A guiltless action-fest with astounding sceneries.
When I first heard the news that Far Cry 2 wouldn't take place in the Caribbean I went through all phases of grief: shock, denial, bargaining, anger, depression, guilt (well, maybe not guilt), acceptance and hope. Let's face it, the setting made the first game memorable, because the genetic experiment gone awry story was as original as butter on toast. Hearing it would take place in Africa actually gave me something to hope for. Africa is largely untapped material in video games. I couldn't wait to see how Ubisoft Montreal would use its multicultural "expertise" this time around.
The final outcome is somewhat diluted. Though the game has glimmers of greatness, it falls flat as soon as your character gets into the thick of things. Far Cry 2 is a mindless, repetitive action romp sprinkled with touches of originality. The game is fun in general, unfortunately it missed a great opportunity to make something more of itself. It hacks through its first few minutes of substance like a machete-wielding bushwhacker offering players nothing more than an elaborate shooting gallery with movable targets on an African backdrop.
THE RIDE THAT NEVER WILL BE
After selecting the look of your character's arms… the game starts with a taxi ride to a hotel. A talkative cab driver gives you a free tour of the region. You can immediately smell war in the air. We see processions of villagers heading for safer grounds, militia convoys hustling, brushfires raging and checkpoints keeping drivers on edge, all this while propaganda spouts on the radio -- a great first five minutes. You get the impression the game will be epic in every aspect. Unfortunately, reality sets in fast. Far Cry 2 is a run of the mill shooter with marginal depth. After the first plot-driven gunfight the promise of substance vanishes like a hare bolting into tallgrass.
Your character is taken in by one of the two militias (APR or UFLL) and told to kill some poor saps in a nearby camp. A brief tutorial explains how to fix vehicles and use the map. Ten minutes into the game and we are ready for the first mission, which in essence could also have been the last since they all look alike. It's all about killing people. It doesn't matter who they are; if it walks on two legs, it deserves a bullet to the head, at least in the game's rationale.
One problem though: there is no rationale. Anybody you meet is a "bad guy". Why? Because this is an African country during unrest, silly… Before this topic derails, let me clarify that Ubisoft made sure to add plenty of white people. The game clearly goes out of its way to avoid any racial backlash. Not that it matters. What matters is the loose setup. A short ride in a taxi and the land is free of bystanders, ready for mindless action. It seriously lacks a human touch. Emphasis should have been put on what Africans go through when warmongers and "Lords of War" mettle with such a rich continent. Basically, the game needs more of the cab driver stuff. Instead, Far Cry 2 is a guilt-free playground for Western males. Like the header says: "The ride that never will be".
Much like a GTA game, Far Cry 2 is mission-based. Players can roam around at will doing as they please, even after accepting a mission from various locations on the map. Sadly, there's not much to do while free-roaming. As stated above, there are no civilians -- nothing to interact with. Anybody you meet outside of demilitarized cities, like Pala, is a foe. Towns only act as mission depositories and the occasional assassination. Stepping outside city boundaries puts everybody at risk of you putting a bullet between their eyes. Why? Because you are the only competent warrior in the region; everybody else is cannon fodder waiting to pass through your crosshair. It's the closest thing to a human safari as you can get.
Your character meets "buddies" through the course of the trivial main story that can assist you while you off mercenaries. Buddies give alternate ways of completing missions and can help you out of a jam. Your friends add slightly more depth to the game, especially the one that saves your hind when you get downed in a fight (the effect is quite realistic and deserves praise). You can even save injured buddies by giving them meds, but that's where the profundity ends. There are but three mission types: Kill, Destroy and Deliver, with the last two always involving a healthy dose of the first.
As mentioned above there are "assassination" missions in cities, though in theory only. You can lob a grenade next to your mark; if he doesn't get injured, nobody gets their panties up in a bunch. Whack your target in the back of the head, on the other hand, even with a silenced weapon and no witnesses, and you get a shootout with the local militias. Huh?
AI is hit and miss. It seems Ubisoft tried to add a stealth element to all the foliage and night cycles. And though stalking around crouched in grass gives you cover for the most part, enemies are too quick to realize where shots are coming from. Furthermore, opponents sometimes behave like total dolts during shootouts, even in daytime. Players will often spot targets crouched, ready to attack, biding their time for an opportune shot… even mumbling to themselves… naught but five feet away. Eh?
The common currency is diamonds. One can find them in briefcases spread out in the wilderness with the help of a tracking device, but missions are what mainly get you the sparkle. The rocks are used to buy a rather impressive arsenal and upgrades. Guns picked up from downed opponents will often jam and prove unreliable. Purchased weapons are more dependable and look nicer.
OK, SO THE ACTION IS FUN…
You can drive or take a bus (I guess the fare is paid in diamonds?) to your missions. In the process you come across various blood-soaked intermissions. The region is peppered with checkpoints (shooting gallery #1), camps (shooting gallery #2), facilities like train depots and meat factories (shooting gallery #3) and bad guys in various vehicles (mobile shooting gallery #4). I might be forgetting some but you get the gist: the savannah is teeming with "bad people". After repeating the same assignments for 10 hours, and having to pass the aforementioned "shooting galleries" every in-game mile or so, players begin exhibiting symptoms similar to their malaria-stricken character. To say gameplay is shallow is an understatement.
