Review by BloodGod65

"War Sucks (and so does Far Cry 2)"

The Far Cry series began on the PC, where it garnered critical acclaim for its graphics and non-linear take on FPS action. Since then, altered versions have been released for the Xbox, Xbox 360, and Wii, to varying degrees of success. With its first true sequel, Ubisoft has taken the game in a slightly different direction, cutting out the more fantastic elements of previous iterations (namely the Dr. Moreau mutant nonsense) and creating a true open world for players to run amok in. How does it fare? Not well…

Even so, Far Cry 2 couldn't start out any better, as players take a ride through scenic Africa, observing the beautiful landscape and the ravages of civil war. The reason for being inside a warzone is simple – a ruthless arms dealer, known only as the Jackal, is supplying both sides of the conflict, making untold millions in the process. As a hired mercenary, it's your job to find and eliminate him. However, the whole thing quickly goes south, as you become infected with malaria, and the town you're staying in becomes the epicenter of the conflict. After a daring escape, you're fully introduced to the players in the game, the APR and UFLL, two sides of the national conflict. It becomes clear that in order to find the Jackal, you're going to have to play both sides to your advantage.

Despite a killer start, the plot - which touches on many of Africa's hot-topics such as illegal arms dealing, mercenaries and blood diamonds - is ultimately a flaccid tale. The main story of the hunt for the Jackal never really goes anywhere, and despite being present, many of the sensitive topics within the game aren't really consciously addressed. It's almost as if Ubisoft wanted to acknowledge these things, but didn't delve into them for fear of being a little controversial. This ends up sending a mixed message to the player, as you'll often hear people talking about the barbaric nature of war and the human spirit, only for them to give you a bunch of diamonds and the order to kill someone in the next breath. Things like this make the story feel at odds with itself, and ultimately leads to an utter disconnect with what is happening.

Once you get past all the disconnected story elements, it's easy to see that this game is truly a unique animal in the world of first person shooters. I'm not sure I have ever played a FPS that is comparable in terms of what this game does. Its massive open world and unique take on the genre could have put it in the running for Game of the Year. Unfortunately, Ubisoft hit more sour notes than good ones and as a result, the entire experience suffers. Terribly.

Before starting, you will choose a player character from a line-up of tough guys and mercenaries. This choice will not affect the way you play the game, because they all control the same and have no special abilities. However, it will drastically alter just what you encounter during a single play through, because the characters who aren't picked become NPC's in the world. After they're found, they typically just hang out around the local bar. However, your best buddy (the first one you encounter) will contact you with alternate ways to complete missions, often resulting in drastically different outcomes. And every now and then, one will come to your aid when you're in desperate need, specifically to drag you away from a firefight after being mortally wounded.

The missions themselves can be acquired from a variety of people, be it story missions from the rival APR and UFLL factions, or side missions given by anonymous callers via cell phone towers, or the local priest (though the only ones your buddies will help out on are the story missions). Regardless of where you pick up a task, they all amount to the same thing – Proceed to location A and kill a bunch of dudes. If it's a complicated mission, you might have to proceed to location B and kill some more dudes or destroy some various objects. The only real distinction between story missions and side missions are the number of enemies you'll have to kill before it's over. It should come as no surprise that this quickly becomes tiresome and repetitive. What makes it worse is that the game never tries to elevate itself from this base formula. FPS games are typically known for having huge set-piece battles full of cool objects and sequences. Not here. Again and again, it all comes down to walking into the same boring locations and killing everything that moves.

Missions also suffer because of the vast distances between locations. Oftentimes, a mission given on one side of the map will have the objective on the opposite side. While the open world is beautiful, getting across it can be hell. Walking is completely out of the question (unless you have an hour or two to waste), so it usually comes down to driving. Thankfully, vehicles control well and aren't prone to any of the wonkiness present in the previous Far Cry games. The only form of instant travel comes by way of bus, but this rarely puts you where you need to be, as it can only travel where there are bus stations – one at each corner of the map. An added irritation of travel is the fact that random encounters are far too frequent (I'm talking one every two minutes or so). While driving on a road, enemies will roar up to you in their own vehicles while blasting away with their guns. Having to constantly stop and fend them off seriously impedes progress. One of these random encounters every now and then wouldn't be a problem, but the fact that enemies are constantly able to locate you in the middle of the vast African wilderness is not only implausible, it's truly stupid.

Combat is another nagging problem in Far Cry 2 for a variety of reasons, not least of which is its dullness. Although it's hard to explain exactly why on paper, the main reason is that is lacks the tense adrenaline filled fights other FPS games convey. Then there's the AI, which fluctuates between omniscience and flat out stupidity. At times, enemies can seemingly spot you coming from a mile away, but at other times, they just stand around staring at the sky as you gun them down. That's not to mention the toughness of enemies, who can often absorb close range bursts of heavy weapons fire without being any worse for wear.

