Far Cry Instincts was released on the Xbox in September 2005 and earned a place as one of the best first-person shooters on the system. Some six months later the game has returned, this time on the Xbox 360, accompanied by an additional 'Evolution' campaign and the new title of Far Cry Instincts Predator. While neither campaign is exclusive to the Xbox 360 (Evolution was released for the Xbox on the same day as Predator hit the 360), the improvements made to visuals are reason enough to choose this over the Xbox games.
Newcomers to the Instincts series might not be aware that it's an entirely different story to that of original Far Cry on the PC. While Jack Carver, the original game's main character, returns, and the tropical island setting remains, the story doesn't have any relation to the original game. Instincts' most obvious difference comes from 'Feral' abilities, and after an opening couple of hours that play like a traditional FPS, all hell breaks loose.
After being drugged, captured and experimented on by the island's evildoers, Jack is placed in a steel crate and left wondering what has gone on. Feeling a little strange he smashes through the steel door with his bare hands, and then continues on his one-man mission to get off the island alive. Over the next few hours you'll learn about numerous enhanced abilities that give Jack an advantage over his enemies. These range from increased strength, to special vision that allows him to locate enemies even when they are out of sight.
Combat is incredibly satisfying, with weapons packing a real punch, and they're made even more deadly when dual wielded (the L and R triggers firing each weapon). Every weapon has its use, and enemies react just as you'd want them to - one shot in the head and they go down, while a short burst of fire to the chest will do the same. Some, not so human, enemies take more sustained fire-power, but they still don't feel artificially resistant to gun-fire. Thanks to your new abilities you can also get in close and use your fists. One punch to the chest of an enemy will send him flying, and various objects in the environment can be used as weapons - even gun turrets can be ripped out of the floor and used like a normal gun in the final few levels of the game.
And there's even more to the combat. You've got the usual assortment of grenades, un-manned gun turrets, vehicles and their mounted weapons, and even traps. Jack can set up tree branches that violently whip enemies if they get too near. To make this more likely to happen you can throw rocks near the trap, making the enemy search the area and then trigger the trap. It will result in instant death and comes in handy when you want to preserve some ammo - not that this is usually an issue.
Vehicles are used fairly frequently, and these sections are usually pretty action-packed and fast paced. Humvees, ATVs, Jet skis and more are used during the game, and once you start screaming down a dirt track or a seemingly tranquil river, you can almost guarantee an onslaught of enemies will arrive right on cue. While enemies will shoot at you, many vehicle sections are semi-scripted, with helicopters firing just wide, resulting in plenty of lovely dramatic explosions, but no real danger. It's all great fun, even if the vehicle control (with throttle, break and steering all on one analogue stick) can be a little tricky at times.
The 'Evolution' campaign is locked from the start, requiring you to finish 'Instincts' in order to access it. This would have been extremely annoying for anyone who had already played Instincts on the original Xbox, had it not been for a cheat code that opens up the campaign from the start. The campaign itself is more of the same, but gives you Feral abilities from the start and introduces a new Feral Climb move. It makes sense that you'd have these abilities from the off, but it results in a campaign that feels rather samey.
In Instincts half the fun was moving through the game and learning new abilities as you progressed. Handing them to you on a plate from the start makes the campaign weaker as a result. There are a few new additions to your arsenal, such as remotely triggered pipe bombs, but it's really the same kind of action you'll have played throughout Instincts. It's also rather short, and feels rather underdeveloped compared to Instincts. Still, it's hard to complain when both games are included on a single Xbox 360 disc.
Enemy AI is rather hit and miss in both campaigns. If you're spotted by a soldier he'll often call out for support and hurt enemies will retreat to try and get to a better position, but at other times they seem plain dumb. If you're firing from a distance and aren't hitting an enemy, he'll remain totally oblivious, carrying on his regular stroll up and down the shoreline, finally jumping to attention when a bullet grazes his arm. Stealth kills also seem rather too simple, with enemies fixed in one direction, almost oblivious to what is behind them, almost begging to be taken down.
Far Cry Instincts and Evolution are both staggeringly good looking Xbox games, but as Xbox 360 games they'd look rather ropey. Thankfully Ubisoft have beefed up the visuals somewhat, making for an altogether superior looking game. The most obvious improvement is the new HDR lighting, which replaces the rather excessive bloom lighting from the Xbox games. Foliage also looks far greener and more alive than on the Xbox and various new grassy areas have been added around the environments. The frame rate also seems a step above the Xbox games, but still suffers from bouts of slowdown in areas that feature numerous light sources.
Water in the Xbox game looked great, but going back to it after seeing the Xbox 360 game's water in motion isn't pleasant. On the 360 the water moves in a strikingly realistic way, with soft waves undulating in an almost photorealistic manner. The illusion is destroyed somewhat when you notice odd, hard-edged sections to the water as it hits the shore, but on the whole it's very impressive indeed. Character models, too, seem slightly improved, but it's only really noticeable if you directly compare the game to the Xbox versions. Judged as a next-gen game the models are a little basic, but they're still an improvement.
Cutscenes are used sparingly, but they're done well, with solid voice work and impressive in-engine visuals. The in-game audio accompanies the action well, with the music changing to match the current situation, and the weapons all sound deadly in their own right. Predator is really a very polished version of the Xbox games, and while it's easy to see where the visuals could have been improved further, it's by no means ugly, even by next-gen standards - you'll just have to have played the original Xbox version recently to see where all the improvements have been made.
In addition to the two single-player campaigns, Predator includes a healthy number of multiplayer modes. Split-screen is fun, but Xbox Live play is where the most entertainment can be found. There's the usual deathmatch and team deathmatch game modes, with support for 16 players, but the 'Predator' mode and the new 'Seek and Secure' mode are the real stars of the show.
In the 'Predator' mode a team of soldiers must make their way across the island while a predator tries to take them out. This predator has all the abilities that the 'feral' Jack has in the main campaign, and despite being hugely outnumbered, the battles are immense fun. There's a fear brought about when attacked by a predator that is unlike any other I've experienced on Xbox Live. The screams from your online team-mates as a fast moving, hugely powerful killer rips through the middle of your formation are testament to the success of this hugely original game type.
Predator mode alone would have made the Xbox live experience a worthwhile one, but the new 'Seek and Secure' mode offers similar amounts of entertainment. The team-based mode requires you to capture and hold positions on a map to earn points. If you've played the excellent Call of Duty 2, this will seem familiar to that game's Headquarters game mode. Online play seems consistent with the Xbox games and I found most games to be relatively lag free. A number of larger maps that weren't included in the Xbox version of Instincts also make vehicle use more important and add some variety to proceedings.
The map maker from Instincts on the Xbox was a great addition to the online game, and it's been included here with a number of small improvements. Even if you have no skill (like me) you can download maps from other users, in theory giving life to the online mode far beyond that of the typical console FPS. It's worth noting that Xbox owners who purchase Far Cry Instincts Evolution can import their existing maps created in Instincts and take advantage of the improved map making tools. Seeing as you can't do this if you buy the Xbox 360 version, how interested you are in the map making aspect should figure in your buying decision.
Ubisoft pushed the Xbox to its limit with Far Cry Instincts' game engine, and while this Xbox 360 compilation feels like a stroll in the park for the new console, it's still a thoroughly entertaining first-person shooter. The 'Feral' abilities make the experience unlike most other games out there and some of the online game types are immense fun. Far Cry will certainly go onto bigger and better things on the Xbox 360, but newcomers to the series shouldn't be disappointed.