Review by Zipp_Dementia

"Far Cry from Perfect"

The term "GTA Clone" has come up a lot in my reviews in the past year, and in reviews in general. In part, this is because of the increase of free-roam games. Free roaming seems to be the hot spot for developers these days, regardless of whether they're making a first person shooter, a platformer, or a third person RTS. Hell, I'm waiting for the day that we see a free roam Guitar Hero, in which you have to travel in real time to your venues and spend hours signing autographs, dating groupies, and mingling with the caterers. Maybe you'll also be able to work on a drug addiction, poor media exposure, and even experience real time electrical malfunction, in which your guitar bursts into flames in your own living room!

But I digress. I was discussing the proliferation of free roam games. In general, I don't think this is a bad move for games to be taking. A free roaming game has the potential to be massively immersive, and I'm always for that. But developers are really gonna have to start stepping up THEIR game in order for us to take one step further in OUR game.

Enter Far Cry 2... sort've. Far Cry 2 is set in Africa, or at least a condensed version of its major environments. In it you play a mercenary in a sort've Heart of Darkness role. You're sent in to find and kill a legendary mercenary known as The Jackal who has set himself up as a god amongst men. Needless to say, things go wrong. You contract Malaria and almost die within the first few minutes of the game; as a result, you're considered dead by your country and left to fend yourself on the savannah, working your way up the political chain, all the while waiting for a chance at The Jackal. Oh, and you travel around mostly by means of stolen cars. If this sounds a lot like the plot progression of every GTA game, you'll understand why I wrote those first two paragraphs.

Despite this unoriginality, Far Cry 2 at first seems to be taking us in the right direction. You'll notice upon starting up the game how mind numbingly beautiful it is. The landscape of Africa is presented in stunning environmental detail, from winding jungle rivers to blistering deserts. I can honestly say I've never seen graphics this incredible before. It's finally convinced me to get an HDTV. But then, the series (including last year's graphical masterpiece, Crysis) is known for that sort of thing.

The game is also very immersive. Everything is done from the first person perspective, and the game tries to avoid menus wherever possible. You are limited to three guns, one of each type (small, large, very large) and a machete, and your only items are syringes used to cure yourself. As you run out of ammo on the field, you'll find yourself quickly trading out empty guns for those dropped by enemies, giving item management an "on the run" feel. The game map is pulled up in real time and disables your ability to shoot, creating some intense moments where you're running away from bad guys with one eye on your map and the other eye on the road (when you can spare it).

The most impressive moments of immersion are more subtle. Sudden wind storms that cause the trees to shake and the grass to flow in waves of green. Flash fires that burn those fields to blackened turf, taking down trees and houses in their path (well, maybe THAT'S not so subtle). My personal favourite is when you choose to pass time by sleeping. First you lift up your wrist to check your wristwatch alarm, which you then set manually by twisting it. Then, the view switches to outside the hut you're sleeping in and you're treated to a timestop interlude of the passing hours. Sleep long enough, and you'll see a whole day go by in a matter of seconds. It's pretty cool.

The gunfights also incorporate some cool ideas. Your guns will detoriate, and if not replaced with fresh ones from the various weapons dealers, will begin to jam in the heat of combat (always an innoportune time). Grenades and molotovs will set off brush fires, which burn and spread depending on the wind direction. Your malaria will act up when you least expect it, causing the screen to go fuzzy and green until you pop your pills. Take enough damage and you'll start to bleed to death, forcing you to find a place to hide and stabilize your condition by ripping out the bullets from your body, a gruesome act which you're treated to in first person view.

Then, too, there's the buddy system. At the beginning of the game, you choose your character from a set of premade mercenaries. The other mercenaries appear throughout the game, and you can gain them as friends. Besides giving you more people to invite to your imaginary birthday party, this opens up new mission options for you via "buddy calls." Your friends can also show up in combat, but I'll cover that later.

This may be sounding like a reccomendation, and in a way it is. The game is definitely worth checking out for its glorious environment and attention to detail. Ah, but there's seeds in these cherries.

The environment, as mentioned, is beautiful, but it's not very alive. There's a lot of animal sounds, but very few animals. Africa is known as one of the bastions of life, a place where exotic animals still abound and where people can still be killed by hippos. For all that the setting is presented beautifully, it isn't very well populated. You'll run across (or over) the occasional zebra or gazelle, but their beautifully rendered forms serve only to make the lack of animal life more apparant. That I was able to swim several miles down a large river without encountering so much as a single fish was a huge let down after what the game's setting had promised me. Where's my hippo related death sequence?!

