Game: Far Cry 2
Reviewed: March 2014
The African continent has long been a place full of turmoil, with plenty of civil wars and natural disasters leading to much misery in a number of its countries. Violence is common, and often the result of one warlord having a spat with another warlord. There are no morals, with money, guns, food, water, and land all being fought over in some pointless never-ending battle. So then, am I just making a philosophical rant about the state of affairs in the world, well no, not really, it’s just that Far Cry 2, the game I’m reviewing, has chosen to confront that topic head on, and puts you in the shoes of a mercenary sent out to deal with such problems. You start off as one of a dozen potential characters; whichever you chose is ultimately of no consequence, as the story will follow the same path regardless. As you begin the game, you arrive in an un-named African country, with the intention of dealing with an arms dealer called the Jackal, who armed both sides of civil war battle. At the very beginning, you will come face to face with him, but you instantly become sick, due to malaria, and as he makes himself known to you, all you can do is watch in a delirious state as he makes a speech and then makes a quick exit, leaving you in the middle of a war-zone. From there, you have to fight your way out of the town, and after a short cut-scene, you will awaken to start the game proper.
From there on, you are sent on mission after mission involving killing people, blowing things up, collecting documents, and replenishing your supply of magic malaria-halting pills, which seem to hold off symptoms indefinitely providing you take one every forty minutes of real-world time. When that time is up, you go all dizzy, the screen blurs, and you have a short time to start popping the next pill. I must admit, it is one of the more unusual game mechanic ideas I’ve come across, and while getting malaria in Africa is certainly a real possibility, for the purpose of the game, it just becomes an annoying pain that never completely goes away, and has a good chance of screwing you over in the middle of a fire-fight when your character starts feeling giddy.
The game gives you very little story to begin with, and early on, you will get the feeling that everything seems just a little bit pointless. There is very little motivation to make you do anything. Gradually, as you play the game, you learn more about the civil war conflict, involving two sides, the APR and the UFLL, and end up doing missions for both of them, as well as some mercenary buddies, that often give you alternative ways to complete the missions for the two main factions. Initially, it seems as though you are given a choice to take sides in the war, not that you’re given any material so that you could make an informed decision, but it just feels that way. Yet later on, that illusion is broken, as the game forces you to do missions for both sides. For that reason, I could understand anyone starting to hate their character, since you basically end up as a gun-for-hire, killing people to earn diamonds, the main currency of the game, which you then spend on better weapons, so that you become a more efficient killer, and earn even more diamonds. It’s a nearly never-ending role of murdering people on both sides, and screwing them both over for the fun of it. There is no greater purpose at play here, at least not for about 95% of the game, at which point the story ends and tries to bring some sort of moral conclusion to the events. Your character, then, is basically just as much an arsehole as nearly every other character in the game, as you’ll come to realise. There are no heroes in this game; they’re all bad, including you!
Most of the missions end up coming from a town that is under ceasefire, whether that’s in the first huge map that makes up ‘Act 1’ of the story, or the second huge map that is provided for ‘Act 2’ of the story. Pretty much everywhere else outside those towns is hostile territory, apart from a local bar where you will meet fellow mercenary ‘buddies’ that either hand out further missions for you, or act as knights in shining armour coming to save you whenever you are on the brink of death. For much of the game, therefore, you effectively can’t die, unless you’re unlucky and there isn’t a buddy in the area to help you out, or you’ve reached the last section of the game where the help dries up.
If I described the game-play basics to you, things would sound pretty boring, since you’re often travelling from one side of the map to another to kill someone or fetch something, and then just get another mission to do exactly the same thing somewhere else, involving some other person to kill, or item to collect, or ‘thing’ to blow up. It’s a rinse and repeat game-play structure, with very little in-between to give the game any depth and detail. Indeed, after a couple of hours playing the game, you’d be forgiven for thinking the game was a bit dull, and lacking that ‘something’ to make it special, and something other than just a generic open-world sandbox shooter.
But then you’d be missing out on a gem of a game that could have been brilliant had it just tidied things up a bit more, and added a bit more story, and more interesting side quests to do. It’s a game that needs polishing up, but at its core, the game-play is surprisingly good, and even though what you may be doing is essentially repetitive, the combat, and tactics you can employ to make your way through the game world, can make this game quite fun and enjoyable to play. I found myself playing hour after hour, and only stopping after a several hour session because I was too tired myself, rather than just being plain tired of the game.
The environments help with this, to start, since they can look great at times, especially for a game that was made six years ago at the time of writing. This is an old game, yet I thought the graphics held up really well, and certainly don’t seem dated in the slightest. Initially, I thought the artistic direction of the game had focussed too much on providing a muddy brown washed-out look, but under the right lighting conditions, the game can look fantastic.
