When I first stumbled across the original Far Cry on the PC, I was, like many others, blown away. The amazing visuals, wide open vistas and tough enemy AI made a shooter that offered plenty of thrills, and while the whole tech demo feel was evident, it was a sign of some very good things to come. Sadly, the game’s console offspring weren’t quite as good, and the series was in danger of becoming another has-been in the great gaming graveyard.
So, when it was announced that the highly anticipated, proper ‘sequel’ was on its way, I met the news with a healthy dose of cynicism. Would this be another case of graphics over game play (Crysis), or would the Far Cry universe be filled out with more in-depth fare? Thankfully, FC2 is far more than a tech demo, and there’s much more to this title than a pretty face (a VERY pretty face).
Anyone expecting the return of Jack Carver, the series’ main protagonist, or more battles with the Trigens on lush tropical islands will be in for a surprise. Far Cry 2 has nothing… nada… zip… to do with the previous games. This is an all-new adventure, with new characters, settings and structure. Gone are the sci-fi stylings of the previous games, such as genetic enhancements, feral powers and the like. These have been replaced with a down to Earth, realistic setting, without a single mutant in sight.
The game is set in a fictional African province, which is currently in the grip of a brutal civil war. The two warring factions – the UFLL and APR are fighting for control, and mucking in with all this are a range of hired guns, of which, you are one. Upon starting the game, you have to first select your character, from a range of mercs, ranging from a highly trained ex-USMC soldier to more dubious characters like smugglers and even an ex-member of the IRA. As your chosen merc, you’re given a single mission – to find and eliminate ‘The Jackal’, an almost mythical arms dealer who is currently supplying arms to both sides of the civil war, and you’ll find yourself in a ‘taxi’ on the way through the African countryside.
As you near your destination, you’re overcome with sickness. The screen goes orangey-yellow, your vision blurs and you eventually pass out. You then wake to find none other than The Jackal standing over you. He knows you’re here to kill him, and for some reason, lets you live. Well, I say live, but the real truth is that you’ve contracted malaria, and aren’t exactly in good shape. To make matters worse, the town you’re in is attacked, and you have to fight your way out, while groggy and none too healthy. Luckily, you’re rescued, given some supplies, and a simple mission to complete to prove your worth. Eventually, you find some malaria medicine, and the game is afoot. A single goal appears onscreen – find and kill the Jackal. And that’s it! From this point on, you’re left to your own devices, and it’s up to you what you do, where you go and how, ultimately, you’ll progress in your quest to find and kill this evil arms dealer.
Far Cry 2 is a sandbox game in the most literal of terms. Yes, it takes place in Africa, so there’s quite a lot of sand, but in gaming terms, this is one of the most open-ended releases I’ve played in a long time. I’m not talking about the limited open-endedness of games like GTA, which still force you down a linear path. No, this is far more akin to the play mechanics featured in games such as Oblivion and S.T.A.L.K.E.R. You’re given an overall goal, and then simply thrown into a large and sprawling world. It’s up to you to find friends, weapons and supplies, and to choose which missions you do, don’t do and who to do them with.
Yes, there is a main storyline, and a set of missions to follow along, but there’s so much more to do here, and so many side missions and optional tasks that the game seldom feels restrictive, and you don’t feel controlled, as you do in so many other titles.
For example, in the game you can meet and team up with ‘buddies’. These are other mercenaries that can become your friends. Then, if you take a mission from one of the main factions, such as eliminating a police chief while he’s travelling along in his motorcade, your current best buddy may call you and offer you an alternate strategy. In this case, rather than attacking the motorcade – a difficult task – you’re told about some secret documents that, if stolen, would cause the police chief to retreat in fear to his station, making the hit a little easier. This is just one example of open missions, and this carries on throughout the game.
But, I’m getting ahead of myself, and you’re probably wondering how the game itself plays. The answer is, very well indeed. Graphically FC2 is a real tour de force. The African landscapes are fantastic, and the sheer amount of detail is staggering. Dust bellows up from vehicles as they speed along, foliage moves and bends under your weight, shadows are cast by everything (except, oddly, yourself), and the day and night cycles are impressive.
Controls are spot on. Weapons are well implemented, and feel just right. New weapons behave as you’d expect, but older, rusted weapons can be prone to jamming, or in some situations, backfiring – not good in the midst of a battle.
Vehicles play a very large part here, and getting from A to B across the massive play area requires the use of any you can get hold of. There are jeeps, trucks, buggies, clapped-out cars, boats and even the return of Far Cry favourite, the hang glider. All handle well, and thrashing through dense African jungles in a 4×4 is particularly enjoyable.
One of the major, technical standout features of the engine is the implementation of fire. Far Cry 2 has perhaps the most impressive and realistic fire system I’ve seen in a game to date. Other games have featured real-time fire, such as Alone in the Dark, but here, fire really is a living thing, and one that’s both a danger and an ally.
As in any other game, you can use weapons like grenades, Molotovs and rocket launchers. The difference here is that, if anything flammable is around when they go off, including grass, it will burn. And, depending on the wind direction, it will keep burning, and the flames will keep moving, eating away at the landscape. So effective can this pyromaniac tactic be that I’ve managed to pretty much take out a whole settlement with a single Molotov. I tossed it in, and then sat back and watched the place burn. Even the trees were engulfed in flame, and the area was left blackened and charred (as were a couple of the enemy soldiers). This dynamic fire really adds to the game, not only in terms of looks, but also by adding real tactical use of your environment.
