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.