The Xbox, whether by design or circumstance, is primarily a shooter console, built around a pair of triggers on a controller that weighs about as much as a loaded M-60 squad automatic machine gun. The Xbox came into the world with a great first-person shooter, and the Halo series is still the most popular title in its library. And, paradoxically, until now, Halo was the only truly great FPS it had. Enter Far Cry: Instincts, the next—and possibly last—great Xbox FPS. You play as Jack Carver (or, as is the tradition in these things, Jack Carver's hands) after his boat is blown out from under him near a tropical island. Naturally, this means you have to kill a lot of people with those hands, or whatever they're holding. This is handled beautifully, via everything from silenced pistols to double submachine guns to spiked branch traps, plus a seamless running-walking-crawling system which is used either to sneak around killing people, or to run around killing people. Later, you'll be captured and injected with mystery mutant serum, which gives you fun new senses and turns those hands into gnarled, deadly weapons that can rag-doll a mercenary through the side of a Quonset hut. And it all looks fantastic, even online with far too many people homiciding around. Only the iffy plot, the excruciating soundtrack, and the imminent launch of the Xbox 360 will prevent Far Cry from assuming a place in the firmament.
Beyond the gameplay: The nifty, surprisingly powerful map editor is fun to tinker with, although you need Xbox Live to really show it off. Try and avoid the temptation to put huge waterfalls all over the place.
Worth playing for: The best first-person-shooting, stabbing, rocket-launching, trap-springing, claymore-detonating, and face-breaking available anywhere. Plus, tracking bad guys by scent in the dark is every bit as fun as you've always imagined.
Frustration sets in when: The awful, awful music can't be turned off, or even down. There seems to be a lot of variety in the drivable Hummers, jet-skis, ATVs, hovercrafts, and what have you, but they all drive like jerky, floaty shopping carts. Also, a note for game companies: If your main character is a rough, tough ex-Mafia, ex-Navy guy (no, really) whose every third word is an obscenity, don't use a prissy voice actor who apparently wouldn't know how to say "shit" if he had a mouthful.
Final judgment: You may be saving your money for Nov. 22 at this point, but this really is as good-looking and smooth-playing a first-person shooter as any console has ever seen.