(Almost-)Retro-Reviewing »Far Cry«

(March 20, 2006)

During my school time and in the first years of university, I used to play computer games about as often as I did programming. But with the age came the seriousness – if I do play today, it’s mostly one of the classic games I fell in love with years ago. The only exception is the tiny amount of about two single-player 3D shooters per year, not only because I like the genre but I also want to see how the graphics improve over the time. So it’s not surprising that there are almost exclusively »triple A« titles on my agenda: Doom 3, Half-Life 2, Quake 4 and F.E.A.R. are the titles I played over the last two years. You may have noticed that one important game is missing: Far Cry. I always wanted to play it, but I didn’t have a decent graphics card back than and hence, I somehow missed it when it came out. Now I do have a strong enough PC and last month, I finally found – by accident – a low-price re-release version in an electronics store. However, I didn’t (and still don’t) have much time to play, but yesterday, I decided that if I don’t have time, I have to take it.

So I installed the game, the latest official patches and the latest nVidia drivers. I dug the Internet for information on how to activate high-dynamic range (HDR) rendering. I looked for a walkthrough and some cheats. (Yes, seriously. To me, games are entertainment, just like movies, only longer and more intense. I don’t need challenge, and I don’t want to be frustrated. I won’t play any game without »God Mode«. Now call me a wimp, I don’t care.)

First Impressions

The first four levels don’t only live up to my expectations, they were freakin’ excellent. The whole game is set on a tropical island paradise somewhere in Micronesia, and when I first got outside of the cave where the game started, my jaws dropped quite a bit. This game has by far the most realistic vegetation I’ve seen: knee-high grass, trees, bushes, exotic plants … everything is there and looks just great. The sandy shore and the deep blue water look credible, too. (The water shaders aren’t as excellent as Half-Life 2’s, though.) The enemy A.I. is the best I’ve seen yet – the evil mercineries use every occasion to take cover, if necessary. There is also a nice physics engine. However, the A.I., the physics engine and the game in general seem to be a little bit buggy in places – I had to restart the game every hour.

The gameplay and atmosphere is great, too. I just felt like being there. In the first levels, I explored the island by foot, car or boat, I visited a stranded, rusty aircraft carrier that lay around in a bay, I found an old, half-destroyed fortress in the hills – everything of that in just the right pace, there was no opportunity to get bored at any point. I started to hate me for not having played this two years ago :)

Odds and ends

Unfortunately, this good feeling didn’t last long. In Mission 5, I learned that the story is not about one man’s war against an island filled with hundreds of ill-tempered mercenaries. No, instead it’s about a megalomaniac scientist who did genetic experiments on this very island and thus created the usual »man vs. his creation« havoc that can’t keep me from yawning badly. There’s some nice »Unreal« and »Jurassic Park« mood in it, but later on, even that is missing. About half of the game is situated in the ever-same subterranean installations, but 6 or 8 years after Half-Life 1, this just fails to impress me. Fortunately, there are at least some outdoor missions put inbetween the bunker ones, but these suffer from the lack of the good lighting the starting levels had.

HDR rendering

There has been some hype about the HDR rendering options included in the more recent versions of Far Cry. Having a GeForce 6800 card, I played it in HDR mode, of course. The difference is nothing short of amazing. Without HDR, the graphics look a bit dull, even the green leaves aren’t really green. With HDR, I got a significant increase in contrast and overall vibrance. All these funky, modern shader effects suddenly started to show advantage. I also realized that much of Half-Life 2’s graphic quality was in fact due to Valve’s excellent fake HDR rendering techniques.

Conclusion

Far Cry is worth every single cent of the 16€ I paid for it. It would have been worth every single cent of the 40€ I’d have paid for it two years ago. Half of the game is boring, yes – but the other half features so great graphics and intense atmosphere that it’s easily on par with HL2 at these parts.

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