Good and bad design choices mingle in Far Cry 2
The original Far Cry on the PC was something special; it successfully combined an open world to roam with great shooting action. However, when Far Cry Instincts and its expansion, Predator, were released, Ubisoft did away with the open world elements, much to the games' detriment. Thankfully, Far Cry 2 does not follow that example. It features a huge chunk of African savanna to explore by running, gliding, swimming and driving. To compliment that overworld, a solid shooting engine is in place. The game is also focused on including quite a few realistic elements, like having to get out your map manually and holding it up to see where you're going. The main problem is that some of the design choices in the game were flat-out bad. Weapons jamming and constantly respawning guardposts are some of the things that were put in the game consciously by Ubisoft, but simply don't work out. However, while there are quite a few elements in Far Cry 2 that may annoy you, it's still pretty easy to enjoy it.
You start the game choosing which character to play as. Making your pick comes down to how you want to look, and which face you don't actually want to see in the game. That's because the dude you pick will disappear from the game, and the ones you did not select become your buddies over the course of the game. Your protagonist is completely silent, and while games like Half-Life have proven that that does not necessarily has to mean that the plot is without depth, in Far Cry 2, that part doesn't entirely work out. Most of the story is unraveled through lame monologues from the game's many warlords. The only character that has some depth to him is the Jackal, the arms dealer that your employers want you to kill. There's also a plot twist later in the game that took me by surprise, but overall, Far Cry 2's plot is not all that enticing.
Gameplay-wise, Far Cry 2 does a pretty good job mixing its free-roaming features with gunplay. While the “50 square kilometres of land to explore!” is a blatant lie (there's a total of 19 square kilometres) there's still a lot of land to traverse here. And it's pretty crowded too. Africa is being torn apart by civil wars, and there are guardposts around every corner. There are so many of them, that you may soon grow very frustrated at them. Not only do you have to get out of your car every 100 metres, because the guards are extremely adept at taking out passing vehicles, but they respawn almost instantly. You may find that if you've averted your eyes from a cleared post for about 30 seconds, new enemies will be there to greet you if you get in its range again. A smaller concentration of guardposts or longer respawn times, like every 24 hours in-game, would make the experience so much more fun. The way it is now, you'll just have to put up with it, although I found that some skillful driving through the woods and open field made it possible to avoid most of the posts. Taking shortcuts can be really risky though, because it doesn't take much for your car to get stuck. With such huge distances between objectives, losing your vehicle is the one of the worst things that can happen.
If you can overcome those couple of flaws, Far Cry 2 offers a pretty nice experience. In true GTA fashion, you drive around the map unlocking safehouses, taking missions from the factions and finding side missions, which you can get from arms dealers and pick up with your cellphone. The missions don't change much over the course of the game; sometimes you have to kill a dude, sometimes you have to destroy an object and sometimes you have to steal an object. Your buddies will offer you a different take on all the missions so that they can get something out of it as well, which makes them a bit more interesting. Doing that will then improve your relationship with them, so that they will help you when you're in a pinch. Inbetween, there's a lot of driving. Bus stations scattered in all the corners of the map help partly eleviate this problem, but even then mission targets tend to be a considerable distance away from the stops, and with the help of a ton of guards hunting you down, the drives can get tedious.
But while the formula does get a bit old, especially towards the end of the game, there's no denying that the shooting action is great. Guns feel appropriately powerful, and while there are no absolutely crazy weapons to use, nor feral powers to go to town with, combat packs quite a bit of punch. Although, after playing Battlefield: Bad Company, I felt that Far Cry 2 would have so much better if it had the Frostbite Engine or something similar, but then again, that applies to any shooter. And the animations to heal yourself when your health gets low are so visceral that you'll have a hard time not cringing when you first see them. I cannot deny that I did not let out a loud, albeit very manly squeel when I saw my character pop a bullet out of his broken arm by yanking it back into place with a sickening crunch. The small cut when you are given a second life by one of your buddies is also quite cool, as they'll be dragging you along, all the while shooting down enemies left and right. I always get mad at them when they hand me a pistol though, supposedly to help me out. That would be all fine and dandy if it did not mean that I lost my Uzi or set of explosives for it!
Another touted gameplay touch is “the most realistic fire ever seen in a videogame.” And it's not a lie; the fire in this game is pretty awesome. At the outset, the game tells you that you should always plan an assault on an enemy settlement before going in, guns blazing. While peering through a small scope and noting positions of ammo piles was usually more trouble than it's worth and thusly ignored, there was this one time when I pulled off something rather cool. I had my eye on a safehouse that stood lonely in a field with tall grass. It was dry as could be and it just so happened that I had a flamethrower with me. I checked the direction the wind was travelling in by looking at the nearby trees and positioned myself accordingly. Then, I set fire some distance away from the house and watched as the guards were engulfed by flame. Call me sadistic, but watching from a distance as those guards met a fiery end was one of the best moments in the game. However, After that, I couldn't be much bothered to use the fire again. Instead, it became more of a threat than an ally when the grass and trees I was standing between caught fire during a firefight. Those battles were some of the most intense in the game, so the fire is definitely one of the game's highlights.
There are quite a few little touches in Far Cry 2 that are simply cool and further immerse you. When you save, you can choose how long to sleep on your watch. After lying down you'll see a sped-up timeline. Watching clouds fly past and the sun shift position is a very cool effect. Some safehouses will also feature Far Cry's signature gliders, and it's always fun to take those for a—rather short, if enemies spot you and open fire on you—flight.
Like any shooter these days that isn't called Bioshock, Far Cry 2 features multiplayer. The modes here are pretty standard fare, but the real draw of here is the map editor. The original Far Cry and ports had a very solid mapmaker, but Far Cry 2 raises the bar quite a bit. Really, there is little that can't be done with it. You get a huge plane to work with and a ridiculous amount of options. And yet the editor remains fun and easy to work with. It's great. It's always great to join a match and see what the host has coaxed up, and that's what sets this otherwise pretty average MP experience apart from others.
A lot of Far Cry 2's fun is also derived from the visuals. It's no Crysis, but the Cryengine really does flex its muscles to supply some breathtaking vistas. Whether it's dry as a desert or the land is drowning in rain, it always looks fantastic. The other production values are up to scratch as well. The sound is good, though not really so good it's worth discussing. Voice acting is average, but the game is so light on story it hardly matters. The explosions are always awesome, and you can't dislike some good rag-doll to emphasize the power of a rocket launcher!
Far Cry 2 has some issues. Ubisoft has made some choices when making the game that were flat-out wrong. However, those mistakes are quite easily forgotten when you're immersed in this game's glorious environment and solid shooting action. It's a pretty lengthy game too, clocking in at over 20 hours. If free-roaming is what you've missed in all the other great shooters of this generation, Far Cry 2 pulls it off quite well. You should check it out.