Half-Life 2

A rustle. A breath. A bang. Everything about a good videogame sniper rifle is sexy, sleek, and dangerous, from the look of a long steel barrel to the echoing crack of gunfire heard for miles around. We love playing games with great sniper rifles not because of how they look or sound, though, but because of something much deeper and darker: we want to play god. The allure of the sniper rifle is the allure of the divine power to reach out—way, way out into the distance—and snuff out a life.

It’s twisted, but that really is the heart of it. For proof, compare the sniper rifle to its Big Boomstick cousin, the shotgun. Both are typically slow to shoot, but they hit hard when they do. Both are loud. Both make explosions of fire and gore.

But a sniper rifle is unusual because its entire purpose is to make a fight unfair. We want to see the enemy without being seen. We look our enemy in the face without being in danger. Invisibility, invulnerability, and instant kills: the sniper rifle is a cheat code with a trigger. This is what Zeus feels like when he throws thunderbolts.

Today we’re celebrating the sniper rifle by talking about how it changed games, and all those pieces that make it a great videogame weapon. It starts with distance.

How to make a great sniper rifle 

Counter-Strike's AWP locks down entire sections of a multiplayer level. The AWP s power isn t just in killing, but in threatening to kill.

Almost all of the godlike power of a really fun sniper rifle comes from its ability to shoot at long range, so let’s start there. A great sniper rifle has to have a scope that lets us see deep into the microscopic horizon.

The best recent example of this is PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, where your ability to see other players is your most useful skill. There’s something so disconcerting about running across an open field late in the game, looking around, and seeing no one. You know other players have to be close, but the hills seem quiet. This is where PUBG’s rare scopes come in. An 8x or, inshallah, the 15x scope brings you all of god’s many powers: eliminate a contender from the island in one shot before they know you can see them at all.

Counter-Strike’s AWP is a legend itself, and arguably it helped start the "all-powerful bolt-action sniper rifle" trope that we’re celebrating today. Counter-Strike is a game where split-second accuracy and twitch reflexes decide every battle, and using the AWP demands the patience of a tortoise and the reflexes of a hare. If you’re good at it, the AWP locks down entire sections of a multiplayer level. The AWP’s power isn’t just in killing, but in threatening to kill.

Giving players a better view from the inside of a multiplayer melee is one thing, but sniper rifles can do so, so much more than that. Games that focus on realistic simulation turn sniping into an advanced physics problem that only the best shooters can manage to solve under pressure. Throwing a tiny piece of metal at a target a mile or two away—so far that you have to account for the Earth moving as it rotates—only makes a great sniper shot feel more god-like.

Arma 3’s military sandbox is the best rifle simulation you can play today, and it only gets better with community-made mods that model everything from air pressure to wind speed. Making a shot at one or two miles away stops feeling like marksmanship and starts feeling like flying a spaceship to the moon: up a bit, left a bit, now turn this dial and flick this switch at the same time, and don’t forget to breathe. But only after you pull the trigger.

Arma 3 may have the most accurate long-range sniper shots, but the most famous must be from Call of Duty: Modern Warfare’s best level, "All Ghillied Up." Working your way through long-abandoned farmhouses in Chernobyl's radioactive exclusion zone, there aren't even animals around to break the silence. The tension grows as you sneak past soldiers and into town. When it's time to take the shot with your M82 sniper rifle, music stirs as we watch a little red flag dance around in changing wind, holding our breath and waiting for the perfect moment to throw the lightning.

Bring the noise

It’s obvious that a good sniper rifle has to be loud as all hell. I understand that there are some that prefer their sniper rifles to be utterly silent for stealth reasons, but these poor souls are mistaken. A sniper rifle has to sound like the Earth breaking because, again, a good sniper rifle is the fist of god.

When it comes to noise, nobody does it like the boxy brick of a rifle in HALO: Combat Evolved, a hideous piece of technology burdened with the equally hideous name SRS99C-S2AM. We’re not here for looks, though. The Halo rifle has a boom that rocks around any level followed by reverberating echoes. It’s the echoes that really get me. And it’s not just the loud noises: the SRS99C is a symphony of little beeps and whirs.

Even though the reloading sound is pretty good, it’s the only thing wrong with the SRS99C. Since it’s a semi-automatic rifle, it lacks the the iconic, metallic bolt-action clanks that come with the best sniper rifles. Racking the action on a bolt-action rifle sounds so good, that even in our ode to the greatness of shotguns, we had to admit that maybe, just maybe, bolt-action rifles sound even better.

The sound of thunder and clanking machinery is even more jarring, more fantastic, when it’s contrasted with total silence and tension. Once the silence is broken, it’s OK to chime in with a really good soundtrack, as seen in this great clip from Far Cry 2.

History lesson: the first sniper rifle 

A well-made sniper rifle is a smoothly oiled machine, a clap of thunder you can hold in your hands, and the fist of an angry god all rolled into one.

After celebrating all that makes a good sniper rifle "the cheat code of weapons," it might be obvious how difficult it is to build a game around a worthy sniper. Giving the player god-like powers makes it hard to design levels and enemies that challenge them—and of course, you can’t tone down the sniper rifle without ruining the whole damn thing.

