Things don't look initially promising. The opening cut-scene in which we are introduced to main character Jack Carver is clumsy and confusing, overwrought with loud action-sequence music, gunfire and explosions. Female interest Valerie Constantine (cynical gamers be warned, CryTek make no bones about which of Val's features we should be interested in) has no sooner jetted away from him when Jack is attacked and narrowly avoids being blown to smithereens by a rocket-wielding islander - he manages to make his way through this Hollywood-inspired intro nightmare and as the game begins we are given an up close and personal look at the muscle-bound protagonist.
So far, so macho - indeed, the opening sequence of the game couldn't be more clichèd. Walking through the sequence of tunnels and caves we now find ourselves in, there doesn't seem to be much salvation at hand. In a cut-scene we are introduced to Doyle, a mysterious man who serves as our contact on the island, and as soon as Jack opens his mouth to talk, a spiel of boorish, cheesy dialogue and questionable voice acting spews fourth. And lets face it, that Hawaiian shirt isn't doing anybody any favours. It's just when you think the game can't descend any more into the depths of action movie clichè and questionable fashion sense when we are given a glimpse of the tropical jungle outside; the teeming island paradise which will serve as a veritable playground for the action to come. And suddenly we are reminded - this is why we're here. There's a whole island of enemies out there baying for our blood, and they know we're here - it's time to get to work.
Indeed, despite the worrying opening, we soon see what Far Cry has to offer. We begin the game much as we can expect it to go on - the vocal Doyle introduces us to the area and sets an objective (usually a location at the other side of the map); how we reach the objective is entirely up to us. The game is populated by heavily armed mercenaries, but don't let their comical dialogue fool you - they are equipped not only with weapons, but also with some of the most advanced AI yet seen in a PC first person shooter. Should they spot you, they'll rally their friends and take up defensive positions, attempting to flush you out - get caught out in the open and they'll make short work of you. Open combat can be a tricky, but thoroughly engaging affair, requiring some lateral thinking and quick firing. Often, preventing the mercenaries from out-manoeuvring you can be as important as anything else and once they've zero-ed in on your position things can turn ugly very quickly indeed.
That's not to say the mercenaries are infallible, as they can often be seen doing some very odd things indeed - start firing on them without letting them spot you and they will refuse to take cover, merely standing and absorbing your attacks; get spotted and run away and they'll soon forget all about you, returning to their daily routine. And that's just amongst the other random intelligence glitches which can occur - overall though the AI on show is very impressive indeed, and proves to make for some very challenging and aggressive battles on higher difficulty settings, genuinely taking first person combat to a new level of enjoyment.
The inclusion of meters indicating enemy awareness and the ability to 'mark' enemies on your radar using your binoculars helps the player remain in control of what could otherwise prove to be uncontrollable. When you've been spotted the meters will fill, letting you know exactly how well hidden you are, and journeying through the jungle can be made much easier by scoping out the area ahead (mercenary camps, road blocks, scouting parties) by using your binoculars, which causes any enemies you spot to appear as a blip on your radar, allowing you to know their exact positions relative to your own at all times. Cunning stuff indeed.
Gameplay is further enhanced by the inclusion of vehicles which you can commandeer. Sometimes getting around on foot is impractical when you need to journey from one end of an island (or occasionally between islands), so Far Cry obliges with the inclusion of a variety of buggies, jeeps, boats and gliders (!) which you can use to speed around in. Handling is satisfyingly responsive and integrated well into the game, judicially interspersing areas of combat.
Equally, the environments of the game are split between lush outdoor areas and more traditional indoor locations, featuring typical FPS fare such as metallic sliding doors, long corridors and, well, more corridors. Despite this change to a more familiar pace (which admittedly does not serve as well when showing off the games better features as the outdoor sections) the game remains just as enjoyable, offering subtle variations in play style and atmosphere - indeed, it's the way the game engine handles moving between indoor and outdoor locations which proves to be so impressive.
And so, onto the visuals. To say they are impressive would be an understatement - the Cry engine proves to be equally adept at producing outstandingly lush outdoor maps as it is at clean metallic labs and grimy basements. Lighting is extremely impressive, although plays more of an aesthetic role than a practical one - sticking to shadows doesn't really offer any scope for stealth, however the effects often look nothing short of stunning, be it swinging lights casting illumination over dank walls or sunlight bathing the island world in glazing heat. Water has never looked so good in a game; the shimmering, fluid surface giving way to brilliant aquatic effects once submerged.
Its impressive scope also offers an unparalleled draw distance when out in the open - take to the skies in a glider and marvel at the far off islands in the distance, the nearby mercenary encampment or the detailed helicopter bearing down on you; it's fair to say that Far Cry will push that new graphics card quite hard, in anticipation for the upcoming range of DirectX 9 powered PC behemoths. Indeed, while the game offers some pitch for scalability, gamers with lower powered machines are going to find their systems will chug terribly with anything less than a fully DirectX 9 compliant nVidia or ATI card with no less than 128MB of memory.
What is really impressive about the visuals, however, is the sense of atmosphere they create - whether it be early dawn on a hot, tropical day, dusk or a dark night deep in the middle of a jungle research base, heavy with confused gunfire and a creepy snarl of unknown origins, never has a game made the player feel more involved in the action. The sense of being in the game world has rarely been more palpable, although kudos must be given to the well designed and varied jungles and facilities CryTek have supplied. Indeed, despite the often questionable monster design, the game still manages to evoke an often desperate sense of alarm in the player during the later stages of play, dramatic music subtly changing pace and pitch as you encounter danger, slowing once you have dispatched it; such is the sense of immersion the game evokes.
This is fortunate because, as we previously alluded to, Far Cry is seriously lacking in other areas - namely its truly dire story, used merely as a means to keep the action ticking over, and the awful characterisations employed. Little more than one-dimensional avatars, the game characters are almost ludicrously geared towards the fabled young white male market - butch main character, busty female support, stock 'evil' scientist and a cast of hundreds of frankly rubbish bad guys and genetic monsters.
Despite what you may have been expecting from Far Cry, the game does indeed feature monsters later in the game - while they can prove a handful, sufficed to say their introduction will have eyes rolling (not to mention the fact that they look crap). From the outset Far Cry doesn't endear itself, narratively speaking, and promptly descends into sub-B-movie hell. Contrived and predictable in almost every way, the game narrative is uncaptivating and unentertaining. Compared to how B-movie sci-fi should be done in the glorious Halo and upcoming heavy-hitters Doom 3 and Half Life 2, Far Cry gives the distinct impression that the game is little more than an advert for potential Cry Engine licensees.
Which, ultimately, is what Far Cry proves to be - but that's no criticism. The fact that Far Cry is so much blatant fun is enough to excuse the cringe worthy story, dialogue, characters, et al. Combine leading AI with proper physics, next-gen rendering techniques and a passion for shooting things until they die, intersperse with crafty stealth elements and a few charges of vehicular assault and top it all off with atmosphere to die for and Far Cry is the game your new PC would want you to install. Indeed, if this is the precedent for future PC FPS efforts, the horizon is looking very bright. Mention must also be made of the stock multiplayer modes on offer; however a slightly confusing registry system at the Ubisoft website, and quite unimpressive 'net code will mean that most should probably steer clear of what proves to be a frustrating and often ham-fisted multiplayer experience.
A great advert for CryTek the budding developer then, but an even better game for first person shooter fans - if the plot had been any good at all and the AI tightened a little bit we could have been looking at a classic title. As it is, Far Cry is brilliant fun and puts CryTek firmly on the radar.