Lately I’ve been playing a lot of FPS (first person shooter) games, mainly Halo and Borderlands. Growing up young, Halo was the only true game that mattered on the Xbox at the time. After Halo 2 was released, 2005 strolled right around the corner, and a new game was let loose; it’s name was Far Cry: Instincts. Sure, it was violent and gruesome, and I was only 15 at the time, but it was a hell of a fun game when it came to giving players the option of how to play the game their own way.
That was back in 2005, and two years later in 2007 a new Far Cry game was announced, simply as Far Cry 2. When released in 2008, it was met with acclaim, but also criticizes such as changes in gameplay and a much more realistic approach. I was instantly intrigued by the ideas it brought to the table this time around, but did it equal out to a great game in the end?
Where Far Cry: Instincts told a survivor story of escaping off an island full of mercenaries and monsters, Far Cry 2’s story is much more streamlined and to the point. It takes place in a modern day Africa, where we, as the player, choose from nine different characters, each with their own bios and look. Despite the variation, none really differ from one another. With the given character choice, the player is thrown into a hostile world where Central Africa’s government has collapsed, leaving two factions, the UFLL (United Front for Liberation and Labour) and the APR (Alliance for Popular Resistance), to fight over land, money, and ultimate conquest. Amid this internal crisis, the player is given a mission to hunt down an arm’s dealer known as the Jackal, who is secretly arming both sides. After a brief but tense introduction from the Jackal himself, the player is thrown out into the world with one purpose: to infiltrate both factions and play off of their goals and interests with one another, only to find and kill the Jackal and complete the mission given to them.
While much more complex and intricate than it’s predecessor’s narrative, Far Cry 2 delivers a dark and morally upsetting glimpse into a world infested with corruption and betrayal. They say money is the root of all evil, and that philosophy is the law of the land here. While not emotionally engaging to where caring about any of the main characters matters, it does place the player in a very depressing and unforgiving setting where every decision dictates what happens and who comes out on top. Each decision curves the story in a certain direction, up to a chilling climax that seems fitting for the cutthroat theme that is presented throughout the whole game.
Far Cry 2’s gameplay follows the traditional FPS standards. There is a wide assortment of guns in the arsenal to choose from, ranging from assault rifles, shotguns, pistols, grenade and rocket launchers, flamethrowers, and machine guns. All are used to heavy effect and the game never gives the player a weapon that will only be used once. Since the game takes place during the end of a government, the weapon selection will be quite varied and open. Vehicles also are what matter in the game world, as they allow the player to travel the vast expanses of the world in short order. Jeeps, boats, and humvees all make an appearance. As with the open world, the players are given the freedom to explore a solid 100 kilometers of African wilderness. Both the UFLL and APR control their own areas in the game world, making open travel cumbersome and challenging. No on-foot or in-vehicle exploring goes by unnoticed for too long. This is determined by the smart yet somewhat oblivious A.I. (artificial intelligence). At times, Far Cry 2 features some impressively tenacious enemies which put up a fair fight in numbers. They call out the player’s actions, react to every bullet, and run to cover like average soldiers of war. They can even take advantage of the players’ weaknesses when given the chance. But, it all comes with a price. Although smart in numbers, they’re dumbfounded when alone or surrounded. They’ll often stand still while the player’s bullets wiz by, walk directly into the line of fire oftentimes, and even jump in the way of vehicles. In one instance I had an enemy chase me down a hill, only to fall to his own death while I watched. Despite their smart behavior and tactics, they still act like average video game A.I most of the time.
Far Cry 2’s gameplay goes even further with it’s missions and treasure hunting. The story is primarily told through numerous faction missions involving extortion, infiltration, theft, full scale assault, and even surprise scenarios such as dropping a bomb from a bridge onto an enemy ship. From time to time the game mixes things up, keeping it all fresh to the player. Treasure hunting adds another chunk of time to the overall gameplay. Throughout the game world, diamonds are hidden in caches, out in the open, in buildings, and even underground. Hundreds of them. Diamonds are also the currency of the game, for the player will earn a fair amount of diamonds after completion of each story mission.
A powerful element of Far Cry 2 is the realistic approach to how everything ties together. Fire plays a powerful role in the game, with explosions and the flamethrower starting very realistic fires that will burn down the environment in short order. While it serves as the player’s greatest strength, it can also be their strongest weakness. During combat, any gun in the players’ possession has the chance to break down and jam, causing huge lulls in the heat of battle that could mean life or death. They can even blow up in the players hands, resulting in the search for a new weapon. It will undoubtedly frustrate some people, but after using a gun for so long that never gets cleaned or checked it’s obvious to see why the developers took this route. A critical part of the game, and without question the most bizarre and rage-inducing, is concept of malaria. Right from the outset, the player is infected with malaria and must pop a pill every 30-40 minutes in real time to stay alive, otherwise succumb to death, even while the guns are blazing. Malaria could kick in at any minute, even while shooting, driving, or worse, swimming. In order to dodge certain death the player must perform fetch quests to purchase more pills. This occurs regularly throughout the punishing experience that is Far Cry 2.
While Far Cry: Instincts was a marvel back with the original Xbox, Far Cry 2 for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC delivers with its presentation. The African landscape itself is an absolute beauty in its moments, with water, trees, and sky looking vibrate and life-like. Character models also share this same characteristic. The wide arsenal of weapons also delivers explosive results. Sound design is also incredible, with realistic and powerful gun effects that are at times ear-deafening with full surround sound on. The music feels appropriate when the action builds up, even during the quieter moments of exploration. With a beautiful presentation also comes a few issues. Screen tearing and random pop-in are common, and the frame rate can also dip when the action picks up, or when the player drives at high speeds while in a vehicle.
Far Cry 2, while gritty and outside the norm of balls-out FPS’s, remains a solid first person shooter with interesting gameplay mechanics. The perfect balance of realism, intensity, and heavy action speaks volumes for how intense a FPS can be. It’s a learning curve to be sure but deserves the attention of anyone looking for a challenge. albeit a often frustrating one.
PROS: – Deep, dark storyline.
– Unique gameplay elements keep things challenging….
– Awesome presentation helps players dive even deeper into the experience.
– …..unique gameplay can also drive most people insane.
– Some occasional stuttering in the presentation.
– Lack of emotional investment in the characters themselves.