Compelling but Flawed
I got Far Cry 2 on launch day, not 100% sure of what to expect. I had seen the "do it your way" open world demos, I had seen the piece-of-cake map editor, I was hyped. What I found inside was a great concept with a number of bad design choices.
The game is beautiful maxed out, although perhaps not on par with Crysis' visuals, but at the same time the engine is a lot kinder to hardware than Crysis. There are lush jungles, desolate deserts, sprawling savannahs, and cramped urban centers. The weather is well done, with the transition to rain actually reminding me of rain while going through desert backroads. Scale is also well represented, especially in the desert - there are massive cliffs off in the distance that actually look epic and distant. Vegetation is well done, although there are some issues with distant trees looking slightly blocky.
The game has an open world map, with a main storyline and side missions, similar to the structure of games like Oblivion. You are started on a couple tutorial introductory missions that also establish your character and the situation. The country you're in is on the brink of civil war, with two major factions hosting large militias. You don't really care for either of them, but you're a mercenary, so money talks - or in this case, rough uncut diamonds, because the currency is probably worth less than toilet paper. Your primary task througout the game is to kill one man who sold arms to both factions, and remains the prime weapons dealer in the area: a man simply known as The Jackal.
Alongside the main faction-oriented missions, you'll find a number of side missions that can get you money, friends, new weapons, or simply information. The friends you make will be important later on, as they may give you tips to make a main story mission easier or more destructive, while also rescuing you in case you are critically injured in the field.
In concept, these all work together nicely to create a smooth experience and a compelling dynamic story. A lot of times it did, creating interesting twists and divergent paths. The buddy rescue system saved my ass at least a dozen times. However I wasn't ever quite sure about buddy main-mission side jobs. They were interesting, but at the same time they always meant doing more than the original mission asked, while always making you go assist your buddy afterward (I can't remember how many times I heard some variation of "this is sure to draw their attention to me, so you'll probably have to come help"). The dynamic story was sort of unimportant too, as all roads lead to Rome...or at least in this case, the same ending. Unlike The Witcher which gave you one of a number of different endings depending on what you decided, Far Cry 2 goes the same way no matter what. It kind of made me ponder why I even cared about what decisions I made earlier in the game.
Another issue I had with the game is travel. If there's one thing that's complained about most regularly, travel would be it. The game is generous with vehicles, and you soon find out why. Walking anywhere takes you a very, very long time. There is a simple fast travel system, the busses, but you must get to a bus station first, which there are generally 5 of in each of the North and South Districts - one in each corner, and one in the main town. Using them also means losing your current vehicle, and the typical offering at the bus stations is an unarmed car.
At the same time, there are checkpoints everywhere. The militias don't care if you're working for them or not, it's all "off the books," which means every single checkpoint you pass (in my 200-some km of driving in this game, it was probably at least 80 times) you will have to either clear out the occupants or run like hell. Running like hell doesn't work too well either, as you'll quickly find out these guys are 100% dead set on killing you, and will chase you down the road for miles. Even worse, a checkpoint gets reset and respawns enemies within a few minutes, meaning the checkpoint you cleared out 3 minutes ago to stop by the weapons dealer will have to be cleared again.
Enemies never flee, no matter how reputable you are or how many of their compatriots you've killed - they'll still be shouting "It's only one guy!" Later in the game you'll get access to more powerful technicals with M2HB .50 caliber machine guns and Mk 19 grenade launchers, the latter of which will clear a checkpoint in mere seconds, but it's all cut-and-dried by that point, you'll have done it so many times that the novelty of clearing a checkpoint with a Mk 19 will wear off by about the 5th one. You will most likely be very sick of trying to get anywhere by the end of the game.
