Review by Evil Dave

"It tries, but Far Cry 2 has too many issues to be fully recommendable."

In the brief history of the videogame industry there are a handful of titles that have become known as much for their contributions to the medium as a whole as for their merits as individual games. Far Cry, developed by Crytek and published in 2004 by Ubisoft, is one such title. Created in the midst of an industry-wide first-person shooter renaissance, Far Cry's atmospheric environments and groundbreaking use of the first-person perspective left an indelible influence on the genre that is still apparent in shooters released today. Mindful of that legacy, Ubisoft decided after several years to construct a follow-up to the innovative original, handing off development responsibilities to a new team after Crytek's departure from the company. This title would eventually become Far Cry 2, a sequel to the original in moniker only that tries to carve out its own unique niche but suffers from a number of glaring issues that prevent it from living up to its predecessor.

Despite its name, Far Cry 2 abandons most of the design and narrative elements that distinguished the original Far Cry. That game's mysterious tropical island setting is gone, replaced with a startlingly large and well-realized African nation that has been bifurcated by longstanding civil strife. Gone, too, are the main characters from Far Cry, whose place has been supplanted by a sundry cast of twelve mercenaries from which the player must pick a single voiceless avatar for the duration of the adventure. The plot picks up as that designated mercenary arrives in-country on a mission to assassinate a notorious international arms dealer known as the Jackal, who has been fueling the conflict between the two rival militias with a torrent of weapons.

While the game is light on traditional narrative exposition, it still manages to do an excellent job of immersing the player in the world inhabited by its dangerous array of gunmen. Once the player's character establishes his presence in the country, he proceeds to directly involve himself in the business of the two warring factions and all of the eleven mercenaries not selected to become the protagonist, and alliances between the parties are constantly shifting based upon the player's decisions. Every person that crosses paths with the main gunman has a unique and compelling personality to go along with their imposing mien, and the game's design makes it easy for players to identify with (and perhaps even build affection towards) some of them. Much to the developers' credit, the plot also provides an unflinchingly brutal portrayal of the realities of such simmering warfare, exposing players to a side of combat that few other games are willing to convey.

Make no mistake about it, though: the star of the show in Far Cry 2 is the African land itself, which intimates its dominating presence into every facet of the experience. Right from the outset the environment is introduced as a factor to always be respected, and as players begin to explore the vast terrain they'll come to appreciate the staggering diversity on display within the country's borders. Lush jungles and swamplands are broken up by vertiginous mountains, while arid deserts and grassy savannahs stretch on to the limits of eyesight. Even the human settlements located within the encroaching natural settings showcase a fair amount of variety, with relatively well-developed towns being the exception amidst numerous tin-roofed shantytowns and mud-hut cities. Every centimeter of Far Cry 2's 50-plus square kilometers is imbued with its own palpable sense of personality, and the overwhelming sense of intrusion that it can foster in players is truly impressive.

That said, the expansiveness of Far Cry 2's African land is also one of its greatest gameplay drawbacks. Long travel times are an unfortunate fact of life in the game, and they more often than not come across as tedious and tiresome. A bus system allows players to instantly travel between five stations in each half of the country, but those stations are typically so far from the mission objectives that they only truncate driving times, rather than eliminating them. Making matters worse is the presence of enemy-operated checkpoints throughout the nation's road network. Since driving is usually the quickest method of travel to and from objectives, the checkpoints quickly become a major irritant. Instances in which players arrive at a checkpoint and lay waste to its occupants only to have to face the same battle five minutes later on a return trip add little to the gameplay, and in combination with the already-arduous travel lengths they serve as a strong disincentive from playing many of the side missions in the game.

Further hurting Far Cry 2's case is its repetitive take on mission design. Most of the storyline missions feature multiple objectives, so when those lengthy travel interludes are factored it can take half an hour or longer to complete even one assignment. Since most tasks in the game fit into the same general ‘drive here, get this' or ‘drive there, kill him' mold, so the feeling that there is quite a bit of unnecessary padding to the game design is difficult to shake. To be fair, there are a handful of missions that do allow the player to experience some truly excellent set-piece moments – a river-borne battle to defend a barge full of guns is among the highlights – but even for the exciting jobs players must still suffer through at least one back-and-forth trek. The characters and unfolding narrative do a strong job of supplying plenty of incentive to tolerate the repetition and inconveniences, but, again, not all players will have the patience to do so.

