Review: Far Cry 2

FarCry2.jpg This holiday release season has been very odd for me. I can’t recall a time when more deeply flawed spectacular games were released. Fallout 3, Mirror’s Edge, Saints Row 2, SOCOM: Confrontation, and Call of Duty: World at War, as but a few examples, are fantastic games (a couple even game of the year contenders) that are also surprisingly flawed.

Far Cry 2 is yet another one of these games.

But if you think about it, is that really that unexpected? With advancing technology, videogames are becoming more and more ambitious, to the point where it’s virtually impossible for these uber-hyped titles to live up to every last pre-release promise (not to mention rushed development cycles and the whole “we can patch the game to fix any lingering bugs post-launch” mentality).

Far Cry 2 is technically a sequel, but it really has absolutely nothing to do with the first Far Cry. Ubisoft developed it in house for one, not Crytek. And secondly, the setting has been completely changed from lush tropical islands to the arid plains and thick jungles of Africa. Far Cry 2 could just have easily been titled “Grand Theft Auto: Africa”, because that’s basically what it is: a sandbox action game, only from a first-person perspective rather than third-person.

Much of the game is really quite brilliant. The gunplay mechanics are precise, firing weapons is nice and punchy, and a reward and upgrade economy ensures that you’re always equipped with a diverse arsenal of toys. 50-square kilometers of African landscape were virtually recreated for you to play around in, and while traveling back and forth through this expansive terrain can become a bit monotonous at times (as it can be in ALL sandbox games), the sheer beauty and diversity of the world around you is highly immersive thanks to incredibly dense and realistic vegetation, a far-reaching draw distance, and phenomenal ambiance of Africa’s flora and fauna satiating your senses.

Having such an open environment also makes it possible for you to complete any given mission by any means necessary. You can charge in guns blazing, of course, but that’s usually the quickest way to find yourself six feet deep. The best course of action is to always scout out the area and think up an attack strategy given the layout of the nearby terrain. If it’s nighttime or if nearby vegetation provides optimal cover, a stealthy approach with silenced weaponry and your trusty machete is a smart choice. Or maybe there’s a rocky overlook nearby, that’d be the perfect time to put your sniping skills to the test before moving in to finish off any lingering survivors. And then of course there is the game’s amazing fire technology which is both stunning to watch propagate, and also a lethal weapon when used in tandem with the surrounding environment. Say an enemy compound is out in the middle of nowhere with fields of dry grass all around. You can set the grass ablaze from a distance and watch as the fire dynamically spreads to box the enemy in and eventually burn down buildings and other cover points, leaving them nowhere to hide as you move in for the kill. This fire system is the single most impressive technological innovation I’ve seen in a game in some time. Fair or not, all in-game fire from here on out will be compared to this.

But that’s not all. I also love how the developers designed the map system to be completely in-game. When you bring up the map your player character actually holds it out in front of him in real time. You aren’t taken out of the experience into a static menu screen. The health system is great as well. It merges both the tiered and recharge styles that are common in modern FPSs. Health recharges to the nearest tier, but in order to recover in full you must use collected syrettes. Once your life bar falls to a certain point, though, your character begins to bleed out, and when you go to heal he/she actually has to stop to treat the wound to stabilize it before administering the full heal. These animations (popping bones back into place, digging out bullets with a knife, soothing burns, etc.) are rather grisly, but very immersive. You can also hook up with “buddy” characters who will swoop in and pull you out of harm’s way if you fall – it’s like a stealth continue system.

Most of the core game design of Far Cry 2 is outstanding, as I’ve pointed out. But there’s this underlying sense of untapped potential that I couldn’t shake as I played. My main beef is with the storyline. The setting and atmosphere are perfectly setup for a gripping Blood Diamond-esque narrative, but the story never develops to the point where you gain any sort of emotional or moral attachment to the events that take place. You play as a standard mercenary-for-hire sent to hunt down an infamous arms dealer known as The Jackal, and in doing so you take on jobs working for both sides of the conflict. Basically, you complete the missions in front of you and that’s it. Characters don’t develop and you never feel like your chosen path has any significant impact on the overall state of civil war that’s taking place. The voice acting is also odd. All of the characters talk so damn fast, as if their dialogue was accidentally recorded at fast-forward speed.

Certain smaller design choices also annoyed me. Like the whole gun jamming thing, I just don’t get the point of it. Sure, weapons fired over time without proper care will eventually break down in real life, but in the context of a game it’s more annoying than realistic, especially since its occurrence seems so arbitrary. And what’s with the vehicle repair system? Every vehicle in the game has what I like to call the “magic bolt” under its hood. Your ride can get shot full of bullet holes and be on the verge of exploding, yet you can hop out, pop open the hood and crank that “magic bolt” for a few seconds and the car is good as new. This isn’t really a flaw; I just found it to be kind of silly. Another issue is the AI; it’s wildly inconsistent. During a firefight, enemies can be deviously smart, using cover and the environment to intelligently flank your location. But at other times you can be standing clear out in the open picking enemies off and they’ll seem almost oblivious to your presence.

Somewhere in the middle of my points of praise and criticism lies the game’s multiplayer. 16 players are supported for online and LAN competition in the typical assortment of deathmatch, capture the flag and node-control variants. Six default class load-outs are provided, and by performing well over time you earn experience and diamonds to rank up and pump into upgrading your class of choice. 14 maps are provided by Ubisoft out of the box, but a full-featured map editor allows for the creation of unlimited environments to wage war in. There seems to be a fairly strong community of map makers supporting the title, and Ubisoft just today announced plans for a downloadable add-on containing four new official maps. These elements make for a multiplayer experience that is solid, but most of the content is so standard that it’s hard to be wowed by any of it.

Thankfully, you don’t have to even be interested in the multiplayer to get your money’s worth from Far Cry 2. The campaign is a sizeable 15-20 hours at the bare minimum, with many more hours of content waiting to be discovered in optional missions, conflict diamond hunting, and the simple satisfactions of exploring the open environment and discovering new locations. Far Cry 2 may not have met its full potential, but nonetheless it is a heart-pounding, sweaty-palmed action game right up there with the year’s top shooters.

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Pros:
+ Core FPS controls and mechanics are dead on point
+ Sandbox African landscape is stunning to behold and thoroughly immersive
+ Dynamic, free-form mission structure
+ Groundbreaking fire rendering and prorogation technology
+ Lengthy solo campaign
+ Robust, intuitive map editor and competent multiplayer

Cons:
– Weak story development
– Weapon jamming mechanic is incredibly annoying
– Travel is occasionally tedious
– Inconsistent AI

Game Info:
Platform: Reviewed on PS3, also available for PC and Xbox 360
Publisher: Ubisoft
Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
Release Date: 10/21/08
Genre: FPS
ESRB Rating: Mature
Players: 1-16

About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!