Far Cry Instincts

In development for over 90 years, the good news is it's looking more and more likely that the long wait for Far Cry Instincts is going to be worthwhile.

An extensive hands-on with the game at E3 proved once and for all that this is no mere PC conversion. Ubisoft has virtually created a new game from the ground up, retaining the basics that made the PC original so brilliant but adding a shiny freshness to every aspect of the experience.

Far Cry Instincts gives us new moves (including a sneaky back-stab), extra vehicles (water scooters, ATVs), more traps (such as the brutal, Rambo-style wooden spikes effort), a feral mode with its own unique attacks, new multiplayer options and a superb, user-friendly map editor for gamers to create and swap their own levels.

And for those without the joys of online access there's a four-player split-screen mode. While Xbox Live inhabitants can get stuck into a host of multiplayer modes for up to 16 gamers. Finally, the Xbox version also fleshes out Far Cry's story and characterisations.

Playing as mariner Jack Carver, you're hired by beautiful journalist Valerie Cortez to take her out to an archipelago of tropical islands where she plans to do some photography.

While Valerie jet skis to the island you decide to drop anchor and catch some sleep. But it soon transpires that the only sleep you'll be getting is with the fishes as your boat comes under attack and you're thrown into a world of pain with pirates, mercenaries, and freakish genetic mutations all after your hide.

What the hell's happening on the islands? Why are people trying to kill you? And where does the lovely Valerie fit into the equation? All these questions will be answered by Far Cry's stunning blend of tactical shoot-'em-up and super-stealth.

Best described as Half-Life in the tropics, with its dodgy experiments-driven story and intelligent approach to FPS carnage, this is no mindless shooter.

As mentioned, stealth plays a major role in Far Cry's combat and if you opt to jump in all guns blazing you'll last about as long as James Beattie's international career.

But with the help of the lush jungle settings - rich with possibilities for hiding, sneaking and laying traps - along with some expert enemy-luring AI, you'll soon discover that covert action is the only way to survive.

AI has been souped-up considerably from the PC version. In the original game the AI reacted with a single consciousness, so if one enemy was alerted to your presence then every bad guy in the vicinity would come running, MGS-style.

Now this simplistic behaviour has been replaced by individual character routines, enabling you to isolate targets - for example, you can attract a single enemy away from the group by throwing a stone at a him, encouraging the fool to wander off and investigate the noise.

Setting traps is a simple process thanks to the game's new stealth engine.

Standing next to most trees will give you the option of knocking up a swinging set of spikes to impale an enemy.

One sequence saw us shimmy through the undergrowth, a mercenary standing just a short distance away, and attach a trap to a nearby tree. We then scrambled away and lobbed a rock at the tree to draw the merc's attention.

Stepping into the foliage to find the source of the noise, the merc was soon spilling his spiked-out guts all over the jungle floor. With an enemy dead you can grab his gun - but bear in mind that for stealth kills you're better off sticking to the trusty default knife.

Having been very much the hunted in the first half of the game, the second part sees you switch to the role of hunter; taking the fight to your enemies with some full-on shooting assaults utilising vehicles you've commandeered - gunboats, humvees and even hangliders - along with deadlier weaponry such as machine guns, grenades, sniper rifles and rocket launchers.

This new-found gung-ho approach is mainly due to an experimental serum administered by a mysterious figure named Kreeger.

This serum develops your feral, animalistic side - giving you enhanced vision where you can track characters by following their scent, and enabling you to run faster and attack with greater strength and ferocity.

The more you use these feral powers the more advanced they become, until you're tearing enemies apart with your bare hands.

The start of one level saw us trapped in a cage. Using Jack's super-strength and newly-sprouted claws, we tore through the metal door and went on a kill spree in the enemy base - rushing at mercenaries and smashing them into the air before they had chance to even draw their weapons. Fantastic stuff.

And you'll really need these advanced abilities because, as the game reaches its latter stages, the enemy presence on the island pulls out all the stops.

We're talking helicopter searches, massive gunboats and much heavier weaponry all focused on finally putting you in the ground.

The story also adds to the claustrophobic sense of imminent danger with its twists and turns meaning you can trust absolutely no-one you encounter.

As if the single-player adventure wasn't enough, Far Cry Instincts also throws in Halo 2 standards of multiplayer gaming and options.

Chaos (basic Deathmatch), Team Chaos (erm, Team Deathmatch), Steal the Sample (Capture the Flag) and Seek and Secure (King of the Hill) are all on offer.

But our favourite multiplayer mode has to be Predator - a game of cat and mouse with one player as the target and everyone else out to get him, throwing up the perfect excuse for hiding in the jungle then popping out to administer silent kills.

Far Cry Instincts is out for Xbox in September