Crytek's 2004 smash hit Far Cry was one of the most stunning PC games ever released. In fact, I'm so taken with Far Cry on the PC that I've played through the game completely several times, including a stint on its hardest skill level, which is next to impossible. If you haven't seen Far Cry, then understand this: Months before Half-Life 2 (see my review for Xbox) and DOOM 3 (see my review for Xbox) supposedly reignited interest in first person shooters thanks to their impressive graphics and deep storylines, Far Cry had already been there and done that. Indeed, Far Cry's graphics are absolutely better than those of DOOM 3 and arguably on par with those of HL2. The plot of Far Cry wasn't all that impressive, but it didn't need to be: Instead, Crytek infused Far Cry with amazing artificial intelligence (AI), ensuring that enemy characters would behave differently if you did different things. Thus, each run through the game could be quite different.
Until the Xbox 360 shipped, I was firmly in the PC camp when it came to first person shooters, because I've always found video game console hand controllers to be imprecise for these types of games. So I skipped out on the Xbox version of Far Cry, dubbed Far Cry Instincts, which shipped from Ubisoft in 2005. It was a good move. Given the technical limitations of the original Xbox, Far Cry Instincts differs greatly from the PC original. What was retained is the crystal clear jungle island setting. The story, however, is different, and the Xbox version features different multiplayer modes.
The thing is, the Xbox just can't display graphics crisp and clear enough to meet the standard set by the PC version of Far Cry. On my gaming rig, I've run Far Cry at incredibly high resolution, which really strains the graphics card but pays off visually in ways that other games just can't match (except, possibly, HL2).
But now we have the Xbox 360, which supports HD resolutions. And we have Far Cry Instincts Predator, a bizarrely-named game title that finally brings the Far Cry franchise to the ultimate video game platform. Given my recent conversion to first person shooters on the 360, including such titles as Call of Duty 2 (see my review) and Quake 4 (see my review), Far Cry Instincts Predator for Xbox 360 should be a marriage made in heaven. Unfortunately, that's not the case at all. Despite the technical prowess of the Xbox 360 and the lofty credentials of Far Cry, Ubisoft's Far Cry Instincts Predator is an average shooter at best. I just can't believe they screwed this one up.
Far Cry Instincts Predator (FCIP from here on out) isn't a single game. Instead, we're treated to an Xbox 360ization of Far Cry Instincts as well as a completely separate game called Far Cry Evolution (I guess that explains the name ... oh, wait. Why isn't it called Predator?). Oddly, you can't play Evolution until you've finished Instincts, but as it turns out, a readily-available cheat lets you get past that silly little limitation. (There's even a Cheats item in the main menu, go figure. There's nothing like a game with a built-in cheating system.)
In Far Cry Instincts, you play Jack Carver, a mercenary who's quite a bit tougher and rough-at-the-edges when compared to his PC counterpart. Jack gets caught up in an Island of Dr. Moreau-type scenario where a mad scientist is genetically combining humans with animals to create feral hybrid creatures. In the beginning, you start out fighting human mercenaries, but over time you face off with hybrid creatures and ultimately become one yourself. As that happens, you obtain new feral capabilities, one at a time, as the game progresses.
In Far Cry Evolution, the story basically picks up right where Instincts left off. In addition to normal fighting modes, you have all the new feral capabilities that let you physically attack enemies in quick, animal-like ways. Evolution is quite a bit shorter and less involved than Instincts, but given that it's basically just a continuation of Instincts, it's kind of hard to complain.
Since it's a violent first person shooter, FCIP isn't for kids. But this is doubly true because of the language and occasional sexual content in the game. Also, Jack and various in-game characters spend a lot of time swearing.
The AI in FCIP is a huge disappointment. In the PC version, the enemy would react to your own actions, and individuals would even communicate with each other to let them know where you were. They would then often try to surround you or behave in a generally intelligent fashion.
In FCIP, the AI has been pushed back ten years. Enemies head straight for you and never work in formation. They stand still as you pummel them with bullets. And repeated plays of the same game segments result in hugely similar experiences. It gets really repetitive after a while, and if you're used to the PC version, it's just so unimpressive. On the other hand, the repetitive game play helps you plot your way through segments you're having difficulty with: Since the enemies always do basically the same thing, you'll eventually figure out how to get by even the hardest bits.
Which brings us neatly to the one feature that's been ported over from the PC version, the horrible saved game functionality, which was the weak link in Far Cry PC. Instead of letting you arbitrarily save games whenever you like, FCIP offers up automatic saves at specific checkpoints. This is similar to many other games, including titles like Call of Duty 2 that I absolutely adore, but in FCIP, the checkpoints are often few and far between. There's nothing more frustrating than making it halfway through a checkpoint only to die and be forced to start over 2 miles back down the road.