At least one aspect of Far Cry 2's gameplay does manage to shine, however and that is the actual combat. As one might expect from a chaotic, armed-to-the-teeth, war-torn nation, a wide selection of firearms are found in the game, and via a network of gun shops players are able to customize their loadout to suit their play style. Those gun shops quickly become a treasured resource, as the game implements a lifelike deterioration system for most weapons that will cause occasional jams and misfires. Unlike the travel requirements, the gun deterioration actually contributes to the game's enjoyment, as it occasionally leads to moments of increased tension during firefights but never becomes too overbearing. Besides those jams, all of the guns and assorted other killing instruments handle extremely well in combat, always performing satisfyingly up to expectations.

Despite some occasional mishaps, Far Cry 2's A.I.-controlled characters are also a highlight. Players will face gun battles in a wide assortment of environments, and enemy NPCs handle themselves effectively whether fighting breaks out in a developed area or in the midst of the desultory topography of the jungle. Better yet, those NPCs behave surprisingly realistically when out of combat, so thorough players will be able to simplify their lives by taking the time to scout out their foes' movements and plotting out an efficient plan of attack before engaging them to. Many of the most satisfying moments in the game result from executing a successful ambush on a fortified enemy position, and this is due in large part to the quality of the A.I. opposition.

Friendly mercenary characters don't always fare so well. The eleven other expatriate gunmen are scattered throughout the game world, and should you save one during your travels they may return the favor by assisting you with your future missions. When the battle heats up your ‘buddies' can usually hold their own without much babysitting, but if they find themselves caught in the open they will occasionally just stop moving and leave themselves exposed to gunfire. It can be frustrating to lose a comrade due to an A.I. hiccup, especially since buddies who die are gone forever; however, having a buddy alongside also tends to add more urgency to the proceedings, and the drama imparted by a near-death experience is another example of the game's narrative prowess.

Things go significantly more smoothly in Far Cry 2's four online multiplayer modes. First-person-shooter staples like deathmatch, team deathmatch and capture the flag are all represented, and a leader-based king of the hill-style mode rounds out the offerings. Gameplay against human players has a much faster pace than the more deliberate solo game, and the weaponry is compartmentalized by classes that must be upgraded by ranking up. There's nothing in the game that hasn't been done before in prior shooters, but the gameplay is well executed and certainly fun enough to justify spending some time with it. It's worth noting, though, that ranked matches can be an annoyance, as new players cannot join a match that's in progress, which can lead to some lopsided results if one or two players on a side depart early.

Of course, one of the best features of the multiplayer toolset is the map editor, which was an area in which Far Cry stood head-and-shoulders above its peers. The new developers clearly made recapturing that status a priority, and as a result Far Cry 2 inherits the superiority of its ancestor. The game's included map-maker is likely the most robust ever created for a console game, and can easily suck up hours and hours of editing and testing time. A community of creators has already sprung up and spun out numerous user-generated maps, and the imagination on display in some of them is simply fantastic. All of the maps that shipped with the game are outstanding in their own right, but the presence of such a robust map creation element ensures that players won't run out of original arenas anytime soon.

Whether in a user-generated map or in the dangerous world of the storyline campaign, Far Cry 2's graphics are rather impressive. Nearly all of the imposing African environs are simply gorgeous, and they do a superb job of sucking the player into the moment while they're traversing them. Stellar effects such as the graceful may limbs are severed from the local flora during a firefight permeate the visual landscape as well, and the terrifying manner in which flames metastasize in dry conditions deserves a particular note of praise. Models for the main characters are well-animated, though the generic secondary enemies look comparatively low in detail when the two are juxtaposed. Rounding out the package are the audio effects, which are top-notch across the board. The voiceovers are uniformly dead-on and help make the characters entirely too believable, while the sound effects and music do a spectacular job of subtly cueing players in to their surroundings.

Far Cry 2's stark departure from the overall feel of the original Far Cry certainly came as a surprise to fans of that seminal progenitor. It stands well as its own game, offering players exposure to many concepts that just can't be found elsewhere in the shooter market today. It's not as innovative or memorable as its antecedent, and it's held back by a handful of poor design choices that are sure to turn many players off, but there's enough fun to be found in the package it presents that it can still be recommended to any shooter fans with the patience to come to grips with its unique design. Ultimately, Far Cry 2 is definitely enjoyable, but it feels like a missed opportunity to have become something that lives up to its iconic heritage.

Score: 6/10

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Reviewer's Score: 6/10 | Originally Posted: 02/19/10

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


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