Far Cry is like a rough gem; it's in dire need of some polish, but it's a gem nonetheless.
In Far Cry you take the role of Jack Carver, a former soldier now working as a traveling guide. In his current job, he's escorting Valerie Constantine. All seems to go just dandy until his ship is blown up an he's stranded in a hostile island full of mercenaries with an unknown agenda. Strangely enough, Jack gets contacted via an abandoned PDA by a man known simply as Doyle, who offers him a way out of the island in exchange for some help. Eventually you'll discover some sinister plans that involve mutation experiments by a crazed up individual. The story is relatively weak, with some predictable plot twists (save for a nasty surprise near the end), but it gets the job done as far as motivating you to get through the game.
Where Far Cry excels, is in providing a sandbox like environment where you're free to take different paths and negotiate difficult situations in a variety of ways. Whether it's a stealthy approach, a gung-ho attack, or a combination of both, they're all viable if you play your cards correctly. The game encourages to study the situation before striking, especially in the early levels which are much more open ended. Further down the road you come across certain levels that are more linear and restrict your freedom a bit (which may turn off some players) but they still offer plenty of exciting encounters.
In the early portion of the game, spotting enemies from far away is the best way to go. It's possible to tag enemies with the binoculars, which in turn makes them show up on the minimap. Once you get your hands on the sniper rifle, it's a joy to reduce enemy forces until you're ready to wipe them out with an assault rifle. Sometimes the enemy opposition is so overwhelming that you must make use of everything on your arsenal, or in extreme cases run away for your life. This is especially true for the middle and latter portions of the game, where mutants who can kill you in one hit start showing up. The change in pace is a bit jarring at first, but eventually you'll get used to it.
Unfortunately certain levels suffer from over ambitious design. A good example would be the level "Rebellion" which is by far the largest one in the game. While this level is a technical masterpiece, it's so big that it can get horribly confusing. Worse, at this point in the game you're already facing mutants and since the level takes place at night, it's really easy to get ambushed by a hidden mutant and be forced to go back to the previous checkpoint.
Checkpoints? Yes, one of the biggest design issues with Far Cry is the checkpoint saving system. It's not that a checkpoint system is bad. For the most part checkpoints are well placed, but occasionally you'll go across long stretches of the game without finding a checkpoint, something that coupled with the high level of difficulty in certain sections can be incredibly frustrating. It should be noted that with the latest patch there's a quicksave option available via a console command (which can be mapped to a regular key with some small tweaking).
Speaking of difficulty, that's the other major issue with Far Cry. The game is just brutally punishing. Even on easy difficulty, you can expect to die a lot in some of the more difficult sections. At medium and above the game becomes hell. While challenging games are something I crave and appreciate (like Rainbow Six Vegas on realistic or Call of Duty on Veteran), the worst sections in Far Cry aren't challenging but just plain stupid difficult. The best example is a section where you have to get across a volcano littered with mercenaries and mutants. There are so many enemies present that you'll likely get killed without even knowing what killed you. It's moments like this that bring the game to a crashing halt.
One last issue I had with Far Cry was the length. Not that it was short, not at all. The game is long, very long. Each of the twenty levels can take up to an hour to finish. Normally you wouldn't complain about more content, but given the many issues present in the game, at certain points you wish the developers had cut some content that probably wasn't of the best quality.
Moving on to some of the more positive aspects of the game, we have the technical quality of the game. For its time, the game sported some of the best visuals around. What was more impressive was how well the outdoor environments were rendered given the sheer size of them. Elements like HDR were eventually added in further patches, making the game even more spectacular. The CryEngine proved to be a huge step forward in what PC graphics could achieve.
Far Cry's sound is also well handled. The main theme is one of my favorite pieces in all of gaming, a tune that never fails to get my blood pumped. There's plenty of music scattered through the levels, most of it fitting to the current situation. Voice acting on the other hand is way overblown, almost in a comical way. This isn't a bad thing given the nature of the story, but some of the cheesy dialog may be a bit excessive.
Like I said in my opening line, Far Cry is like a rough gem, one that with the right amount of polish could become a sight to behold. Thankfully, developer Crytek learned from its mistakes and crafted one of the greatest games of all time, Crysis. While Crysis represents the game Crytek wanted to make in the first place, their rookie effort is a landmark title nonetheless, one that no shooter fan should let pass by.