It began life as X-Isle, a tech demo for showing off Nvidia’s graphics cards but then someone saw the potential for a game among all the dinosaur dodging. Three years later, developer Crytek Studios realises its dream with Far Cry (FC), which delivers everything it promised over its two-year extended development.



It’s no longer a sophisticated Jurassic Park Trespasser variant- sadly for followers since the days of the tech demo, the dinosaurs are gone (though that’s not to say that an aspiring mod-maker won’t bring them back). Now you’re up against your fellow mercenary man and these are basically the meanest and toughest NPCs since the randomly programmed Aliens from AVP/Gold. Like the xenomorphs the Far Cry enemies hunt in packs, take cover and run away when injured for example and one will try to flush you out while the others wade in. These men are as tough as the Germans in the Medal of Honor series, although they have their own catchphrases. The game plays as if Crytek studied every FPS with any major AI improvement and incorporated the best elements of all of them.

See that square jawed gun-toting fellow on the cover art? He’s ex-Marine Jack Carver and it’s your job to guide him through the Jungles of Catubu, eradicating everything in sight in his hunt for Val Cortez, the journalist contact who drew him to the island. Aside from the mysterious Doyle who gives advice via satellite phone it’s just you, the jungle, the baddies, and another group who dislike everyone else- but you meet them later over the course of 20 tough levels. That’s right, a long single-player game, just when you thought it was unfashionable to give the public a title lasting longer than twelve hours.

As well as the best elements of other forerunners, Crytek’s baddies have some tricks all of their own- such as sounding the alarm and returning with backup if you don’t get out your present location. They’ll give chase and of course you may end up meeting the backup force when you’re trying to escape your original attackers and having to shoot it out all over again with the new arrivals. As long as you’re stealthier than you’d expect to be in, say, Unreal Tournament 2004, you’ll be fine. In fact if you wanted to act like Sam Fisher in Ubi Soft’s sister title Splinter Cell, there are times when the game will let you go almost anywhere. However straying too far from the allotted path alerts helicopter gunships, which will “persuade” you to return to the mission location.

The auto-save checkpoints guide your progress through the game. Just like Halo’s checkpoint system, if your health and ammunition aren’t topped up or worse still, a battle’s not over when it saves, you have to backtrack over two checkpoints. Unlike Halo, enemy behaviour won’t be similar with every reload so having to replay at least gives you a different experience. Whether you find it irritating depends of the time of the morning you’ve stayed up to when the bad auto-save moment happens. In our case we haven’t been annoyed yet even at 3am. We were immersed enough to want to finish firefights with some armour for a change (a rare occurrence on Veteran or Realistic, the top two out of five difficulty levels).

Unfortunately it’s a shame the realities of PC Gaming get in the way of such a sublime experience- the crashing to desktop forced the v1.1 patch on the day of UK release and even then that didn’t cure some of the choppy sound effects that also affected the demos and forced tinkering with the sound settings. For the game’s great beauty- (the water from an elevated position is the best Radeon rendering of liquid since Yager, never mind the jungle) - FC tries its best to accommodate legacy PCs. It was a compliment to be told by the auto configuration tool that an Athlon (1.5GHz) XP1800+ with 768Mb PC2100 RAM and a Radeon 9600 was still regarded as midrange, but this is the last year that’s going to happen. Performance was smooth and playable but then we defragmented to keep the 4Gb application in one place on the hard disk. Our midrange PCs smooth-if-slow handling fitted the game’s pace, but the 9800 Pro in our other testbed loved the workout, its P4 2HGz processor rising to the challenge with the extra 500MHz clockspeed.

Far Cry’s engine will take all the computing power you have and demand more. You thought you were upgrading for Half-Life 2 at the end of the year, but FC gives your computer an excellent workout right in time for Easter. Otherwise, if you have PCs like our testbeds, the game shows up the areas where you need to upgrade. We’re hoping the patches don’t get any larger than 27Mb at a time so as not to inflate the 4Gb basic install size any further from the DVD installation- which will be slow if your DVD-ROM drive spins beneath the now-standard 16-speed. Far Cry replaces Quake III: Team Arena as the demanding workhorse that threatens to make PCs from two years ago redundant without an upgrade. It’s also the first game among the other 3D shooters released this month to really showcase the Athlon 64’s capabilities.

Verdict

In spite of the technical hassles, the game's quality transcends the bugs that needed patching. In fact we have a confession to make- this is the singleplayer we've been lost in all this time. Multiplayer features the usual deathmatch, team deathmatch and capture the flag modes but as Unreal Tournament 2004 and Battlefield Vietnam launched last week, Far Cry can be judged as the single player alternative when you just don't feel like connecting to the net to play. We expect multiplayer to really take off when the first mods and thirdparty levels appear as the editor received its own hype- Crytek wanted it to be the easiest editor ever to use. We'll take a look at it as a separate review at a later date to see if the devs succeeded.



For now, make sure you've downloaded the patch(es), spend some time away from Battlefield Vietnam or Unreal Tournament 2004. Install, apply the patch, defragment your hard disk, turn off EAX and return to basic sound. Then enjoy one of the best singleplayer FPS experiences on the PC before the arrival of the next blockbuster title, which would be Doom III subject to release dates. In singleplayer terms it's up there with the likes of Half-Life, but Ubi Soft had better enjoy this run of graphically sublime FPS games that started with XIII last November, since Valve's next Magnum Opus will arrive at Christmas.

System Requirements: 1GHz, 512Mb RAM (Gameplay increases with doubled/trebled specs), 4Gb HDD Space, 8x DVD (Installation speed increases with doubled spec). ISDN/64K minimum for multiplayer recommended.