Crysis may be the series that we most associate with developer Crytek, but it was Far Cry that put it on the map. The original Far Cry was a visual marvel, featuring a vast and gorgeous tropical island to explore, but it was more than just pretty. It was also a highly immersive game that made getting lost in its world both tense and joyous as it introduced elements that were more and more removed from the reality we know.
While some new Far Cry adventures would make their way to consoles packaged with the original game, it wasn't until 2008 that a proper sequel arrived, courtesy of Ubisoft Montreal. The game met with mixed reactions, but it found a passionate audience that loved its African setting and weapon degradation. Far Cry 3 met with wider acclaim, but it's the original game that has proven most important, providing a foundation not just for the Far Cry series itself, but for Crysis and its sequels as well.
The thing I most fondly remember from my tropical vacation in the first Far Cry was the only thing that was excised from the series' later installments: its tone. Protagonist Jack Carver's bright orange Hawaiian shirt was a constant reminder of Far Cry's playful origins. This was a first-person shooter that didn't care about the evils of arms smuggling, or about the definition of insanity. It cared about saturating you with its colorful, open levels, and keeping you on your toes with what were, at the time, some of the most intelligent enemies I've ever seen in a shooter. These mercenaries actually used the jungle for cover, creeping behind plants and--get this--not shooting at you until they had snuck right up behind you for a kill shot. I can't remember a time in a game since then that an enemy has surprised me like that.
Of course, what's not surprising now is Crytek's desire to change up the enemy roster halfway through, such as the introduction of Crysis' aliens, or here, mutated apes. Once I started fighting these trigens in a volcanic caldera, I checked out. But until that point, Far Cry was a pure and refreshing shooter about bright colors, big guns, and loud shirts.
There comes a "Holy crap!" moment just minutes into Far Cry when the sight of your lush island prison is revealed to you for the first time. It's one of the most stunning sights I've ever witnessed in a game, and at the time, I couldn't believe my eyes. How could a game look this incredible? What was in store for me in this violent paradise?
I couldn't believe my eyes. How could a game look this incredible?
It was the best birthday present I could imagine, and the game arrived only a week after the awesome Unreal Tournament 2004. My time was split between both games afterward--Far Cry for its single-player thrills, and UT 2004 for the continuing excitement of onslaught matches. Far Cry was my personal jewel, however. I can still envision the heightened tropical ambience when swimming underwater, surrounded by impossibly vibrant fish and perfect round bubbles. I can still remember the opening cutscene, which begins with a rewind shot depicting floating flotsam reassembling itself into a sailboat. I still remember using the different rendering options, which let you change the look of the entire game. If you grabbed the recently released HD version (called Far Cry Classic), try turning on the cartoon setting, which makes the game look rather like Borderlands.
Crytek moved on to Crysis, and Ubisoft now handles the Far Cry franchise, and while both Far Cry sequels were great on their own terms, I miss the Island of Doctor Moreau vibe of the original. The series tastes best with a touch of the unnatural.
My experience with the original Far Cry requires a little bit of backstory. Back in 2004, I was a sophomore at the University of Washington. In between reading stacks of 18th-century English novels and trying to convince myself that dirt-cheap beer wasn't so bad once you got used to it--college is a weird place--I somehow still managed to find time for video games. So here I was, browsing reviews on a little website called GameSpot.com, in search of that one game I should check out next. And that's when I saw it: Far Cry.
It was a review done by former GameSpot editor Jason Ocampo. I mention that because one year prior, I shared an English literature class with him and had absolutely no idea he went on to write about video games for a living. And that's what grabbed my attention. Yes, Far Cry looked great, but my PC at the time was a feeble Dell laptop--I was a console gamer back then. But seeing someone I had taken a class with was just too weird for me. I had to see what this game was about.
I'm glad I did, because that game was really something else. Even on my sad little laptop, Far Cry's jungle environment was amazing. The way prowling through lush foliage made you feel like a predator stalking its prey, the freedom with which you could approach enemies, the way everything just felt so reactive--it was one of the first games I could remember where I really felt like I was using the world around me as a weapon.
And it's a series that I still love to this day. Even as Crytek has moved on to different projects, I still enjoy the legacy that studio created. I'm just happy that a wild coincidence convinced me to take a shot on it in the first place.