(First published on Gamepad Magazine, January 4th 2011)
FAR CRY 2 (2008) – UBISOFT
When Far Cry 2 was announced, there was a lot of positive hype for it. The original Far Cry had been well received, and when Ubisoft confirmed that the sequel would be set in over 50km-worth of African sandbox gameplay, anticipation rose. My word it looked beautiful! Ubisoft promised us highly realistic environments along with some new touches, such as fire propagation over large areas of terrains. So, did it do the trick?
Far Cry 2 has quite a solid plot. The basic premise is that you are a mercenary (you get to choose from about ten nationalities but it makes no difference to the actual events that take place) sent into an unidentified part of Africa to take out the Jackal, a man who has been supplying arms to two local factions, the APR and the UFLL. Unfortunately, as you arrive you are struck down with Malaria, and whilst you are bedridden, the Jackal himself pays you a visit. He leaves you alive, and escapes as the town erupts into conflict. Your job is to get out of the town ASAP, and then begin your search for the Jackal. Along the way you will complete jobs for both factions, help out some other mercenaries and assist a local reporter in getting the conflict aired overseas.
It’s nothing spectacular, but it is quite a decent story to follow: The Jackal in particular is a very good villain, seemingly always just one step ahead, making you wonder about your morality as you aid the two factions in their war against each other. My one criticism of the plot is that it stops and starts at quite obvious points, meaning that you will be playing a few missions in a row without actually receiving any reward with regards to the storyline
As mentioned in the plot, the staple part of the game is completing a bunch of missions for the two factions, and although you are forced to do them all eventually, you can choose what order to do them in, favouring one faction over the other. You also get the option to aid your fellow mercenary buddies in completing the missions, which usually makes the mission a bit longer, but easier at the same time.
The problem with this set up however, is that it is boring. Seriously boring. Most of the missions simply involve go to this place, kill a target, return for the reward. And if you subvert a mission, it means go to another place, kill some more people and return. Whereas with GTA a bit of variety would be thrown into these sorts of missions, in Far Cry it is a very methodical rinse and repeat. Herein lies the problem of a sandbox first person shooter, the lack of a straight line story with changing environments à la Halo or Call Of Duty means that you will be doing the same thing over and over again. This isn’t helped by some other elements of the gameplay. At various points around the map are stationed enemy checkpoints, and if you zoom through (which you will) then you will be shot at and chased down. This clever AI is to be complimented, but once you kill everyone, they instantly respawn at the checkpoint. This happens every time. At every checkpoint. The sheer number of times you will be slowed down just to get rid of the enemy is so frustrating. Come to think of it, apart from the reporter and the people that give you malaria pills, everyone in this game wants to kill you. Why are there so many bad guys? WHY?!?!?!!?
Another source of great frustration is the transportation. Most of the time you will be on foot, and that works fine, you can sprint and jump around at will. But when you want to drive a car or ride a boat to get across the enormous map, you find that every vehicle has a limited speed. Combine the fact that you will get shot at and have your vehicle fall into damage at every checkpoint (you can repair the vehicle, but the animation takes so damn long), and you have one of the most uninspiring transport mechanics ever seen in a sandbox game. Some sort of fast travel option would have been greatly appreciated. Or the ability to simply drive faster.
My final criticism of the gameplay concerns the online multiplayer. You get four game modes, a standard free-for all deathmatch, a team deathmatch, capture the diamond (*cough cough flag*) and uprising, where you have to defend a team captain. The problem with multiplayer is two fold: number one, the detection for when you actually die is very poor. Whereas with other games its pretty easy to determine when someone will die, Far Cry 2 varies wildly. At times I have put an entire clip of MAC 10 ammo into people, only for them to turn around and kill me in two shots. Even if I was any better (I admit I am pretty bad online), I would still declare it to be unfair. The second problem is Ubisoft’s servers: my god it takes an age to get into a match. You get the feeling that they haven’t put in the full effort to support the game online, which disappoints me because I like to think a game has been made as good as it could possibly be.
I don’t want to completely bash Far Cry 2’s gameplay, because there are some elements that I absolutely love. Primarily, this involves the weaponry on display. Throughout your journey, you will have access to several real life guns, ranging from simple pistols to sub-machine guns, all the way through to flamethrowers and RPG’s. What this allows is a different approach to every mission. Fancy being stealthy? Then you can get a dart rifle and a silenced MP5 to do the job. Or, if you want to be Rambo in Africa you can get a mini chain gun and rip people to shreds. You also have an ever present machete, which reminds me heavily of the chopping animation from Goldeneye on the N64.
The real clincher for me though, is that the game has active weapon degradation. Overuse a weapon, and it will start to rust, and will eventually jam. It is very impressive, and what this prevents you from doing is running through the game and just blasting everything away, it makes you use a variety of guns throughout the game, so you can test them all out. And if you break a gun, there is a (hilarious) infinite respawn of weapons in the gun shops dotted around the maps. Seriously, you can just press A and have several hundred guns cover the floor.
It wouldn’t be a sandbox game without collectibles, and Far Cry 2 is no exception. Strewn across the enormous map are over 200 conflict diamonds in cases, just waiting to be picked up. These serve as game currency, so if you want to upgrade and buy new weapons, you better start searching. Fortunately, your mini-map has a detector to find the diamonds, but collecting all of them is a real test of dedication, and in my opinion one of the hardest achievements on the Xbox 360 (all for a delicious 10GS. Yep, just 10).
And finally, there is Far Cry 2’s crowning glory: the map editor. This mode is just absolutely remarkable. Every tool used to make the full game is there at your disposal, and it allows the user to create some crazy stuff. From fully fledged maps which have been integrated into the online experience, to just simply seeing what it would be like if 1,000 barrels exploded all at once. And the best thing is the ease with which it can be used, even an amateur like myself could create a paradise on which to fight (my personal favourite map is a pirate ship battle with useable RPG cannons). If the rest of the game stood up to this level, it would be one of the greats.
Far Cry 2 is one of the most beautiful games you will ever set your eyes on. The Dunia engine, made specifically for this game, creates a world so full of detail it’s incredible. From lush foliage of the jungle, to rocky cliffs and rivers, to deserts to slum villages, it’s all here. Also of note is the way that a small fire will spread out and become a major bush fire, it really is wonderful to behold. There is also an active day-night system, and watching as time accelerates when you sleep is very impressive. The characters that you interact with are all well detailed, and the healing of wounds and injuries that your character performs all look suitably gruesome, such as pulling nails out of limbs with tweezers and pushing bones back into place. A very high score indeed for this element of the game.
After such praise of the graphics, the sound of Far Cry 2 brings us back down to earth quite quickly. There’s nothing here that particularly stands out. Some of the voice-acting is laughably bad, the vehicles sound horrible, and there’s not really any background music of which to speak. All the gunfire sounds suitably different, and the explosions are suitably loud, but that’s about it unfortunately.
The main game doesn’t take that long to complete; you can get through the majority of the missions in about 15 hours. If you are looking to find all the diamonds and Jackal tapes, then you can extend that figure significantly, but I really wouldn’t recommend it. People looking for achievements here will also be disappointed; subverting every mission, finding every safe house and diamond, and then levelling up to Rank 30 on multiplayer will take an age and involve much frustrating gameplay.
I think that this game is a classic case of style over substance: granted, the style is highly commendable in the form of the graphics, but Ubisoft then failed to combine this with some engaging gameplay. The map editor and gunplay push the score up, and Ubisoft should be given some credit for trying to make a sandbox first person shooter, but they ultimately fell short. A great disappointment to be honest.