But for a long time, difficulty balance wasn’t the thing that stopped videogames from featuring sniper rifles, it was technology. In the early years, one of the things that games couldn’t really do was distance; we had height and width, but no depth.

There were some strong attempts, though. In 1988, one of the first sniper rifles ever depicted in a game came from the French videogame Hostage: Rescue Mission. The game came out on platforms like the Apple II, the Commodore 64, and the Amiga. In the game, a police sniper sneaks around an embassy full of hostages to reach a vantage point, then uses a myopic little scope to scan the windows for bad guys.

But without 3D spaces, there couldn’t be any real distance. Though conventional wisdom claims that the first true sniper rifle in videogames was in Goldeneye 007 for the Nintendo 64, the truth is actually much closer to PC gamers’ hearts. A full year earlier, in August 1996, Quake Team Fortress released as a mod for Quake. Included among the Soldier, Spy, and Engineer was the Sniper. Snipers came equipped with a "Sniper Rifle," a menace that could kill at distance with one shot—as long as the player was fast enough and had great eyesight.

In March 1997, LucasArts released Outlaws, a western-themed shooter that seems to be mostly forgotten today. Those of us who played it, though, saw something new. Attached to the standard lever-action Winchester rifle was a sniper scope that magnified objects in 3D. As far as I can find, this real-time 3D magnification had never been done before at the time. Outlaws did it five months before Goldeneye launched.

LucasArts was sort of a pioneer in gaming back then, but I still think it’s unlikely that Outlaws started a trend. It’s more likely that the time for the first-person sniper rifle had just arrived. In the next year alone, 1998, we saw zoomable, first-person sniper rifles pop up in Half-Life, SiN, Starseige: Tribes, and Delta Force. Multiplayer games in particular started to play on larger maps, and the sniper rifle quickly became a staple for long-range battles. In 2000, the original Counter-Strike launched the AWP, and Deus Ex brought sniper rifles into a free-form immersive sim setting.

By the time Operation Flashpoint (the pre-cursor to Arma) launched in 2001, Battlefield 1942 arrived in 2002, and Call of Duty released in 2003, the sniper rifle was an essential part of any videogame that included guns at all.

Lasers, etc.

Not all sniper rifles throw lead. Despite my grandstanding up in the "Bring the noise" section, a rifle that shoots lasers or—gasp—silently flings arrows can still be a lot of fun. The obvious example here is Half-Life 2’s incredible crossbow, a hideous sci-fi monster that nailes people to walls with superheated pieces of rebar.

The joys of Half-Life 2’s crossbow are numerous: the all-seeing perspective of a decent scope, the one-shot power of that glowing slab of iron pinning a Combine soldier’s body to the architecture.

Even the loud, bass-heavy thunk and twang of the crossbow, though obviously not as good as a huge boom, is really nice to listen to—and possibly even kind of musical? The best crossbow noise doesn’t come from the crossbow at all, but from the slightly muted, high-pitch whine of the "soldier down" Combine alarm heard from a long way off.

For laser-throwing sniper rifles, the powerful Darklance from XCOM 2 is one of our hands-down favorites. A shot of boiling, angry red death rays flying at aliens is, in general, pretty fun, but the Darklance has another edge. Unlike every other sniper rifle in the game, soldiers can fire and move in the same turn. If you do it right, a sniper armed with the Darklance can flit around the edges of a map, firing and moving, smiting and disappearing. Darklance might not give you the joy of a first-person perspective, but its power is no less biblical.

In conclusion

Videogame sniper rifles are rad. Though they can be monstrous in multiplayer games and their effects can be more pornographic than 10,000 dicks on parade, a well-made sniper rifle is a beautiful thing. It’s a smoothly oiled machine, a clap of thunder you can hold in your hands, and the fist of an angry god all rolled into one.

But for all its power, the reason the sniper remains so compelling is how well it's balanced out by its limitations, and all the tension they bring. Missing a shot can mean an eternal few seconds of reloading, standing naked in front of the world. That moment can give way to panic, and without a cool head, you're lost. So goes one of the greatest sniper shots ever captured on video.

There's one more tool in the sniper's belt, which forgoes range, its greatest asset, to make you feel somehow more omnipotent. If there's a more rewarding shot than the no-scope, an impossible doming that spits in the face of the sniper's intended balance, we don't know it. The no-scope defies nature and reason. It's the ultimate trump card. 

Using a sniper well is an instinctive skill or a physics problem or both, and great games use them to make you feel unstoppable. Long live the scope.

Far Cry® 2: Fortune's Edition

It’s when you notice the little details in games that they really come alive. Those little things that hint at some sort of existence outside your control or awareness. They could be art props made to suggest who lived in the spaces you’re romping through, or little room layout details that show how the world works, but some of the touches that bring games to life the most come through animation.

This is a celebration of incidental animations that don't help you win or make you lose or do much of anything important. They just happen, and you probably don’t even notice them, or think about how much work they actually took. There’s a madness to incidental animation, that so much effort has been lavished into producing something so ancillary, something which many players might never come across. But it can make the difference between a game feeling right and feeling that little bit off. It’s about conjuring that suspension of disbelief. It’s where the magic is.

