Updated: Feb 2, 2021
In the last article, we investigated Half-Life 2, arguably the ‘last hurrah’ for strictly linear FPS games. (At least until their more recent resurgence with Doom 2016, Ion Fury etc.) In this, we will investigate the game that took the FPS into new, open territory - Far Cry, the first Mainstream (semi) Open-World FPS. Let’s dive in.
Before we get started, I should acknowledge that 2004’s Far Cry was not the first FPS game with large explorable maps and useable vehicles, as 2001’s Operation Flashpoint: Cold War Crisis already had both. However, Operation Flashpoint, much like its spiritual successor ARMA, was a tactical war simulator aimed at a very specific audience, therefore its influence over mainstream FPS games is questionable.
The same cannot be said for Far Cry. It was targeted squarely at the mainstream PC FPS player base, and its influence remains clear to this day. So, what set Far Cry apart from the other FPS heavyweights of the time, such as Doom 3 and the aforementioned Halo 2 and Half-Life 2?
It certainly wasn’t the quality of its storytelling. Far Cry centres on the exploits of its red Hawaiian shirt-wearing ex-special forces protagonist, as he attempts to rescue a CIA agent from the clutches of a mad scientist on a tropical desert island, which has been overrun by Mercenaries and genetically mutated monster monkeys. The story was pure B-movie grade trash, but it got the job done.
Far Cry PC
Video by SourceSpy91
Large Semi-Open World Maps
What set Far-Cry apart were its maps. Although Far Cry was divided into distinct levels, these maps were far larger and far more open than those of its contemporaries. Instead of cramped corridors, air vents and sewers, the majority of Far Cry’s maps were set outside in the open air of the island’s tropical paradise. Traversing these maps could be done on foot, overland in vehicles such as 4-wheel drive ‘technicals’, across water in dinghies and even through the air on hang gliders.
Due to the variety of transport options, there was often an equally wide range of potential routes to your objective. Did you sneak in on foot through the jungle, or come in with all guns blazing in a technical down a dirt road? Did you pound the shore with your dinghies’ machine gun from the sea, or did you stealthily swim upriver underwater? Did you descend from the cliff slowly, stealthily and carefully via the precarious footway, or did you take the fast and loud route via the zip line? More often than not, the choice was yours.
They see me rollin’
While both Half-Life 2 and Halo 2 also featured drivable vehicles, Far Cry implemented them very differently. Half-Life 2’s and Halo 2’s vehicle use was largely restricted to specific linear vehicle sections, which were near impossible to complete without using said vehicles. To me at least, these sections were a fun diversion, but they never felt part of the core FPS gameplay. The fact Halo 2 switched to a 3rd person view when using vehicles only highlighted how unusual these sections were.
Far Cry integrated vehicles very differently. Using its vehicles was an option on near enough all external maps, thus they could regularly be incorporated into the core gameplay mechanics. What’s more, Far Cry’s vehicles were treated as more-or-less disposable assets for the player to use as they saw fit. Unfortunately for you, enemy NPCs could use vehicles too, which would put you at a serious disadvantage if you were caught out in the open on foot. Often the best way for a vehicle-less player to survive them was to either ambush and car-jack them, or avoid them altogether by travelling stealthily well away from the roads, using the islands lush vegetation for concealment. Speaking of which…
Hide and Seek
Far Cry was among the first mainstream FPS games to include a stealth system. The A.I. of most earlier FPS games used simple can see / cannot see behaviour. i.e. they could either see you immediately or not at all. Far Cry had a more nuanced approach, which was affected by several variables, including;
The player’s speed of movement.
The amount of lighting the player was standing in.
The player's stance – i.e., standing, crouching or lying prone.
How much concealment the player’s position offered.
How much noise the player was making.
How alert the enemy NPC was at the time.
Allegedly, all of the above variables affected how likely an enemy was to spot you, and how long it would take them to do so. By using the right combination of the above, along with some careful route selection and distractions caused by throwing rocks, skilled players could bypass many hostile encounters completely.