The enemy AI is also solid, and while there are still a few instances of enemies standing in front of your gun sights, for the most part, they’ll find cover, use vehicles and employ other tactics very well. In one particularly unfortunate turn of events, I drove to a camp, got out of my jeep and proceeded to snipe some enemy soldiers. Then, to my horror, I heard my jeep rev up behind me, and turned ’round just in time to see that I’d been flanked by a sneaky guard, who proceeded to give me a face full of my own ride for my trouble. Nice. Some foes will even feign death and fire off rounds at you in a last ditch attempt to take you down, and they’ll usually try to avoid hazards like fire if they can.
I mentioned the buddy system earlier, and this is an important feature; partly due to the aforementioned help on missions and, most importantly, help when you inevitably buy the farm in battle. If you have a buddy who’s ready for action, and you succumb to a mortal wound, the screen will go red, and you’ll black out, only to be awoken by your buddy who drags you out of harm’s way, covers you while you patch yourself up, and then hands you a weapon, helping you fight your way out of Dodge. This is a great system, and really makes you value your allies.
Speaking of wounds, FC2 has some pretty grizzly depictions of damage. To heal normal damage, you casually plunge a syringe into your wrist, but, if you take major damage, you’ll randomly perform emergency field surgery on yourself, such as gouging a bullet out of your leg, pulling a metal rod out of your stomach and other, equally nauseating procedures. Of course, while you’re performing such medical activities, you’re still under fire, so being so wounded in battle will usually lead to your early demise if you don’t find good cover. And, your buddy will only help once, until they’re rested enough to help again, so you’re not immortal by any stretch of the imagination.
Oh, and if you’re not careful, your friends can also be killed, and if they are heavily wounded, you can choose to help them, giving them some of your medical supplies, leave them to die (you cold hearted bar steward!), or you can put them out of their misery by shooting them. Don’t forget, you also have malaria, and so need a steady stream of malaria pills to fight off the virus. These can be obtained from various contacts, and are more valuable to you than the game’s currency – rough diamonds.
Okay, so FC2 clearly has some great features, and thankfully, the missions and general game play are good too. Missions are varied enough, involving assassinations, base assaults, stealthy recon, ambushes and some large scale battles, and despite the large game area, the map system works wonders, meaning you’ll never get lost. As you progress you’ll earn diamonds with which you can buy better equipment from weapon dealers, along with other items like manuals for weapons (to improve accuracy and reliability and so on), a camouflage suit, additional ammo capacity and more.
Mission structure is well handled. You can accept missions from the main factions, story missions unfold on their own, and you can also find missions from a range of other sources. Weapon dealers will ask you to attack rival convoys and patching into mobile phone masts will yield assassination missions from shadowy figures. You can also accept missions from other mercs and buddies too, as well as pursuing the game’s collectables, which involves finding taped recordings of The Jackal for a journalist.
Far Cry 2 is, quite simply, a great game, but as good as it is, I can’t ignore some of its quirks. For example, it does tend to get a little irritating when you’re constantly attacked on the road by soldiers driving machine gun-toting jeeps. This is annoying, as these jeeps always have both a driver and a gunner and instantly start to drill you full of holes when they get close enough. To retaliate you first have to slow down, and then switch positions from driver to gunner; then you can finally open fire.
While you’re doing this, you’ll usually take a lot of damage, which is a bit unfair. Then, there’s the almost total lack of friendlies. Aside from your buddies, and the odd town, almost every location in the game is filled with soldiers out for your blood. This certainly keeps the game interesting and action-packed, but a few friendly areas, for example, populated by a faction you’re on good terms with, would have been nice, and would reward loyalty to a faction with some safe routes through the world.
Some may say there’s far too much travelling from A to B, and I can understand that. You’ll be doing a LOT of this, but I didn’t find it to be too much of a problem, and liked roaming around the world, fighting off attacks and finding alternate routes and diamonds. It all adds to the immersion of being in deepest Africa, in the midst of a conflict.
Although sound direction is excellent for the most part, with great SFX and ambient sounds, the speech isn’t so hot. Most of the dialog itself is fine, but for some reason, the voiceovers haven’t been paced correctly, and everyone spews out sentences with no breaks at all, talking really, really quickly. On a basic level, this simply sounds bad, but in some situations it can actually hamper you, as you struggle to make out directions or orders.
Despite a few minor flaws, Far Cry 2 does, in my humble opinion, rock. It’s a massive, sprawling action FPS with tons to do, and it leaves you free to approach situations how you like. It looks amazing, plays smoothly and has an excellent engine powering it all. I’ve not even touched on the multiplayer and map editor, both of which are very promising, and should grant the game plenty of longevity.
On the flip side, I can easily imagine some not getting along with the wide-open world and fairly loose story. While this lack of direction is arguably intentional by design, many may find it confusing and might be put off, preferring more traditional, level-based shooters. Whatever your standpoint, Far Cry 2 should definitely be played, if only so you can wade into an enemy base with a flamethrower and a big, crazed grin…