Back in Far Cry 3 (opens in new tab), Jason Brody was hangliding over the jungle, unable to decide which rare species he was going to make extinct in the pursuit of his ideal manbag. Nine years ago, Jack Carver was running through a very similar jungle, trying to avoid being made into a handbag himself. Between Far Cry 3 and Far Cry, there’s a huge gap, but Instincts is the bridge.
Far Cry’s heritage is short but confused; the original PC game was made in 2004 by Crytek as a showcase for its engine technology. Having handed the rights over to Ubisoft, Far Cry: Instincts was released on the original Xbox in 2005, with sequel Evolution released in 2006. On the same day, Ubisoft also released Predator (opens in new tab), which combined the two games into a hybrid bastard for the Xbox 360.
Far Cry was a good game, but it was praised more for its enemy AI and beauty than its plot. When Ubisoft Montreal took control, it added new features, changed the plot so it was more twisty, and introduced mutant powers for hero-thug Jack. Rather than a stealthy open-world shooter, Far Cry became a werewolf sim, where feral Jack roamed and killed at will.
Cramming an open-world game into the Xbox’s limited kit was a challenge but as Instincts was made at the end of the generation, the devs knew all the tricks. That’s why Instincts isn’t totally tiny and dreadful, although it is extremely linear.
That linearity works solidly with the plot, which has Jack chasing a missing CIA agent all over an island covered in militiamen and mutant Trigens. The included Evolution is a traditional old expansion too; a short new story, another power and a few more weapons. (The super-powered tribe of Evolution’s story foreshadows the tribal powers of Far Cry 3 as well.)
And the team went to town on Jack’s mutations, which are reprised in the tattoos of Far Cry 3. In the original Far Cry, Jack is doing everything in his power to avoid becoming a mutant; in this version, he’s a mutant by teatime, getting increased speed, night vision, super-jumps and a punch like a giraffe’s kick. In the joyous and rapid change from prey to predator, the game is a precursor to games like Prototype – and to the Crysis games, which learned a lot from this sequel.
Yet not everything Montreal tried has lasted. Predator has to be the only game where going prone and pressing the jump button for too long can result in the player lying on his back – a hilariously useless technique meant for stealthy takedowns. The tree-trap system, by contrast, was good fun, if overpowered; you could attach spike traps to trees and instakill unaware enemies by luring them next to you. It’s odd that it’s not been reprised.
Yet, despite the joys of Jack, it’s hard to recommend Predator these days. Though Montreal upped the resolution to 720p for the transition, it didn’t improve the character models or textures, so the game looks like... an Xbox port. Playing it now, the Xbox One in full swing, makes you realise how far we’ve come.
Moreover, the combat, though brutal, isn’t exactly fun; it equates difficulty with ‘more damaging magically-appearing enemies’, which means that spending all your time crawling everywhere is the only way to get through on Normal difficulty and higher. Many times I found myself down to one bullet’s worth of health, belly-crawling to a corner to use the game’s Xbox-level auto-aim to riddle the oh-so-slow enemies with bullets. Once you unlock the upgraded Predator powers and can rip up machine gun emplacements to carry around with you, the game becomes much easier.
Despite these flaws, without Instincts: Predator, we might not have had the Far Cry we know and love today – and almost certainly not Assassin’s Creed or Watch Dogs. Ubisoft Montreal is now one of the biggest studios in the world – with over 2,100 staff – and it’s all from standing on the shoulders of Jack.
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