This selection of great incidental animation can’t hope to be exhaustive, since it’s simply compiled from the games I’ve played, and even within that paltry selection it’s only the things I’ve noticed, remembered and captured (with some pointers from some friends). But hopefully it’ll give you a new appreciation of the little things.

Assassin's Creed: Origins: Wet Bayek

Props to that special moment when a game nonchalantly plays out a very human response to something you’ve put your character through. Bayek doesn’t complain at you getting soggy, but his little hand and foot shakes give a sense of the person under all the stabbing. 

Rise of the Tomb Raider: Wringing out the ponytail 

Relatedly, Lara’s attention to her hair after coming out of water is a reminder of the tricky nature of dealing with long locks in extreme conditions. It’s just one of the many little animation details in Rise of the Tomb Raider, but several friends pointed towards it as their favourite and heck, they’re right.

Prey: Q-Beam wobble

Who was it at Arkane Studios who realised, "The Q-Beam absolutely has to comprise three objects which wobble as you move"? They are a genius. Weapons in games rarely passively react as you move around, and OK, that’s maybe because it’s a little distracting, but here in the Q-Beam, it’s wonderful. 

Overwatch: Junkrat's grenade launcher

Another delightfully ramshackle weapon is Junkrat’s Frag Launcher. The way all its jiggling bits and pieces move as you walk do a great job of communicating Junkrat’s pegleg limp, and the way the flap on the end of the barrel flips as you fall really gets a sense of momentum across. You can almost imagine how his insane launcher actually works.

Titanfall 2: Alternator

Still on guns (because games are basically guns, right), I just love all the unnecessary (i.e. necessary) movement in Titanfall 2’s otherwise fairly straight Alternator submachine gun. Little bits flick back and forth as you fire, simply to express and celebrate its name. The Alternator was designed by Respawn animator Ranon Sarono, who’s a master of the gun animation form. His showreels and game gun jokes on his YouTube channel are recommended viewing.

Far Cry 2: jammed shotgun

Technically, Far Cry 2’s gun-jamming animations don’t fit our criteria for incidental animation because they directly affect the game, but they’re just so expressive. The sheer annoyance of the player character, as demoed here by Tigerfield, is just wonderful, and completely matches your own reaction to finding your gun suddenly refusing to work.

Far Cry 2: Hand

Far Cry 2’s filled with incidental animation. The way the player character’s hand interacts with the world around you set new standards.

But here’s the real incidental animation gold in Far Cry 2: the fingers change position to turn the watch’s bezel one way or the other. I’m sure Ubisoft Montreal could have designed it more efficiently, and I’m so pleased they didn’t.

Head over to page two for more wonderful incidental animations, including indie Quadrilateral Cowboy, Dishonored 2 and Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus.

Metal Gear Solid 5: iDroid 

Look in the background, and you’ll see Snake’s thumb mirroring your control of the iDroid menu on a little side-mounted joystick. Utterly pointless. 

Quadrilateral Cowboy: Bathroom 

Blendo Games’ Brendan Chung is something of a connoisseur of incidental animation, so I asked him to pick out what he’s most proud of from his own games. He chose the bathroom in QuadCow’s Valencia Villa. "The bathroom is way too detailed and interactive considering it has no gameplay impact and is not part of the critical path," he says. Every cabinet opens, every component works. "The excess I'm most happy with is how both the shower and sink, after you turn their water off, continue drip-dropping for a few seconds before completely stopping. I am secretly hoping this becomes industry standard."

Who fancies starting a campaign? 

Prey: Boiling curry 

Or maybe it’s a stew. Either way, this combination of a lovely shiny shader effect and a very simple undulating mesh brings a pot eternally cooking in Talos-I’s kitchen to life, if you should ever notice it. Chances are, you won’t. 

Dishonored 2: Audiograph 

Even more Arkane, here’s Dishonored 2’s wonderfully characterful audiotape player. Watching the handle wind around and its punchcard jigger in and out makes having to stay nearby to hear the tape almost bearable. 

Destiny 2: Sweeping bot 

This bot, found in a dead end in the depths of Destiny 2’s social area (if you put the time into exploring it), is a callback to a sweeping robot which featured in the first Destiny’s Tower social space. We can all cherish its heartbreaking dedication to a thankless task—perhaps it’s a reference to all the effort that went into animating it?

Little Nightmares

If you take a moment to watch them from safety, you’ll see one of Little Nightmares’ awful chefs perform a little under-face scratch which is just fantastic.

Wolfenstein 2: The New Colossus: Reactor

Most incidental animation is small, but it doesn’t need to be. A way into his new adventure, B.J. Blazkowicz enters a vast hall that houses a reactor at its far end. The hall’s monumental machinations serve absolutely no function, the flying saucer-looking thing having no discernible purpose, and yet there it all is, but you were too busy shooting Nazis to see it.

Wolfenstein 2: The New Colossus: Digital readout 

Still on Wolf 2, someone Machine Games went to the effort of making actual digital readouts on the assorted Nazi control boards that you probably never spent any time looking at, ensuring they count meaninglessly up as far as the digits allow. This is perfection, and an exemplar of the form. 

So here’s to the most lavish of incidental animation. Let it only become more so.