Sure, there is a lot of colour from the brown end of the spectrum, but then other games have done that before, and not all are necessarily bad because of it, so long as it is part of the setting (Fallout 3 anyone?). Far Cry 2 does manage to branch out with colour, though, and you can be greeted by either brilliant blue skies, or wonderful orange-hued sunsets and sunrises. Vehicles do add a splash of colour too, and even get a neat effect where the car gets dirtier as you drive it. The plants in the game do look a little bit on the dark green side, but again, it seems to fit in with the environment. The jungles of the game, as well as the savannah and deserts, can all look pretty damned good, especially when weather effects are applied to the scene. As well as the day turning to night, the game also brings in the odd tropical shower or two, and when that happens, the wind picks up, and the trees and grass sway realistically. I tried to imagine the game without little effects like that, and the game feels so much more alive because of it, as it just wouldn’t work if everything was static.
At the same time, the area doesn’t feel as alive as it should do, as there are very few animals around ever to be seen, especially so in the earlier stages. After playing the game for fifty hours, I did notch up quite a few encounters with wildebeest, gazelle, buffalo, and zebras, but there are so many other animals the game should have included to make the game world seem that bit more alive and offer more game-play challenges, particularly predators such as lions, cheetahs, or hyenas. It’s like they created this amazing landscape and just forgot to fill it with any form of animal life for the most part. At times you do see birds soaring around, and the odd butterfly (very rarely), but little things like vultures feeding on a carcass would have really helped flesh things out (excuse the pun!). After-all, I’m sure most of us have a decent picture of what the African wilderness is like after seeing numerous nature documentaries on TV, and I’d imagine Africa to be literally teeming with animals.
Going back to the topic of graphical effects in particular, I must say that the fire effects in this game are fantastic. They really do look very realistic, and if you can get hold of a flamethrower, you can marvel at the glorious flames taking over wooden huts, and devouring the surrounding landscape. The flames will always eventually die down, but things do look properly burnt afterwards, except, strangely, any enemies caught in the flames, as they seem to be coated in some sort of magic fire-proof shield stopping even the slightest sign of the inferno from showing up on their corpses. I don’t mean to be gruesome or anything, but it does stand out, and I do wish they’d at least done something, for realisms sake.
Explosions, too, look suitably impressive, with cars, petrol stations, petrol-filled barrels and the like, all rendered and physics-modelled quite realistically. Wooden huts can be obliterated, with shards of wood flying all around if you land a grenade inside one of them.
The real shame is that while you may blow up or burn down an entire enemy checkpoint (of which there are many along the dirt roads you will need to traverse) leaving debris strewn everywhere and it looking suitably ruined afterwards, if you go a short distance down the road for a few minutes and come back, those enemies will have re-spawned, and the area will look like nothing has ever happened.
Combat in the game involves an element of choice, since you could choose to drive right up to an enemy controlled area, and unleash the power of the mini-gun turret on the top if your off-road vehicle, or you could choose to pick enemies off from afar with a sniper rifle, or even choose to sneak in up close and take down enemies stealthily. All are viable options, and the enemy intelligently acts accordingly, either swamping you with firepower if you try and 'run and gun' it, or trying to out-flank you if you’re attempting to play cat and mouse with them. It can be quite fun to pick them off one by one, and try and remain unseen for as long as possible. It doesn’t always work like that, and you may need to resort to a full-on approach when things fail and you are spotted, but if things play out right, you can have quite a tactical bit of gunplay in your hands.
You can choose from a variety of real world weapons, including machine guns, sniper rifles, handguns, rocket launchers, grenade launchers, flame-throwers, land-mines, and even a mortar. All weapons will eventually deteriorate, and unless you restock with fresh weapons, you will find the guns either jamming or stopping entirely, which could prove troublesome in the heat of a battle. Buying weapons with the diamonds you receive, and upgrading them to be more accurate and more reliable, is the only real option, since while you can just pick up enemy weapons from your downed foe, they do tend to break a lot more often, which would make things too frustrating. You generally earn plenty of diamonds from missions, though, so buying new stuff is never a problem, and even less so since you are always paid up-front. You can also upgrade how much ammunition you can hold with each weapon type, but I didn’t really buy into this much until the latter stages of the game, preferring to focus on trying new weapon types instead, since you’ll find plenty of bullets mostly on the corpses of your enemies.
When you are shot, you can heal yourself with syrettes, which you can pick up throughout the game world, but if your health goes below a single bar you have to get out of the way quick, and you get a short animation of the player either cutting a bullet out, or patting down flames. If you continue to be shot while this animation plays, you can potentially die, although as mentioned earlier, you’ll mostly be ‘saved’ by one of your mercenary buddies that help you throughout the game.
