Assemble a team of bounty hunters and search for a ruthless arms dealer.
PC Release: October 21, 2008
By Ian Coppock
This season of big-budget video games has been pretty torturous. Not just because almost all of them are buggy beyond playability, but because the studios behind them did nothing to innovative or to move their series forward in a meaningful way. From Square Enix to Activision to EA to 2K and even Bethesda, no publisher has been innocent of producing a buggy and/or halfhearted sequel this year. Has there ever been a time in video gaming history when a sequel did something different? Maybe even turned a series on its head and blazed off in a completely different direction? Such boldness has become a rarity in today’s gaming industry, but writing it out brings one name to mind: Far Cry 2.
The original Far Cry is a linear sci-fi shooter developed by Crytek, who are best known today as the creators of the Crysis series. Even though the first Far Cry was released to critical acclaim, Ubisoft decided to move the series in a different direction. The publisher took the Far Cry development rights from Crytek and handed them off to their own Montreal studio, which had some very different ideas for the series going forward. Crytek, meanwhile, migrated over to Electronic Arts and began putting the ideas they’d pioneered with Far Cry into Crysis.
Ubisoft built Far Cry 2 to be, well, a far cry (pretty sure that joke was used in the last Far Cry review, but whatever) from the original game. Ubisoft Montreal abandoned the original game’s linearity and sci-fi themes for the robust open worlds and anarchy motifs that the Far Cry series is known for today. Indeed, though the two games share the Far Cry name and a penchant for first-person shooting, the buck stops there. New universe, new gameplay, new emphasis on open-world anarchy.
Far Cry 2 takes place in contemporary times and is set in a war-torn African country whose name the game keeps anonymous. At some points the setting is implied to be the Central African Republic, but there’s an unfortunate proliferation of war-torn countries in Africa, so it could be one of many. Like many African countries before it, this one is locked in a brutal civil war between two factions that each claim the people’s allegiance: the United Front for Liberation and Labor (UFLL) and the Alliance for Popular Resistance (APR). The conflict has resulted in near-total anarchy across the country, causing government services to collapse and most of its civilians to flee.
The chaos of the civil war is being fueled by the Jackal, a mysterious American arms dealer who’s letting top-tier firearms go for dirt cheap to both sides. The Jackal’s antics earn him a giant price on his head from the U.N., and an international team of nine bounty hunters lands in Africa to collect the prize. The player selects one character from this pool of grizzled people-hunters, while the other eight become allied NPCs. Candidates for hunting the Jackal include an Israeli smuggler, an Algerian customs officer, a Chinese sharpshooter, and a North Irish car bomb builder, among others. Not exactly a cuddly crowd.
Players begin Far Cry 2 after selecting their character and arriving to the town of Pala, wherein they immediately come down with malaria. Not a great start. The player wakes up to be greeted by the Jackal, who throws out some Nietzsche quotes before fleeing the town, paradoxically leaving the player alive. From there, it’s up to the player to earn the trust of his fellow hunters and work with the region’s various factions to catch up to the Jackal. The player will also have to perform tasks for the locals in order to get malaria pills, a sore necessity in a region as ravaged by disease as the war.
Far Cry 2 is primarily a first-person shooter, with elements of stealth and vehicular gameplay thrown in for variety. Players can wield an impressive variety of weapons, from pistols all the way up to light machine guns, found across the African landscape. The player character can also make the combat up close and personal with a machete, or run down crowds of foes from behind the wheel of a stolen vehicle. Though the potential for different playstyles is impressively varied in Far Cry 2, the gameplay functions informing those playstyles leaves something to be desired.
Even more than guns and driving, the element of war that Ubisoft sought to bring into Far Cry 2 is realism. The studio paid an uncommon amount of attention to how combat affects weapons, vehicles and other items. Guns will jam, cars will stop working, and the player will have to take malaria pills to keep their disease at bay. Far Cry 2 cares not whether the player is taking a gentle stroll or in the middle of a firefight; weapons will degrade and stop working all the same. Vehicles can only take so much punishment before they stop working, and unlike the cars and trucks in GTA or Watch Dogs, are not bullet sponges.
Far Cry 2‘s attention to realism goes beyond combat. Players have to use a physical map and GPS system to find their way around. The only option for fast travel is to take the bus. Fires that are started in the brush will spread out of control and devour everything in their path. All of this may come as a surprise to gamers who are used to years of carefully controlled video game environments. The realism isn’t total; the player’s map won’t get wet if he drives into a river; but Far Cry 2‘s adherence to realism wouldn’t be seen again in video games until the recent explosion of the open-world survival genre.
