Far Out: Reflections On The Far Cry Series
Video game series rarely stay the same over the decades. As a brand ages, it evolves. Far Cry is a perfect example. Crytek’s original shooter had players using their surroundings to lay traps and stalk opponents through a lush archipelago, but the series has grown into a larger open world experience where players hunt animals, level up, and craft gear. While the original Far Cry titles were generally well-received, the release of Far Cry 3 took the popularity to new heights. The team at Ubisoft Montreal joins us as we look back at how the series had to evolve over the years to find its style.
Released in March of 2004, the story of the original Far Cry followed Jack Carver, an ex-special forces operative who runs a private boat charter. After he is hired out by a reporter to travel to an uncharted, Micronesian island to study its little-known World War II ruins, Carver quickly uncovers a secret mercenary outpost and a series of unusual lab experiments that have turned primates into an army of crazed brutes.
The original Far Cry was praised for its advanced A.I. and organic gameplay, but some of the more memorable aspects of the title were its stunning visuals.
“The one game in the series I spent the most time playing was Far Cry 1,” recalls Far Cry 4 executive producer Dan Hay. “I remember seeing the water and thinking, ‘Holy s---!” That is cerulean blue. That is as blue as I’ve ever seen. And then you see the lush green in the distance, and because I’m a former art director, everything comes back down to color for me. I remember just looking at it and thinking, ‘Wow this is impressive.' I didn’t shoot anything for awhile; I just wandered around and had a mini t-shirt vacation, hanging out on the beach.”
Many gamers fell in love with Far Cry’s open-ended structure. Players could set up traps for enemies and sneak through the jungle, getting the jump on their opponents.
“When I play a game, I’m pretty cheap,” says Hay. “I like to snipe and just sit back. In the original Far Cry, I remember there was a glint on sniper rifles; it was one of the first games where I remember seeing that. I’d be in the bush, and I’d be waiting and I’d look out in the distance and you could see that glint, and then you’d take them out and that just felt amazing.”
Far Cry sold 730,000 units within four months of release, and was on track to becoming a premiere video game franchise. In fact, Ubisoft was already prepping a console port for the Xbox, but the game wasn’t without flaws. Some criticized the game’s punishing difficulty and sparse checkpoint system. Other’s felt like the story about mutagenic monsters was a little hard to swallow.
“I loved Far Cry right up until the point where the monsters showed up,” says Far Cry 4’s creative director Alex Hutchinson. “I’m a big fan of exotic and fantasy, but I’m not a big fan of nonsense. There is a really thin line between the two sometimes. Being trapped on a beautiful island that’s run by crazy people, and you don’t know where you are – that’s an exciting fantasy to me. But Far Cry lost me once I found out that I was on the Island of Doctor Moreau.”
Far Cry 2
The original Far Cry was developed by the German studio Crytek, but since Ubisoft had published the game, the publisher had secured the rights to the property. When Crytek decided to move on and developed the Crysis series, Ubisoft gave development of the series to its internal Montreal studio. After a few quick console ports of the original game (Far Cry Instincts and Far Cry Vengeance), Ubisoft Montreal started work on a proper sequel.
“I was the lead programmer for Far Cry 2,” remembers Far Cry 4’s producer Cédric Decelles. “We developed at the same time as the original Assassin’s Creed, so Ubisoft was laying down its foundation for open world games. At the time we knew nothing about them. It was a big technical challenge. We were starting to toy with the systemic A.I. approach, having wildlife, having time of day, fire propagation, and all of that. It was an interesting project because we were building the tech from the ground up, and at the same time we had very high ambitions.”
During Ubisoft’s marketing research for the series, the publisher learned that many players didn’t care for the protagonist Jack Carver, so in the sequel, the studio let players choose from nine different main characters. This level of choice extended to the rest of the game, which allowed players to align themselves with multiple factions as they progressed through the game’s open world missions. Unfortunately, not everything about the game came together as the developer would have liked.
“There were these little military outposts on the road that would contently respawn,” says Decelles. “This was a late addition, because we realized late in development that players wouldn’t have anything to do on their way to their next mission. We wanted to have different enemy encounters and other things to do across the island, but we didn’t have the experience about how to implement that in the time. We didn’t achieve everything we wanted, but Far Cry 2 was definitely the foundation of what we have now.”
While Far Cry 2 reviewed fairly positively, it was clear that the studio had plenty of room to grow if Ubisoft Montreal wanted to create virtual environments that felt like a living world.
“I didn’t work on Far Cry 2,” says Far Cry 4’s game director Patrik Méthé. “But I felt like they were very bold in their choices. They were very ambitious, but I think the game didn’t reach its potential. So when I had the chance to be on Far Cry 3 I said, ‘Let’s take what Far Cry 2 established, tweak it, and make sure the promise is fulfilled.’”
Far Cry 3
With the third official entry in the series, Ubisoft Montreal took players to a tropical island between the Indian and Pacific Oceans where a group of young upper class kids found themselves fighting for their lives against a group of modern day pirates. The game was full of exotic animals that players could hunt as they leveled up their equipment and acquired new weapons for their fight against an oppressive private army.
“If Far Cry had a legacy when I joined, I was blissfully unaware of it,” says Hay. “Far Cry is a tough brand because it’s a bunch of different games, and it’s got a whole bunch of different themes and there are a whole bunch of different creative visions for it. But the danger of trying to be anything is that it can become nothing real quick.”
In the end, Far Cry 3 released to critical praise. Reviewers loved the games open world structure and progression system, and the title made several top lists (including Game Informer's Top 50 of 2012 list).
The Far Cry franchise has seen a number of iterations over the years, but some see the constant evolution as a positive thing for the series.
“There are things about the Far Cry franchise that are constants,” says Hutchinson. “It’s usually set in a big open world, it’s a shooter, it features exotic locations – but once you get passed those, it’s open season for developers. I think that’s the key to the franchise's health, having a balance between knowing what you’re going to get but also being surprised. Any game where you’re always doing the same things – I find that fatiguing as a developer and a fan. So I like the idea that Far Cry 4 can be different from Far Cry 3 which was different from Far Cry 2 which was different from Far Cry.”
What does the future of the series hold? Only Ubisoft knows, but hopefully it continues its constant evolution, because the series seems to grow better with every iteration.
Learn how Ubisoft Montreal is taking its acquired knowledge about the Far Cry series and developing it into what could be the series’ biggest adventure to date in our month of Far Cry 4 coverage.