Review by illogical_hawk
"Innovation Over Polish and Design"
Far Cry 2 is a massive undertaking. Let's get this out of the way now, because size and scope is what Far Cry 2 is all about. Its campaign offers the player a massive, open world, 50 square kilometers in size, or about 20 square miles, comprised of mountains, rivers, lakes, plains, jungles, and deserts. If you need to know one thing about Far Cry 2, it's that it will take a lot of your time to finish if you want to see everything there is to see and do everything there is to do.
The game itself is remarkably ambitious. In an era where most FPS clock in between 8-12 hours in length, my counter read 35 hours when I completed the game, having found and done everything there was to find or do. The open ended nature of the game certainly makes the game unique within the genre, and brings with it some great additions, many of which are sadly buried beneath a host of fundamental design problems also stemming from the game's scope. One of the biggest problems is the fact that you'll spend a lot of time traveling. Probably half your total play time at least. There are a few buses located around the world that act as a hot route, but those help in a handful of situations at best.
The game is structured in the vein of titles like Oblivion, giving you an open world in which you are free to roam, with the particular missions that will advance the storyline scattered about. This is a rather natural design choice given the open world, but it ends up feeling shallow and empty, even undermined, by the fact that the missions and sidemissions are all concentrated in specific places. The convoy missions are at the arms dealer locations, the assassination missions are at the cell phone towers, the main missions are all in the town, etc. It undermines the sense of an authentic, real world when the only people you can meaningfully interact with are in the same place very time. Outside of the missions, there are 221 diamond cases (The game's currency) to find throughout the environment, optional buddies to rescue, Jackal tapes to find, and safe houses to unlock that provide you with a location to save and rest up.
The missions themselves are a mixed bag too. On the one hand, they make great use of the environment, sending you far and wide to complete your mission in a variety of cool places, from towns in the middle of lakes to train yards at the edge of a desert or airfields hidden in the mountains. The problem, due to the game's size primarily, is that there's too much travelling. It may be going for realism, but there's a point where twelve hours of driving around to various locations encroaches on aspects of actual life I don't need included in my games. Worse still, the mission variety is pathetic. Most of them are either going to a location to steal something, going there to destroy something, or going there to kill someone, and they rarely get more exciting than that.
The notable exceptions are the convoy missions, in which you have to destroy a convoy that will circle a large section of map. What's great about these is the fact that they actively engage the advantages the open world brings to the table. They allow the player to scout around to find an ambush point of their choosing, to set traps, and to wait. It evokes the most romantic sensations of being a mercenary and having true volition in the game world. Sadly, there are far too few of these.
The game tries to flesh itself out with a variety of additions. Weapons deteriorate, and those picked up off enemies are typically of poor quality. You can unlock a wide variety of new weapons by doing the above mentioned convoy missions, and these will accrue on the walls of the weapon stores across the land, free for you to pick up once you've purchased them. It's a great sensation to browse the full walls and select the arsenal of your choice for an upcoming mission. Sniping in particular is exhilarating, as it allows you to make excellent use of the ample space afforded to you, as well as the various geographical and environmental elements around you. It's a shame the rest of the game doesn't follow suit. Furthermore, the game allows you to set fires, which will propagate in real time and spread through the dry grass to trees and huts, vehicles and enemies, and even yourself if you're not careful. It's a great fist attempt, and I'd love to see it expanded on in the future. The last significant addition is that of buddies, which are other mercenaries in the world that will offer you missions of their own, will help you complete the main missions in interesting (And exceedingly long and drawn out) ways, and will even rescue you when you otherwise should die. Falling in combat, only to awaken with your buddy dragging you to safety and shooting oncoming enemies, is immensely cool and satisfying, and the times where a buddy falls in combat and you're unable to help them is the game at its best.
