Far Cry 2
Crytek, the developer of the first game in the series, went on from that to make Crysis, while the rights to the series stayed with publisher Ubisoft, who gave the sequel to one of their internal teams. Thanks to this, Far Cry 2 doesn't have a lot in common with the original besides shooting people in a jungle environment. I only played a bit of the first game, but basically you were a guy named Jack shooting his way through a linear story, albeit with some freedom in how you went about doing that. On the other hand, Far Cry 2 is all about freedom and dynamic story and gameplay. At the beginning you're given a variety of simply defined characters to choose from to act as your avatar in the unnamed war-torn African country the action happens in, while the other ones are apparently chosen at random to help shape the specifics of your quest to hunt down the Jackal. What follows is a very open, very interesting shooter than seems to take inspiration from both S.T.A.L.K.E.R. and Grand Theft Auto, as you take undercover jobs from the various warring factions, find and earn blood diamonds to pay for new equipment, and generally just try to survive in a very hostile environment.
I got the game on Steam because of an absurdly good deal, although unfortunately this meant I couldn't enjoy the full extent of its very impressive graphical accomplishments thanks to my rapidly aging system. I had most of the settings very low to keep it running smoothly, yet it still managed to impress me with the scope of its ability to render a huge, interesting environment. You battle through dense jungle, wide-ranging savanna plains and sparse deserts, and they all look nice and interact very nicely. I wish some of the smaller trees could be driven through by a sufficiently sized and quick-moving vehicle and there were times where the game would pause to load before something important like a bridge or even a full outpost of heavily armed enemies would pop into view, but the way the foliage reacts naturally and the way everything burns so perfectly when you hit it with a flamethrower or Molotov cocktail makes it a lot of fun to look at, not to mention the actual game implications of realistically spreading flames.
The basic structure of the game is accepting a mission from someone, driving (or walking for a very long time) to the location they indicate on the map, stopping along the way to fight against various clusters of enemies of the roads or just driving past and hoping you escape before they can get a bead on you, killing a bunch of guys at said location, and performing some task once finished such as assassinating an important target or retrieving a briefcase with an important something inside. Occasionally something of more plot significance will occur forcing you to go from place to place without choice, sometimes resulting in a particularly exciting or unique moment. Usually one of your buddies that you meet along the way will call you during the mission and give you an optional objective, which increases the number of locations you have to visit and carry out, and forces you to rescue them from some danger in the end, but results in some bonus to the various safe houses you can rest at scattered around the map. Unfortunately, at least when you bother to hear your buddy out, you get penalized for not doing their alternate mission, so it feels like the choice that should be there doesn't really exist. Usually it's to your benefit to do it, it just felt a bit limiting.
Besides the main missions, there are several other smaller kinds you can take on, which have various benefits that are generally not necessary to finishing the game. Really, there's not as much choice in what to do as they might have you believe, because you're still following the cycle of drive-kill-drive-kill-drive-kill a lot. The game works though, because the shooting is fun, and it's just set up to create a very interesting experience. Playing Far Cry 2 is about as desperate as I've felt playing a game. It's not particularly difficult, I just felt like I was really there in the bush, fending for my life as I just barely escaped death again and again. The enemies aren't particularly smart, but they're good enough that you never feel safe while taking a group of them on. There's always a chance they'll do something crazy and catch you unaware. Scrambling around wildly, chucking grenades willy-nilly, panicking when the weapon I've had a little too long jams in the middle of a skirmish, watching as accidentally exploding barrels destroy the ramshackle outposts in real time, as the bad guys scream in pain, it's all a ton of fun. Even the malaria which occasionally pops up that I thought would be annoying adds to the experience, giving you an "Oh crap, not now!" feeling if it strikes at the wrong moment, but in a good way.
Ultimately though, I thought the game went on a bit too long. By the last third, I was wondering when these various missions would end up leading somewhere. Eventually they did, and there was a satisfying enough conclusion, if it was a bit nihilistic. The problem was the dynamic story didn't do enough to keep me interested in what was happening. Yeah, I could see how these factions were reacting based on what I did, and I saw how my choice of who to kill and who to let alone affected who exactly gave me the next job, but I didn't see why any of this mattered or was I was supposedly motivated to respond to a certain character in a very singular, specific way. All the driving and meaningless small battles served to draw out the experience, and it kept me going for a while, just not the whole time. Still, the game was an interesting experiment and showed how a very fun and unique experience can come out of an environment that's designed to be flexible instead of programmed to do one specific, elaborate thing. Best pure single player shooter experience I've had in a while.