Far Cry Instincts
Far Cry Instincts is a tough game to judge. You see, for every bit of gorgeous jungle environment and well-judged set piece, there is a sloppily-executed and predictably tedious slog, or a number of glitches which can’t help but detract from the overall experience. You play Jack Carver – a former marine turned tourist boat captain. You start the game parting ways with your female companion Val Cortez in the bay of an unfamiliar island, and soon enough two helicopters blow your ship out of the water for some unknown reason, leaving you to swim ashore and fend for yourself against hordes of mercenaries with only a knife. To begin with, stealth is your best friend. You’ll need to use guerrilla tactics to take down your opponents; by hiding in the undergrowth, silently killing them, distracting them by throwing rocks and setting up traps (in the form of spiked whip-branches).
Although the game is probably best in these early stages, it does threaten to become samey very soon in. It seems to follow a strict pattern: you’ll go along some ‘corridors’ until you happen across a small village or group of huts. Clear this area of bad guys (if you want) and move along to the next. Occasionally you can choose to take one of two paths, but ultimately they lead to the same destination. It helps create a slight sense of freedom, but is usually little more than an illusion. Sometimes, after killing all the bad guys in one area, you can steal a vehicle such as a jeep, quad bike, Jet Ski, hovercraft or handglider to progress through to the next area. Although these vehicles can be fun and do inject some much-needed variety, it is difficult driving or piloting from a first-person view at high speeds (especially through narrow areas) and the shooting/driving is very awkward, and something you may not use at all. Another curious design decision is that the more interesting vehicles – that is the hovercraft and handglider – are barely featured. There is only one time when you use the hovercraft and two for the handglider, compared to probably four times each (if not more) for the other vehicles. It seems strange that they would go to so much effort to include these in the game, and then not really feature them at all.
Without giving too much away, Jack soon gains ‘feral abilities’. These are effectively superpowers, such as super strength, health regeneration, super speed, night vision, etc. These are introduced periodically and from here on in the game gradually becomes more and more of a turkey shoot. You can still adopt stealth if you like, but why bother when you can run in, bludgeon everyone then wait for a moment while your health fully recharges?! It acts as both a blessing and a curse, as the early gameplay grows tiring and repetitive so perhaps the change of pace was needed, yet the feral abilities are not really a change for the better. Ideally these abilities should have been more regulated – perhaps you could only use them after a certain number of kills, or something – but as it stands, it is generally very easy to keep your feral meter maxed out, thanks to the fact it constantly recharges and there is a plentiful supply of adrenaline packs scattered around which top it up for you.
The control of Jack is pretty good. The controls are very similar to Halo 2, and like that game Jack can dual-wield two single-handed weapons, which are controller by each trigger. The black button switches between wielding your gun and placing one of your branch traps, which can be used to lure guards into silent death if you want to be a bit more cerebral and measured with your approach. The only real issue with the controls is that a lot of the time the B button (melee attack) was very unresponsive, and took multiple presses before it actually worked.
The enemy design is something of a mixed bag. You start off facing legions of mercenaries who have probably around five or six slightly different designs. They are not the most cunning enemies you’ll find, but display some basic tactics. Once aware of your presence they’ll sometimes try to flank you or throw a grenade or retreat to cover. And yet, a lot of the time you can simply hide around a corner and pop them in the head as they come around one by one. Later you find yourself fighting against mutants who display no tactics whatsoever; they stand out in the open and do little more than shoot at you. Later again there are also ‘shock troops’ that come complete with gas masks, a la Half-Life or Killzone. On the whole I was quite disappointed with the enemy designs. When I started playing I was expecting human opponents, but that changes for the worse all too soon.
Story-wise, all the cliche boxes are ticked. There’s the ol’ mad scientist, secret island laboratory, genetic experiments, psychotic mercenary captain and vengeful experimentee. The script is poor at best (with far too much needless swearing) and characters are not developed or explored at all. This is possibly the weakest part of the whole game and is a sorely missed opportunity on Ubisoft’s behalf to flesh out what could have been a genuinely interesting scenario.
The sound is generally of reasonable quality. The jungle sounds alive and active all of the time. In fact, this is somewhat undermined by the fact there seem to be no animals present (except a few fish). Maybe we’ve been a bit spoiled by the jungle in Snake Eater, but it would be nice to see a bit of fauna to go with all the flora. The sound effects are all adequate though; there are no complaints to level there. The voicework is a different matter. The primary cast are okay; not especially good but then not especially bad (despite the terrible script). The enemies’ voices in combat (which – lets face it – is likely to be what you’ll spend most of the time hearing) are awful; hardly better than Killzone. When bludgeoned to death, enemies emit a high-pitched squeal, sometimes even after their corpse has stopped moving. They scream a few phrases too, such as ‘get me some covering fire’, etc, but these number quite few and so are often repeated.
There can be no denying the technical achievement Ubisoft has created in porting this game to the Xbox. It has some of the prettiest scenery seen on ‘last’-gen consoles, with lovely water (complete with full reflections) and light/shadow effects. There is some pop-up, but there are few times you will be in the position to notice it. The character models are decent, if nothing special. The jungle vegetation is almost omnipresent, and it also looks good (a bit blurry up close, but I suppose that should be expected). Despite the high levels of detail there isn’t any noticeable slowdown especially, which is pleasing. The (very long) loading screen between levels does get rather annoying, but given that it happens about once every half hour and the levels themselves are undisturbed, it is wholly forgivable.
The physics are another feature which have been quite strangely implemented. Although you can interact with many things in the environment, like barrels or crates, you have to stand at a certain position and angle to the said object and press a button. It feels a little bit forced, unlike in say Half-Life 2 or Cold Winter where you have full interaction with pretty much everything the environment merely by walking around. Also, the ragdoll effects are a bit on the shaky side. Enemies become disturbingly stiff as soon as they die, and at times will ‘bounce’ around the scenery until they land. The weapon selection is decent, although nothing you won’t have seen before. There are the usual suspects, from a silenced pistol, through a few different types of machine gun, to a rocket launcher and a sniper rifle. Generally they feel pretty satisfying to use, if perhaps not quite as meaty as they should.
Strangely, every time you boot the game up you have to watch a 90-second trailer. You can’t skip it or avoid it; it happens every single time you switch your Xbox on. As you can imagine, this begins to get annoying after the 15th time in a goddamn row. Very odd decision, Ubisoft; please don’t do it again. Also, on one of the latter levels there was a glitch where the game would not save mid-level. Thankfully it seemed to be isolated to this one level, but this is not an isolated incident, so presumably it is a glitch with the programming and not my copy. There are also a few difficulty spikes in an otherwise easy game. Specifically, the last boss. In short, it puts you against the boss plus several of his minions, all armed with excellent weapons and with nowhere to take cover. You can probably expect to die against him a dozen times (having to re-view the pre-fight cutscene every time, annoyingly), and in the end it largely comes down to luck as much as skill. Tough bosses is not a bad thing by any means (Resident Evil 4 being a near-perfect example), but stacking the odds stupidly high against you just feels cheap. There were other points where the game sends waves of enemies at you, it strikes you simply as lazy design.
To conclude, Instincts had quite a bit going for it (good graphics, comfortable controls, unique setting) but then does a great job of screwing it all up and making you not care (repetitive levels, stupid enemy designs, slight unfinished feel in places). If you’re a FPS nut you might get some enjoyment out of this, but when there are so many better FPS’s out there (Halo, Half-Life 2, Riddick, Cold Winter, TimeSplitters 2) Far Cry Instincts is worthy of little more than a rental.