When Ubisoft announced last year that it was going to port its hit PC first-person shooter Far Cry to the Xbox, the news generated a lot of skepticism. After all, Far Cry wasn't just one of the best PC shooters of 2004; it was also a technological marvel that pushed PC graphics to the limits. How could it possibly work on the Xbox? Well, it turns out that for starters, developer Ubisoft Montreal threw Far Cry out the window and created a new game from the ground up, one designed to take full advantage of the Xbox's hardware. That's all well and good, but what everyone didn't expect was that Ubisoft Montreal would create a game that's even better than Far Cry, and considering how good Far Cry was, that's saying quite a lot.
Welcome to the jungle; better cowboy up fast, because you're either the hunter or the hunted.
Far Cry Instincts is awesome in every sense of the word. This is a big game, with a lengthy single-player story, a full multiplayer suite, and a level editor thrown in for kicks. Graphically, it pushes the Xbox to its limits and delivers some jaw-dropping visuals as it immerses you in lush jungles with sweeping vistas. In fact, it's not often that the scenery plays center stage in an action game, but the jungle, as well as the fear of being alone in the jungle and not knowing if you're the predator or the prey, is essentially what makes Far Cry Instincts work. This is a game that requires you to be stealthy at times, while at others, you leap into action like a hero possessed.
You play as Jack Carver, a retired Navy commando who spends his days hauling rich tourists around the Pacific in his boat. While they explore a mysterious island, the boat is attacked by mercenaries and destroyed. In a twist borrowed from Half-Life, the entire game takes place from Jack's perspective, and since you play Jack in the first-person, you see and experience everything through his eyes. So you'll be hurtled overboard by the explosion, and you awaken onshore. From there, you begin the journey to rescue your sole passenger and get the heck off the island. Of course, that's always much easier said than done, and by the time you're through, you'll have experienced a plot that combines the terrifying moments of Doom, the creepiness of The Island of Dr. Moreau, and the tropical-island chills of Jurassic Park.
From the get-go, it's obvious why Far Cry Instincts isn't like other shooters. If you try and run-and-gun your way through the game, you'll quickly end up dead. Refreshingly, this is a game that rewards discretion rather than valor, especially since you're outnumbered and outgunned from the start. Not to worry, though, because the in-game tutorial will quickly get you up to speed on how to survive in the jungle as well as how to stalk your enemies. And to assist you, there are several cool new features in Far Cry Instincts that weren't in the original Far Cry, such as the ability now to set branch traps and lure enemies to walk into them. Though these branch whips are a bit ungainly in appearance, it's undeniably fun to rig a forest full of them and then have an enemy squad chase you into the woods. There is friendly fire, though, so be careful to not trigger your own trap.
Dual-wielding lets you cut down opponents faster, as well as drain your ammo quickly.
Far Cry Instincts isn't just about skulking around in the jungle, though; combat plays an equal role in the game. Firefights can be a lot of fun in Far Cry Instincts, mainly due to their wild nature. You'll battle a host of tough foes, some human and some not, and even a small firefight can feel like a victory, especially if you can come through it relatively unscathed. While the human foes are fairly standard for the genre, there are some monsters in here that will make you jump out of your seat. The game also does an excellent job of making you dread what's next. You'll often "sense" new foes before you actually encounter them, as you'll see them scamper out the corner of your eye or hear them rustling in the bushes--or, even worse, encounter the devastation they left behind. You have at your disposal an arsenal that's fairly modern-day, in terms of weapons and equipment. There are M4 carbines, assault rifles with grenade launchers, shotguns, rocket launchers, and more. The game uses a weapon mechanic that's not unlike that seen in other Xbox shooters. While you can pick up weapons from fallen foes, you're limited to carrying only three weapon types at a time. Moreover, you can only carry one type of handgun, one main weapon, and one support weapon at a time, so that means you can't load up on machine guns. You can also dual-wield most weapons, which lets you double your rate of fire as well as your ammo consumption. It's a good system, and when you combine it with the melee attacks in the game, you'll find that combat can get pretty hectic. Thankfully, there are plenty of health packs and armor kits strewn throughout the game.
It's not all lush jungle in this game. Prepare to explore the vast underground of the island.
The most interesting weapon at your disposal, however, is yourself. Without spoiling too much (it is, after all, listed on the back of the box), you gain what are called primal abilities, which are essentially animal traits that give you a major advantage in combat. These include superhuman strength, enhanced senses and speed, and more. These abilities can oftentimes turn the battle, because the ability to literally "see" the scent trails left by your opponents or to shred your foes with your claws is a potent one. You are limited in its use, however, because the primal abilities are fueled by adrenaline; but you can restore this by finding the proper power-up or by stalking an opponent as you get "psyched up" for the impending kill.
One of the most awe-inspiring features of Far Cry is the sheer size of the levels. As in Halo, you only encounter loading screens when you start a new level. After that, the rest of the level streams seamlessly. And these are big levels, far bigger than any we can recall from previous games. In fact, some levels admittedly are perhaps a tad too big for their own good--you can feel them start to drag at times. However, we're still duly impressed by their size as well as the variety of environments that you encounter. Starting from a gorgeous, sun-kissed beach, you move into the jungle, where the jungle floor can feel like night, thanks to the thick foliage overhead. You'll delve into huge underground caverns, battle through mysterious facilities, race down rivers, and more.