GOGathon: FarCry

by Shimmin

In which Shimmin attempts to play a ten-year-old FPS.
~
Most of you are probably aware of Good Old Games. Over Christmas, there was a sale on and with one thing and another I ended up buying several games. By ‘several’, I mean twenty-three. Well, arguably twenty-four or five, depending how you view expansions. It cost me about thirty quid, which is very nearly the same as free. In a significant departure from form, some of them are not RPGs.

I’m a bit of an odd case as games go. I started my gaming career on some species of Amiga at the tender age of about three, since at the time my mum was programming primary-age games, and have been using computers ever since. On the other hand, the only console I’ve ever had is a third- or fourth-hand Atari 2600, and I was never really up with the latest games. I haven’t had that much time for gaming for a few years, so the only remotely recent games I’ve played have been the Myst series and a few short indie things. GOG, then, is an opportunity for me to catch up on a fairly big chunk of gaming history. Shortly after starting the first couple of games, I mentioned this to our esteemed editor, and she expressed an interest in some Ferretbrain articles documenting my travels. How far I'll get with this is anyone's guess.

One man. Twenty-something games. No point. GOGathon.

Far Cry


I picked this specifically because I wanted an FPS to play. I’m trying to work out the last time I played an FPS. I’ve played games in FP, though Thief is the only one in recent years (Myst doesn’t count), and in Thief if you’re S’ing then you’re doing it wrong. I’m not sure I’ve ever played a non-demo FPS. In total, I’ve probably played no more than five hours of FPS in my life. I have, however, watched my housemate playing Gears of War, Halo Something, and similar modern FPSs. For anyone with extensive experience of the genre, this may be a painful read.

The intro video begins, and I watch eagerly to find out the compelling backstory that will guide my steps in this game. For optimal results, read the following out loud in the style of a horse-racing commentator:
There is wreckage on a water, which de-explodes itself into a sailing boat, with a guy hanging off the mast. Zoom out! Now the same guy is on another boat nearby with the name I just saw on the wreckage of the exploded boat. A woman with binoculars leaves on a jetski! Somebody fires a missile which destroys ManBoat! Man is blown into the air, lands underwater, then we look at tiny shiny beads which zoom out to reveal a volcano, then jump back to Man, falling into the volcano (possibly no longer underwater?), then he swims up and breaks the surface! A thunderstorm! Man rises slowly from the water surrounded by monsters, then is back underwater. The water is now jungle. Man is running, being chased, firing a big gun, running AND firing a big gun; now he’s underwater again, swimming away from a wreck, then back in a jungle with a SMG, then swimming again, and someone throws a grenade at the swimming man underwater just as he enters an underwater cave and it blows up and possibly traps him there or something I’m not sure. FarCry!

Okay, that was less successful than I hoped.

Gameplay


The game begins promisingly with a sort of guide-your-steps, though not a tutorial. I stick with the Medium difficulty, though I suspect I am exactly the sort of person that “Easy” was made for. The game quickly introduces movement, crouching, the concept of body armour and weapons, and a couple of stealth tips. There’s a sort of stealthometer, which is vaguely reminiscent of Thief, and a button that throws rocks to distract guards. One of the reasons this was the FPS I chose is that it seemed to offer a sort of stealth-shooter game, which I hope will be more suitable to my taste and experience than pure FPS. I quickly discover it’s not going to be as easy as all that, though, starting with my first instruction: search some huts for weapons and equipment, and avoid the guards. Stealth works quite differently from Thief: it’s line-of-sight not shadow-based, and I don’t have a silent weapon. After a few attempts, I conclude that it’s not realistically possible to search the huts without attracting the attention of the guards, who are singularly adept at spotting a human figure technically within line-of-sight but well outside their expected field of vision and crouched motionless against a colourful jungle backdrop. Since they will inevitably spot me and machine-gun me from ten feet away, I choose instead to skulk around the edges and pick them off one by one, before ransacking the place. Eventually I discover a knife, which is presumably intended as the stealth kill weapon, and also allows you to break open vents to crawl through. I attempt to use it for stealth killing, find it impossible to approach guards without alerting them, and realise that shooting everyone in the face is a better option.