Given how many complaints Crytek got for this problem in the PC version, you'd have thought someone would have fixed it by now. But no, FCIP gives you no saved game love. It's just painful.
Another related issue is the interface: I cannot believe, in this day and age, that Crytek couldn't have come up with a more obvious menu structure. Let's say you want to resume FCIP where you left off. So you start up the game, press Start to enter the main menu and then choose the game type (Instincts or Evolution). From there, you have four confusing choices: Play Without Saving, Create New Game, Resume Game, and Load A Map. A few points here. Why isn't Resume Game the first choice? And what the heck is Play Without Saving? Why is that the default choice? OK, fine. You choose Resume Game and ... inexplicably, you have to choose which memory device you read the saved game data from, even on a hard drive equipped system in which there is no other memory device attached. And you must do this. Every. Single. Time. You. Want. To. Resume. Dear God.
In addition to the standard first person fare, you get to play around with various vehicles, including jeeps and 4 x4 trucks, jet skis (with guns, woo), and of course the obligatory hang gliders, the last of which was one of the best moments in Far Cry PC. You'll appreciate the variety, since the enemy AI won't give you any.
One of the biggest fears I had moving from the PC to a console is that hand controllers just aren't as accurate and easy to use in first person shooters as are is mouse/keyboard combination I'm used to. Games such as Call of Duty 2 and Quake 4, however, proved to me that it is possible to create a console-based first person shooter that's sensitive enough for even die-hard gamers. So I had high hopes for FCIP.
Consider those hopes dashed. The controllers in FCIP are exactly what I feared with consoles, loose when they should be tight, and inaccurate when you're trying to aim and hit something. The situation is so horrible, it literally ruins the game, and if you've ever seen it done right--like in Call of Duty 2--then it seems even worse.
On the other hand, the weapons choices excellent and you can even dual-wield weapons for maximum carnage. And once Jack starts down the path to becoming a genetically mutated killing machine, you can take advantage of various feral abilities, which frankly make the second game, Far Cry Evolution, a bit too easy. You can follow the scent of enemies, making it easier to track them, jump higher and run faster, and see in the dark. But the feral attacks, where you lash out at enemies using your suddenly claw-like hands, are almost too powerful. You basically move quickly and slice up an enemy in quick time before they have a chance to even move. It's fun at first, but after a while you realize it's going to get you out of almost any situation very easily.
Graphics and sound
I haven't played the Xbox version of Far Cry Instincts, but FCIP looks more like an original Xbox game than a true Xbox 360 title with just one exception. Instead of the gorgeous high resolution graphics I've come to expect from the PC version of Far Cry, FCIP delivers jagged, low resolutions graphics that still manage to slow the system down quite a bit at times. Given my experience with Far Cry PC, I had expected FCIP to be a marquee title for people trying to show off the 360. Instead, it's an example of a developer not doing enough to take advantage of the 360's unique capabilities. What a wasted opportunity.
It's hard not to imagine that Ubisoft simply took the easy way out with FCIP. It seems that instead of doing the work to make it truly unique on the Xbox 360, they simply ported over the Xbox version and made minor graphical improvements. Jungle foliage is jagged and unimpressive, though the water, a high mark of the PC version, does look impressive. Indeed, it's realistic enough to make you want to go swimming, and it's the one place where FCIP actually exceeds to two-year-old PC version graphically. It's kind of amazing. Sadly, it's one of the few truly impressive aspects of the game.
FCIP includes a healthy selection of multiplayer game types, and includes all the expected multiplayer accoutrements, including Xbox Live and system link options. The 20 or so maps are a mix of maps from the Xbox Instincts and Evolution games, and are all pretty decent. Up to 16 people can compete at the same time, which is quite an improvement over the 8 supported by games like Call of Duty 2.
Multiplayer game types include Chaos (Deathmatch), Predator, Capture the Sample (Capture the Flag), and Seek and Secure (essentially King of the Hill). There's even a Map Editor, which is a nice touch for the truly obsessed. Frankly, I'm more interested in this year's release of extra Call of Duty 2 multiplayer levels than I am in making my own FCIP maps.
So what have we got here? Far Cry Instincts Predator is a mediocre first person shooter with frustrating controls, passable graphics given the power of the underlying system, a broken saved game system, and a decent multiplayer experience. Though it's technically two single player games in one, you have to cheat to access the second game without first completing the first game. When you add the fact that FCIP is based on an absolutely stellar PC game title that was released over two years ago, you have to wonder what the heck Ubisoft was thinking. If you haven't played Far Cry PC but really enjoy console-based shooters, consider FCIP (but only after you've completed both Call of Duty and Quake 4). Otherwise, give it a pass. You'll just be frustrated by what should have been.