I'll go ahead and say this up front: I HATE SAVEPOINTS!
Gawd, I hate them.
Doom 3 is the game that's bundled with the latest CPU and graphics hardware because everyone knew it would require hot machines, and the game was going to be so popular. Far Cry was bundled to really show off what PCs can do now. It's just gorgeous. Right down to individual blades of grass swaying in the breeze. Very good water effects. I'm just astounded that we're capable of doing that in real time.
The early levels are reasonably easy. In fact, the name of the first level is named "Training", and it fits. They give you a radio right at the beginning so that another character, Doyle, can give you instructions. They teach you right away about the Stealth Meter, crouching, going prone, running, jumping, listening to the AI, etc. Pretty quickly you're out of the starting cave and can see the exterior.
Partly due to the bright palette, it's quite striking. Almost a Gilligan's Island setting. Very bright and cheary, at least in this section. They do have a lot of night maps and dark interior locations later on.
As I said, they render individual blades of grass. You get to see this as you're crawling to the nearest hut. That just blew me away when I first saw it.
So, you kill some bad guys. You pick some weapons. All pretty standard stuff.
Among the things unique to this game are the binoculars that you use. They're Magic Binoculars, in that when you spot someone with them the person or thing is tagged and they show up on your radar. Even better than that, the direction they're facing and their level of alertness (green, yellow, orange and red) is shown. It sure comes in handy, but it's definitely a cheat.
Another interesting item is sort of a pseudo-low-light/thermovision goggles. The people and monsters show up multi-colored, which makes them stand out from the gray background (I guess they had two sets of texture maps for everything in the game.) Obviously, very handy in the darker areas. Interestingly, one glitch was that they ran on a self-recharging battery. They would run for maybe a minute and then they'd have to recharge. But, if you used them at the same time as the binoculars, then they recharged as if they were off. I don't know if that was intentional, but I made use of it often. One annoyance was that I stood around a lot prior to opening doors, waiting for the battery to recharge, so I'd have the goggles when I opened the door.
They also had a flashlight with infinite batteries. But it didn't work quite as well as the Doom3 flashlight. I think the beam was too broad, so they made the intensity fall off pretty quickly with distance. I'm not sure.
Among the most entertaining bits were when you got to control vehicles. The physics of going over rough ground felt pretty realistic. Of course, the controls were pretty simplified for use with the keyboard. You used the mouse to look around and aim the weapon. Most vehicles had them. There was a dune buggy with a machine gun. A jeep with a machine gun and a rocket launcher. A boat with a machine gun and rocket launcher. A big truck with no weapons. A motorized rubber raft with no weapons. Oh, and a hang glider, where you could use your own weapons. They had hang gliders stashed around a few times, and they were certainly handy for bypassing big collections of bad guys.
One interesting gameplay choice was to allow you only four weapons at any one time. There are probably eight or ten weapons to choose from, ranging from a machete to a pistol and a shotgun, through various automatic weapons up to a rocket launcher. Most of the weapons had a zoom mode. Some were modest zooms while others had high powered scopes. But it was interesting to have to occasionally drop one weapon in favor of another, rather than carrying them all, as in most FPS'.
Fortunately, they chose a good voice actor for the radio character, because you hear a lot of him. The main characcter wasn't quite as good, but that was mostly due to his dialogue. He was just annoyed the entire time, and it came across as annoying. The girl was okay, and the enemy NPCs were mostly okay, too.
The maps were mostly good. Especially the outdoor maps. I guess I liked them because they tended to be bright and pretty and they allowed me to sneak up on the enemy in small groups and tag them with the Magic Binoculars. The interiors tended to be a lot darker. In one case, absolutely pitch black (I may not have had the low-light goggles by then.) That one was pretty annoying, though it didn't take all that many attempts.
I also liked the story. Sure, it's silly and contrived. But I found that the twists worked well for me. There was at least three times I thought I had completed the last level, only to learn that there was something new to do. Somehow that worked for me. It made the game feel larger than it really was.
They have some really nice little touches. Things like, some of the human bad guys are fishing or doing target practice. The fidgets are pretty good, like seeing a guy flick a cigarette butt and another guy doing pushups. Fish in the water and birds flying and boars wandering around. (When you shoot a bird it turns it into mist :-) When you shoot an enemy it tends to react in a believable way. Like if you hit them in the shoulder then that shoulder will flinch away. Good environmental bits, like blood-splattered plastic curtains.
But one place where it kind of falls down is with the trigens, the monsters. Having just finished Doom3, it was hard not to compare. And the Doom monsters are simply done better. These monsters skate a little. The fast ones move a little jerkily. In the outdoor areas where they're running over uneven ground they just don't look very good. Even their attack comes across as awkward.
