Fifty Cents.

For turning thirty-three I received Farcry, a new PC game that Gamespot hails as a new gold standard amongst first-person shooters:

Far Cry isn’t just a stunning technical accomplishment. It’s quite possibly the best single-player first-person shooter experience for the PC since Half-Life.

Half-life was a fantastic game that turned into the measurement by which all PC first-person shooters are measured. So when Gamespot gave it a superb rating along with the above moniker, well hell, I figured Farcry was going to blow my socks off.

I should point out that I played the single-player demo two weeks ago. And what little I played (more of what was made available in the demo) was fantastic — stunning graphics, cool weapons, and intelligent artificial intelligence. After playing I thought for sure Gamespot had it right. But I assumed that my single player demo experience would transfer over into the realm of multiplayer — where the real fun is to be had.

Installing Farcry was another exercise in patience and nostalgia just as Unreal Tournament 2k4 had been. Twenty minutes later I was up and running, hoping to gun down a few online foes in the gorgeous tropical environment with lush vegetation and white sandy beaches.

Upon entering an online game, I found myself walking around a blocky world of green, blue, and sand — not quite Dig Dug, but close enough. My video card, while strong enough for the demo, doesn’t quite make the cut for the real game, despite that it exceeds the requirement listed on the box.

Needless to say, Farcry is far from Half-life, or becoming the next greatest FPS. Getting past my video card inadequacies, I found the game to be remarkably similar in game play as any other run of the mill product in that category. The only difference being that you’re killing people in Tahiti, not Normandy, or some off-world urban combat city. Perhaps I would have more appreciation for this game if I had a better video card, but I’ve already got 128 megs under the hood and I’ll be damned if I’m going to buy a new card just to play a game.

This is the single glitch in the PC game business — development in the wrong direction.

For a game company to compete it has to improve the performance of the product. There are two ways to do this: improve the game play and/or improve the graphics. Unfortunately I feel that most game companies focus their development time on the later and not enough time on the prior.

At last years E3 there was a lot of excitement about new physics models that allow for objects in a game to react to conditions similar as they would in real life. With new games, it’s all about striving to make the environment as close to the real world as possible. Valve, the makers of Half-life and the upcoming Half-life 2, patted themselves on the back for being able to shoot at a piece of wood and have it splinter just as it would in real life.

Even sports games are not immune. The newest versions of Madden Football let players design their own football stadiums right down to the price charged for hotdogs. Can anyone tell me where the fun is in that?

Games are supposed to be entertaining, a break from reality. But the industry is more focused on recreating reality as entertainment.

I’m all for innovation but I see little of it being done to improve the game play side. Nintendo is one of a handful of game creators who strive to create new forms of gameplay more so than improving the look and feel. Very few Nintendo games are created to be lifelike. Perhaps this is why Nintendo appeals to older gamers, like me, who remember what it was like to play with moving block graphics, with block laser beams and such.

This is what I’m thinking as I watch my online Farcry character take three high velocity rounds to the head — my body falling softly against the tall grass stretching from the virgin white sandy beach of Farcry Island. The sun sets slowly behind my adversary who is already reloading his weapon for the next prey. With a puff on his cigar and another clip unloaded into my already perfectly limp body, he moves on to seek cover behind the stand of bamboo hoping that rEaPeR420 hasn’t pinpointed his exact location.

Forget this crap, I’m going to play Zelda: Windwalker again.