Last year, German developer Crytek surprised the PC gaming community by releasing its graphics demo-cum-tropical first-person shooter, Far Cry. The release was surprising, first because the game languished so long in development, and second because, well, it was really good. Now Ubisoft's Montreal studio is bringing Crytek's winning debut to the Xbox as Far Cry Instincts, a "reimagining" of the original game with a number of new gameplay elements thrown in for good measure. Based on our time with a few levels of the single-player campaign, it looks like Ubi has made Far Cry into a game that will have something to offer most any fan of console first-person shooters.
Instincts' storyline won't be radically different from what veterans of last year's PC hit have already seen--you're still Jack Carver, marooned on a lush tropical isle and beset by a group of well-trained, heavily armed mercenaries. But the game's presentation of the original Far Cry story seems to have been modified to provide a slightly different experience that will further flesh out some scenes, from what we've seen. For instance, the game's opening sequence, in which Carver is attacked on his small boat off the coast of the island, is now playable; you'll actually have to swim away from the wreckage of your boat, dodging a hail of gunfire from a circling chopper, and make it to safety in the jungle. In the PC original, the gameplay simply began after Carver had already been cast ashore. We're interested to see what other parts of the game have changed in this manner, to put a different spin on Carver's fight for survival.
Of course, many of the differences between Instincts and its PC-based predecessor will stem from the beastly new abilities you'll gain after Carver is captured and cruelly experimented on by the enemy. In the build we played, we had the feral strength upgrade, which simply gives you absurdly great strength with which you can tear your foes asunder. Hitting a merc with a feral-strength-powered punch will send him flying and result in a one-hit kill, and it's obviously empowering to be able to run right up to a rifle-toting enemy and just knock him down with one fist.
Feral strength will also come in handy when you need to interact with the environment. In one section, we used it to smash a siren that was alerting nearby guards to our presence, and in another, we had to punch our way out of a metal container in which we were being held captive. But naturally, hitting the enemies seems to be the best part about feral strength. Once you start receiving your feral abilities, you'll also be able to regenerate your health quickly, which we initially thought would make the game a little too easy. But when the mercenaries' high-powered weapons can take off half your health in the blink of an eye, regenerating health isn't such a big advantage after all.
You won't be doing all your killing by hand, of course, even if it's fun to do so. The heavy arsenal of the PC game is back, including the standard assortment of pistols, assault rifles, shotguns, sniper rifles, and so on. But it seems as though Instincts will deemphasize all-out gun battles to a large extent, given the inclusion of stealth elements that can often get you through an enemy encounter without making you even pull a trigger. You'll start out armed with only a knife, which you can use to do a one-hit stealth kill simply by sneaking up behind an enemy and holding the appropriate button. The catch is not to be seen or make too much noise, which often involves moving crouched or even prone--you'll make a lot of noise creeping through the underbrush. In stickier situations, we found it handy to toss a stone off ahead of an enemy to get his attention, which made it easier to off him silently. And of course, it's always convenient to set a tree-branch whip trap and lure an unsuspecting merc into it, which is as comical as it is useful.
All things considered, Ubi's Montreal studio looks to be doing an admiral job of translating Far Cry's stunning visuals to the Xbox. Granted, Microsoft's box is less capable than a high-end PC, so the focus of the level design here seems to have been shifted accordingly. Whereas the original game featured grand, sweeping vistas, with landscapes stretching on for miles, the levels in Instincts are more constrained and linear, ushering you along a path without as much room to move about freely. But these levels do look surprisingly close to those of the PC game, with lots of lush vegetation, appropriately overbright sunlight effects, and the same tropical color scheme that made the original a joy to look at.
From what we've seen so far, Far Cry Instincts will offer a well-rounded first-person action experience that will provide more than just shooting (though there's plenty of that in there--don't get us wrong). The Xbox is particularly prone to receiving watered-down ports of PC games, so it's nice to see Ubisoft putting in some real effort with this one. Instincts will also ship with a robust multiplayer component with full Live support, as well as a level editor that will let you keep the action raging after you've grown bored of the included maps. Check out our previous coverage of the game for more info on those features, and stay tuned for more before Far Cry Instincts ships.