From my Thiefcentric expectations of stealth games, it’s frustrating. Thick layers of foliage make it very difficult to see more than a literal couple of feet ahead in many places, and there’s no way to brush aside a frond (as you would) to get a view or take a shot. The crudeness of the stealth engine means you can’t (well, I can’t) sneak past guards or quietly eliminate them. The third and most arbitrary problem is down to keyboard mapping: the button that throws a rock to distract a guard is also the button for throwing a grenade, and every so often turns out to have reset to its explosive default. Stealthy! After a while, I’ve adjusted my expectations accordingly: it’s not a stealth-shooter, it’s an FPS that monitors guard alertness and allows for vaguely cautious play. I proceed with evasive pragmatism, sneaking about and headshotting people. Enemy-tagging binoculars let you monitor movement on your stealthometer/objective radar, which is a reasonable compromise between “allowing enemy ambushes” and “having any idea what’s going on”, though irritatingly people you’ve only seen with your eyes or through a gunsight (so, most people) are not tagged. Especially later in the game, inside cramped buildings, I really don’t have the luxury of spying out the land to spot all twenty enemies in an area before the fight kicks off. In any case most of them will burst out of nearby doorways.

The graphics are adequate (for me) and being old I can run it easily on the top settings. I quite liked sneaking around guard compounds and sniping people, although it got repetitive. The shooting bits were mostly okay, plenty of ammo and that sort of thing; however, the AI seemed a little too good at spotting me (especially in the dark), and there are quite a few bottlenecks where I got frustrated trying to fight my way through a dozen guards at once. Blokes with rocket launchers in watchtowers have been a particular annoyance, since they seem able to pick out a slight movement through the trees half a mile away, can instantly recognise it as hostile, have an infinite number of expensive missiles to waste on one intruder on foot, and can spot you, load, aim and fire an unwieldy missile launcher faster than you can a sniper rifle. My attempts to switch to the more realistic Easy difficult were stymied because they don’t let you switch mid-campaign, and there was no way I was playing the first five levels again.

Freedom


Far Cry allows a limited amount of freedom, but in most places the world is largely walled off. Leaving aside the abundance of unclimbably steep hillocks (despite the handholds offered by lush vegetation), in most places heading off into the wilds gets you a warning about patrolling helicopters, followed by autodeath. This is annoying, and especially so when you’re in a rocket-launcher-equipped vehicle perfectly capable of taking down helicopters, and have in fact just done so. You are generally compelled to go through the merc-filled areas and take out large numbers of guards, rather than avoiding them as would be sensible. Checkpoint saving is a bit frustrating to someone used to complete freedom, and in practical terms is a major annoyance. Real life means I tend to play games in short bursts, and often stop playing to do something else; the sparseness of checkpoints (coupled with my cautious play style) means I’m often left playing for longer than is convenient, or losing significant amounts of progress.

The game has an equally ambivalent attitude to creativity, which is occasionally fine but generally impossible and occasionally fatal. Early on, I stole numerous vehicles, including a patrol boat, to get onto a wrecked ship where I was supposed to think I might expect to find my missing partner, though we all know which castle the princess is in. It’s a very linear section and I frequently backtracked to get ammo or health I hadn’t needed earlier. Having naturally found that my partner was elsewhere, I was told to fight my way to the top of the wreck to steal a boat hanging there for use by the guards. Okaaaay. Or, I could use the patrol boat I left just down the coast! So I hopped off the ship and went to find... an empty spot where I left my boat. It had vanished between checkpoints. Okay, fine, I’ll go back inside... no, I can’t, because the hole I used to get into the ship was now sealed, since they blocked it off as soon as I entered to stop me backtracking. Sigh and reload. I headed upstairs, only to be massacred repeatedly and simultaneously by twelve guards, a machinegun post and a combat helicopter (I kid you not). Which difficulty setting did I pick, again? Medium, right? Eventually, I remembered a fixed machine-gun post two decks down I’d I de-manned earlier. To my great pleasure, I managed to make my way back there, lure the ‘copter over and shred it into tiny exploding pieces. Finally clearing the top deck, I rushed over to the boat. The F key, my go-to method for Doing Stuff, was silent. After some pondering, I hopped into the boat, played about for a bit, and eventually managed to fall off the boat and into the water. Sigh, reload, rekill. After three attempts to launch the boat, each eventually leaving me stuck outside, I checked the web and discover that you have to shoot the chains holding the boat. Duh. This will cause it to drop fifty feet into the sea end-first, which will in no way break it or its delicate onboard engine... and you know, it must be expensive to replace the chains every time the mercs have launched their boat. Let alone the health and safety issues of ‘automatic rifle’ as a release tool, and the hassle of dragging a boat up four stories and many small ladders every time you get back. As I was wearily shooting down the helicopter for the umpteenth time, a thought came to me. Clambering carefully around the side, I managed to get a bead on the dinghy far above and far away, and take careful aim with my rifle. Pang, pang, it dropped into the sea. I followed, leapt aboard... and it let me go on to the next mission. Frankly that was completely unexpected, but I was pleasantly surprised.

