- Review Price: £37.93
”’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.
There is, however, plenty of freedom. The world streams onto the screen as one coherent whole, with only the occasional wait while it loads one of the larger towns or more complex vistas onto screen. Half of the sizable game world is available right from the off, and while missions appear in a particular order, you can explore, scouting enemy outposts and liberating vital safe houses (we’ll come back to these later) as you see fit. There are usually several missions or side missions open at any one time, and each offers a number of ways in which you might approach them. A surprising amount of the map is accessible from land or water, so whether you approach your target by road or by river is often a question of style.
Enemies are usually numerous and often deadly, so you need to think carefully before you take the brute force approach. Wouldn’t it be better to whittle them down with sniper fire, or use your new best friend – fire – to confuse and channel your foes so that you can mop them up with greater ease? The original Far Cry made you think tactically from minute to minute. Far Cry 2 takes it to a higher level. The world is larger and more dangerous, but you have the tools at your disposal to cope.
This sense of freedom is intoxicating, but not quite as intoxicating as the atmosphere. I mentioned in the preview that the graphics looked stunning and, if anything, I’d go further than that now. There’s only one game with more convincing outdoor environments, and the only people who get to see Crysis in all its glory are owners of fearsomely high end PCs.
Gorgeous scenery, lifelike vegetation and some brilliant, natural lighting help cover for the slightly less realistic human figures, and there are moments – moments where you’ll be puttering along a waterway at dusk or creeping through the long grass of the Savannah at dawn – where the overall effect is just breathtaking. Combine this with touches like the wandering herds of animals and the superb use of ambient sound effects and music, and it’s hard not to get drawn in to Far Cry 2’s dystopian, newsreel vision of Africa.
The development team have also come up with some clever ways of making you connect with the realities of combat in such an environment. Weapons jam, vehicles pack in and fire doesn’t always spread as you would intend. The terrain can make long distance journeys fairly arduous, though a functional bus network makes life a little easier once you discover it. To navigate you have a map which you’ll regularly need to refer to while you’re travelling. You’ll see it appear in your hand on the screen in front of you, and you can add information to it by scanning hostile encampments with a monocular before attacking.
Even wounds are treated differently here. Syringes take the place of your usual medipack, but when you take a lot of damage your wounds will be treated first in grisly detail, as bullets are plucked from limbs, bones reset and brutal gashes cauterised. I suspect that some fairly frequent swearing helped Far Cry 2 earn its eighteen certificate, but this is a game that takes a slightly more gritty, real-world approach to violence and its effects than, say, Crysis or Call of Duty 4.
Unfortunately, there are times when all the good intentions actually help things go awry. Jamming weapons, numerous, accurate enemies and a slow healing system make it fairly easy to die at medium difficulty settings and above, and the issue of distance can make this a lot of hard work. Basically, on the console versions you can only save the game at specific points or by taking a quick snooze at a safe house.
Take a mission on one side of the map, die minutes from completing it on the other side, and you’ll have to make the long journey all over again. This wouldn’t be so bad, but the map is absolutely packed with guarded checkpoints, faction strongholds and patrolling jeeps, the residents of which will fire at you on sight. This would, you might think, make clearing out these problem areas a priority, but doing so is a wasted effort – you’ll be recognized for your efforts, but the troops will be replenished within the hour.
As a result, Far Cry 2 can be a bit of a grind at some points, and a real force for frustration at others. For example, it took me an hour to complete one fairly innocuous mission just because the obstacles between mission start and mission end wore me down, piece by piece by piece, every time I attempted it. The only ways around this are to a) use the bus or b) make constant detours to safe houses along the way, taking a little nap in each and every one.
Both solutions spoil the atmosphere, so neither is ideal. And while the PC version mercifully allows you to save anywhere (making it the one to get if you have the choice), I think the respawning guard posts will still get on your nerves to some extent.
As I’m on a bit of a moaning roll, I should also mention that the AI during gunfights isn’t actually all that advanced. Yes, you’ll find yourself sneakily outflanked by enemies, but many are perfectly happy to stand five feet from you and shoot until they need to reload, then shoot some more until one of you lies dead. Occasionally you’ll find one guard standing in the opposite direction, oblivious to the fact that you’ve just noisly blown up his post, his transport and his colleagues while he was, apparently, standing with his eyes shut and listening to his walkman with the volume turned up to 11.
And could I also mention that, while having to rescue buddies is a nice idea, it’s sometimes impossible to find them. With no marker on the map or flashing prompt – just a nice, realistic flare signal – your chum could well expire before you even clap eyes on them. When you do, just hope you have some medicine to spare. You don’t? Well, there goes the end of another beautiful friendship.
Let’s be clear: none of these complaints are disastrous. Taken as a whole, the experience of playing Far Cry 2 is hugely compelling, and it can be hard to drag yourself away from the screen. The game can be hard, but it’s never as bleak, unfair or unforgiving as S.T.A.L.K.E.R., and for every moment that it’s annoyed me there have been five where I’ve been gobsmacked, thrilled or elated.
In an age where many FPS games are so heavily scripted that you can feel like you’re just another member of the cast, here’s one that gives you the chance to make your own destiny. The feeling of triumph when a plan comes together or a fluke saves your bacon can be immense.
On top of this, it’s absolutely huge. After ten hours or so you’d be winding up most FPS games. Here, you’ll still be less than halfway through. You’ll get caught up by the side quests, waste time tracking down lost diamonds, and search for each and every safe house to unlock. You’ll discover the buggy and the hang-glider, then mess around when you should be concentrating on getting from A to B.
And when you want a break from the story, you still have a decent multiplayer option, not to mention a map editor that’s easily one of the simplest and most accessible efforts ever bundled with an FPS game. The fact that it puts this power in the hands of console owners is just amazing.
To some extent, Far Cry 2 is the victim of its own ambition. When you spend so much time trying to make an experience convincing, the unfortunate side effect can be that you lose a little of the fun. Not much, but enough to scare the less enthusiastic gamer off. It’s also fair to say that Far Cry 2 is a bit of a slow burner and that it demands a certain amount of time and energy, and add that if you can’t commit much of either, then there will be other, more instantly enjoyable action games coming soon.
If you have the spare hours, however, then this is as engrossing and rewarding an action epic as you’ll ever have come across. It won’t be everybody’s cup of tea, but at the end of the year this will be some people’s biggest and best.
For all its atmosphere and ambition, Far Cry 2 can be a frustrating FPS at times. Yet if you prize a long term obsession over immediate thrills, you won’t experience many better games this year.