Even though Far Cry 2‘s realism approach presents a raw challenge, it can also sabotage the fun of the game. Nothing’s more frustrating than having to start a mission over because the AK-47 jammed mid-firefight. Sure, that situation is much more realistic than most, but survival gameplay should inform the fun of a video game, not detract from it. Far more irritating is the malaria mechanic, in which players have to go buy more pills every 45 minutes just to stay alive. The player’s bottle can only hold 2-3 malaria pills at a time, which is a serious nuisance. This mechanic works at cross-purposes with Far Cry 2‘s open world, punishing players for taking too long to explore. Fast-travel is restricted to finding a bus stop, but they’re plentiful, and finding one gives players a chance to jaunt around the environment for adventuring fun.
Far Cry 2‘s innovative buddy system bears much less potential for annoyance. Players can select from one of nine bounty hunters to play as, but the other eight stay in the game as NPCs. Players can befriend these other hunters and work with them on missions. They’ll usually call the player before a mission with an idea for a better, albeit riskier, approach to completing the objective. The NPC with whom the player has formed the closest bond will show up to rescue them should they fall in battle, much like Elizabeth reviving Booker in BioShock Infinite. The buddy system is an interesting paleo-squad mechanic that can help act against the game’s annoying attention to realism, but it was never expanded upon in future Far Cry games.
Far Cry 2‘s realism and buddy system are all that make its gameplay stand out from the crowd. The rest is a pedestrian mix of running and gunning that few gamers will be a stranger to. Players can shoot enemies or blow them up with grenades and rocket launchers. Cars, trucks, boats and hang gliders can make excellent assault or escape tools, as the situation warrants. The enemies in Far Cry 2 are not particularly bright, fond of standing out in the open to make for easy pickings. They, are, however, exceptional at spotting players who are trying to be stealthy, telepathically alerting their fellows when the player so much as thinks too loudly.
Far Cry 2 does have something of an economy for players to take advantage of. Players can buy guns from automated kiosks around the country, or retrieve them from enemy encampments. Players can also recover from combat by using medical syringes or by sleeping at save point beds around the region (this is also how one saves the game). In a sobering nod to real African conflicts, players pay for weapons and equipment using diamonds. Diamonds can be dug up using the player’s GPS system, or received as payment for side jobs. Interview tapes and other backstory items can also be found around the world, though they do a pretty paltry job of fleshing out the narrative.
No one has ever praised Far Cry 2 for its narrative, and with good reason. Indeed, to call Far Cry 2‘s narrative a narrative is a hefty insult to the entire concept of narratives. After their encounter with the jackal, players will wake up in the service of one or the other warring faction, and complete a variety of missions for them. After a set number of jobs well done, that faction will betray the player and leave them for dead. The player will then journey to the other faction’s headquarters and work for them until that faction also leaves the player for dead. The player will then travel back to the first traitors’ headquarters, and the cycle repeats itself until the end of the game.
Far Cry 2‘s narrative isn’t really a story as much as a cycle of lunacy. In what universe does it make sense to keep working for factions that both constantly betray their underlings? It wouldn’t be so bad if this phenomenon happened once, even twice, within Far Cry 2‘s world, but the constant betrayals and swapping back and forth between factions is comically ridiculous. Combine this cycle with the game’s lack of memorable NPCs and paltry, skeletal writing, and there’s not a whole lot here story-wise. The game’s story ends on a very paradoxical note, as the Jackal shows up one more time to reveal the real reason he’s been filling the country with weapons. To keep it spoiler-free, his reasoning makes no sense, even with more Nietzsche quotes thrown in for good measure. It ends the narrative on a “wtf” note, to put it lightly.
Repetition is the name of the game in terms of both Far Cry 2‘s “story” and its mission design. Each mission in Far Cry 2 plays out the same way: get out of the car, go kill some guys, blow something up, and then drive back to HQ to hand in the quest. Meeting up with buddies and implementing their ideas for the mission can diversify its design somewhat, but usually all it adds is one new gimmick, maybe a new obstacle. The last few missions of the game are the only ones that offer anything new, but they’re not worth suffering through the entirety of Far Cry 2 to see.
Far Cry 2‘s visuals are much better than its story, but they have an unfortunate tendency to amalgamate into a single shade of brown. Even though the game’s world encompasses savannahs, jungles, deserts, lakes, and other varied terrain, it all seems to employ the same color palette no matter the physical environment. As such, even though there’s some biome diversity to be had in Far Cry 2, the game’s muted colors can make its environments pretty ugly. Character animations are passable, but nothing exceptional for the late 2000’s, and the music is a samey mix of fast-paced action ballads. The art department got off to a pretty rough start with Far Cry 2.
Overall, Far Cry 2 feels like a rough pre-alpha of Far Cry 3, before the developers added narrative, characters, bright colors, and varied level design. It plays like a proof of concept for what the series would later become. Survival enthusiasts might be drawn to Far Cry 2 because of its attention to realism (in which case go for it), but everyone else is perfectly safe skipping ahead to Far Cry 3. Far Cry 2 gets props for moving a series in a bold new direction, but it’s also proof that boldness is not a guarantor of grace.
You can buy Far Cry 2 here.
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