The missions, too, are a source of some complaint. While each has a lot of potential to be interesting (certainly there's a lot of political back story to most of the missions), on the whole they are overly repetitive in their approach. Oh sure, you've got a whole bunch of different types. Some require you to assasinate a target, others want you to stop a weapons convoy, some want you to break into an area and wreak havoc. Regardless of the description, each mission consists basically of going to the assigned location and killing the bad guys there. That's the formula, and it never gets more complex or interesting than that. The one addition to this is the afore mentioned "buddy calls" in which one of your mercenary pals calls you up with an alternate mission. These tend to be harder, but they still follow the formula. Also, these extra missions aren't very well explained. You're never really sure what the in-world consequences of taking one mission over another will be, which makes deciding which mission to take difficult. Though, since they all end up being basically the same pattern, I guess it doesn't matter too much.

Of course, with that formula, you'd hope that all of those great combat innovations I mentioned would come into play to save the day, but this ends up being one of Far Cry 2's biggest (and most surprising) failings. First of all, the fights are predominantly small affairs that rarely show off what the system has to offer. Enemies don't often attack in large groups, meaning you won't face more than two or three bad guys at a time. Also, they simply aren't that fun to fight. The enemy AI is limited to locating you, and then firing at you a lot. They move around a bit, but they certainly don't exhibit the kind of tactical thinking I've come to expect from next generation first person shooters. Then, too, the animations are very limited, and while there's a lot of blood splashing, bullet holes are completely left out. Enemies magically spew blood from a couple inches in front of their bodies without ever showing signs of wounds. For all the effort they put into making combat interesting and the setting believable, the actual enemies seem very tacked on.

In addition to this, health and ammo are readily available in most areas where fights are staged, enemies can't take near as much damage as you can, your machete is a death scythe, syringes cure you to full life within seconds, qnd if you do drop in a fight, odds are one of your mercenary friends will show up like a deus ex machina, pick you up, cure you, and drag you to relative safety. Then, not only are you back on your fight, but now you've got a friend fighting alongside you. Having a friend pull you out of trouble at a critical junction and then get in on the action themselves can take some of your shine away. In fact, the game even rewards you for this by making your relationship with that buddy stronger. It felt cheap to me. Even if that does sound cool to you, remember that your buddies operate off the same AI as the guards. Also, they take to patroling a single area about ten feet wide, so they aren't actually all that useful.

When you do manage to die, it seems to come out of the blue. A fight will be going fine, and then suddenly BAM your health bar drops to zero as you're shot to hell by several guards you didn't see sneaking up behind you. Or, even more randomly, you'll be walking along, and suddenly a car will rev up, roll up behind you, and run you over. One hit kill, end of story. Would you like to load from your last save?

The other major problem with the game is how long it takes to get anywhere, and how little there is to do in between. The map is huge, and like most free roam games, most of your time in Far Cry 2 will be spent en route. Unfortunately, again like most free roam games, there isn't really a mechanic to make this exciting. Worse, in Far Cry, a lot of the map is blocked by impassable cliffs and small mountains, forcing you to follow fairly set paths whenever you want to travel closer to the center of the map (which is where the majority of your missions are picked up). It seems that as games keep trying to recreate a realistic setting, they keep insisting on including elements that make reality boring and got us gaming in the first place. Sure, even a mercenary has to get in his car and do his daily commute, but do we as gamers have to be subjected to that? Developers don't seem to realize that an interesting setting isn't enough. We need things to do within that setting. Ultimately, despite its beautiful environment and some interesting ideas regarding gunplay, Far Cry 2 feels distinctly unfinished. No matter what part of the game you're in, you feel like something's missing. You'll eventually come to realize that what's missing is a game. Somehow it got lost in the vast wilderness.

Really, a product like Far Cry 2 should be played for intense combative situations. Unfortunately, the game doesn't deliver on this, instead providing you with the same boring combat sequence over and over. And to even get to that, you often have to travel through miles of uninhabited grassland. It should be a testament to how well the game is presented that I've given it a 7. You have to understand... I really want to love Far Cry 2, I really do. Everything about it screams quality and promise. Yet even though it feels on the surface like a carefully planned road trip to the Grand Canyon, the question I keep coming back to is "are we there yet?"

Reviewer's Rating:   3.5 - Good

Originally Posted: 11/03/08

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

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