Far Cry Exclusive Updated Hands-On Preview
We take an exclusive look at some new levels in Ubisoft and Crytek's upcoming shooter.
First-person shooters started out as simplistic, arcade-style games that let you run through corridors and hallways while blasting every enemy in sight from a first-person perspective. But things are a little different now. The games that used to focus on shooting aliens and other monsters now feature advanced 3D graphics, sophisticated AI routines, online multiplayer, squad-based tactics, and lots of other impressive-sounding stuff. Far Cry, from publisher Ubisoft and developer Crytek, will be one of these advanced first-person shooters. And from the time we spent with the game, it seems like it should have plenty to offer.
We've already seen a great deal of Far Cry at this point, and if you've been following our coverage, you have too. The first-person shooter will have both multiplayer modes and a story-based single-player game that stars a down-on-his-luck fellow named Jack Carver. Jack has recently retired from his previous profession to become a charter boat captain. Everything seems fine for him until Val Cortez, a female reporter, commissions Carver's services to help her investigate a mysterious installation in the tropics. The installation turns out to be a lot more than either expects. Apparently, a mysterious scientist named Krieger is conducting some kind of dangerous, top secret research on the islands, and before Carver can figure out what's happening, his boat is blown up, he's left for dead, and Val is kidnapped. However, Carver has at least one ally in the form of Doyle, a mysterious contact who gives Carver updates by radio. Carver didn't ask to be put in the situation he's in, but he'll stop at nothing to get himself out by discovering who attacked him and why. And nothing will prevent him from rescuing Val--so that she can pay him, of course.
The story is a setup for what appears to be a very challenging first-person shooter in which you must single-handedly take on armies of skilled soldiers--who are guarding the perimeter of Krieger's compound--in addition to other enemies within. One of the new levels we played through, named "research," begins on a tropical island, but the level itself also offers interior areas in the form of a network of caves that lead into the facility. As we've discussed in our previous coverage, developer Crytek has gone out of its way to make Far Cry's tropical areas look as lush and colorful as possible by featuring miles of shimmering ocean next to scenic beach vistas. The beaches, in turn, border jungles that are full of high grass, bushes, and palm trees that sway in the wind. The foliage here doesn't just serve as scenery; it also provides necessary cover and concealment. Since Carver is up against trained soldiers in many parts of the game, he definitely needs all the help he can get.
Even though we've seen a great deal of pretty outdoor scenery in Far Cry, it seems that the game has some pretty impressive indoor environments as well. On the way to Krieger's compound, you may find yourself exploring grottoes off of the beach. A real beach grotto would likely be made of wet-looking stone formations--and that's, more or less, exactly what one looks like in Far Cry. This is due to Crytek's "polybump" mapping technique, which provides a very good-looking brand of bump-mapped polygons that present textures that seem to "stick out" realistically. This look is enhanced further by the game's lighting effects, which provide for dynamic lighting and soft shadows, especially when flashlight beams appear from patrolling enemies. As enemy soldiers approach you from around a corner, you'll not only hear their footsteps growing louder, but you'll also see their flashlight beams as they travel along the wall and elongate and deform realistically. Far Cry's indoor architecture has a solid, substantial look to it (since indoor objects are normal-mapped), and walls, floors, and ceilings have clean-looking industrial textures. And for kicks, once you're in the base, you can also shoot hanging lamps, which causes them to sway and cast moving lights and shadows onto the objects in the room.The game even has a series of interesting graphical effects that help add more tension to your encounters with enemy soldiers. Taking heavy fire blurs your onscreen vision, and getting caught in an enemy's grenade blast also muffles the game's audio, to simulate getting temporarily deafened. Far Cry also has flashbang grenades that incapacitate enemy soldiers and can make life difficult for you if you yourself are caught in the blast radius. If this happens, the entire screen goes white for a moment, then your vision gradually returns, but there will be a static image of the screen you had been looking at previously superimposed on your current view. This is to simulate the fact that the last scene you saw before you were hit with the flashbang is temporarily burned into your retinas, so even though you can move normally, all objects onscreen--your guns, your enemies, and the environment--will appear as hazy after-images. Also, the game lets you press the right mouse button to concentrate on your targets (or zoom in on them, if your weapon is scoped), and while doing so, you can press the space bar to hold your breath while steadying your aim--just don't hold your breath too long, or you'll become lightheaded from lack of air and your vision will start to go dark.
Two Tickets to Paradise
You might get a cheap thrill from firing off random shots in some of Far Cry's environments just to see what they'll do to the lighting or to many of the game's physically modeled objects, which can be moved, rolled, and destroyed with a reasonable a push or with enough gunfire. However, it's not a good idea to do this when there are enemies around. Far Cry isn't a run-and-gun shoot-'em-up game because Carver is often heavily outnumbered, so treading carefully is a good idea. Fortunately, the game provides some useful reconnaissance tools, including a pair of binoculars that can zoom incredible distances and can pick up ambient noises, such as footsteps and even conversations.
The first few times we tangled with large groups of enemy soldiers, we found them to be surprisingly tough. As we've discussed in our previous coverage of the game, many of Far Cry's enemies exhibit complex artificial intelligence, which lets them draw beads on your current position so that they can realistically suppress your movements with covering fire rather than magically following you wherever you go and unfairly killing you outright each time. While your enemies might be tough, they're also awfully chatty, and they can be outguessed by their various audio cues. For instance, soldiers will shout when they've sighted you; they'll shout when they've lost sight of you; they'll shout when they're out of ammo and are reloading; and they'll shout when they're running for reinforcements. Your enemies also follow orders from a commander unit who coordinates team offensives, like diversions and flanking maneuvers. So if you can get rid of a commanding officer, your other enemies will immediately cease to work together and will use solo tactics, which can make them easier to take on.
We were also able to try a late-game area simply called "boat," which proved to be a huge level that tasked us with seeking out and destroying a series of high-altitude control towers with static charges. This expansive level consists of an island chain mostly submerged in water, so we found ourselves using rafts and PT boats to cover ground quickly. Far Cry lets you hop into any usable vehicle simply by approaching it and pressing the "use" key. The game has plenty of different vehicles, including jeeps, boats, and even a hang glider. Some of these, such as the Humvee, seem reminiscent of EA's popular shooter Battlefield 1942, since they handle with just enough realism to be believable, but are otherwise incredibly easy to drive. Many of them also have powerful mounted weapons, which you can shoot while driving. Thankfully, the game has a third-person perspective option that lets you get a better view of your surroundings as you drive. And many of Far Cry's areas also feature static gun emplacements that house miniguns and grenade launchers. In fact, one grenade launcher actually lets you aim twice--once to sight an enemy and a second time to correct your firing arc.
These new areas, like Far Cry's other levels, are evidently designed to be open-ended so that you can play through them in multiple ways. Your handy compass points you directly to your next objective, so you can attempt to complete each goal as quickly as possible, or you can take the longer way around. While it's certainly more time-consuming to navigate around a hotspot, it can also be far less dangerous. Far Cry's single-player game simply isn't built to let you muscle your way through it with guns blazing, especially since enemies call for reinforcements, and you can get swarmed quickly. However, Far Cry's enemies don't simply spawn out of thin air. Instead, they're actually present at the beginning of each level, so by carefully skirting the edges of enemy encampments, you can actually thin out your enemies' reinforcements ahead of time.
Far Cry seems to be coming along well at this point. Publisher Ubisoft recently started a closed beta test for the game to work the kinks out of its multiplayer, and the publisher also expects to release a single-player demo on January 21. Far Cry is scheduled for release later this year.
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