Unfortunately, that’s about the only success I’ve had. Almost total inability to manipulate moveable objects, such as the ubiquitous crates, means you can’t provide a bit of cover against the twenty mercs waiting through the next door, or stack up items to reach another level, or block a door so you can’t be surrounded. Well, you can actually block a door, but then you can’t unblock it again when you need to get through it. Sigh and reload.

Gaming Canary


For the first ten levels or so the gameplay and plot was fun enough to overcome my irritations. I was vaguely interested in their sparse and barely-mentioned “story”, at least to the extent of having a minor curiosity as to who I am and what I’m doing, right up until the mysterious CIA agent on the phone explained. It turns out I’m an ex-special forces type who now gives boat trips, and they hired me to take an agent to an island full of evil scientists (without telling me that). The logic is painful. They deliberately hired a SEAL because they suspected the trip would be dangerous; but they didn’t send more than one agent, or provide any actual backup, and carefully left the SEAL going into a dangerous situation completely ignorant of the situation so he could be as ineffective as reasonably possible. That is a very specific level of planning. On the plus side the opening cutscene now makes fractionally more sense.

Having played about ten levels, I’m pretty sure I've reached my limit. After I escaped from immediate danger and rescuing the CIA agent, she naturally insisted on trying to stop the whole plan single-handed, rather than escaping or getting help or anything preposterous like that. We discovered that the Evil Scientists™ are creating powerful Killer Mutants™, some of which have already escaped, and the vast army of mercenaries struggle to deal even with those handful. And naturally, the cunning plan she produced was to release the rest of the mutants as a diversion. Super-strong, psychotic mutants with no fear or sense of self-preservation. This is like saying: “We’re going to rob the safe at the grizzly sanctuary. What we’ll do is, release all five hundred grizzlies into the grounds to distract the security guard, and then make our way across the grounds to the office. It’ll be much easier. And in case we get hungry on the way, I brought a rucksack full of hot bacon butties.” Nobody had any criticism to make of this plan, even the CIA mole amongst the scientists who is presumably endangered by it. And I just fought my way through another army of guards just to carry it out. Now I’m standing at the start of another mission, and both the cutscene and a quick check have made it quite clear that the place is full of ferocious mutated apes and psychotic mutant soldiers, who have all the equipment they just pried from the cold dead hands of their captors, and are five times more dangerous. In front of me is a network of dark, narrow ducts to crawl through, through which jets of scalding steam erupt.

You know what, game? Sod that for a lark.

Verdict


FarCry is, on balance, worth the money I paid for it. I couldn’t honestly say it’s worth much more. I’ve had a few hours of entertainment out of it, but I’m not going to get the satisfaction of the actual ending, which rather diminishes the whole experience. There are too many awkward aspects and the plot is too irritating for me to play on. Some of my irritations may be more a matter of the FPS genre not being for me than this game specifically, but it's hard to know.

On the other hand, it does at least include my favourite overheard lampshading quote of all time: “There’s no natives left, no tourists, no nothing – so what’re we guarding it from? Wild pigs? Really pissed off starfish?”
~

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Comments (go to latest)
Wardog at 13:21 on 2012-03-09
After three attempts to launch the boat, each eventually leaving me stuck outside, I checked the web and discover that you have to shoot the chains holding the boat. Duh.

