Platforms: Xbox 360, Playstation 3, PC - Xbox 360 version reviewed.
To be honest, I don't think anyone expected Far Cry 2 to turn out like this. With Crysis regarded as the true successor to Far Cry, most people were ready to dismiss the Ubisoft sequel as a cheap cash-in, presumably another variant on Far Cry: Instincts dumbed down even further to appeal to the largest possible market.
Instead, we get an ambitious, literate, intelligent and pseudo-realistic freeform shooter, more akin to The Elder Scrolls: Oblivion or S.T.A.L.K.E.R. than anything Ubisoft or Crytek before it attempted with the series. Look - it quotes Nietzsche and riffs on Conrad's Heart of Darkness, for goodness sake. You could even argue that this is a breakthrough game for the FPS genre; one that takes the open world gameplay of S.T.A.L.K.E.R., makes the open world feel more truly open, and simultaneously renders it more accessible for a mainstream audience. Far Cry 2 doesn't quite get an A* for achievement, but as far as effort goes it's sitting near the top of the class.
As you'll know if you saw the Far Cry 2 preview, the setting has moved from the tropics to an unnamed central African state in the grip of burgeoning civil war between rival revolutionary factions. As a mercenary, you've been dropped in to take out 'the Jackal' - a mysterious arms dealer whose weapons are helping to perpetuate the conflict. Sadly for you, the job turns sour. Struck by malaria within minutes of entering the country, you're discovered but enigmatically spared by your quarry, surviving a skirmish between the two gangs only by the skin of your teeth.
If you want to live on and stop the Jackal you'll need to tackle missions for both sides. Not enough? Well, you'll soon run out of tablets for your Malaria, so you also need to keep on the right side of a church-sponsored underground movement. In jeeps, boats and buggies, by bus or on foot, you'll traverse the whole country, killing, rescuing or wrecking on command and ensuring you have the resources you need to get your real job done. It's a hard knocks life..... for you.
Still, you're not alone. To make things slightly more complicated the game has a system of buddies. At the start of the game you choose a character to play. Depending on your choice, you'll then meet up with potential allies early in the game. One will provide you with alternative missions. Say you've been asked to assassinate the police chief in his motorcade. Well, your buddy might suggest that to make your job easier you pay his brother a visit and take an embarrassing file, prompting the corrupt cop to go to the police station where you can take him out a lot easier.
Of course this usually entails some payback for your buddy - in this land, nobody does you any favours without an ulterior motive in mind. Your other buddy will run in and drag your sorry behind out of the fire when you're on your last legs, effectively acting as a second life when you need it most. However, you're expected to bail them out in return. See, there's nothing for free in Far Cry 2.