The road vehicles in the game are pretty much all of the off-road variety, with some sort of deal being done with Jeep I imagine, since pretty much every vehicle is either a Jeep, or not branded at all. Some of the off road vehicles have gun turrets, others have rocket turrets, and some don’t have any weapons at all. The ones without weapons tend to be slightly faster, but also, a little bit more frail, especially the rear-engined buggy you can get. There is a basic car you can drive, but that tends to be only used as a last resort, as it is one of the weakest options of wheeled-travel in the game. As a vehicle is shot at, it can break down, and this usually goes through stages, with at first steam showing, then dark smoke, and finally flames leading to an explosion. In the first two stages, you can ‘fix’ the vehicle by opening the bonnet/hood, and tightening up a bolt on the radiator (if only all car problems were that simple to fix!). Upgrades for each vehicle can be made so that this process is made quicker, which helps if you need to get away quick after being shot at. You can fast travel in rare circumstances from one bus station to another, but since there are only a couple of them, your options are pretty limited. I suppose that’s no worse than my own local bus service though…
On water, you tend to only have one real choice of vehicle, and that is a fan-boat. They are relatively nippy, and on the more open waterways of the Act 2 area, they are often a much quicker choice of getting from A to B if those two points are miles apart. You can use a slower boat, with a more powerful turret as compensation for its lack of agility, but it is generally out of its depth.
If you’re lucky, and you explore a lot, you may even come across a hand-glider, and I thought it was an awesome addition to the game in theory, but one that is too under-used, and requires a fair bit of skill to master, since one false move and you could be spiralling down to your death, or just very low health if you are lucky. I only ever really found one good use for it, unfortunately, and that was in one of the later missions, where it enabled me to make a quicker escape by flying right over a large enemy camp.
Sound wise, the game makes use of a suitably African-themed ambience. Nothing is ever too pronounced, and the tone of the music fits in quite well with the action, providing a bit of tension at times. Voice acting is alright, it isn’t anything special, but it is more than competent enough for the job. The weapons themselves sound decent enough, and quite balanced. They sound plenty powerful enough, but not too much so.
Saving in Far Cry 2 can either be done by activating a blue box at certain points, most of the time this being contained within ‘safe houses’ that you unlock by killing a couple of enemies outside the game, or you can just perform a quick-save by pressing the F5 function key. I later noticed that all my quick-saves seemed to create separate save points, as my save folder was getting huge, so you’re probably better off just relying on the quick-saves, but I still used both methods, just to be sure.
Lastly, before I summarise the game, I must mention about bugs in this game. For the most part, the game runs quite well, but I often found that after about three hours the game would start to slow-down a lot, getting micro-stuttering even just going along on foot, or turning around. Water textures could also start to flicker, and at one point I even had major graphical corruption where the game world started to look all jumbled when looking in one direction, but fine when I turned the other way. I had a few crashes to desktop too, but avoided these more when I learnt to simply restart the game at the first signs of any glitches or slowness. You may think that it’s just my hardware, but my PC is well above the recommended specs of this pretty old 2008 game, and my graphics card was also running plenty cool enough. I managed to rule that out of things, since I’d restart the game immediately, and I’d not experience any issues for another three hours or so.
Wrapping things up, Far Cry 2 is a bit of a marmite game. If you really dig the combat, and are not too put off by the repetitive nature of the game, you might even think the game is great, but I think to be truly great, the game could do with a bit more polish. It’s not that the game is bad, it’s that it isn’t as good as it could have been, and doesn’t do enough to be interesting for different types of player, since it doesn’t really provide anything more than the decent core game-play. That’s fine if you can live with the minimalist story and those oh-so-similar missions, but for those that can’t, they’ll quickly find themselves being bored. The ending also isn’t the best either, but still summarises things just about okay enough. On the plus side, the game does have some very nice environments to explore, even amongst areas that initially seem very samey, and it isn’t until you’ve played more than a few hours before you really start to see a bit of variation, but if you persevere, you will be rewarded for your exploration with some really nice scenery that’ll you’ll want to take many screenshots of.
Some people could never get over the fact that the game was so different to the first Far Cry in terms of setting, and thus never really got on with it to start with. If you can look past that, and treat it as an individual game, you may come to like it. After-all, the first game was not without flaws, and the story in that got a little bit daft in the end, so in one sense, it’s nice to have a setting and story more grounded in the real world.
I never at any point hated the game, and given the time to play it for lengthy periods, I really started to get into the game more, something that would be impossible for people who only like to play in short half hour to an hour sessions, or those that just don’t have the free time. The fact I stayed with the game to its completion, which took me fifty hours, shows that I must have liked it, and that there is plenty of content in the game, but whether you’ll like that content yourself is hard to say. There are a lot of fans of this game, and also a fair few haters, and so I must be balanced in my scoring.
Arbitrary Final Score:
If you like this game, you might also like: Crysis , Far Cry, Crying.
Did you find Farcry 2 a hoot to explore, or did you find it a bit too dull? Let us know in the forum!