1001 Videogames I must play before I die!
Farcry and Crysis are part of a special group of games. Other games included in this group include STALKER and the Bohemia made Operation Flashpoint and Arma games. To join this club you need to have attempted to make the perfect, open-world, dynamic first person shooter. A shooter where conflicts will be won and lost regardless of the players interactions. Where the player could go anywhere, kill anything and everything they did would tip the balance for one side or another. If you were good enough you could make your way deep into enemy territory the second the game began and kill the enemy leadership and end it.
They also have to have realied that a game like that is almost impossible to design and so re-form the game into something perhaps more linear and considerably less dynamic.
When Farcry came out it suddenly felt like the constant promises of "next generation" gaming were actually coming true. It looked like nothing else out there, it had vehicles and the levels were enormous. It wasn't really open world but it did a good job of feeling like it was. You played as a guy in an ugly shirt that was stranded on an island after bringing a journalist there to document...something. While she is out taking pictures, mercenaries sink your boat and you make it ashore. Funnily enough you're ex-special forces or something so you manages to shoot your way across the island looking for the journalist, who may be more then she appears to be, all whilst uncovering a network of mercenaries and biological experiments.
The game missteps a little once the mutants appear as they are a stark contrast to the shockingly intelligent human opponents. The mercenaries will work in teams, send up flares to call for support, suppress and flank you and are just generally clever. The mutants run and jump at you, and take too many bullets to kill, and that's about all they do. Sometimes the game does manage to feel like its original promise. There is a fantastic level towards the end of the game where the mutants have escaped and the mercenaries are trying to kill them off as you make your way to the other side of the island. There are several routes to get there, each one presenting you with different sporadic fighting as you go. You may come across an overturned Humvee and it's surviving crew fighting off trigens (the name for the stupid mutants) coming out of the jungle. You may find mercenaries hold up in forts, safely surviving the mutant onslaught. I think my personal favourite was as I drove down onto a beach to follow the coast line I saw a helicopter trying to pick up some men who were trying to evacuate, firing at the mutants that were trying to kill them. Sometimes that helicopter would extract the men and escape, sometimes it would get shot down by one of the armed mutants and it felt fantastically real and unscripted.
In the end though, Far Cry fell short of its non-linear dreams. It's certainly not a bad game and while it is starting to show its age it can still manage to impress from time to time. The gun play is solid and if you want to be stealthy you are in for a real challenge. It seems clear that Crytek had intentions to make a sequel to the game. Once the trigens begin to show up you quickly find a room with a large mutant on an operating table that doesn't show up anywhere else in the game. It is a ragdoll though so it seems like it was maybe an enemy that was cut or that was being saved for a sequel or expansion. Either way, this would be the first and last time players fought the trigens. Crytek split with Ubisoft they and kept the Farcry name and universe and when they came to do a sequel it seems they chose to follow the spirit of Farcry, rather then its story. Crytek then teamed up with EA and produced...
Crysis managed to live up to Farcry's reputation for being a system melter, built to stress test even the toughest, water-cooled rigs to within an inch of their lives. That's not quite so true now but it is still, oddly enough, more demanding then its sequel probably because of the console versions needing a more streamlined engine. Crysis kept the tropical island setting from Farcry but swapped the trigen mutants and mercenaries for aliens and North Koreans. It kept roughly the same balance of guided exploration and intelligent enemies but put far less emphasis on actually fighting the aliens, which was probably for the best. The aliens were a far more interesting opponent compared to the trigens but the star of the show was still the worryingly intelligent human enemies. They used all the same tricks as the mercs from Farcry but with a little more military precision.
The main difference in gameplay found in Crysis was the nano-suit you wore. It allowed you to alter your abilities to better suit the situation you found yourself in, granting you increased armour, speed, strength or camouflage. The controls for it were a little clunky and some of the abilities really didn't need to be set modes that were constant until you switched them off. The suit controls were cleverly streamlined in the second game, turning on speed mode while sprinting and strength mode when you attacked in melee. Crysis did, and still does, look fantastic. A lot of that comes from the impressive lighting systems but I think the level of presence the player feels in the world is just as important. You can see the rest of your body when you look down, you arm will reach out and actually grab the objects and weapons you are trying to pick up and plants and foliage will bend around you as you move through the dense jungle. It gave the game an extra level of immersion that isn't possible by just being pretty.
