After spending somewhere around 25 hours getting through Far Cry 2's single-player campaign, there was one question I couldn't quite answer: why is this game called Far Cry? The sequel, developed by Ubisoft Montreal, retains nearly nothing from Crytek's 2004 original or from the Xbox and Xbox 360's Instincts and Predator derivations. The story doesn't carry over, the characters aren't the same, there's no mention at all of Jack Carver, there are no mutagens, no feral powers, and no Trigens. Instead, it's a struggle between warring factions, called the APR and UFLL, in an unnamed African nation.
The game also doesn't give players a pre-determined protagonist. Instead, you select a character to play as, and the rest of the cast appear in the game world around you as friendly NPCs, called buddies, who you can choose to work with. Things begin with a simple tutorial section, introducing you to basic first-person shooter controls and the game's premise. Your main goal is to find The Jackal, a menacing character that supplies weapons to the APR and UFLL to keep lit the fires of conflict.
The point is, with this kind of setup, it's odd that the Far Cry name was even used at all, other than for its obvious name recognition value. Pushing that issue aside and accepting that this is basically a totally different game, you'll find there's quite a bit to like.
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There are few direct analogues for Far Cry 2, as it truly is an open-world shooter. It's a stark contrast to Infinity Ward's unrelentingly linear Call of Duty games, and offers more freedom than what Crytek wound up delivering post-Far Cry with its pseudo-linear Crysis franchise. Perhaps GSC Game World's S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl is the best comparison, though even that game differs, because where it leaned more toward role-playing elements, Far Cry 2 is almost all about shooting. There are still ways to upgrade your character, but the focus here is most definitely on action.
For instance, there's no inventory in the game, just four weapon slots. There's one for your machete, one for a sidearm or accessory, one for a primary weapon (assault rifle, SMG, sniper rifle, shotgun), and one for a special weapon (rocket launcher, mortar, flamethrower). All these weapon types aren't available at the game's beginning; you must unlock them by performing side-quests for weapons vendors located around the world. Much of the game works like this, letting you unlock little bits and pieces here and there to make your journeys across the grassy plains, mountains, and jungles of the world more convenient, and make the process of killing a little easier.
Also, unlike S.T.A.L.K.E.R., there's no real quest log. Instead, you basically have one 'active quest' at a time, though the single quest can veer in several different directions. Main quests are most often delivered through the APR and UFLL headquarters, and most of the time, the mission you pick up is predetermined. In other words, you can't pick between APR and UFLL missions every time you go to get a new mission connected to the main quest. There are choices to be made, some fairly major ones too, but those are intermittent and mostly don't crop up until the end of the game. Because of this, it's difficult to care at all about the story, setting, or characters in the game for the first few hours. In all likelihood you'll be distracted by exploration and testing out the boundaries of the game world, but it's quite some time before the story starts to gain any real momentum.
Outside of main quests there are several types of distractions for you. You can do the weapon vendor quests, which always involve hunting down a convoy and disabling it. The rewards are good, as you get access to more weapons, but the quests themselves can get repetitive. There are also quests you can get from buddies you find around the game world and assignments from ominously garbled voices transmitted over electrical towers. Ultimately, they all boil down to pretty much the same thing: go to a location and kill a guy, blow something up, steal something, or force someone to do something they don't want to and then kill them. And if you're particularly obsessive compulsive, you can spend plenty of hours tracking down the multitude of hidden briefcases which contain varying quantities of diamonds. You'll also occasionally have to quest for medicine since, surprise, your character has malaria. While the premise of a sick protagonist seems like it could have had some interesting implications, the way it's implemented here makes it seem like more of a nuisance than anything else.
Some of the main quests can be fairly interesting, but usually only if you choose to work with an NPC buddy. Whichever buddy you've unlocked that likes you best will give you a call after main missions are acquired, offering an alternate method of completion. Sometimes it screws over the faction you're working for but ultimately involves the same infiltrate / kill mechanic used in most of the other quests. More rarely you'll get to do something totally different, like using a warhead to drop a bridge on a barge instead of having to infiltrate the barge and killing a target on it. Using buddies like this to complete missions in different ways is also to your benefit, as it gradually upgrades all the safe houses in the game world with ammo stashes, health supplies, and eventually vehicles.
So yes, the quest structure can get tedious, but the open-world design helps alleviate some of the fatigue of repetition that might start to set in by giving you free range to do whatever you want. Assuming you've got some of the more interesting weapons unlocked, you can approach from any angle and choose to engage the enemy with rockets, sniper fire, or peg one of the ubiquitous explosive barrels or propane tanks to start a fire, which isn't as useless a move as it might seem to be.
