A shooter amid beauty


Beauty always comes at a price.

Case in point: Ubisoft's new PC title, Far Cry ($39; suitable for ages 17 and older).

This first-person shooter is set on a lush, tropical island, and you play as mercenary-turned-ferryman Jack Carver.

But a gang of armed thugs has blown up your boat and kidnapped your latest passenger.

After washing ashore, you go exploring, with guns blazing.

But your first impulse in this game isn't to shoot. It's to gawk at the stupendous graphics.

Every fern, palm tree, sandy beach, tropical fish and rocky mountain is exquisitely rendered. Shafts of sunlight stab through cracks in the cave walls, and the shadows dapple your arm and weapon as you crawl through the underbrush.

Or you can gaze at flocks of sea gulls and toucans that swirl through the sky.

When you scramble your way to the top of a peak, you can see for almost a kilometer, which means you can aim your binoculars or sniper rifle and engage the enemy from fantastical distances.

Most games have a much smaller playable area and just paint on pretty backgrounds that you can never reach. But in Far Cry, almost any area you can see, you can run to.

That hazy peak looming thousands of feet above you? Eventually you'll get there. That beach shimmering off in the distance? Sometimes you'll crawl on your belly for 30 minutes to reach it. If you're lucky, there's a hang glider nearby and you can float to your objective.

If, that is, you aren't shredded by attack helicopters, missile boats or enemy snipers as you dangle from the glider.

Which brings us to the combat.

Although first-person shooters tend toward spasms of surreal bloodshed, Far Cry rewards patient hunters.

A benefactor contacts you by radio periodically, letting you know where to go to find clues about your missing passenger.

Most of the checkpoints are heavily guarded and rushing in with your rifle set to full automatic fire is a good way to get a bullet in the back of your head. Instead, you need to stalk your prey, using the foliage for cover, sniping individual soldiers as they're revealed. Silenced weapons are your friends.

You can occasionally commandeer vehicles such as boats and trucks, but they control pretty poorly and you're such an easy target that you'll want to avoid the vehicles and, in fact, stay off open paths and roads altogether.

While the plot is thin at first, eventually you learn that the island is home to a mad scientist who's a little too fond of genetic manipulation.

The online play is pretty plain and features standard death match, team death match and assault modes, but it gets the job done.

However, the technical brilliance of Far Cry requires a nearly cutting-edge PC to get the full effect.

You'll want at least a 2-gigahertz Pentium 4 or Athlon 2400 processor, with a minimum of 512 megabytes of memory and a recent video card. You can see the official recommended hardware at www.ubi.com/US/Games /farcry.htm.

Far Cry is an amazing accomplishment whose graphical sweetness almost overshadows the solid game play.

Don't miss it.

Electronic Arts will make some of its games, including popular sports games such as Madden NFL, playable online on the Xbox starting this fall, according to IGN.com.

EA initially declined to make its games playable on Xbox Live because Microsoft controlled the network and the revenue stream from customers, but apparently the two groups have hashed out an agreement.

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