Far Cry 2 is a first-person shooter game developed and published by Ubisoft in October 2008. In contrast with my previous reviews, I won’t be praising this game to no end. And that’s because Far Cry 2 left me 30$ poorer and 20 hours closer to my death while granting me about as much frustration as genuine pleasure.
I was suspicious of Far Cry 2, due to the discrepancy between professional and amateur reviews. Big name reviewers like IGN and PC Gamer were allegedly blown off by its realism and refined gameplay, while the gaming community seemed quite divided. On metacritic.com, the game currently has an official review score of 85%, and a user review score of 78%, a rather unusual negative discrepancy. Since Oblivion and STALKER, I was also dubious that complete freedom of movement in a gigantic open world, as a fundamental gameplay device, is necessarily a good thing. So I decided to wait until the price fell to 30$ and give it a try.
Your goal in Far Cry 2 is simple: kill “the Jackal”, an arms dealer à la Lord of War (a film you should see before playing this game, seriously), responsible for fueling a bloody civil war in a fictional African country. The objective is distant, but very clear, and each of your save games displays the percentage of missions accomplished. Ubisoft knows that a sandbox game should give you clear objectives and a meaningful estimate of your progress through detailed statistics. If you focus on the main missions, you’ll see that percentage ramping up steadily, and should be able to finish the game in a few sessions. You are, of course, free to roam the land as you please, doing side missions for local arms dealers (not the Jackal, of course) and anonymous invisible contractors speaking with a garbled voice on your cell phone. These are extremely repetitive, however: every arms dealer mission consists in destroying a convoy, and every anonymous contractor mission consists in killing some random individual. They do, however, help you unlock new weapons faster.
But it’s not like getting better weapons mattered much. Buy the cheapest sniper, and you’re guaranteed one-shot kills with perfect accuracy from any distance until the end of the game. Sure, testing all the weapons is fun, but they are all extremely effective and the enemies barely get any tougher during the course of the game, so at some point I decided not to do any more side missions.
So, let’s talk about the main missions and the basic gameplay mechanics. You go to the cease-fire zone where the two warring factions’ headquarters sit barely 500m from each other (it doesn’t make any more sense to me, don’t worry). They are both lead by egoistical morons, so choosing between the two boils down to whether you think APR sounds cooler than UFLL or the opposite. Most of the time, you don’t even have a choice. So anyway. You get inside the building, the boss gives you a target and pays you beforehand. It’s always killing some guy or destroying some structure. The target is conveniently indicated on your map. Now, it’s probably at the other end of the world. You can take a bus, but it’ll only get you somewhat closer; getting to destination will involve a good 5 real minutes of driving, at least. Finding a car is never a problem as the world is littered with abandoned jeeps. I must have stolen a few hundred cars during the course of the game and nobody ever cared.
However, on the way to your objective, you’ll get attacked by bandits on armed vehicles at virtually every intersection. It’s surprising to see a car driving in the opposite direction, suddenly stopping at the first sight of you, turning 180 degrees and trying to ram you into the nearest wall. You stop, get out of the car, kill its stupid driver in one shot, and go on your merry way. But then there will be more, a lot more. You can’t ignore them because they’ll shoot if you don’t shoot first, and your car will start taking damage and slow down, eventually exploding if you let the situation degrade. Every following minute, the exact same scenario repeats itself, until you get to your objective.
Oh yeah I forgot. Right after getting the mission, your “best buddy” calls you. He offers to do some side objective instead, but as it turns out, you always have to complete the main objective anyway, and once you’ve done both, the buddy will call for your help at some other location; he can die if you don’t help him. Buddies can rescue you when you die, preventing some tedious reloads, so you want to keep them alive. But the easiest way of doing this is not bothering doing their side objectives, which are similar to every other objective (kill some guy, etc.) and only serve to make the game last longer.
So, right, after 5 minutes of driving + 10 minutes of fighting off suicidal bandits, you get to your objective. Now, although they are straightforward and all quite similar, they can be quite fun and this is where Far Cry 2 really shines. You can try to sneak to your target using silent weaponry when necessary, or you can lay waste to the entire encampment using rocketry, natural fire or just lots of sniper bullets, although using a regular sniper immediately reveals your location to the whole world. Your enemies are smart and you’ll have fun learning their patterns and ways of thinking. For instance, they always send some guys to flank you with shotguns; they always go investigate in the direction they saw or heard you last time, encouraging you to stay on the move; their snipers are ineffective (thank God) and they don’t use grenades (thank God again). Attacking at night is usually easier, too, although it can be hard to see in the dark, even for you. Far Cry 2’s greatest strength is how you are free to plan your attacks as you wish, and they will unfold in very different ways depending on your strategies. It’s in these moments that the game truly feels immersive and I can understand some of the hype that the official press generated.
It looks nice.>
Once you’ve killed or fooled everyone, your objective is complete, and you can either go back to the cease-fire zone to get another main mission, or roam the land trying to stock up on ammo, do side missions or whatever. Either way, you’re back inside a fragile car getting assaulted by everyone on sight. This is a very annoying gameplay element, and one that occupies perhaps 50% of your game time (it sure feels like 50% anyway), hence the importance I give it in my review. Sure, you’re in this big sandbox world that’s all about freedom, but you can’t escape these long driving sequences, unless you want to do everything on foot and hide behind rocks every time a car passes by, but that’s just ridiculous.
And… that’s Far Cry 2. No, the story doesn’t unfold very dramatically, no surprises at all anywhere, and the end is quite a deception. I don’t see why I’d want to replay it either. Far Cry 2 is fun when you are assaulting some encampment, free to change the time, weapons used, infiltration points and other strategic elements. Whether the plan fails or succeeds, it ultimately boils down to whether you’ve played smartly or not, and that’s really quite an achievement. Outside of these tense, beautiful moments, Far Cry 2 is quite dull. Sure, the visuals and audio atmosphere are first-class, but while excellent presentation can turn an average game into a good one (see my Doom 3 review), it can’t repair broken gameplay. I can’t understand how anyone can view as fun endlessly driving a crappy car around jungle roads, chased by a million billion idiots with automatic weapons and no chance of actually killing you. And sadly, that makes up the largest part of Far Cry 2.
You’ve been warned.
Edited by Dr_Asik, 05 October 2009 - 05:22.