Far Cry 2
can't stop watching the sunrise...
If there's one thing that underpins the entire Far Cry 2 experience, it's the admirably modernist approach to the whole concept. This is an important antithesis to the
Half-Life school of shooting: an FPS for fans of Bethesda, not Valve. It's a brave
leap forward into a realm that, now explored, could well be difficult to step back from.
It's almost brilliant. Almost.
The pitch falls somewhere between Grand Theft Auto and
STALKER: that is to say, a mission-based,
vehicle-dominated sandbox title with an emphasis on 'realistic' combat. Placing straight-up first-person action in a freeform world is something that works perfectly, and it's a wonder no one's really attempted this before. Interspersing visceral gun battles with periods of quieter travelling, without worrying about the statistics or heavy exploration of its freeform role-playing counterparts, proves to be a mightily successful formula for the most part, adding real weight to the genre's trigger-happy conventions.
Far Cry 2 feels staggeringly natural in its enormity, and it's hard to imagine it passing without a range of copycat efforts in the near future.
For one thing, even the most expertly crafted linear games have moments where it's plainly obvious you're being barred from entering somewhere. In
Far Cry 2, this is simply never an issue. Even upon reaching the outer regions of the permitted playground, it feels like a perfectly natural place to stop. Almost all of its ramshackle buildings are enterable, all of its desert traversable. In this respect, and a great many others,
Far Cry 2 takes immense care never to remove you from its gritty, war-torn world. It rarely funnels you down a specific path. It never breaks its first-person, in-game viewpoint - not even to look at a map. In every way that matters,
Far Cry 2 is blisteringly immersive, from the first second until the very last.
It's an isolating place, this conflict-ridden Africa, and the sense of sheer vastness to the environment can be beautifully overwhelming. Some may find the interesting approach to
Far Cry 2's opening confusing and unfocused - and, without any doubt whatsoever, it can be. But the premise is fresh and exciting. After a brilliant intro sequence, a short and unexpected meeting with The Jackal (an
arms dealer you've been sent to kill) and a hasty escape from the town, you'll find yourself dropped back into the world at one of four different locations - depending on which direction you chose to flee in. The characters you'll meet, the faction you're likely to side with and the hub of main missions you'll undertake depend on your starting location, and your task is as vague as it gets: work out where The Jackal went, and kill him.
task is as vague as it gets..."
It's such a wonderful, open set-up that I ended up taking it for granted that each individual mission has a multitude of ways to complete it.
Far Cry 2 introduces you to some key faces you might like to have a chat with, then holds your hand very little until the next big plot movement. My only reservation is that, as a result, there tend to be long stretches where the narrative gets put on hold, just to ensure everyone is moving through the story at the same pace. When it branches out, it does so admirably, but you know you're always going to
rendezvous with the other branches at the next predefined point.
I'm not usually one to harp on about the aesthetic qualities of a game, but with
Far Cry 2 it's particularly relevant. It looks amazing, though you already knew that. The pre-release screenshots have been wowing potential players for many months now. But these static images come nowhere close to conveying just how remarkable the Dunia engine is, and how far it goes to bringing this world to life. Wind howls through the trees, swaying their branches and rustling their leaves, casting astonishing dynamic shadows on the ground below. Throw a grenade and the ensuing blast radiates fire all around, which then spreads among the shrubs and grass until the entire area is ablaze. Groups of wildlife go about their everyday life, disturbed only by gunfire, traffic noise, or the threat of rain. As the sun sets, plumes of smoke from distant campfires peak over the horizon.
You can practically feel it.
Far Cry 2 is all about the experience: living the game. For atmosphere alone, it's almost unrivalled, and the gorgeously satisfying gunplay is some of my favourite in recent memory. In fact,
Far Cry 2 gets so much thrillingly right that, when it lets itself down, it seems to do so far more dramatically than it should. It makes the sort of mistakes expected from a far
inferior game, which is a crippling shame given the overriding quality on display here.
I've heard people complain about the respawning enemies: guard posts and check-points repopulate just a few minutes after you've cleared them out. I don't see a problem with this - indeed, it'd be hard to imagine a different approach. If they died for good, it would be theoretically possible to spend the first few hours methodically picking off all opposition, then to simply drive from location to location until the end of the game. What
does strike me as idiotic, though, is the over-zealous positioning of these guard posts on the map. It sounds an odd criticism of a shooting game, but there are just far too many enemies in
Far Cry 2. Every minute or so of driving, there's another set of militia blocking the way - and, unlike during the intro sequence, where you manage to talk your way past these baddies, fighting them off is the only option. As a result, the game often degrades into a repetitive structure of 'drive, get out of car, kill guards, get back in car, repeat', until finally arriving at the necessary location, where you'll
inevitably end up killing a whole lot more enemies. This doesn't really affect the first few hours, while the childlike joy of this huge sandbox still remains, but once the repetitive nature of the game becomes apparent, it's difficult to shake it from your mind.
all about the experience..."
The threat of being gunned down every few hundred yards also discourages the heady exploration that the free-roaming world compels you to engage in. There are some wonderful treasures to be found in
Far Cry 2: brilliant locations, beautiful scenery and cases of diamonds. But when it's highly likely that deviating from the path will result in your demise, it becomes infinitely more sensible to just stick to the set route of your current mission. Counter-intuitive, and disappointing. I also found myself getting lost an inordinate amount of times, largely thanks to a combination of winding roads, a fiddly map system and waypoint markers that disregard the giant, impassable mountain range in the centre of the first region.
I'm disappointed in the level of world-interaction, as well. You can shoot through the walls of a wooden hut, but
lob a grenade through the door and the structure stays
intact. The physics are fancy, but there's no real way to take advantage of them. And there's an odd glitch when trying to talk to characters, that means you have to be standing in
exactly the right place for the 'use' button to work. Frustrating.
And the voice acting will split opinion, I would imagine. Personally, I liked it: it feels natural, flowing and understated, just like real speech is. I've
talked to other people who think all the characters sound bored, or talk too quickly to understand. That might
seem like a minor point, but with a story that's often confusing as it is, having
unintelligible NPCs could go some way to ruining your game. Tread carefully.
Ultimately, Far Cry 2 is carried by its two 'I's: immersion and innovation. It's exciting, forward-thinking and unbelievably atmospheric: the closest anyone has
yet come to a real, living, breathing world. But it also suffers from some questionable design choices, ones that limit the potential freedom and fun-factor this game strives so hard to provide. It's almost brilliant, and future attempts to follow
the same formula will undoubtedly prove even more successful. For now,
Far Cry 2 is still an exceptionally enjoyable game, and an encouraging sign of things to come.
FORMAT: XBox360 (reviewed) / PS3 / PC
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