I'd Like to Play Outside Today
PC games have been relatively technologically stagnated for about the past couple years. Gone are the days when a major upgrade was required every three to six months to keep up with the latest games—until recently, a year and a half old rig could keep up with just about any game on the market. Two major releases in the past few months, however, have come along to change that: Doom 3 and Far Cry.
Something of an exercise in opposites, Doom 3 lives up to the franchise with claustrophobic atmospheres and ultra dark lighting schemes. Far Cry, on the other hand, was designed not just to look good; it actually aspires to beauty. Taking a diversion from the standard first-person shooter sets based in abandoned military bases, factories, and other post-industrial environments, Cry takes place on a group of tropical islands. Taking advantage of the technology to display more than the grotesque is a bit of a startling shift for the genre.
The aesthetics in Cry actually have a great deal more in common with something like Super Mario Sunshine than with its shooter ancestors. Bright green trees, foliage, sandy beaches, and impressive water effects all come across crystal clear, so long as you’ve got the hardware to handle it. The open, pretty environments really let the much-hyped one kilometer draw distance of the engine actually do its work: not only is that stuff all there, but you can look at everything as if you were on a real island. Crytek didn’t need to insert artificial looking barriers or cheesy fog effects just to prevent you from noticing the limitations of the engine.
In fact, the outdoor environments are so impressive that the indoor missions are an incredible let down. Here we revert back to the entirely overused slate grey tight corridors and random machinery tucked into corners.
Without the eye candy of the outdoors to distract you, a number of other failings in Cry‘s design come to light. First and foremost, the celebrated AI falls flat on its face. While outdoors, the spaciousness allows the AI to seem reasonably smart by spreading out and surrounding your suspected position; inside it can’t seem to help running guards through doors, one by one, despite the mounting piles of bodies. Throwing a grenade around the corner is out of the question for them, though outside they’ll happily toss one over a hill to prevent you from bunkering down.
The same lack of options indoors that turns the guards into idiots brings out an irritating repetitiveness for the player as well. Rather than allowing the player to save at will, Cry relies on a checkpoint system. Cross a certain invisible line or complete an objective, and the game autosaves for you. Until you hit the next checkpoint, you cannot save again. Outdoors, this allows you to try encounters in multiple ways if one fails you. For example, if a one-man assault can’t get you past a guard encampment, you can try sneaking up and using a grenade, securing a vehicle for more firepower, or bypassing them entirely with stealth. Indoors, however, the game becomes much more linear. Options might present themselves, but they are certainly more limited in scope. Will you enter a given room from Door A or Door B? Either way, you’re probably going to have to kill everyone inside with brute force. As such, you’ll find yourself starting from the same checkpoint repeatedly, attempting the same task in the same manner until you either get better or get lucky.
Perhaps the element of the game that most goes to waste indoors is the sense that this is in any way and original experience. Because, quite frankly, I’ve fended off enough aliens and mutants in stone corridors with a shotgun to last a lifetime. Every time Cry‘s storyline calls for me to sneak into a base, I feel like I’m playing one more lame Doom knockoff instead of an innovative game I might actually pick up and play again six months from now. All the joy I felt at seeing the beautiful capabilities of the engine and exploring different paths to my objectives goes flying out of my mind. Maybe the designers wanted it to feel like a relief when you finally win your way back outdoors. If so, they succeeded, though I suspect not quite in the way they meant to.