have never seen so much leaves and trees and flowers and wild grass in a console game ever. The only thing to even come close to the complexity and density of this growth would be Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater on the PS2, but really, the only thing fair comparison would be Vietcong on the PC.
As it was with the PC, Instincts features the best rendered water possible using an nVidia chipset. The ripple effects, transparency, and distorted reflections are totally realistic. In the early levels you will have to resist the urge to simply sightsee as you snake down winding rivers that lead to majestic waterfalls that plunge over towering cliffs.
The music in Instincts is cinematic in that it cues to the action and also seems to be scripted to certain areas of the levels. There is a great mix of pumping military style beats as well as tribal rhythms giving the soundtrack an authentic island flavor.
The dialogue is professionally recorded with an outstanding performance from Stephen Dorff (Blade). He does a great job of giving Jack that larger-than-life appeal with a healthy dose of sarcastic wit. The supporting cast all turn in similar performances and the idle chatter of the guards is worth a few moments of eavesdropping.
Sound effects are outstanding and the multi-channel surround mix is crucial to locating the exact location of enemies within the 3D space of the game. This is one of the finest sound presentations of any Xbox game I have played this year, perhaps ever.
Far Cry Instincts took me a good 12 hours to beat and almost an entire hour of that was dedicated to the final boss fight. The game offers a substantial experience that is broken up across unique environments and varying enemies. Just about the time you are sick of palm trees you find yourself in a dark and sinister mine. Then it’s off to a misty swamp, then a nighttime mission, and finally a deadly trek across a volcano-scarred island to the final battle.
But even after the story mode is over you can find extended enjoyment with the expertly crafted multiplayer maps and inventive gameplay modes…well, inventive in name at least. Traditional modes like deathmatch and CTF are now called Chaos, Team Chaos, and Steal the Sample, but there is the unique Predator mode with a whole new set of clever rule and easily, the best part of multiplayer.
For those looking to “get discovered” or just show off their design abilities, Instincts comes with a full-featured level designer that is easily the best map editor in console history. You start with your choice of three environments and three accessory kits and from there the sky is literally the limit. Just about any item, environmental effect, or piece of plant life can be used to populate your fully customizable landscape, and then these levels can be shared via Xbox Live.
There is already a thriving mod community and plenty of maps available for download, some that rival those of the original designers showing you just how much talent is really out there. One thing is for sure; there is no end in sight for Far Cry Instincts.
I’ve never tried to hide the fact that I prefer the more strategic and realistic military-style games, but every now and then you have to take a break from reality and have some fun and Far Cry Instincts is a FUN game. It mixes outstanding FPS action with some of the best and most immersive level designs in console history then throws in exciting vehicles, feral abilities, multiplayer, and endless replay via the map editor.
What started off as an uninspired Xbox port of a PC game has turned into one of the biggest surprises in the 2005 Xbox library. It just goes to show what can happen when you have the vision and the time allowed to create a game that pushes the Xbox to the very limits and a game that no self-proclaimed FPS fan should be without.