One of my biggest peeves with the game has to be one I've been least vocal about. It is supposed to be an open world, free to do whatever you feel, but you'll notice a very, very large percentage of your topographic map is dark. These areas are inaccessible, and the designers have made sure of this. In the few places where you can actually reach anywhere near climbing one of the inaccessible hills, you will find yourself running smack-dab into an invisible wall. This was noticable from the first hostage-rescue mission, where the point you scout from is no more than 40 feet above the occupied area; next to you is a ridge which would offer a much better scouting position - that is, if it wasn't artificially barricaded. I can understand such techniques for barricading the outside of a map to prevent the player from falling off the world, but all the inaccessible ridges all over the map makes the game feel a lot more cramped than it should.
One of the highly touted features of the game, the fire propogation system, was so underwhelming that I almost forgot to mention it. It works; fire burns across dry grass, rain puts it out, and it kills people. But original demonstrations showed people wiping out entire outposts by simply lighting the grass upwind on fire. They said that the fire system at that point was too powerful and it ended up finishing your primary objective - to kill The Jackal - accidentally (or intentionally) with randomly lit fires. They decided to tone it down, but it's been so toned down so as to be nearly worthless except for the occasional amusement from lighting your enemies on fire or annoyance from accidentally standing in the fire started by your RPG's backblast.
Overall I enjoyed the single player experience, but felt it could have used a bit of adjustment; fast travel between safehouses would have made travelling a lot less tedious; less checkpoints and/or slower respawning would have made driving much less repetitive. In much the way bugs make STALKER a flawed masterpiece, I feel poor design decisions make Far Cry 2 such a product. For single player, I give Far Cry 2 4/5.
There is one word that describes Far Cry 2's multiplayer component. The Internet knows this word well: FAIL. For the PC multiplayer, Ubisoft decided that simply porting the Xbox 360's matchmaking paradigm would be sufficient. I've seen what this does to PC games - just look at Gears of War on PC. You're lucky to find more than 3 games with a reasonable ping at any one time.
Ranked play would likely be "where it's at" if it weren't for some rediculous decisions, as it's where players may permanently unlock weapons. You earn a diamond each level you gain, which allows you a choice of what to unlock; each class has one weapon that unlocks for 1 diamond, and another more powerful one that unlocks for 3 diamonds. The ability to choose your unlocks is nice, but getting into a ranked match sucks. For one, the "join in progress" option is not available for ranked games. Instead of warming up by shooting around with a couple of people, waiting for more to filter in, everybody gets to wait around in the lobby for a reasonable number of players. Then, if the game doesn't lag too much, you might keep enough players around to make it fun. If people start leaving, nobody's allowed to come to fill their spots. After a match, everybody is kicked out, and they must find a new host.
Player matches are slightly better but fail to garner attention as they lack permanent unlocks, instead lasting on a per-map basis. Players can join in progress and custom maps are allowed here, adding more variety. However the failures of ranked play prevent many from even attempting player matches.
The only bright spot of multiplayer is custom maps and the map editor. The map editor is, while not entirely idiot-proof, a very simple tool to use. It is somewhat nerfed and lacks any sort of mod SDK, but the ability to make a map that looks even somewhat realistic in 30 minutes is nice. The game contains a map community feature which allows you to upload your own maps and browse other players' uploaded maps. The maps have rating and popularity features, as well as the ability to report a map, letting the community filter out the chaff and phallic mountain ranges (no, I have not seen this yet).
If Ubi had actually made the effort to add a serious server browser, the option to join in progress on ranked matches, and provided a standalone dedicated server, this game might actually be my next multiplayer destination. They still have the ability to fix this with patches, but I probably will find myself filtering back to Call of Duty 4 for my multiplayer needs. For multiplayer, I give Far Cry 2 2/5.
The single player experience, while full of small gripes, will keep many players entertained through the whole 15-40 hours it will take to finish. While the story itself is highly linear, it is compelling and avoids major clichés. The game itself is beautiful, if you can run at high settings. 4/5
The PC multiplayer is going nowhere fast unless it is patched. 2/5
Please note that the final score is not an average; I have weighted single player as the more important aspect of this game.