Assassin's Creed™: Director's Cut Edition

Once upon a time, Ubisoft's library was simple: it made platformers starring terrifying mascots with no limbs, and roughly 17,000 Tom Clancy tie-ins. But over the last decade, Ubi has muscled in on the genre that GTA made famous, building huge worlds spanning radically different time periods. Regardless of whether you’re controlling a historical hitman or a coma-bound cop, though, Ubisoft’s sandboxes love to borrow mechanics from other Ubi games.

Join us as we look back at the history of the Ubisoft's open world games, to see just how these sprawling sandboxes have evolved (and grown more and more alike).

A stealthy start

Ubisoft first began to dabble in the sandbox space with 2007’s Assassin’s Creed. Skip back a decade, and you’d never guess the seismic scope the franchise would reach. Before the 2D spin-offs, books, and shitty Michael Fassbender films could wear us all down, there was just this ambitious (more than a bit broken) sandbox that spawned many of the features open world games still cling to in 2017. 

Chances are you don’t remember much about the original Assassin’s Creed. You probably recall moping around ancient Jerusalem stabbing folk as a dude in a hoodie. Perhaps you have a dim recollection of eavesdropping on NPCs chatting away on benches. Maybe you even remember that early kickass trailer with the horribly catchy Unkle song

Far Cry 3 s antenna towers undoubtedly cast the longest shadow on almost every Ubi open world that followed, but that's not where they started.

The one thing you’ll definitely recall is Ubisoft’s obsession with making players scale super lofty buildings. That all started in Altaïr’s adventure. To fully scope out all of the Holy Land’s side activities, you had to climb the tops of the tallest structures across Jerusalem, Acre, and Damascus. Doing so gives you a very literal eagle’s eye view of the sprawling mass of humanity hundreds of feet below; a bird of prey swooping around the building when you reach its summit. 

These vertigo-bating landmarks birthed Ubi’s most infamous open world feature: gradually filling up a map with mission markers.

Crossover feature: Climbing towers

Assassin’s Creed may have introduced us to the idea of big-ass buildings that revealed points of interest when climbed, but it was 2012’s Far Cry 3 that really cemented the feature. Jason Brody’s leopard-punching, pirate-blasting, tattoo-inking tropical holiday had the sort of wide reaching influence on the open world genre its two predecessors could only have sweaty night terrors about… mainly because its predecessor literally gave you malaria

Surprisingly, Far Cry 2’s obsession with making you stuff pills down your throat to keep mosquito-borne diseases away never caught on—nor did its love of jamming weapons. Far Cry 3 ditched the annoying obstructions in favour of features that kept you itching to explore.

Far Cry 3’s antenna towers undoubtedly cast the longest shadow on almost every Ubi open world that followed. Scaling these rickety structures—which often feel like they’re being kept up by little more than prayers and a few loose screws—helps Brody fill his map up with all manner of side distractions. Haphazardly jumping, swinging and climbing your way between the crooked layers of the towers in Far Cry 3 isn’t just a hoot in and of itself, it also makes tracking the series of wildlife hunts, enemy encampments, treasure chests and races spread throughout the densely packed archipelago a lot easier.  

Crossover feature: Animals

Also, animals. An ark's worth of animals. Brief hunting escapades may have popped up a few months prior in Assassin’s Creed 3, but it was Far Cry 3 that really took the pelt-collecting ball and ran with it. Forget quietly ruminating on the unspoken majesty of the animal kingdom: Ubi’s critter-obsessed shooters just want to make you shoot endangered species in their furry faces. 

Not that the trend Far Cry 3 kicked off (which seemed heavily inspired by Rockstar’s Red Dead Redemption) entirely revolves around needless slaughter. Hunting down and skinning animals allows Brody to use pelts to craft ever larger ammo bags and other weapon-focused accessories. 

The creature carnage in Far Cry 4 takes things even further, with attacks coming from land, sea and air—lord are that game’s ultra aggressive eagles ever jerks. The Himalayan sandbox would also introduce rideable beasts in the form of rampaging elephants, which the prehistoric follow-up would go nuts with.

Last year’s Far Cry Primal makes the toothy, tusked inhabitants of its ancient world the stars of the show. Far Cry 3 may have let you punch sharks, but next to Primal’s wild encounters, that's positively tame. When you can train sabertooth tigers, command jaguars to stealth kill fellow cavemen, and use an owl as a sort of feathered, Mesolithic drone to tag enemies—a feature both Watch Dogs 2 and Ghost Recon: Wildlands would quickly reskin—bopping Jaws’ cousin on the nose ain’t no thang. 

Ubisoft has since pushed more animals into Assassin's Creed: Origins. Even Watch Dogs 2 depicts San Francisco's Pier 39 with a rookery of slovenly seals leisurely sunning themselves on gangplanks.

Crossover features: Sneaking, tagging, and stealth takedowns

Stealth has also played a large role in many of Ubi’s open world games, regardless of the setting, era or enemy type. It started with players blending into crowds with the ‘social stealth’ gameplay of the original Assassin’s Creed. It was an innovative feature for its time—after all, most stealth games up to that point forced their characters to either hide in the shadows or a cardboard box.

Sneaking mechanics were quickly shoved into most of its games following Assassin’s Creed's success. Who cares if these stalking scenarios were often absurd: they make for easy mission design, dammit!

