Rescue a mysterious woman from a mad scientist.
PC Release: March 23, 2004
By Ian Coppock
There’s a certain charm that can only be found in really bad action movies. Whether it’s 1989’s Roadhouse starring Patrick Swayze, or 2016’s The Asian Connection with the one and only Steven Seagal, there’s a special cadre of films out there whose combination of acting, dialogue and special effects is so atrocious, so cliched, that it’s weirdly endearing. Similarly, there’s an elite corps of video games that espouse similar effects to unintended, yet paradoxically enjoyable, consequences. They produce an enjoyable experience despite employing certain conventions and cliches to an obnoxious level. Few periods in video game history produced more of these titles than the early 2000’s, and few of them are more memorable than the original Far Cry.
The Far Cry franchise is best-known today for its volatile, open-world anarchy with lots of guns and colorful antagonists. Under Ubisoft’s hand, the series has become renowned for giving players lots of guns and lots of freedom to do whatever they want in an open world with said guns. However, this wasn’t always the case. Before the psychopathy of Vaas and the dizzying heights of Kyrat, the Far Cry series was the brainchild of Crytek, a German developer best known for developing Crysis, Ryse, and anything else whose title they can fit a misspelled “y” into.
Indeed, about the only thing Far Cry has in common with its sequels is, well, the name Far Cry. In sharp contrast to the open-world adventure fests of the games that would come after it, the original Far Cry is a linear first-person shooter with heavy sci-fi elements. These elements would be abandoned once Ubisoft acquired the full rights to the franchise and commenced production on Far Cry 2, but they would survive into the production of Crysis, Crytek’s next game. Far Cry may have almost nothing in common with its more recent successors, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t still have a penchant for chaos.
Far Cry is set in modern times and tells the story of Jack Carver, who is perhaps the most obnoxiously over-the-top action hero video gaming has ever produced. That’s not exactly a low bar to clear, either. Somehow, Crytek managed to distill the DNA of every white, macho action hero into one protagonist, and it shows in everything from his ridiculous one-liners to his unmatched skills with high-powered weaponry.
The story of Far Cry begins, as many cliched action movies do, with the protagonist having left his life as a special forces soldier behind in favor of keeping a low profile; in Jack Carver’s case, running a charter boat service in Polynesia. Jack’s newest client is Val Cortez, a mysterious journalist who hires Jack’s boat to sail near an equally mysterious archipelago. Not long after Val departs the ship via jet ski, Jack is attacked by mercenaries armed with rocket launchers, who sink his ship and leave him marooned on the islands. Jack learns that the archipelago is the domain of the evil Dr. Kreiger (not to be confused with the character from FX’s Archer), a German scientist who conducts genetic experiments. Not long after his arrival, Jack is contacted by Doyle, a scientist who wishes to defect from Dr. Krieger. The pair strike a deal; Doyle will help Jack find Val in exchange for Jack’s help exposing Dr. Krieger.
As a former spec ops soldier, Jack is proficient with all of the pistols, assault rifles, shotguns and other weaponry to be found across the archipelago. Paradoxically, he also has no problem picking up and using the more advanced weapons found later in the game. The gunplay in Far Cry is absolutely nothing that shooter players haven’t seen before; Jack shoots enemy, enemy shoots back, both parties continue shooting until one has too many bullets inside of him. Jack can restore his health with first aid kits scattered around the islands, and protect himself with body armor pickups found in mercenary camps. Players can also drive cars, steer boats, and even use hang gliders to get from area to area. The levels in Far Cry are linear, but they’re large, giving players lots of leeway in picking their approach to the next area. Jack can also sneak through the jungle and knife people with his machete, but the game’s AI is supernaturally gifted at picking up trespassers, making all-out gun battles the only true way to proceed. It helps to proceed skirmishes by blowing up the conspicuously placed fuel tanks in enemy encampments.
