Far Cry 2 Review
The first thing you need to know about Far Cry 2 is that it has nothing to do with the original Far Cry. That means no tropical islands, no Jack Carver, and especially no silly mutant outbreaks derailing the gameplay halfway through. In place of those things, you get an unnamed African nation torn apart by civil war, a hierarchy of ambitious local warlords, a group of profiteering mercenaries doing all the dirty work, and a sprawling mission-based open world. Some elements of the travel and combat can get frustrating from time to time, but digging into the available weapons arsenal and exploring a variety of combat tactics will yield a dynamic experience that happens to look downright beautiful.
You're on the ground to take out a guy called the Jackal, an American arms dealer who's supplying the weapons that are fueling the ongoing conflict. He'll drop in now and again, mostly when you're incapacitated, to dispense some wartime philosophy and manipulate events behind the scenes. There's more to the Jackal's motivations than acquisition of wealth, as you'll discover over the course of the game. His activities weave in and out of the larger struggle between the UFLL and the APR, the two warring factions that go through a rotating cast of leaders as their respective machinations come into play.
You can take on missions from both groups in any order, which gives the story a playing-both-sides-against-the-middle sort of feel. The outcome is generally the same regardless of which missions you do when, though. There are a few seemingly dramatic decisions required of you at key points in the story, but the effects of only one of those choices seemed truly meaningful to me after the fact. Still, the high points of the plot felt appropriately gritty and intense as they came.
The game lets you pick a playable character from a group of international mercenaries, though this choice doesn't affect the gameplay, since your own character is never shown and never speaks. But it does remove that character from the merc pool, the remainder of which goes on to populate the game world as you play. These other guys and gals will sometimes act as buddies who will join you on some missions and save you when you take a dirt nap, and you'll find them hanging out in the local watering hole to offer some extra missions.
Your current best bud will also offer alternate, longer solutions to most story missions that result in higher reputation gain in exchange for higher risk. I took every one of these suggestions because they lengthened each mission considerably, taking me to more places and often giving me more interesting things to do than a simple "go here, kill this guy" directive.
The various buddies felt interchangeable to me due to their uniformly flat, dull voiceovers, but their collective presence enlivened the game world all the same. Poor voice acting plagues all the game's characters, actually; you really have to pay attention to keep all the faction bosses straight, since their unremarkable personalities tend to run together. It's not a deal breaker, but more emotive acting would have given the story a lot more dramatic heft.
Since this is an open-world game, you have to travel--mostly behind the wheel--between quest givers, objectives, weapons dealers, safe houses, and so on. Get ready to do a lot of driving, because these things are all spread far apart. And since you get attacked at every guard checkpoint you cross, and almost constantly harassed by roving bands of soldiers en route, get ready to do an awful lot of fighting outside your mission objectives, too. The core gunplay works fine, so it's not that combat itself is problematic, but having to constantly fight off attackers when you're already driving for five or ten minutes can get tedious.
You also need to learn how to manage combat properly to keep yourself alive. The designers give no quarter to lazy players; you always need to stay in cover and remain constantly vigilant, since you often get attacked from all sides and the underbrush sometimes hides your attackers. The game's health system also requires you to dress your wounds on the fly if you're below one out of five health bars, which entails a lengthy animation. If you get shot, you get knocked out of that animation, meaning you can't heal and will probably die, so again, cover is paramount.
Some other irritating moments can crop up, like when an attacking jeep runs you down and kills you outright before you can dodge it. These elements annoyed me at first but also made for some exhilarating combat situations when I learned how to handle them. Lastly, there's no auto-save feature, so you are strongly encouraged to save at every available opportunity to make sure you don't lose a lot of progress to a random battlefield mishap.
The game gets a lot more fun when you start to unlock more weapons. The vendors will give you simple missions to go out and blow up rival weapons convoys (which in itself is entertaining), and with each completed mission you'll be able to purchase better and more varied assault weapons, sniper rifles, pistols, explosive devices, flamethrowers, and so on. There are numerous accuracy, reliability, and ammo upgrades for each weapon, as well as character upgrades like a camouflage suit that limits enemies' ability to see you.
I found my enjoyment of the combat scaling to the number of weapons and upgrades I bought, as I tried different combinations of the aforementioned weapon types (you can only carry three weapons at once, one from each category). Story missions pay out liberally when you accept them--and you can also earn money by doing side missions like jacking into cell phone towers and intercepting hired-hit directives from a creepy computer-distorted voice--so I never lacked for the money necessary to increase my stockpile of better weapons and upgrades.
Given the amount of traveling around you have to do, the breathtaking graphics are very much to Far Cry 2's advantage. The game offers the lushest, most realistic jungles I've seen this side of Crysis, and the liberal use of high-contrast and HDR lighting makes the most of the game's day/night cycle. It seems a little silly to fawn over a video game sunrise when one should probably be outdoors enjoying a real one, but there are a few moments of jaw-dropping splendor here and there, when the giant landscapes and sunlight combine in just the right way. There's also a good range of environments to drive through, from barren deserts to dense forests, grassy plains, and so on. You can see the wind blowing ripples through the tall grass. Little touches like that make the game a joy to look at.
In terms of presentation, the game is bent on making sure you see every gory detail from your character's perspective. This manifests in benign ways when you hand a manilla envelope to a warlord or climb up through a vehicle's roll cage to get into its turret. It also means you're forced to watch when your character field-dresses his or her wounds in the middle of a firefight when your health meter gets too low. These animations are quite well done but extremely painful to look at--unless you relish the sight of dislocated fingers being wrenched back into place, or bullets being dug out of a wound with a pair of pliers--so your enjoyment of these will come down to personal taste. If nothing else, it's worth pointing out that I was still seeing new variations even at the end of the game, like when my merc got a nail driven halfway in between his knuckles after an explosion. Ouch.
After you're done with the story mode, there's a decent class-based multiplayer mode here with deathmatch, capture the flag, and a hybrid VIP/control point mode. You can also advance your character's rank and available weapons over time by earning experience points, a la Call of Duty 4. Lastly, a fully featured map editor rounds out the multiplayer experience, so presumably there will be reasonably good new maps to play on ad infinitum, if the community takes to the editor. The multiplayer component certainly gets the job done, with all the fundamentals you'd expect out of a competent online shooter these days. But with more multiplayer-focused games like COD: World at War and Gears of War 2 so close on the horizon, I had a hard time wanting to stick with the online options here.
Besides, the dense, lengthy single-player experience is the real focus here and is worth the price of admission alone. You can easily spend 20 or more hours solely on the story, notwithstanding all the side missions available from weapons vendors, buddies, cell towers, and so on. There's a lot to do in Far Cry 2, and if you can get a good handle on the quirks of the almost constant combat scenarios you'll run into, the weapons variety, stunning visuals, and originality of the story and setting make for a well-rounded and satisfying shooter.