Over the years Ubisoft has proven there s no open world setting it can t crowbar a stealth section into.

Diving underwater, then pulling pirates into the drink as you clear out enemy strongholds in Far Cry 3. Slipping between cover to slap a chokehold on Watch Dogs’ various shortsighted guards. Poking Edward Kenway’s head out of Assassin’s Creed 4’s suspiciously plentiful patches of long grass. Using a tiny, extra voyeuristic RC car to infiltrate the offices of a tech startup in Watch Dogs 2, then zapping any security personnel that get too curious. Solid Snake and Sam Fisher have a lot to answer for.  

Whether you’re whacking religious zealots in the time of the Crusades or putting San Francisco office workers to sleep with a taser gun, over the years Ubisoft has proven there’s no open world setting it can’t crowbar a stealth section into. 

Tagging enemies is another prominent feature most Ubi games have turned to over the last few years. This actually predates Ubisoft's open worlds, in games like Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter and Rainbow Six: Vegas, but it's since become a vital part of their sandboxes as well.

Placing markers down to keep track of your foes’ positions popped up in Far Cry 3, with Brody’s super useful set of pirate-tagging binoculars. Assassin’s Creed, Watch Dogs, and Ghost Recon have all subsequently borrowed this eagle-eyed feature, while even the likes of Metal Gear Solid V have benefited hugely from Jason’s peeping Tom bouts of recon making tagging an open world staple.

Oh, and almost every one of those games lets you perform stealth takedowns, too. Because of course any self respecting hipster hacker/out of his depth fratboy/neanderthal can neutralise foes with the quiet, deadly efficiency of a Navy SEAL team.

Yeah, that looks about right.

Crossover feature: The Ubisoft collectible

This is the big one. More than any of the above crossover features, one recurring element has helped prop up Ubi’s increasingly sophisticated sandboxes this past decade: collectibles. ALL the collectibles. 

Eagle feathers in Assassin’s Creed; lost letters and spirit totems in Far Cry; Watch Dogs’ key data caches; Kingslayer files in Ghost Recon: Wildlands; even crystalline shards in the otherwise wonderfully nonconformist Grow Home, and its sequel Grow Up. Grand Theft Auto 3 may have introduced the world to sandbox collectibles with its fiendishly placed hidden packages, but we doubt Rockstar envisioned game worlds rammed full of bird feathers, PC files and statue heads. 

Hell, Ubisoft has even managed to cram several garages full of collectibles into its vehicled-based sandboxes. 2011’s brilliantly offbeat Driver San Francisco has 130 movie tokens to hoover up as you bomb around the Golden City while you mind-jack cars in gaming’s most exciting coma. The Crew wouldn’t miss this OCD party for the world, either. The flawed 2014 racer scatters 20 Wreck Parts in each of the five sections that make up its vast North American sandbox of endless highways. 

Ubisoft's impulse to put collectibles in everything extended all the way to Driver: San Francisco.

It’s almost as if Ubisoft doesn’t trust you enough to leave you to your own devices for five minutes. A good thing, too. Why take your time admiring the painstakingly recreated canal networks of Renaissance era Venice in Assassin’s Creed 2, when your inner completionist could be making Ezio ruin his shins by scampering up rooftops for mangy bird feathers?

There’s no question Ubisoft’s open worlds have evolved drastically over the last ten years. Place the original Assassin’s Creed next to the upcoming Beyond Good & Evil 2 (Michel Ancel’s long awaited sequel lets you explore entire galaxies), and you may as well be comparing a kid’s crayon scribbles to the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Still, there’s no question Ubi’s plethora of internal studios love to crib concepts from each other’s games. 

So whether its a slightly out of place stealth mission, wads of XP to splurge on increasingly convoluted skill trees, or vaulting up towers to open up that fog covered map, you should probably expect Ubisoft open worlds to continue to share crossover features as they continue to evolve. Darwin would be delighted. Probably. 

Far Cry®

Ranking the games in the Far Cry series isn't an especially easy task given that for the most part it's been a widely varied collection of shooters: Far Cry 1, 2, and 3 were all distinctly different from one another, and while Far Cry 4, Far Cry 5, and Blood Dragon were quite similar to Far Cry 3, Primal threw us a curve and plopped us in the Stone Age. Another issue with ranking them: the Far Cry games are all pretty good! There are no stinkers in the series, meaning there's no one to really dump on. This makes things harder.

But just because something isn't easy doesn't mean it shouldn't be done. Below we've cobbled together a highly-unscientific ranking of the Far Cry series (sans Instincts, which only appeared on console). As with all of our rankings, this list is iron-clad and inarguable, so we expect nothing but collective head-nods of sycophantic agreement in the comments.

Here they are, the Far Cry games listed from worst to first.

Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon

Developed: Ubisoft Published: Ubisoft2013

Samuel: Blood Dragon is a pleasingly concentrated and beautiful slice of Far Cry 3, wrapped in a joke that maybe wears a bit too thin. It essentially offers everything the main game does, but in a sillier and more explosive framework, designed as it is to poke fun at '80s movies and games in general—the latter of which is a contentious point for some. 