Duh indeed, my boy. You're in a FPS, your first action should always be to shoot randomly at shit.
Shimmin at 14:35 on 2012-03-09
Previous experience had revealed that shooting vehicles tended to make them explode. It made me a tad wary of opening fire around plot-critical boats.
James D at 15:04 on 2012-03-09
Just FYI, Far Cry's plot is intended to sort of pay homage to cheesy action movies like Predator - if you're taking it seriously, you're doing it wrong. Also, if you're wondering about guards spotting you from a mile off, well, you're wearing a bright red Hawaiian shirt, not exactly good camouflage!
Axiomatic at 16:19 on 2012-03-09
I like FarCry quite a lot, and I have to admit, it's only a good game until the EvilMutants are introduced. Then it just becomes stupid, with cool and tactically smart enemies being replaced by monsters with tons of health.
Shimmin at 22:41 on 2012-03-09
@James: are you sure? I can sort of see that it might be, but then the dividing line between parody-of-cheesy-action-film, tongue-in-cheek CAF and straitlaced CAF is blurry enough that I honestly didn't notice. Ah, how to word this..? When you get right down to it, virtually all action films or games are preposterous. The whole "lone hero against countless foes" thing is clearly implausible and the plots are usually head-scratching as well. But aside from the comments of the guards, which are sometimes pretty tongue-in-cheek, I didn't get a parody vibe from the plot. Evil scientist creates killer mutants, only one man can save the world? That's about par for the course. Obey a mysterious commanding voice by doing arbitrary tasks? Happens all the time. I can't say that I approached the thing with deadly seriousness, but I did take it at face value and saw nothing to make me revise that view. Carver (the PC) snarks about his orders, but it just came across as typical action-film snarking.

The plot holes I picked are painful not just because they're illogical, or because they make the characters seem stupid, but because they're completely unnecessary. The protagonist could perfectly well have gone to the island on purpose rather than through fortunate incompetence. The obligatory mutant takeover didn't have to result from a stupid plan that I went through with uncomplainingly, and once you have a Chekhov's Mutant Army you can't really not use it (though you could subvert expectations entirely).

What I might not have made clear is that I didn't drop the game just because of a couple of plot holes. It's just that I slowly ended up with less and less reason to keep playing. After shooting the first thousand or so mercs, I sort of lost interest in that; picking people off felt monotonous, and I'm too incompetent and highly-strung to find frantic close range combat anything but stressful. After I'd blown up a few helicopters and driven some buggies, that was all pretty samey too. The indoor content seemed less interesting and more restrictive than the first few outdoor levels. The new content consisted of tougher or more dangerous enemies, rather than anything especially novel. So what was keeping me going was inertia and mild interest in the plot. At the point where I stopped, I felt the story had run out of steam, and Carver was doing whatever ramped up the drama rather than anything clever or sensible. Faced with the prospect of harder, more stressful combat against tougher enemies in a fairly linear and frankly depressing environment, and not feeling any particular need to find out what happens next, I just realised I had no reason to keep playing.

If I could've switched to a Very Easy mode and coasted on a bit to see if there'd be interesting content later on, I might have; but that wasn't allowed. I suspect not, anyway. The prospect of fighting mutant monkeys in a dark tunnel just held no appeal for me.
Shimmin at 22:50 on 2012-03-09
@James: I'll grant you that a bright red shirt isn't stealthy as such, but it's amazing how difficult things are to spot when you're not looking for them, especially against a busy background, in shadow and some distance away. See also: parrots. In any case a special forces dude should have had the nouse to nick someone's shirt. Apart from anything else his kit was all soaked with seawater and oil.

