UPDATED: Far Cry…and the meaning of challenge

Computer games…I’m a big computer gamer, and so I spend probably far too much time thinking about and playing computer games. I recently bought FarCry, a fancy first person shooter. I hadn’t really been planning on buying it, but I wanted a diversion one day, and I had read a lot of very positive things about this game.

So, here I am playing FarCry. Its got very pretty graphics. A tropical paradise, rendered in bump mapped 3D, complete with real time shadows, reflective/translucent water, skeletal animation, and sophisticated physics. In this tropical paradise are a lot of people with guns, and your character is supposed to be trying to figure out why they sunk his little cruise boat and kidnapped his passenger. So far, so good…

This game is renowned for its sophisticated artificial intelligence in addition to its graphics. I’ll say one thing for sure: the guys wandering around the island with guns are no slouches…

They “talk” to each other, and when you shoot one of them, there is a good chance that several others will hear about it. And if one of them gets to a radio, well, you can count on even more of them showing up. All sort of realistic, I suppose. Also realistic is the way that, even with heavy body armour, you can only take so many hits before you die.

I started to find that FarCry was not just realistic. It was punishingly realistic, and in all the worst ways. You play one character, up against dozens. Your foes all have good weapons, armour, helicopters even. You don’t have save games: you have to make it to a checkpoint, which invariably comes somewhere right after you really needed it. The enemy is all together too alert: shoot one, and six or ten come to find out why their buddy dropped dead. They take the high ground, and man heavy machine guns. They can hear you sneaking prone 30 feet away. And somehow if you throw a grenade into a 10×10 room with three of them, all three of them will survive. All of this leads to playing the same thirty second scenario in the game over and over and over again, as you die and fall back to the same checkpoint.

I can’t say I’ve seen any particularly amazing examples of artificial intelligence in the enemy: sure, they all become alert when one of them dies, but they also will walk right over a dead body and not turn and go somewhere else- seems kinda stupid to me. I don’t feel I have to play “smart”…being smart and sneaky doesn’t seem to work. If I could play “smart”, I would be able to kill a guy quietly with my knife and hide his body. But the way the guys are set up, that never works: there are always four more looking at the guy I off, and even if there aren’t they somehow seem to just “know” that their buddy has been killed. Instead of being smart, I just have to die enough times to figure out exactly which corners each bad guy is going to pop out around from, and then kill each based on my past life experience…

I’ve been playing FarCry on its easiest setting for two weeks, maybe 12 hours total, and made it through 1.5 levels. Looking at it another way, I’ve probably made it through 1.5 levels 20 times. To put this in perspective, I finished Max Payne in 10 hours, Max Payne 2 in 9 hours, Call of Duty in about 23 hours…I’m not a bad player. In FarCry, I’m getting to know the deck of a certain rusty old ship extremely well. And I’m starting to really, really hate a certain helicopter.

I don’t mind realism in a game. In fact, its something I like to see. But I also play games for fun. And I guess that’s what I have to wonder about with FarCry…is it really fun? Do I really want a game that is so realistic that its frustrating? Does the absence of a save as you go feature really make the game more challenging? Or is it just a cop-out by the developers to make it seem like they have delivered more content than they really did by forcing you to play it over and over again?

I’m not really slamming FarCry. Its a good game. I’m just not sure I’d call it a “great” game. And I’m wondering whether all the guys who are calling it awesome are seeing something I’m not, or if they are just afraid to admit that its frustrating as hell to play.

Update: I continued playing FarCry to completion…I’m a glutton for punishment, I guess. But here’s the thing: I overcame some sort of mental block, and the game became easier. I figured out how to move better: earlier, I was spending most of my time prone, but I discovered that crouching or even running was often wiser. I figured out how to get the drop on the “bad guy” more reliably. And I figured out how to shoot down helicopters, and how to lure them back to the big machine guns to make this easier.

Once I started making progress, FarCry became a lot more fun. After four or five more levels, I decided to resort to “cheating” to keep it fun. There is a mode you can enable (run the game with the -developer flag) that lets you save the game whenever you want. Now FarCry is pretty darn good.

I wouldn’t go so far as to say that FarCry is the best game in years like some gaming magazines have. There were plenty of flaws in the AI, for one thing. Numerous times I would find mercenaries trying desperately to climb up cliffs or getting stuck in corners and allowing me to blow them to smithereens without retribution. In one memorable instance, the Cowboy-hatted leader of the mercenaries stood in the middle of a pond and did nothing to defend himself once I had killed off all of his sidekicks: I expected a better fight from him. And a truly “smart” AI would have the enemy falling back, picking up healing packs, arming with better weapons and grenades as they find them: instead, I set myself up to the side of a doorway and kill six or seven “elite mercenaries” in a row as they queue up to die. The most “intelligent” thing the FarCry mercenaries do is call for help and detect me early: often before any reasonable human being ever could.

I also am strongly and firmly against the whole “checkpoint” mechanism of save games. Take this message, developers: treat us like adults and give us a “save anytime” save game mechanism. If someone wants a challenge they can choose to not save the game- how hard is that? If they want to spend more time playing and less time repeating the same content over and over, they can save lots and lots like I normally do. Everyone is happy…

In the final analysis, FarCry is an “Excellent” game- I would rate it as a 90 on the 1 to 100 “Kelly” scale.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.