But it's so clearly enjoyable for what it is. Neon versions of Far Cry 3's creatures wander the landscape, and it's refreshingly streamlined, with no crafting and simpler progression systems. Throw a cyber heart to lure a Blood Dragon, watch the beast turn up to wreak some havoc, then move onto the next outpost. If the 20+ hours of game waiting in Far Cry 3 or 4 seems daunting, this is a pleasingly complete microcosm of the Far Cry experience.

Far Cry Primal

Developed: Ubisoft Published: Ubisoft2016

Chris: Cranking back the clock—way back, to 10,000 BC—would seem a good way to take the series in an entirely new direction. There are no guns in Primal, of course. No cars, no aircraft, and absolutely no radio towers (thankfully). In some ways, it's pretty amazing that the familiar gameplay of Far Cry fits so well in an environment without automatic weapons and off-road vehicles.

The flip side is that Primal feels too familiar to really stand out. Stone Age or not, it's still unmistakably a Far Cry game and never really feels like a fresh experience. The ability to tame animals to fight alongside you is new, and while combat restricts you to bows, clubs, and spears (there is, enjoyably, a bee-filled pouch that acts as a grenade), the hunting and crafting you spend much of your time doing isn't any sort of departure from the series. Despite sending you thousands of years into the past, Primal winds up feeling a little too similar to Far Cry 3 and 4.

Far Cry 5

Developed: Ubisoft Published: Ubisoft2018  

Chris: Far Cry 5 is built on the foundation of 3 and 4 with only a few tweaks on the established formula. The small changes are welcome, though: there's no skill tree, so you can unlock perks in any order you want, giving you the freedom to build your character to fit your playstyle. The crafting system of the earlier games has been trimmed down, too, so you unlock additional weapon slots and ammo bags through perks instead of having to hunt specific animals. Far Cry 5 wants you to get into the beautiful and chaotic open world of Montana with as few roadblocks as possible.

But flying in the face of all the freedom you're given is the unpleasant habit the game's bosses have for kidnapping you. They'll routinely drag you from your open world adventures and force you to listen to their long, rambling monologues. Worse, the villains are bland and forgettable, with gimmicky battles required to beat them. 

Far Cry 5 is still a fun and ridiculous sandbox of mayhem and destruction, but better bosses, and better writing, could have given it a higher ranking on our list.

Far Cry 2

Developed: Ubisoft Published: Ubisoft2008 

Chris: Far Cry 2 is the favorite of several of the PC Gamer staff, but favorite doesn't automatically mean best*, and loving something doesn't mean you need to be blind to its flaws. From crippling you with malaria before you even manage to escape the intro, to restricting your sprinting to a few steps before running out of stamina, to roadside checkpoints that repopulate with suicidal bad guys the moment you glance in another direction, traveling the map can quickly become an exhausting and frustrating affair. 

Making up for that, however, is everything else. The location, a sun-scorched province in Africa, is one of the most convincing environments a shooter has ever visited. The fire system is still fantastic, better even than the ones in later games, where flames spread through dry grass, up into trees, and across buildings, useful for flushing out and trapping enemies, but also often requiring the player to scramble to safety. The story is refreshingly nihilistic and bleak, the sprawling map leads into another, bigger one halfway through the game, and the gunplay (provided you're using guns you bought, as the ones you pick up off the ground are garbage) is fantastic.

*Note: I do really think it's the best, but we held a staff vote and I'll abide by the results.

Samuel: I appreciate the ambition of the story and the presentation of the world, though it's not particularly enjoyable next to the more recent games. I know that's an unpopular answer: Far Cry 2 is a favourite among game design academics, and fair enough. But sometimes you want to ride an elephant into a base, and that's okay.

I too appreciate Far Cry 2's fire and buddy system. Another touch I love about this game, that I assume Firewatch later borrowed, was the idea of the map being an object you hold in your hand. I haven't played the game in years, but I'll always remember that as a clever way of heightening the reality of that world.

Far Cry 3

Developed: Ubisoft Published: Ubisoft2012 

Chris: Rather than casting you as an ex-Green Beret or hired merc, Far Cry 3's Jason Brody was supposed to be just some random bro who finds himself in way over his head. Naturally, you're still completely capable of killing hundreds of people, flying wingsuits around, and doing everything else the trained killers from the previous games could, but for at least an hour or two Brody yammers on about how he's just a bro who doesn't know what he's doing. It's not especially convincing.

This game also served as Far Cry's dive into crafting, which was largely baffling: having to hunt multiple animals to make a wallet that could hold more money, for instance. Far Cry 3's animals are much more fun when they're the ones doing the hunting, leaping out of the jungle to attack goons and rebels alike, who are often already in the process of attacking one another. The whole island is like a explosive set of dominos, where tipping one leaves a chaotic mess in its wake. There are times when just watching the carnage is as enjoyable as participating in it.

Luckily, you can break from the extended and often not-great story missions (you're trying to rescue your friends and repair the boat to escape, despite having access to lots of working boats, but whatever) and do whatever the heck you want. And, it solved one of the big issues with Far Cry 2: once you took over an outpost, it was yours. Enemies didn't repopulate, and they certainly didn't repopulate the moment you drove off-screen.

