Sunday, 13 March 2011

Far Cry: Game Design Review

Far Cry is an open-level FPS featuring ex-marine Jack Carver, who gets stranded in a bunch of tropical islands and who then has to find his employer and a way out of there.

Released just before Half Life 2 just released, in many ways Far Cry goes the complete opposite direction of Half Life 2. From a game design perspective, instead of linear corridors you have sprawling open areas with vegetation for camouflage and multiple entry points. It isn’t quite ‘open-world’ as there are definite checkpoints and levels but how you approach the enemies in each area is up to you.

Playing the game for a while, I found that the best way to play and indeed the only way to play the game on higher difficulty levels is to do exactly what the box art implies. You have to hide in foliage, in the water or on higher ground and ambush or sneak around enemies where possible. Map awareness and patience is a virtue in this game. I definitely wouldn't call this an action FPS, I would probably call it an ambush FPS. The AI is fairly smart and will flank and search if they hear suspicious noises which makes the game challenging.

The Good:
From a gameplay design perspective, the game designers give you a number of tools to help you sneak around.

1) You have unlimited rocks which you can throw to act as distractions and lure guards away from your position.
2) Your binoculars detects up enemies and marks them on your radar making it and intergral for planning your route in the game. I quite like this method of finding your enemies as opposed to the usual method of having a radar automatically detect opponents. In the game I found myself creeping around carefully scanning, and then carefully creeping around somewhere trying to locate the best vantage point to ensure I scanned all the enemies which is exactly what the game designers intended.
3) The radar picks up sounds and actually shows their origin on the radar (good for deaf players or gamers who don't have good sound systems)
4) The radar is smart enough to zooms in and out depending on how close you are to the enemy. The smart zoom works quite well for me.
5) You have a stealth meter that alerts you to how close you are to getting spotted.
6) Crouching, crawling are integral in the game for hiding yourself.
7) Many large open areas with multiple paths and solutions.
8) You obtain special Cryvision goggles which make enemies in the dark glow brightly which really drives home the message that this is a stealth game.

I really enjoyed 80% the game however I have one major criticism of the game. As a mentioned above the game engine and game style is best as an stealth/ambush FPS and every singe criticism boils down to the fact that designers didn't stick to this concept.

The Bad
1) Certain levels are linear and extremely difficult as a result - This is extremely apparent in one of the beginning levels where you have to climb through an old Japanese ship to try and rescue your employer. At the end of this level, you have to shoot the chains holding a boat at the top of the ship so it falls into the water below. The top level of the ship is only accessible through one small hatchway which is guarded by a helicopter and plenty of mercenaries. I must have died over 40 times before somehow managing to shoot my way through the end.

The boat is suspended far above the water at the top of the boat and its hard to know you have to shoot those chains holding the boat there unless you've already been to the boat and figured out that's the only way to release the boat.

When it comes to the indoor environments. They're harder because there isn't really anywhere to hide, spot enemies and carefully plan how to approach the situation. The binoculars ability to pick up enemies doesn't work through walls so your radar won't help you either. Sometimes there are vents you can hide in and sneak around in, but more often than not, you just have run into a room or run round a corner, run back and then try and kill the guys who follow you, or in my case run in get killed and then reload the save file.

The last few levels and the ending suffers greatly this as well. In the last level there's nowhere to run or hide in the level and there are lots of mutant enemies. I had to cram myself in a corner and cheat by firing just round the corner where the enemies couldn't fit their large bodies in. In essence they were standing there waiting for me to shoot them, unable to reach me.

2) Lack of mines or ambushing tools - It's surprising that the game doesn't have any remote mines, traps or decoys which you can lure the enemy into. It would have made the gameplay much more interesting and help even the odds quite a bit in both outdoor and indoor areas. I understand that the remakes on the consoles have included the ability to lay traps and mines so its obvious the designers realised this was lacking.

3) Lack of melee weapons, melee attacks or special stealth moves. - Your sole melee weapon, the machete takes up one whole weapon slot! You can only carry 3 weapons at a time and having your machete one entire slot makes it hard to recommend when you could be carrying a shotgun or rifle instead which do more damage!

This game would also have benefited from stealth kills similar to say Prince of Persia: The Two Thrones where if you surprise an enemy from behind you can kill them instantly. The ability to drag bodies away would also have been good as well.

Part way through the storyline Jack gets infected with a virus that is suppose to transform him into a mutant. Unfortunately this has no real effect on Jack which is real misseed opportunity because it would be interesting if he could activate some special superhuman powers. Again, the developers realised this and in the Far Cry remake they gave him a a boost of sorts and additional weapons.

4) Lack of quiet weapons/silencers- Only 2 or 3 weapons are silenced in the game so it can be hard to surprise enemies. One of them is a rapid fire machine gun so its okay I guess but its quite hard to kill people further than a room or two away without alerting people to your presence.

5) Gamestyle and atmosphere could be better -Some people have complained about the storyline. Far Cry features a rather cheesy B-grade action story line with extremely cheesey dialogue by mercenaries that is clear parody of all those action movies. All the mercenaries talk about in really evil voices all about how evil they want to be. I think they should have gone even further down this line instead and made turned into a 'GI-Joe Saturday Morning Cartoon' style game similar to Command and Conquer Renegade. I think it could have worked quite well. Its a bit too realistic at this stage.

Should you buy this? The answer is no. Games like Half Life 2 have story and atmosphere and a cinematic feel to it as a result they age fairly well like a well written novel. Far Cry however, like many first person shooters that rely solely on graphics and explosions, is only as good until something with better graphics and explosions comes along. In this case its sequels Crysis and Far Cry 2 has better gameplay and bigger worlds and many of the issues I raised here such as lack of melee attacks and special abilities is addressed in Crysis or Far Cry 2. What Far Cry has done however is change my expectations of shooters and what true 'freedom' in shooter is about.

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