Far Cry Instincts review

Edge explores one of the last pre-360 blockbusters

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It's claimed that whatever you say to a Frenchman, he will translate it into his own language, and forthwith into something entirely different.

Ubisoft Montreal's artistic, novel and moving interpretation of Far Cry is a particularly French, suitably transformed experience. Even if its technical handicaps are clear, what it achieves with the palette at its disposal is astounding.

Instincts' lower resolution textures, sporadic pop-up, cruder characters and jagged shadows are all clearly defined beneath its baking sun, but the composition of the overall canvas offers a masterful distraction.

This is a game dismantled, rearranged and, in many cases, replaced. The painstaking flow of Crytek's Far Cry has been streamlined and the environments narrowed, but the real fruits of Montreal's work lie beyond such procedural changes.

With the exception of a showcase hang-gliding sequence halfway through, Instincts resembles the original game for only the first of its three clearly defined acts.

From thereon in - from the moment the mutagen is fatefully pumped into hero Jack Carver's bloodstream - the mood changes and the island's waters flow ominously uphill.

You will, by this point, have already experienced a concise tribute to the original - one that apes its beguiling visuals while toying craftily with its design.

But with the aid of some innovative POV effects and capable voice work from Steven Dorff, Carver's evolution then heaves the player into an unexpected, unhinged stagger from one ecological extreme to another, from daunting agoraphobia to dismal claustrophobia, and from the opulent wilds of nature to the oppressive constructions of man.

Successive new feral abilities are introduced via suitably dramatic chokepoints, and before long a transformative skill and mindset are in place for a remarkably staged finale.

Without giving too much away, Instincts' closing hours plumb depths of desolation that few games are sophisticated enough to realise, or even imagine.

An island that once wound itself into a labyrinth of pristine and somewhat generic interiors has, under Montreal, been smashed, burned and dehumanised.

As darkness falls and Carver becomes truly bestial, the player's heart feels aptly lost between the island's welcoming shores and the bedlam that surrounds its volcanic core.

Apocalypse Now has long been regarded as the template for this game's dramatic makeover, and here its hallucinatory vibes are truly free to roam.

Aptly, however, the game's story ends more with a whimper than a bang, its climactic set-piece/cutscene combination proving thematically satisfying, but no less abrupt than the end of Chronicles of Riddick.

Furthermore, while Instincts' journey may be one of the its genre's most theatrically adept and intense, the sacrifices it makes en route are significant.

The procedural AI, for example, touted as a dynamic reflection of your own tactics, works as often as it doesn't. The heat of battle provokes some enthrallingly versatile behaviour, but incidents elsewhere can prove as confusing for the player as they evidently are for the opposition.

Importantly, Instincts' shift beyond that first third is more than just a narrative twist. What begins as an uplifting balance of stealth and action soon, as the evolution factors in, becomes a more straightforward turkey-shoot.

There's still a strategy of sorts behind its most frantic outbursts, but it's of a more repetitive and, as it happens, instinctive variety.

The game wants you to become frenzied in your approach and gracefully spawns small armies of soldiers to satisfy your rage, but while it's thematically prudent to simplify the game in this manner, it also plots a course for some numbing encounters.

This is a shame because, visually, Instincts is adept at keeping itself fresh, within as well as across levels, and in a way that's a lesson to others.

It's also too comprehensive a package to let its single-player mode have the final say. In multiplayer, Instincts speaks with its own voice while remaining relevant to the global theme, and nowhere is that better expressed than in Predator.

Twisting many of the game's single-player systems into a mode that entirely befits the name, it clearly adores the stylistic trappings of movies (its namesake in particular) where man must confront a superior adversary that knows how to make an ally of its surroundings.

As the player or players (the quantity is selectable) designated randomly as Predator scan the radar and environment for the odour trails of their quarry, an ideally larger task force of regular soldiers must survive without any such ability.

Its scoring system is horribly indecisive, never providing a set of rules or rewards that adequately suits the premise, but the athleticism with which the enemy can scour the map and the cries of other players as it comes running are enough to tell you that, overall, this innovative spin on team deathmatch works.

Traditional modes such as deathmatch and CTF are also honoured, though the benefits and drawbacks of sitting them amidst Far Cry's lush environments are both immediately clear.

Underwater evasion, the setting of various traps and flights along zip-lines are all welcome additions, but vehicles are too light on the stick and too much a victim of the rolling terrain to really prove their worth.

A degree of auto-aiming has been implemented, presumably to combat the obstructive flora, but its heavy-handed assistance may well prove ruinous for purist players, while the general shortage of feedback as to who has died and how is unlikely to please the Halo faithful.

To address the most burning issue, then, Instincts may lack the polish to challenge Bungie's game on its own turf, but it's freethinking enough to deserve a place apart as a noble alternative.

For a project that, at one time or other, has resembled everything from ham-fisted homage to bold bastardisation, it's a relief and a pleasure to see Instincts emerge as something wiser and more confident.

Its action may evolve in a less fruitful direction than its art, but in a console-oriented bumper pack as sumptuous and generous as this, the fact that it's essentially achieved the impossible is surely encouraging enough.

Far Cry Instincts is out for Xbox now

More info

DescriptionA top-notch first person shooter with a unique blend of grotesque monsters, heavy weaponry, and a pina colada-scented island location.
Platform"Xbox","Xbox 360"
US censor rating"Mature","Mature"
UK censor rating"",""
Release date1 January 1970 (US), 1 January 1970 (UK)