There are a few bright points to be found with the combat aspect of the game. Namely, there's the awesome selection of weapons. In addition to the typical payload of assault rifles, shotguns and rocket launchers, you can gain access to such novelties as a dart rifle, IED's, flamethrower and a mortar. The sound design for the weapons is top-notch, with each one sounding appropriately powerful and realistic. Even more impressive is the fact that every gun loses effectiveness as it is used, ultimately affecting its usefulness and appearance. Not only will old guns begin to look battered and rusty, their performance can become unpredictable. Machine guns will jam at inopportune moments, and rocket launchers start misfiring, often sending a rocket spiraling a mere five feet away, even if you were aiming at something much farther away. In the end, it's a pretty cool idea that makes you pay as much attention to your guns as your own health.

Most would think avoiding bullets would be the best idea but being shot up has its advantages as well, namely getting to check out the interesting health system Ubisoft has cooked up. The health bar is divided up into segments, and each bar can regenerate until your health is knocked below the next segment. However, you can inject yourself at any time and receive a full health refill. But, upon reaching the last segment, your character begins to die and must immediately be saved. At the push of a button, he'll do what needs to be done to save his life (such as resetting a bone or pulling out a bullet with a pair of pliers). Unfortunately, as cool as the whole idea is, its implementation leaves a lot to be desired. More often than not, letting your health get this low is a death sentence because you'll have to save yourself before you die. And if you are hurt (read: shot) while trying to operate, it will immediately snap you out of the animation, meaning you'll have to start all over, but you'll be even closer to death.

And the problems don't end there. In addition to everything else I've mentioned, there are a few other bothersome issues that crop up during the course of the game. The first is the ridiculous enemy respawn rate. After clearing out an enemy encampment, it isn't long until they've completely repopulated the area. In one instance, I utterly destroyed a small guard post, continued down the road to a safe house and came back not four minutes later to find everything just as it was. This sort of thing really destroys any sense of progress because it never feels like you've actually accomplished anything.

Another problem I encountered, mainly in dense jungle areas, was cheap deaths because I was unable to find my enemies. This problem could have easily been solved by having some sort of onscreen radar. I appreciate the idea of a clean screen, but when it actually hinders immersion instead of helping it, it's really a moot point. Oftentimes I was reduced to standing in one place letting my enemies plug away at me, as I tried to locate them by the direction of their shots.

While the gameplay of Far Cry 2 leaves much to be desired, the visuals do not. It is, in a word, gorgeous. Its depiction of the African wild is undoubtedly one of the prettiest sights in all of gaming, and it encompasses everything from dense jungles to open savannah to the desert. In most of these areas, foliage is dense (more so than anything else I've ever seen). The lighting is what sets it all off, with a full day to night cycle. Being blinded by the hellish midday sun glaring off the desert sand or seeing the morning light glitter off a river for the first time is truly stunning. There are plenty of other cool little touches that really set everything off, such as the wisps of smoke that flow from the barrel of a gun after firing.

More exciting though, are the fire effects. The integration of fire into the game not only looks wonderful, but it behaves realistically. After setting fire to something (by say, throwing a Molotov cocktail or blowing up a vehicle) it will burn the foliage around the area. It will also behave realistically in regards to the wind, meaning it can blaze up a hill, burning trees and the like. The effect is awesome to witness, especially at night. With fire effects like these, it's like Ubisoft is trying to turn us all into pyromaniacs. Well, those of us who aren't already…

Sound design is also of a high quality. In addition to the previously mentioned gun sounds, the screams and yells of enemies (dying or otherwise) are pretty convincing. Voice acting is surprisingly good and coupled with the realistic graphics, I found myself nodding a time or two when I was being briefed for a mission. The traditional tribal African music sets the setting perfectly and accents the atmosphere nicely.

THE VERDICT
I really hate games like Far Cry 2. There wasn't a second of the game where you can't see the tremendous ambition and work that went into the game. It is, undoubtedly, one of the most ambitious and innovative games to come down the pipe in a long time. But, much like another of Ubisoft's high profile titles, Assassin's Creed, the more time that is spent with the game, the more faults become apparent. Unlike that title, Far Cry 2 lacks the ability to get past its missteps and deliver a fun and memorable experience. The longer I played it, the more irate I became and many, many hours before the credits rolled, I was absolutely sick of it. In spite of countless good ideas, Far Cry 2 is just not a good game and ends up being one of the biggest disappointments of the year.


Reviewer's Score: 6/10 | Originally Posted: 01/12/09, Updated 07/06/10

Game Release: Far Cry 2 (US, 10/21/08)


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