All that being said, I think I enjoyed Farcry more then Crysis. Maybe it was just because everything it did was newer when Farcry did it but more then anything Crysis just felt smaller. It also didn't help that the ending was the worst kind of "To be Continued" bullshit that was rife in games at the time. To make matters worse the final boss fight against the huge alien mech thing was also the first footage of the aliens that was shown before the game came out, so when the game ended there I was completely thrown by it. I did however appreciate the insane SAS tattoo on the back of Psycho's head.
Crysis had even grander dreams of non-linearity the Farcry originally had. It was going to be truly open-world and you would have the team with you at all times. If they died they stayed dead and later you were supposed to have to join forces with the North Koreans to fight the aliens. If you had been mercilessly killing the Koreans where ever possible, their commander would be unwilling to help you and would stay hostile, if you had been more stealthy and used less-lethal methods then he would directly support you and your team. It would have been great to have seen that happen but, alas, it was not to be. Ubisoft however were also determined to give this form of dynamic gameplay a go and so we come to...
No.0022 Farcry 2
Farcry 2 was Ubisoft's first attempt at doing something in the spirit of Farcry rather then the universe. Moving the setting away from a tropical paradise to the plains of Africa. It was a location not often seen in games and promised another attempt at the fabled non-linear FPS. Farcry 2 is probably the closest anyone has gotten so far, but sadly it only appears that way. The game is great and feels non-linear but it is actually heavily scripted, just set in an open-world, and even the environments are in some areas just cleverly disguised corridors.
The map for Farcry 2 is split up into several zones. There is the capital city in the center that basically acts as your hub for missions and then there several locations (I want to say 18 but don't quote me on that) spread across the map that act as areas for missions to take place in. You get a mission and then you can go to the location you were given or you can meet another mercenary who will give you a different objective in a different place that serves to sabotage or subvert the goals of the mission you originally took. At first its great, but a pattern quickly forms and while the objectives of the mission differ enough, you always know that the second you leave your briefing you'll get a phone call asking you to meet someone somewhere and do something other then what the first guy asked you to do.
Ubisoft managed to achieve more of its initial goals with Farcry 2 then Crytek but it is a shame to see how some parts of the game work compared to what they had originally intended to do. One of those things are the other mercenaries you meet. The first merc you meet will be the guy who calls you up to give you alternate objectives for each mission, the second will come and save you when you die, giving you a second chance and a little back up to make it out of whatever situation you found overwhelming. It is actually a great mechanic and I would really love to see something like it implemented in other games, but what it was supposed to be originally was REALLY cool. You were supposed to be able to meet and befriend any of the mercenaries at any point, then if you died during combat one of them would still show up to help you out but rather then it simply being which ever one you spoke to last coming to your aid, whichever one was close enough to hear the gun fight would arrive. And they would only show up to help if they had been in the area on their own mission and had come to help you. Likewise you could find them out in the wilderness and tag along on their missions as a way to win favor with them. That kind of system is the holy grail for non-linear shooters that has sadly never been figured out.
There were other things that ended up being simplified. The game has a reputation system where by you become more well know and feared as you go, but it is linked to story progression. Originally the idea was that if you were violent and used your machete a lot, people became visibly scared of you, if you were stealthy no one knew who you were. The game also feels like at some point there were plans for co-op. All the vehicles have at least two seats and since you can't bring any merc friends with you, or anyone for that matter, you have to stop driving and move to the gunner seat yourself. It just feels like something you wouldn't have put in there unless there was the option of someone else, human or CPU, being able to take the other seat. There is also the fact that it looks like the player can choose sides in the conflict, but in reality you simple do all of one sides missions, then walk down the street and do the opposing forces missions.
It sounds like I'm ragging on Farcry 2 and I don't mean to. I really enjoyed it and even made an attempt at a perma-death run. What it does with weapons jamming and player injuries is truly great. I love Farcry 2, I just miss what it and so many other games have tried and not yet managed to be. There will probably be plenty more of these kinds of games in the years to come. Maybe STALKER 2 will actually manage true non-linearity. The original STALKER, which I'll get into some other time, had even crazier ideas at one point. Regardless of these games not quite achieving what they set out to do, I've had great fun playing all of them again and I would recommend any of them, but there is always a little bit of me that wishes one of them had truly succeeded in producing a dynamic conflict for me to interfere with. I'll just have to wait and see what the future holds I guess.