Genre: First-Person Shooter
Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
Release Date: October 21, 2008
Most of you will be aware that we're currently in a golden age of gaming. There are so many high-quality titles that most serious gamers will be completely snowed under.
Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts and Bolts, Dead Space, Fable 2, Fallout 3, FIFA '09, Gears of War 2, Guitar Hero World Tour, Little Big Planet and Saints Row 2 have all landed in quick succession, leaving reviewers with hardly any time, and worse, no outlet for their bile given the consistent quality throughout. It's within this crowded marketplace that Far Cry 2 sneaks its way through the bushes, before drawing attention to itself with a huge explosion. In any other month of the year, this game would be drawing critical praise and huge sales, but against this kind of quality, who has the time to drop into a 20- to 30-hour-long sandbox?
You should. Yes, you. Because while Gears of War 2 will continue to plough its own intellectually barren furrow, Far Cry 2 is the kind of title that intelligent gamers have been crying out for. It dares to treat its target market as adults with an intriguing twisty story line, displays corruption and greed without resorting to pantomime villains and immerses the gamer in the grim atmosphere of a morally bankrupt civil war.
On the surface, the plot sounds very simple. You're a mercenary being sent into an African warzone to take out a shady-sounding arms dealer called The Jackal, and while this sounds like a remarkably easy task, it quickly becomes apparent that this won't be a short mission. The warring factions each want to use you for their own morally dubious cause, and you hear so little of your target for the majority of the game that you begin to wonder if he really exists, if it weren't for the trail of audio logs he's left at disaster sites. If you blaze through the story, it's possible you won't learn much about your target, and this is where the game triumphs. You don't ever have the story rammed down your throat, but it's there if you want to learn more. It's also notable for its complete lack of pure characters: Everyone has his own evil motives, and everyone is plundering the country for his own needs. It's no coincidence that some of the Achievements are named after parts of Joseph Conrad's "Heart of Darkness," for this is the same kind of sinister adventure, where corruption takes all. At times, you may have a hand in making things better for a few, but unlike other games, you're generally part of the problem rather than the solution.
All of this is wrapped in a first-person shooter shell, except it's a lot more "sandbox" than the first. You wander the map taking missions wherever you can find them (with over 40 optional side missions, the experience can last for months), which usually involves driving off to a marked location on the map and assassinating someone or destroying a target. How you tackle these missions is up to you. If you want to go in with guns blazing, then you can, but if you want to sneak around and silently taking down enemies, you're also free to do that. Far Cry 2 allows you to tackle missions however you want to, which is very much in keeping with the open-ended spirit of the game. As you progress, you earn diamonds that allow you to upgrade your equipment and perfect your style: a fetching camouflage jacket for the Sam Fisher wannabe who has everything, or a flamethrower for the gentleman who intends to go all Chuck Norris on their collective asses.
But to neatly define Far Cry 2 into the saturated first-person shooter category feels incredibly mean to what has been achieved here. There are a number of noteworthy areas where the game has flown in the face of convention, and hopefully, we'll see future releases following suit. The driving segments are the best first-person implementation I've seen, with cars bumping around as you'd expect, while handling in a manner that's best described as "tough, but fair." The use of fire is also worthy of mention; I haven't seen fire behaving in a semi-realistic fashion since the likes of Sim City, but here, it spreads across the terrain and will quickly get out of control, making explosions a powerful but unpredictable weapon. Sure, flames go out in 30 seconds, but it wouldn't make much of a game if The Jackal died in a house fire the first time you get a flamethrower!
There are also the buddies you collect along the way ? an oddball selection of other mercenaries, made up of the characters you don't pick at the start. They have diverse personalities, and whether you like or hate each one, you will find them more human than most non-player characters in games. Another shock to the system is the first time one dies in your arms, despite you injecting them with the magic syringe. It's a far cry from the likes of Kane & Lynch, where you could inject your pals with enough morphine to take down a small elephant, and they would not only be perfectly lucid, but a surprisingly good shot with an AK-47.
Of course, it doesn't hurt that it's a real looker. The original Far Cry for the PC and this title do the heritage proud. The day and night cycles are marvelous, the fire looks and behaves like real fire, and every leaf in the dense foliage has its own impressive shadows. Even the animations provided for healing yourself in emergencies are realistically grim, as your avatar removes bullets from wincingly realized wounds. The sound's good as well, and if you're playing stealthily, you will be very much aware of every rustling bush and every paranoid muttering enemy. As with every game like this, the voice-overs are a mixed bag, but generally, the dialogue is sufficiently delivered, if not outstandingly so.
The audio is an area that makes the multiplayer segment initially feel like a cheap knock-off of Call of Duty 4, with the overtly accented voice-over letting you know how many minutes you have remaining. Give it time, though, and you'll realize that Far Cry 2 is actually very much its own animal, mostly aided by the excellent use of first aid. With anyone able to heal at any time, but having to endure a drawn-out bullet wound animation that prevents you from shooting or moving, stopping to heal is a tactical game of chicken. Will you stop and heal before the other guy you're shooting out with? Finding cover is essential, and the weapons are nicely balanced.
The modes follow a fairly traditional route of deathmatch, team deathmatch, capture the flag (sorry, "capture the diamond") and uprising (a version of domination, with the twist that only the captain can capture a zone, making the other players his bodyguards). While this may sound distinctly underwhelming, the ace that Far Cry has up its sleeve is the enormous potential of its built-in map editor, which allows anyone with a vision to whip up their own multiplayer playground and share it with the world. Although efforts on my part were less than memorable, the interface is good, and it works well enough for people more talented than myself to make up passable homages (read: outright copies) of maps from better-known multiplayer fares.
It boasts a superbly memorable single-player game and a multiplayer mode with impressive features, but does Far Cry 2 have any drawbacks? Yes, of course. The driving in-between missions may add to the realism and atmosphere, but it sure as hell gets irritating, especially with the lack of autosave forcing you back to the start of your journey if you're attacked at one of the all-too-familiarly guarded checkpoints. The missions, too, although with a realistic backstory to each one, essentially comes down to a set combination of "go to location, kill someone/destroy something," with a lack of variety that spoils the promising GTA parallels.
There are times when the realism is all too present, like when you frequently have to go out of your way to get malaria medicine or your shoddy weapons jam for the umpteenth time. But these are offset by moments of stereotypically video game-like simplicity puncturing the illusion like an unstable ceasefire, as shot-up cars are fixed by tightening a nut under the hood. Finally, the AI too often breaks the barrier between full immersion and distanced entertainment as enemies oscillate between hawk-like vision as they spot you from 40 yards away crouched in a bush, but stalk the room frustrated when you stand right there in front of them.
Despite all of these flaws that might conspire to sink a game with less atmosphere or a forgettable plot, Far Cry 2 will go down as one of my most beloved games ever, right up there with Vampire Bloodlines and Indigo Prophecy. I loved it, and you might, too, despite its shortcomings. Your mileage will vary depending on your tolerance of repetitive driving between missions and weapons that jam, but either way, you really should find out for yourself. It's an experience like no other, with great potential to make your own hugely memorable story line, and for that reason alone, it comes highly recommended.
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