At least the action is good. Ubisoft's Dunia engine produces crisp fighting. Shooting is smooth and precise, save for the occasional missed shot due to blocky collision around trees and shanties. Objects are not badly designed; enemies simply take good cover, which requires precise aiming to pick them off. Opponents will react differently depending on where you hit them, accentuating the fine animation. Downed targets sometimes manage to squirm out a few shots from the ground if they are not properly dealt with. Wounded enemies will even help their mates, adding another dimension to sniping. Most of the fighting will be done from long range using sniper rifles, but some parts require close combat. In all, loads of fun, but because of the repetition it's only fun in short bursts.
The game clearly focuses on how you approach your targets, not what you do to them (the latter is mundanely obvious). A few cosmetic missions involve getting information out of characters, though getting to said characters unfortunately always leaves heaps of rotting carcasses in your wake. Forgive my griping, but when a game plasters the taxi part in every trailer, one gets the impression production value will be more elaborate, at least in-between all the fighting.
Like in the first Far Cry, vehicles play an important role. For a developing country, it seems the locals don't care much about their rides -- they are freely lying around in the most convenient of places. Not that there's anything wrong with that. The maps are rather large and require vehicles to traverse. Boats, Jeeps, dune buggies, luxury SUV's, even hang gliders are there for the picking. Driving around is one of the highlights of the game. Controls take some getting used to but are particularly realistic, especially when bringing the map over the steering while driving -- a neat feature that adds a certain "laissez-faire" feel to the whole African experience.
NO AFRICAN SETTING IS COMPLETE WITHOUT EARTH AND FIRE
Speaking of graphics, Far Cry 2 boasts some of the prettiest open terrain seen in a while. Although jungle areas are scarcer than in the previous game, the savannah and desserts are exquisite, as well as the canyons and lakes. Ubisoft also did a phenomenal job with vegetation. Everything moves in the wind, even tree barks. Smaller plants can be cut down with gunfire. Remember the scene in Predator when Arnold and his gang unloaded into the jungle after Jessie Ventura got zapped, and how the foliage was razed in the process? You can do it here too.
Even more impressive are the fires, which quite frankly produce the most lifelike effects seen in any game to date. Together with wind it can be used to draw out enemies or corner them. Flames spread from grass to trees so realistically it's almost eerie.
Night and day cycles aren't just esthetic; your visibility and the response time of enemies are affected by it. Weather changes, like windstorms, completely alter the landscape. Graphics are truly the immersive part of Far Cry 2.
Ubisoft cleverly plays with the First Person perspective by integrating gameplay with graphics. When NPC characters frisk you, the game actually shows you being frisked in first perspective. Switching from the steering wheel to a jeep's mounted gun gives players a glimpse of the character's body as he slides into position. Furthermore, your character has malaria and needs to take pills every so often. Again, graphics creep into gameplay to add more realism, especially when you get dizzy spells before a crucial moment like taking a covert shot or while driving. Knocking on doors, accepting mission files, taking your medicine, looking at your map or watch, all of it enriches engagement, which is a plus.
Sound has a distinct African feel. Ambient drum scores as well as a few other movie-like tunes kick in when fighting. On a down side, "action" music is initiated when your character shoots, even by accident. Tunes could have also used more African vocals similar to the game's astounding intro song. Furthermore, a few actors sound like they were taken off the street and forced to read lines at gunpoint, and NPC's exchange lines too quickly during fights. I know they are supposed to create a sense of exhilaration, but the effect is rather comical.
As you would expect from a Montreal product, various languages and accents are present, including Afrikaner. Enemies are often heard communicating, adding to the realism and giving the player a tactical advantage. Extra driving effects like clunking sounds, rocks hitting the frame and breaks squealing also spruce things up. Africa is literally alive with sound, from exotic birds to the brush flowing in the wind. Oh ya, and you can hear monkeys doing their "thing" too. Nothing beats monkeys, except hearing someone talking about monkeys in a foreign accent, which sadly there's none of in the game.
As was the case with Ubisoft Montreal's Assassin's Creed, you wish Far Cry 2 had offered more. Action is repetitive, especially when the game presents the title in such a profound way in the first few minutes of gameplay. Had it added more natives and means to interact with them, Ubisoft might have had a game of the year candidate. Instead we get a pretty, above-average shooter with a virtually non-existent plot. As shooters go, this one is a nice addition for fans of plug-and-play titles. Missions are bountiful and action takes seconds to get into. But for those wanting substance, the game will somewhat disappoint. In solo Far Cry 2 plays a bit like in multiplayer: you get a quick action fix with little depth content-wise.
The savannah never looked better. Fire needs to be seen in action. Awesome graphics and weather effects. First person perspective used to the fullest.
Action puts emphasis on instinct rather than tasks because everything revolves around shooting and blowing stuff up. Missions are repetitive but fun.
Nothing gets more human than civil war in Africa. Sadly, Far Cry 2 feels more like a playground than a crisis. Ubisoft got lazy here.
Nature is alive with sound. Heart-pumping scores set the tone, even when they shouldn't. Various accents are nice though not perfect. Music needs more African vocals.
LASTING APPEAL: 85
Solo mode lasts over 20 hours if one focuses on side-missions but repetition can turn some players off. Online play extends the fun as one would expect.