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Far Cry Instincts Predator (Xbox 360)

Rated: 16+

Story: Jack Carver gets too close to some tropical islands in his boat and finds himself caught up in the experiments of a mad scientist. (Stop me if you've heard this one before...) He gets some superpowers, a couple of big guns and a little help from the CIA, and sets off to shoot himself a stack of mercenaries and mutants.

Gameplay: First-person shooter (FPS). It starts out with plenty of sneaking round and setting traps and then moves on to more fast-paced gung-ho action as Jack gradually gains powers such as regenerating health, night vision, claw attacks and super speed.

Save System: Regular checkpoints where progress is saved automatically.

Comments: First-person shooters are stuck in a rut. In the fifteen years since Doom came out, level design has got better and graphics have improved enormously but we're still running around looking for gate switches while shooting armies of moronic cannon fodder who have a tendency to stand next to explosive barrels.

OK, OK, there have been other advances. Let's see: vehicle sections, stealth sections, sniper rifles and, er... Did I mention that graphics have improved enormously?

We've had attempts to do something differently, most notably Thief, System Shock and Deus Ex. It's possible to argue, however, that none of these really count. Thief is more a stealth game than a shooter and the other two are role-playing games with guns - they share more in common with Vampire: Bloodlines and Oblivion than Half-Life. Maybe Boiling Point, S.T.A.L.K.E.R. and Dark Messiah of Might and Magic have struck more of a balance but I don't know. My PC would cough blood and die trying to get them to run at a decent framerate.

Why haven't first-person shooters evolved into proper first-person adventures? Surely there must be something between shooting everything in sight and complex character building. I guess Metroid Prime shows some of the potential of the genre but it's littered with 'interesting' design choices: re-spawning enemies, widely spaced save points, awkward controls, clumsy platforming and frustrating difficulty spikes. These are mostly throw-backs to the 2D origins of the Metroid series, though, and hopefully Metroid Prime 3 will fix things. Personally, I'm hoping when it's finally released, Bioshock really will be Shooter 2.0 as claimed and the FPS can at last move on.

In the meantime...

The original Far Cry on PC was supposed to be a change of direction for the FPS. Out with linear levels of dark identikit corridors, in with large open outdoor environments in the tropical sunshine. Far Cry: Instincts was the game re-imagined for consoles i.e. with areas hemmed in by rocky outcrops to make the whole thing linear again. Far Cry: Instincts Predator is the hi-res Xbox 360 version of Instincts with the addition of the Evolution expansion. The expansion brings back more open environments again.

Still with me? Still care? Good.

So what have we got? Plenty of running around looking for gate switches while shooting armies of moronic cannon fodder who have a tendency to stand next to explosive barrels. To spice things up there are vehicle sections, stealth sections, sniper rifles and, er... graphics that are an enormous improvement on Doom. Hmm... This all sounds strangely familiar...

Far Cry is at its best in the sunny jungle. The environments often allow different routes and sneaking about. Later on, Jack can run super fast, allowing for screen-blurring Burnout style mayhem. Levels set inside are pretty generic and a chore but there aren't too many of them. The levels in darkness are just too dark. There are plenty of exciting moments, though, for those who persevere. (And, of course, a final boss who's irritatingly hard to kill even when you've read a walk-through and you're playing on easy. But what were you expecting?)

The Evolution expansion is better than the main game. It's much shorter but that's because there's less padding. On some of the levels objectives can be accomplished in any order and it just feels that there is more than one way to go about things more of the time. This is helped by the fact that adrenaline supplies (which fuel Jack's powers) are much more plentiful, allowing for a faster pace. The vehicle sections and other changes in gameplay are more evenly spread as well. Only an ill-advised platforming section in the final level gives cause for teeth-grinding.

So, Far Cry Instincts Predator has everything you'd expect from a modern FPS apart from a snappy name. On top of this, it has a lengthy single-player campaign and is set somewhere sunny for a change. It's always competent, frequently pretty and often exhilarating but seldom ground-breaking. Then again, it's not the game's fault it's stuck in a genre that's been going nowhere for fifteen years.

Conclusion: About as good as single-player first-person shooting gets. (You know what I'm saying...)

Graphics: There are plenty of beautiful views but everything's a bit ropey up close. The framerate sometimes judders in Evolution.

Length: Medium.

Rating: 4/5.

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