Tim: My memory is so shot to pieces now that the two main things I recall about Far Cry 3 are that 1) it was my favourite Far Cry, largely because it ditched the whole "having malaria as a gameplay mechanic" thing, and 2) what I loved most about the game was its signature weapons. For some reason I found collecting each of these—from the meaty Bull shotgun to the deranged Shredder SMG—absolutely compelling. 

Unlocking them required an arduous amount of macguffin collection (this being a game that routinely tasks you with skinning 10 mongeese to craft a new wallet), but the chase for these white whale weapons was what drove me to keep going. Once I had them all my interest flamed out fast. An itch/scratch relationship I recognise only too well from my exotic weapon collection in Destiny. Actually, the other thing I remember about Far Cry 3 is that it genuinely felt like going on holiday. A ridiculous, action movie holiday accompanied by assholes, but a sunshine break nonetheless. 

Far Cry

Developed: Crytek Published: Ubisoft2004

Chris: It's hard to say how the original Far Cry holds up after a decade—we haven't played it in nearly that long—but at its release it was almost shockingly good. While it demanded a lot of our hardware at the time (it was a Crytek game, after all), it at least had some flexibility in graphical settings and still looked pretty great even on mid-range PCs.

James: The original Far Cry stood out for its massive open environments and the aggressive AI soldiers within. Firefights didn’t take place in a tightly scripted series of corridors—thick vegetation and a rudimentary stealth system turned encounters into an improvisational game of cat and cat and cat and cat and mouse (you). A few hours in, monsters get thrown into the jungle combat stew, and suddenly the enemy mercs are no longer sitting comfortably at the top of the food chain—not that they’re eating the monsters or you, I hope. Luring men to monsters and then hiding in a bush became the new headshot, an early push towards testing more skills than how quickly a player can point and click. 

By today’s standards, Far Cry’s take on sneaky open arena combat feels noticeably dated, with enemies that have acute senses and preternatural aim anyone would envy. This is also before the era of elaborate back-stab animations, so stealth takes more patience and guesswork than it should, but even so, it’s easy to appreciate Far Cry for its obvious influence on open-ended island-hopping FPS design. 

Far Cry 4

Developed: Ubisoft Published: Ubisoft2014

Chris: For a series that had been reinventing itself with each release—Far Cry 1, 2, and 3 were all markedly different from one another—Far Cry 4 was a noticeable departure. It built on the gameplay of the previous entry without completely reimagining it. Coming just two years after Far Cry 3, Far Cry 4 felt incredibly familiar, but the changes it did bring were all for the better.

Rather than the overly vocal Jason Brody, protagonist Ajay Ghale is more subdued and quiet, letting the player fill in the blanks of his personality. Instead of simple bad luck stranding him among scores of warring soldiers and freedom fighters, Ajay has a real reason for being in the region of Kyrat: he's returned to scatter his mother's ashes, and the region's rebels are a military group founded by his father. What's more, Pagan Min, the colorful and charismatic baddie, once had an affair with Ajay's mother, making Ajay's appearance in Kyrat a personal one in several respects.

Kyrat itself is a wonderful and chaotic playground, sprawling and mountainous and with plenty of new ways to get around in it, like gyrocopters and a grappling hook, plus the familiar wingsuit that this time can be accessed almost immediately. The insanely aggressive wildlife makes a return, allowing us to unleash them on unsuspecting enemies and providing no small amount of random, ridiculous carnage. Plus, you can ride elephants, bowling over vehicles and tossing enemies into the air.

Alongside the scripted story missions, outpost takeovers once again comprise the most enjoyable part of the game, freeform assaults that can be accomplished any way you like. Outposts are bolstered by the addition of strongholds: massive and well-protected forts that are even tougher and more fun to liberate. This being a Ubisoft game, the map is littered with all sorts of other activities, challenges, and points of interest. They don't all really add much but, but they do ensure there's something to do just about everywhere you roam. Throw in co-op (except for story missions) and Far Cry 4 is a heavily packed and gloriously fun sandbox of destruction. 

Far Cry®

The official Far Cry 5 reveal is still a couple days out, but Ubisoft today released the first full-on promotional image for the game, and it is—to put it mildly—provocative. 

The image depicts a group of heavily-armed, heavily-bearded men, plus one woman and a wolf, positioned in a very Last Supper-like pose around a table festooned with a slightly-modified US flag—crosses instead of stars—and with a vaguely menacing messiah figure at the center. There are guns and ammo all around, of course, and a badly-beaten man sitting in front, his hands bound and the word "Sinner" scrawled across his back.   

Bringing the series to America in what appears to be a very believable context of religious extremism and right-wing survivalists is a bold move. Previous Far Cry games have been set in remote locales crawling with fictional villains (and even mutants at one point—how far it's all come) and were easy to dismiss as pleasantly distant and fully fictional. That may not be so easy with Far Cry 5, which is bound to upset some people—although I think it's the most interesting thing Ubisoft has done with the series since Far Cry 2. 

The Far Cry 5 full reveal is set to take place on May 26. Have a look at the full art below.

Far Cry®

Ubisoft has rolled out a brief teaser for the recently-revealed FPS Far Cry 5, confirming that the game is headed to the remote, rugged environs of Montana.