Like many shooters from the 90’s and early 2000’s, Far Cry is quite difficult by modern standards. The game doesn’t have a save feature, relying solely on checkpoints that can be quite far apart. Players have to take care to move through each area cautiously, making sure to kill all enemies and leave nothing, especially distant snipers, to chance. Easy mode on this game is normal or hard mode on a modern shooter. Far Cry is rarely unfair in its checkpoint allocation, but it can still be cruel, especially during the volcano confrontation at the very end of the game. Far Cry is old-school territory, and players who can’t live without a save button or checkpoints every five feet might get frustrated.
It’s at this point that the musings about so-bad-it’s-good action films come into play, because the plot of Far Cry is precisely that. For starters, Jack Carver’s voice acting is bad. Hilariously bad. The character retains a macho-man demeanor throughout the entire game and in everything he says. Indeed, he uses a movie announcer voice for all of his conversations, making it impossible to take him seriously as a character. And yet, his bad voice acting conveys the facepalming charm of, say, a Chuck Norris joke, and in so doing remains entertaining to listen to. Val Cortez, Jack’s mysterious female companion, is obnoxiously sexualized just like every action film female protagonist ever. It’s not excusable, but given that similarly low effort was put into everything else about this game’s plot, it’s unsurprising.
The adventure of Jack Carver reads like a collaboration between Michael Bay, Ian Fleming, and Sylvester Stallone. The evil Dr. Krieger has been performing experiments on mutating primates, resulting in vicious creatures called Trigens. These beasts escape their lab and run amok across the island, opening a three-way battle between them, Jack, and Dr. Krieger. Dr. Krieger is holed up in a cool volcano base in the middle of the island, and plans to use the virus to make himself lord and master of the world… somehow. He also has nukes, because every action villain has nukes. Far Cry delivers all of these plot elements without a single shred of irony, and, just like Jack’s voice acting, that’s what makes them endearing.
Although Far Cry‘s gameplay remains surprisingly sturdy for a 12-year-old game, the graphics have not aged very well. Sure, players will be able to discern what type of gun they’re holding and who to shoot it at, but some of the design elements are pretty under-baked even for a shooter that came out in ’04. Some of the textures, especially details on the character models, are absolutely atrocious, like the all-pixel suspenders the mercenary commander wears. The character animations are passable, though, and the game even features ragdoll physics, which were cutting-edge back then. The game’s environments are also pretty to look at, if more for their colors than their finer details. The sound design is the usual package of things going boom and intense drum-and-guitar action scoring, but, again, nothing that hasn’t been done before.
Even though Far Cry‘s adherence to action film conventions means that its plot is silly and its setting is pedestrian, it remains a fun shooter to play after over a decade on the market. It can be brutally tough, but it grants a tremendous sense of satisfaction upon completion. Far Cry‘s adherence to tough guy stereotypes and bad action writing provokes more laughter than Crytek probably intended, but laughter is laughter. And even though most of the plot elements are downright silly, that doesn’t mean they don’t hold some sliver of nostalgia, whether they feature Jack crawling through the jungle or enduring a hilariously convoluted survival gauntlet from Dr. Kreiger. The fact that Dr. Krieger shares a name with the hilariously inept scientist from Archer grants an additional element of unintended comedy. Indeed, the only way Far Cry‘s action-sci-fi narrative could be any more ridiculous is if old Algernop himself was the villain, supplementing his mercs and mutants with the choke-bot and Rush drum solos.
Far Cry‘s so-bad-it’s-good action plot won’t satisfy everyone, but it remains a competent shooter whose legacy lives on in the Crysis series. It also led to the rise of subsequent Far Cry games, even though it’s safe to assume that this title doesn’t share a universe with its successors. Far Cry is also a must-have for fans of old-school shooters, or shooter fans looking for something more challenging than the fare coming out these days. There’s little harm in giving it a try. At the very least, it’s an easier purchase to explain to friends and loved ones than a Steven Seagal film.
You can buy Far Cry here.
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