Aside from being a pretty effect as it spreads across fields, engulfs trees, and causes chain reaction explosions if there are other combustible elements nearby, fire does play a significant role in the world of Far Cry 2. It's not always useful -- dense jungle underbrush won't burn nearly as effectively as savannah grass -- but when you get a large blaze going, it's a workable deterrent against enemy pursuers, as they'll actively try to avoid its rapid spread, buying you a few extra seconds to heal up, unjam a rusty weapon, or find something to hide behind.
You'll be doing a lot of hiding in the game as the enemies tend to be pretty smart. This is an important point to make for an open-world game, and even more so because it's a first-person shooter and not a statistic-heavy first-person role-playing game, like The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. In a first-person shooter, we expect a play style centered more on twitch skills than character level or item attributes. In Far Cry 2, the gunplay feels great. Shotguns pop and thud with heavy sounds and have a good sense of weight to them. Enemies fly back as they're pelted with SMG fire, crumple to the ground after a well-aimed sniper bullet, and keel over after a headshot with a .50 caliber pistol. There are also unpredictable elements, like gun jams if you're just picking up enemies' guns from the ground, something that can be avoided by using the store-bought models. Rockets don't always fire correctly, but when they explode you get gouts of satisfying flame, trees swaying and underbrush twittering from the shock, debris whirling into the air and floating off in whichever direction the breeze is blowing, and ideally a large-scale brush fire. It's quite a rush, even after 20 or 30 times, to lob an explosive at a group of vehicles clogged on one of the roads after a lengthy pursuit, violently blasting aside any foes who didn't manage to scurry out of the way beforehand.
Scrambling away from grenade tosses isn't the only example of solid enemy AI; foes generally seem to possess a sense of the world. They'll fire at you when you pop out in the open, move around to avoid bullets, toss grenades, hop into vehicles and give chase when you run through their camps, and even try to run you off the road while pelting you with mounted weapon fire or run directly into you if you hop out of the car. While engaged in battle, if you duck behind some cover and run around to a different hiding spot without popping into view, enemies won't know exactly where you've gone. So you'll see them poke around in your original location and call out to each other about what they've found. If the game's not enough of a challenge for you on normal, you can then bump up the difficulty to the two higher settings where you'll get less health-replenishing syrettes and take more damage.
The AI isn't perfect, though, as is often the case in open-world games. Like with S.T.A.L.K.E.R., you'll sometimes run into glitched-out foes who stand still no matter how many times you shoot them. At points, enemies in the distance won't recognize that you've hit one of their compatriots, even if there's an explosion of blood right next to them. Others will run right by you in broad daylight without spinning to fire, which may have been intentional, but it's hard to tell. Ultimately they're all forgivable glitches, and certainly less frequent than in a product as bug-riddled as S.T.A.L.K.E.R., but they're more obvious because, for the majority of the game, the AI works well.
Between random fights against roving patrols, guard posts, and the towns in which mission goals are often set, you'll be doing a lot of traveling in Far Cry 2, which feels more out of place than it probably should. After all, any MMO gamer or RPG fanatic should be used to uneventful travel time to reach specific targets or areas. Maybe it's simply a consequence of Far Cry 2's relatively new design as a first-person shooter in an open world with minimal loading. Still, the first-person shooter genre's longstanding relationship with non-stop action makes the lengthy travel times seem odd here.
It's cut down, however, by your ability to hop into trucks, cars or boats to speed across terrain, which you'll be doing fairly often and which, unfortunately, don't have much of a feel to them. There are also fast-travel buses that, after a load screen, bring you near-instantly to another portion of the map. Enemy vehicle patrols and the tendency for other alerted foes to give chase in vehicles also ensures you're never lonely for long while traversing the terrain, which can get annoying, yet a lot of the navigation works against another of Far Cry 2's potential strengths: immersion.
When you're low on health and in danger of bleeding out, you're required to perform grisly self-surgeries. Ripping bullets out of your arms and legs with pliers and short knives is a regular occurrence, and you'll also witness gruesome events like yanking long shards of glass or twigs from limbs. The game puts a heavy emphasis on keeping you in a first-person perspective, keeping you rooted in that view throughout practically the entire game. If you sprint for too long, your screen blurs as you catch your breath. You'll see ferns bend in front of you as you walk over them, instead of just passing through them like a hallucination. If you aim down the sights of your gun, the edges of the screen blur to represent a more focused vision. The perspective can be especially powerful when determining if wounded friendlies should live or die. During missions you'll find your buddy NPCs will sometimes get shot down, and you'll have a choice of whether to inject them with a syrette to save them or kill them right there, all with your view directly in front of their pleading face.