The levels where you had to babysit Val were a bit annoying, because she's a Rambolina. She just charges in front of the enemy and stands there to get shot. She's shooting, too, but she's incredibly vulnerable. It was a pain to find a spot where I could attack while she was somewhat protected.
Now. Regarding savepoints.
For 95% of the game, the savepoints were not an issue.
But even very early on I came across a savepoint that caused me to waste an inordinate amount of time. It was on the carrier, as you finally climb out onto the deck. There's a helicopter buzzing around. Now, maybe there's a way to get it from the deck. But they have miniguns in the hatch, making them very powerful adversaries. So what I ended up doing was running from the hatch in the top of the ship all the way across the ship to get back out on a middle deck, all the way across to the other side of the ship to get to the lower deck, and along 1/4 of the length to get to the minigun mounted on the stern. I usually got the helicopter pretty quickly. Then, I had to reverse my route to get back to the flight deck. I'd jump out, pick off several enemies, and either miss one or end up getting picked at just enough that I'd die. And I'd have to repeat the entire marathon run again. Over and over. Actually, that one wasn't too awful. Probably only ten or fifteen tries. [rolls eyes] It would have been so much nicer to take out the helicopter just once, and then take on the rest of the level without having to worry about going so far back on a restart.
The difficulty ramped up pretty reasonably until the last few levels. Then it ramped up enormously. I think the nuke arming savepoint took at least twenty restarts. And the level just after that, the level with the downed helicopter must have taken at least thirty. That was just incredibly frustrating. Especially since the AI responds differently from one run to the next. That provides some apparent replay value, but it makes some restarts very frustrating. One time I'd have them come at me so I could finish them off quickly. The next time, one of those from behind would come up much more quickly and as soon as I turn around, *swipe* I'm dead. I so wanted to save off some of those attempts where I'd cleared away the first wave quickly and efficiently. I don't really see the point of forcing the player to back up to predetermined savepoints over and over.
It was at this point, in the downed helicopter, that I actually broke down and searched for a walkthru (I used the one by AllYourBaseBelong2Us.) But none of them were helpful. Because, basically, there wasn't any trick. These were just brute force levels where they throw a lot of bad guys at you and you have to die over and over again before you get lucky enough with your shot placement to wipe out the enemy efficiently.
The next section is not all that hard, and very interesting visually. Trigens are fighting mercs in between lava flows. It took a reasonable number tries to get past the opening groups of rocket-toting guys. Then only one or two tries to mop up the mercs outside of the next building.
Finally, I get to the Volcano level. You walk through a door and are met by somewhere around a dozen crack shots, including some with rocket launchers. And their little plastic riot shields make them nearly impervious to rocket or grenade attack in return. And the door behind you, where there's extra ammo and health, is locked. I could see 60 restarts in my future. The walkthru simply says, "If you're a good shot then they're not all that hard to take out." Yeah. Right. I consider myself a pretty good shot, but there was no way I was going to defeat these guys without a huge amount of luck.
I tried about ten times, but eventually I gave up. I looked up the God Mode cheat (something I almost never do) in that same walkthru file. I had to add the code to DevMode.lua. Probably I could have turned it back off after clearing the corridor and been able to finish the game in a reasonable number of tries. Probably. Maybe. But it had lost its fun by that point. So I just left it on. I just wanted to finish.
There were a few other levels that caused me some trouble. The sinking ship required practice, precise timing and a little luck. And there was a night mission outdoors where an enemy with a rocket launcher could see me long before I could see him.
Interestingly, while writing this I went back and retried the Carrier level to see what it would require to take out the helicopter. I managed to take the door gunner out with a few M4 shots. But still, it required running back onto the lower deck. I can't see how to get him from the upper deck. Also, leading up to that I used the rocket launcher on a jeep to take out several of the mercs before entering the carrier. But, when I made it through the interior and onto the deck, all those guys were back. I just found it mildly interesting that they didn't choose to make the state of those guys persistent from the end of one level to the beginning of the next.
This was the first game where I used my Belkin Nostromo N52. It worked well. There weren't quite enough buttons, but I was able to make do with the keyboard in my lap. In general, I think I liked the compact layout better than I would have a dedicated Z-Board, like my Doom 3 board. And the shape of the keys and the wristrest is more comfortable during long sessions.
On my brother's Game Total Value Scale, Slight Threat of Starvation/Threat to Your Reputaion. Most of the game was a lot of fun and gorgeous to look at. But the final levels were too hard for me.
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