@Axiomatic: the mercs did actually impress me quite a bit, though I'm fairly ignorant on the AI front. They ran to investigate stuff, made pincer movements, snuck up on me, used grenades and covering fire, and sometimes even retreated instead of making suicide runs.
James D at 00:55 on 2012-03-10
Well really, it's either a hilarious parody that's intentionally cheesy, or it's an intentionally cheesy serious action movie, or it's an unintentionally cheesy serious action movie, but in all cases it's cheesy and hilarious. I mean, c'mon (spoiler warning):
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-AvQBs02Rjw&t=8m19s
I can't watch that and many of the guy's other lines without busting out laughing.
Axiomatic at 07:36 on 2012-03-10
Well, let me tell you what you missed: Very big mutants with rocket launcher arms and ten gazillion health points.

Basically, by stopping playing where you did, you've already seen all the best parts of Far Cry. The vehicles, the merc AI, the relative freedom to choose your approach. In the later levels, none of these things are improved, and several of them become worse.
Alasdair Czyrnyj at 01:55 on 2012-03-12
I'm sorry to hear that you didn't have that much fun with FarCry, Shimmin. I enjoyed most of it back in the day, and while it's not one of my favorites, I do like to dig it out and run through it once and a while.

Now, I would agree that it's not really made for the stealth approach. You can use stealth to a certain degree in the indoor areas, but otherwise it's not worth it. Personally, I found that the best way to go through the game is to just hide in the bushes as far away from everyone else as you can and snipe everything (i.e. the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. strategy). I think Crysis handles stealth a little better (hell, you magic future armor has a cloaking device built into it), but I've always been wary of playing stealthy in FPSes. I always fear that if I just sneak past people, I'm only setting myself up to be royally screwed if I get wounded farther ahead and need to retreat.

Still, there are a lot of problems. As you may have noticed, the fun takes a nosedive once the trigens show up, though I found they were manageable if you run at them and shotgun them in the face. (The Pancor Jackhammer will become your best friend after the halfway mark), and the game does have one or two mercenary-only levels which recapture some of the old fun.

That last level, though...god damn. There's a volcanic caldera, swarming with giant rocket-launcher-wielding trigens and grinning blue ninja trigens, and the door to the only health and ammo room locks you out once you leave. Even on easy I have only ever been able to beat that level with cheats. It's terrible.

I also want to toss a link to an arty little mod-thing called Jeux D'Ombres that works off of FarCry . It's very pretty in a minimalist-Expressionist sort of way.
Shimmin at 09:39 on 2012-03-12
@Alasdair: oh, don't get me wrong, I did enjoy myself. Learning a (more or less) completely new type of game was interesting, and I can see why it appeals to people. The early frustrations were a mixture of wrong expectations and not being very good; keeping tabs on enemies would be much less of an issue if I were better at dealing with them when they popped up. So barring a few specific frustrating parts it was fine, and in the early stages I kept getting new toys to play with. Steal a buggy and ride around! Ambush this jeep with the rocket-launcher and bombard people! Pick off a patrolboat crew and swim out to steal their boat! Creep around walkways picking off trigens! There's a difficult but nevertheless fun bit where you fend off an attack by two helicopters and a planeful of mercs, while getting bombarded by missile boats; running around with my rocket launcher and working out the tactics was very satisfying. You can steal a hang-glider and soar around the place, and in fact if they'd given me more freedom I could have happily spent quite a while just whizzing around the islands looking at stuff by glider or boat. A game I would have played more of is a sandbox version of the whole thing where you could pick your own strategies (and avoid the trigen stuff altogether if you wanted) and sail around cheerfully between islands.

Basically the fun vs. frustration quotients were dovetailing, and I decided to quit while I was ahead rather than push on and regret it.

Yeah, the trigens are tiresome. The leaping? No, thank you. I mostly ended up sneaking forward and then luring them out to wherever the last heavy weapon emplacement was.
Robinson L at 23:00 on 2012-03-30
For optimal results, read the following out loud in the style of a horse-racing commentator

I did it. Worked a lot more easily than I expected, considering I've never done a voice like that before (I shall have to keep it in mind for future reference). Managed to keep from cracking up the whole way, too, but still pretty hilarious.
Shimmin at 19:15 on 2012-04-11
Just as a follow-up: I succumbed to vague curiosity a few days ago and reloaded my last checkpoint to see what happens. I played another couple of checkpoints, but I really wasn't feeling it. So, pretty much as expected.
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