Yet, a lot of this sense of immersion is hacked away by features implemented to make the game world easier to move around. Your magically updating map accounts for this, which you'll need to consult regularly, as do street signs posted around the plains and forests that include colored highlights for the direction of your mission goals. While they're certainly helpful and cut down on time wasted aimlessly wandering, they don't allow the player to really get drawn in, and represent a clash between elements that are realistic and those that are flat-out magical.
Something else longtime shooter fans are likely to notice is the lack of enemy type progression. One thing we're all used to seeing is, as we move from level to level, the introduction of new and more powerful types of enemies. It was a mechanic in place back in the days of Wolfenstein 3D and Doom, it was in the original Far Cry with the Trigens, in Crysis with the aliens, in S.T.A.L.K.E.R. as you moved zone by zone, but not so much in Far Cry 2. Enemies will gradually use better types of weapons, but you'll be fighting the same shirtless guys near the end of the game that you were near the beginning, meaning you lose that element of new types of enemy tactics to diversify gameplay. In Half-Life, for instance, things felt drastically different when you were fighting aliens than when you were fighting marines, and required different approaches. In Far Cry 2, you're always killing the same types of guys. They'll have different weapons, but their attack patterns seem largely the same throughout the game. So, excluding the occasional incoming rocket or barrage of mortar fire, it's your different approaches to combat that serve to keep things interesting, not necessarily the tactics of the enemy.
There's also the odd issue of save points, which is one of the major differences across console and PC versions. In the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 versions, you can only save at the designated points, which appear as blue, wall-mounted boxes and are located in and around safe houses and a variety of other locations. In the PC version, you can hard save anywhere as well as quicksave and quickload, yet the save points are still littered around the landscape for some reason. It could potentially significantly alter potential play styles, since PC gamers will be free to hit F5 before they try something crazy, whereas console gamers might be more reticent to experiment for fear of reloading a save point from 15 minutes prior.
Another noticeable difference between PC and console versions is the drop in visual quality. Ubisoft Montreal's Dunia Engine proves to be quite scalable on PC. Even on rigs closer to mid-range the graphics settings can still be set relatively high and the performance is smooth. On consoles, the lighting effects that sparkle so brilliantly on the PC aren't as pronounced, the framerates more jittery, the edges on weapon models not as smooth, and some of the shadowing nowhere near as detailed. That being said, it's not like the game looks bad on consoles. You still get a wide open expanse of terrain, from waterfalls to swamplands to desert plains to dense jungles, and full day night cycle and dynamic weather systems that can, occasionally, produce some spectacular vistas as fog moves and the sun burns angry orange before the sky goes dark. The character models aren't going to win any awards with any version of the game, and overall it certainly isn't up to the level of visual brilliance of Crytek's Crysis or Crysis Warhead, but Far Cry 2 ran better on our rigs.
Sound is another strong element. Weapon effects are crisp and distinct, from the pop of the most feeble pistol model to the mechanical chunking of the rapid-fire shotgun. The music of battle meshes well with the setting, but it's the ambient effects, like the swishing of grass under a breeze or wildlife croaking amidst human-sized ferns, overturned trees, and a thick jungle canopy that really drives home what this world is supposed to feel like. Character voices aren't as strong, but they don't do all that much damage to an otherwise impressive overall audio package. And, for the truly hardcore (or perhaps completely insane), this game supports amBX. If you don't know what that is, don't worry about it.
Finally there's the multiplayer element, which is by no means insignificant in Far Cry 2. It is, however, far less novel than what's present in the single-player. You get your standard assortment of deathmatch, team deathmatch, and capture the flag modes. There's a hybrid territorial control / VIP mode, as well as a progression mechanic through which you earn diamonds to unlock more powerful weapons and upgrades. Players will also need to take fire into account here, since it can be used to temporarily defend capture points and the like, provided the map allows for it.
Really the best part of the multiplayer is the map editor, which requires a bit of a learning curve, but ultimately should be usable by pretty much anyone who buys the game. Compared to other, more hardcore editors that come packaged with games, this one's a breeze to use, with little to no technical knowledge required. It's a different setup across PC and console versions, but all allow players to create, publish, share, and download created maps from across the community and use them for multiplayer matches. So, if you're unsatisfied with the multiplayer maps Ubisoft bundled with the game, you can start building your own almost right away.
Far Cry 2 also has a few interesting multiplayer frills, such as leaderboards, trophy support on PS3, multiple console controller layout presets including 'lefty' settings, thumbstick sensitivity calibration on console, an aim assist for snap-to targeting on console, and easy-to-access community sharing features for user-created maps. Though the multiplayer modes themselves aren't all that unique, the feature set surrounding them has been well thought out.
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