Cover and Concealment
In real life ‘cover’ and ‘concealment’ are two separate things. ‘Cover’ is anything that can protect you from incoming fire. ‘Concealment’ is anything that makes you harder to spot but does not provide cover. Except for bullet-proof glass, pretty much anything that offers cover will offer concealment as well. In most earlier FPS games the distinction was moot, as they rarely featured anything that could be used as concealment that did not also provide cover, i.e. unbreakable walls, crates, doors etc.
Far Cry was different, as it introduced concealment via its prodigious use of vegetation, be it trees, bushes or long grass. This, combined with the much larger and more open maps, created a very different gameplay experience. This allowed the use of stealth as a core mechanic and one that could level the playing field when you were outnumbered. Slow, careful and deliberate crouch-steps or belly-crawling through the less trafficked areas was often the best way to avoid a confrontation.
Another key attribute of concealment is that you can shoot through it, which made laying in ambush behind a bush then shooting through it a viable tactic.
Concealment cuts both ways of course, and the reduced lines of sight caused by the vegetation could enable NPCs to flank you unobserved, or even get behind you unnoticed.
NPCs behind bushes and long grass were very difficult to spot if they were not moving, thus requiring the player to become adept at spotting the tell-tale signs of their presence, such as the shadows they casted, or for the patch of bush that looked denser than all the rest.
Due to all the above, encounters with enemy NPCs often became a deadly games of cat and mouse that were quite unlike the firefights found in other mainstream FPS games of the era.
Far Cry was the only game in the franchise made by Crytek using the CRYENGINE. Instead, Crytek went on to create the even more impressive Crysis in 2007 with Electronic Arts, which took all that was good about Far-Cry and improved upon it, whilst retaining the tropical island theme. (They wisely swapped the protagonist’s red Hawaiian shirt for a Nanosuit and the genetically engineered monkey mutants with Aliens, thus creating a far better experience.)
Ubisoft would continue the wildly successful Far-Cry franchise using various iterations of the CRYENGINE derived Dunia Engine. The franchise first came to consoles in the guise of Far Cry Instincts for the original X Box, a disappointing and far more linear experience than its PC counterpart. The Franchise would truly ‘come of age’ with the 2008 release of the Africa themed Far Cry 2 for PC, Xbox 360 and PS3, as this title was a truly open-world experience.
Since then, Open World FPS games have become far more common, such as the highly regarded Borderlands franchise and Rage. Semi-Open world FPS games such as the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. franchise and Metro: Exodus have also carved out their niche, whilst FPS/RPG hybrids, such as Fall Out 4, The Outer Worlds and Cyberpunk 2077 have become the norm. What’s more, many of Far Cry’s innovations, in particular its stealth system and concealing vegetation, have become staples of modern Open World FPS games, and arguably, it was the success of Far Cry that set these trends.
This brings us to the end of our look at Far-Cry. It also signals a hiatus for the ‘Influential FPS Games’ series, as it brings us to the modern era. I’m sure the FPS genre will continue to innovate, evolve and mutate over the years, and the next big thing could be just around the corner. But what will this be? Could it be completely destructible environments with next-level physics such as those seen in Teardown? Could be it Virtual Reality, as we have seen with Half-Life: Alyx and Boneworks? Or could it be something we haven’t seen yet? It is too soon to tell, but perhaps in a few years time, we will return to the series and look back at what that next big thing was in episode 19?
Are there any games that you feel should have been included? If so, please tell us which ones and why? And what are your thoughts about the future of FPS games, what do you think will be the next big thing, or what would you like to be the next big thing? We would love to hear your thoughts.
Iain is a 40+ author and gamer from England, who started his gaming journey on the Atari 2600 36 years ago. His specialities include obscure cult classics, retro games, mods and fan remakes. He hates all sports games and is allergic to online multiplayer. Since he is British, his body is about 60% tea. He can be reached via Twitter at https://twitter.com/IainBaker17, and contacted via email at firstname.lastname@example.org
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