Beyond the gameplay innovations that Ubisoft sought to push, the game's ambition spills over into the storyline as well. Aping heavily off of Conrad's 'Heart of Darkness', the narrative barely tries to hide its aspirations for literary merit. The tale concerns the player, who is any one of 12 mercenaries sent to an unknown war torn African country, with the mission to kill the Jackal, an arms dealer fueling both sides of the conflict. To an extent, the game succeeds it is artistic endeavor. From an artistic standpoint, the morality of the narrative ties quite nicely into the overall actions and events of the player and the world they're in. You encounter the Jackal multiple times throughout the day, and even have the ability to track down 17 tape recorders scattered about the landscape that record interviews the Jackal gave and commentaries he provided, each giving you a deeper insight into his mind, the conflict that's embroiling the country, and how that ties in with the outside world. It's all rather well thought out. The problem is that it's not well implemented. The Jackal tapes aside, the game's size and length quickly erodes the player's sense of purpose. The Jackal is mentioned here and there, but your missions are largely irrelevant. The game throws him in a lot more to the end, and coincidentally, that's where the story is strongest. It's just a shame that you'll have to wait so long to get there, as any emotional impact those last scenes might have had are robbed by indifference and weariness.
The multiplayer mode is rather bland. It's setup as a class based system, in which you can choose one of any number of classes at the start of the match or between lives, each with its own set of three weapons. By playing well you're character can level up, earning you diamonds with which you can upgrade each class, unlocking alternative weapons for that class. It's all balanced well, though not particularly compelling in any sense. There are just four modes, the first three standard deathmatch, team deathmatch, and CTF. The fourth mode is a bit more interesting, entitled Uprising', as it's a mix between King of the Hill and VIP gametypes, in which only a select member of each team can capture the three control points scattered about the map. If you can capture all three, then killing the enemy VIP will stop the enemy team from respawning, drawing the match to a close.
One thing worth noting in the multiplayer is the sniping. As mentioned before, the size of Far Cry 2, and that size translates to an extent to its multiplayer maps, enriches the sniping game immensely. I'm not saying the class is in anyway unbalanced, simply that it's the only interesting gameplay element. Small match sniper-only duels have a lot of potential, and I'm tempted to say the multiplayer mode would have been better if it had scrapped everything but the sniping in the first place. Considering the relative emptiness of the Far Cry 2 servers, this may also be your best chance at squeezing some enjoyment out of the mode.
Attached to the multiplayer is a rather robust map editor. The game will either give you a large square of flat land, or a large square of randomly generated terrain if you so choose, and allows you to sculpt it to your heart's content. Raise and lower the land, create rivers and lakes, winding roads and bridges, towns and cities, plant personally created jungles and forests or just tweak a vast savannah into being. You can throw in a wealth of premade objects and buildings and set pieces, as well as set spawn points, boundary lines, ammo locations, etc. You can even, with enough effort, create your own buildings. The game even wisely allows you o jump into your level at any time to test it out. It's a lot of fun, but truth be told, it's more fun to think of and design new levels then it is to play any of them.
The game also has a few technical problems. The graphics are fantastic, and look wonderful, but are dragged down by quite a bit of pop up, though that's a small price to pay given the game's excellent draw distance. Object interactions can be a tad wonky at times, with the physics doing odd things (I've seen floating objects), or static objects like diamond cases not bring up the prompt to open them. Corrupted save files are also rather frequent, but shouldn't be a problem if you rotate a number of saves regularly. Finally, the game has frozen on me twice, which isn't terrible given that was two times in a thirty five hour span.
As far as value is concerned, Far Cry 2 certainly gives you enough content to warrant a purchase, with its ridiculously long campaign, multiplayer mode, and map editor, but I was left feeling unsatisfied afterwards nonetheless. Far Cry 2 will give you more bang for your buck than most other shooters, it's just a bit sad that Far Cry 2's overall 'bang' is more of an attractive whimper. As harsh as I have been with the game, I can't help but feel it was worth playing, and that its ambition and the good it brings compensates for all that is lacking. It's not worth its full price, so wait for a price drop, or rent it if you've got a long weekend.
Reviewer's Score: 7/10 | Originally Posted: 12/08/08
Game Release: Far Cry 2 (US, 10/21/08)
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