The teaser is simply a clip of a young man out for a job through grassy, wind-kissed field and a , and the very homey "Welcome to Hope County, Montana" logo laid overtop. But it jibes very well with a recent leak on Reddit from a self-proclaimed participant "in a focus group in a major metropolitan area" that took place last year, where Ubisoft apparently showed off its ideas for the game.

"The general thrust of this game is that it will take place in present day, and feature the protagonist taking on a Jim Jones or David Koresh-like religious cult in a small town in Montana that's been populated by, essentially, Doomsday-preppers bent on furthering their cause. So, modern-day weaponry and modern-day vehicles, plus a hilly, mountainous backdrop," the post says.   

"They showed us some basic promotional videos featuring a heavily—HEAVILY—religious angle to the evil. A person (presumably the protagonist) walking through a town that was completely empty, only to walk into a church to discover the congregation is made up of everyone in town staring in rapt attention at a shirtless lunatic leader brandishing an assault rifle in one hand and a Bible in the other." 

The Redditor acknowledged that the information was a year old and so could quite possibly be out of date, but religious extremists taking over an isolated small town does seem like a reasonable basis for a Far Cry-style videogame. And if you're going to do that kind of thing, where better than Montana? 

The full Far Cry 5 worldwide reveal is set for May 26, which is this Friday. We'll keep you posted. 

Update: The post originally referenced a video of a slightly-polluted Montana river, which unfortunately turns out to be unviewable in the US. I've replaced it with the one above, and if you happen to live elsewhere (or want to check out one of the other three Far Cry 5 teasers that are now online), you can take a shot at Ubisoft's primary YouTube channel.

Far Cry®

Ubisoft announced today that four of its biggest franchises will be returning for its 2017-18 fiscal year (which we're currently in, and ends March 31, 2018). Far Cry 5 and The Crew 2 are both on the way, and the oft-delayed South Park: The Fractured But Whole is (hopefully) coming, too. The publisher also teased a new Assassin's Creed, although details—like, for instance, a subtitle—are being held back, possibly for a full-on E3 reveal. (Though Egypt is heavily rumored to be the setting.)

"Over the last three fiscal years, Ubisoft has—with remarkable success—created numerous new brands and rebooted Rainbow Six and Ghost Recon," Ubisoft CEO Yves Guillemot said in a statement. "These successes have strengthened our visibility for the coming two fiscal years, with a line-up of releases principally comprised of established franchises. In 2017-18 we will see the exciting returns of Assassin's Creed, Far Cry, The Crew, and South Park." 

The Crew is probably the one semi-surprise of the bunch: It had something of a rough launch in 2014, and it was actually one of last year's Ubisoft anniversary freebies—not exactly a sign of a highly lucrative money-maker. On the other hand, Ubisoft recently announced that it had hit the 12 million player mark, which is no small feat, and it hasn't given up on the game by any measure either, releasing the cops-and-robbers expansion Calling All Units in November 2016. 

It's an ambitious lineup, but a strong FY2017-18 (and beyond) has to be even more important than usual for Ubisoft: The conflict has gone quiet in recent months, but Ubisoft is still facing a possible hostile takeover attempt by Vivendi. The company needs to do everything it can do to bolster its position—and as quickly as it possibly can.

Naturally, details are in very short supply at this early stage, but tweets from Ubisoft UK at least give us some logos to look at.   

Community Announcements - Ubi_Jax

On December 22nd, don’t forget to vote for your favorite videogame Villain!
Far Cry 3’s Vaas and Far Cry 4’s Pagan Min are nominated in the Steam Awards category: “Villain Most In Need Of A Hug”. More information: HERE
Community Announcements - [Ubi] Matty

Happy birthday to Far Cry 3 !
The game was released December 4, 2012, in North America.
Already four years of insanity and many more to come!

PC Gamer

It was rumored in January, and then effectively confirmed in February, that despite releases in the franchise coming every year since 2009, a new Assassin's Creed game would not come out in 2016. Ubisoft CEO Yves Guillemot said at the time that the long-term goal was not to "come back to an annual cycle, but to come back on a regular basis" when the series returned, which it was assumed would happen sometime in 2017. But Tommy Francois, Ubi's vice president of editorial, told IGN that it may take even longer than that to get things back on track.

"We believe alpha for these games needs to be one year before release. We're trying to achieve that. That's super fucking blunt, I don't even know if I'm allowed to say this. This is the goal we're going for: Alpha one year before [release], more quality, more polish," he said. "So if this means biting the [bullet] and not having an Assassin's game, or a Far Cry [in 2017], fuck it."

Getting to an alpha state as quickly as possible is vital, he explained, "because the more time we have for this the more polish we have, the more time we can change, refine, swap systems. You just can't take shortcuts."

He also clarified that the pause isn't an attempt to dodge over-saturation Francois said Far Cry has "only been going up in sales" but strictly a creative decision, to give studios a chance to get away from the usual "Ubisoft open-world formula" and try different things. "I do think we need to break that formula," he said. "This year we've given Far Cry and Assassin's some time to decant, innovate, and polish. The objective behind this is exactly that."

Ubisoft hasn't been shy about delaying other major projects in recent months, either: In August it pushed back two planned Division expansions in order to focus on straightening out the core game, and earlier this month it pushed South Park: The Fractured But Whole, which had been slated for a December release, into early 2017.


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