Far Cry 2 comes to Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 amidst a storm of AAA titles during the busiest new release time frame of the year. This is a shame, too, since Ubisoft’s sequel offers a decent first-person shooter experience that may be passed over by droves of gamers lured into its higher profile sequels competition, Gears of War 2 and Resistance 2.
Unlike those games, Far Cry 2 is not a continuation of the original’s story and themes. Jack Carver is nowhere to be found and neither are the various incarnations of Instincts and Predator. There are no Feral powers or Trigens to experiment with. About an hour in I began to wonder why Ubisoft put Far Cry into the title at all.
Far Cry 2’s setting is in an unnamed region of African burdened under heavy conflict between two warring guerrilla factions: UFLL and APR. The bigger threat is an unknown antagonist known as The Jackal who is responsible for keeping up the hostilities in the area by supplying weapons to the two factions. He’s like the “Destro” of Far Cry 2’s fictional world.
One of the biggest knocks against Gears 2 and Resistance 2 is the narrow linear path in campaign mode. Ubisoft Montreal has designed Far Cry 2’s blueprint to be the exact opposite. A piece of the African nation is wide open for exploration and mission selection using a player-selected protagonist from a list of several possibilities. This character must explore a giant sandbox on foreign soil to solve a variety of missions that tie into the main storyline.
Playing through the campaign offers one single active mission that can be selected at any time or a number of distracting yet addictive side missions. Lighting plains on fire for pure ignorant sport or hunting zebras on the same plain are easy to sidetrack into. The mind becomes obsessed with what “else” to do that following or caring about the actual story takes second fiddle. At least until the side missions become repetitive in design.
Taking on a mission can lead into a branched path that, depending on decisions made within the mission, will affect the outcome. Also affecting the outcome is the optional participation of an NPC “Buddy” who turns out to be one of the characters you did not choose when selecting the protagonist.
The vastness of the world, NPC Buddies and distractions are well implemented but not without drawbacks. Other shooters with more confined combat areas are more fluid and frequent in their skirmishes. Far Cry 2 hedges more on interspersed contact with enemies and carefully planning how to attack them. After 20 hours of gameplay it became apparent the long lulls between combat take away from intensity its competition is overflowing with.
The huge world is there and it beautiful to look at. Detail is brimming in the tress, grass and every aspect of nature and man-made objects. Light streaks through tree branches and reflects on the water while real-time shadows permeate every inch of the screen. Wooden structures are old, rotting and dilapidated. Metal surfaces are worn and rusted, right down to the bolts or rivets. To top off how the world looks, a significant percentage of the environment is destructible, especially to explosions and fire.
Dry grasslands of Africa lends itself to being torched and, knowing this, Ubisoft has created one of the best looking dynamic visual effects in any videogame yet. A shot into a propane tank or flip of the switch on a flamethrower will send flames spreading. What is impressive about the flames is how they spread in relation to the wind and quickly swallow up grass, trees or anything else nearby. The fire is even aware of what it is coming into contact with, such as ammo boxes that send bullets firing off from the heat in the midst of combat.
Where fire succeeds enemy design falters. The dirt-covered bad guys appearing early on are the same cannon fodder required to exterminate and complete the closing act. They are capable of progressing as the campaign moves forward with varying levels of aggression and weaponry, but at the core their presence is more monotonous than challenging.
More important than looks is the enemy AI that is implemented with far more success. They leap away from incoming grenades and make sure to avoid fire. Cover is always a top priority for them when being fired upon and they love taking pot shots at your malaria ridden self. Yes, the protagonist actually has malaria.
Online play is slightly stricken by standard deathmatch and flag modes that offer in terms of innovation from Far Cry. Multiplayer’s draw is not within a match but what takes place either before or after playing with friends. A map editor allows players to not only create maps but share them online in a similar manner that LittleBigPlanet allows. This open-endedness in map design and access to all sorts of available maps online makes up for the tried-and-tested gameplay modes.
Far Cry 2 is a solid game no matter which way it is examined. The open world concept is a rewarding experience, but something, anything should have been added to fill up time spent walking around with nothing to shoot at. Map editors are the future so it is encouraging to see Ubisoft embrace them with a property as well known as Far Cry.
With games like Gears of War 2 and Resistance 2 vying for playtime this holiday season, Far Cry 2 may be far too little, and too late.
– Jason Krahn