Review: Far Cry 2
Game: Far Cry 2
Recommended price: $5-$10
Metacritic Score: 85
Completion Time: 19 hours
Buy If You Like: Novel, immersive FPS games with bad pacing and one-dimensional missions.
Grand Theft Africa
The very first thing to understand about Far Cry 2 is that the designer intent is for you to be immersed in the story and setting. Unlike most games that also want this to occur, Far Cry 2 is unapologetic about its meta-story approach. Every single mission involves either killing a guy, or blowing something up and then killing a guy. These missions are not meant to be interesting, nor are the reasons you are given for doing them. Rather, the idea is for you to muse on what it means for you to be doing them, and why every mission is repetitive nonsense but you do it anyway.
Of course, the danger is always that too much is being read into what is objectively a beautiful, immersive if badly-paced game. I am giving the designers the benefit of the doubt though.
The premise of Far Cry 2 is that you are a bounty hunter or assassin or whatever, flying into a chaotic African nation to kill The Jackal, an arms dealer who sold weapons to both sides and arguably made the conflict possible. After an extended driving sequence reminiscent of Half-Life’s opening tram ride, you arrive at the hotel and collapse from malaria fevers. The Jackal shows up in your hotel room, taunts you a bit, and leaves just as a civil war erupts outside your window. You stumble around in your fever haze, before collapsing just outside of town. As far as intros go, it is refreshingly novel. I do wish the designers saw fit to show you being bitten by the mosquito in-game, but malaria’s quickest incubation period is 7-10 days, so I suppose that is a point in favor of Far Cry 2’s realism.
Once in the game proper, you are given a few “this is your ass, this is a hole in the ground” tutorial missions before suddenly Africa opens up as your gasoline-soaked, civil war-tincted oyster. To move the plot forward, you get episodic missions from both forces of this civil war, oscillating between the two factions with apparently zero regard for tact and subterfuge. Both sides see you as their “secret weapon,” and send you unsupported to deal damage to the other side, in the form of assassination and blowing things up. The problem is that “unsupported” means that the soldiers of whichever faction you are working for will shoot to kill, which is fine, but more troubling is that these faction leaders never once suggest that you should, you know, not shoot their own soldiers. At the height of Far Cry 2’s absurdity, one of the faction leaders straight up tells you that he knows you are doing missions for the other side… and then carries on like nothing happened. There is no identity between the two factions, no choice in doing missions for one over the other, no real choice in declining missions (at one point you have to blow up experimental malaria vaccines), and since everyone shoots at you, no real difference between anything whatsoever.
But again, given the meta-story that becomes more clear in the game’s final hours, it may be less bug and more feature.
Measured in raw game hours, Far Cry 2 is more of a driving game than a FPS. The game takes place in two Acts, each with their own 25 square kilometer game maps featuring realistically shitty African roads winding all over the place. There happens to be instant transportation in the form of Buses, but most of these are at the far corners of the map and generally shave off only ~20% of the driving distance at best. Given the nature of these maps, there are rarely opportunities to avoid the frequent guard checkpoints – which I suppose is a primary feature of good guard checkpoints, so another point for realism – which inevitably results in firefights every 3-4 minutes. While your enemies are decent shots out in the bush, their bullets transform into auto-tracking, Jeep Wrangler-seeking projectiles when you try to speed past them. It was originally satisfying creeping into these checkpoints, killing everyone, and being awarded (achievement-wise) for “scouting” the bases, but it has zero long-term impact on the game. No matter how many checkpoints you wipe out, it will always be fully staffed and stocked by the time you return.
One of the more ballsy moves on the designers’ parts was having crosshairs disabled by default. In fact, generally speaking, there is no HUD at all until you reload or take damage. This definitely gives Far Cry 2 a more primal feel as opposed to arcade shooter, even though you look down iron sights most of the time. Reinforcing this primacy are little touches like how “health kits” are morphine ampules injected into your wrist veins. Indeed, if you are close to death, “healing” becomes pulling bullets out of your arm with needle-nose pliers, yanking your wrist/elbow/shoulder back into their sockets, cutting shrapnel out of your leg with a knife or extracting pieces of rebar out of your thigh. If you recruit a combat buddy, they can even swoop in when your health reaches zero to save you from a hard Game Over, in an extended sequence of dragging your semi-conscious form to cover before stabilizing you. All this happens wherever you are, not some stock footage, and that combat buddy will still be there helping shoot the enemies that (almost) took you out. If they go down, you have the option of returning the favor by stabilizing them, or putting them out of their misery with a coup de grace.
Ultimately, it is difficult to recommend Far Cry 2 as a game game when it plays out more like an interactive, philosophical art piece. The FPS elements are solid, but you only utilize them sporadically as you drive around. The sandbox feel of the maps and interface immerse you into the setting, but all roads lead to Rome. And the story… well, the story is disjointed and awful, but Far Cry 2 successfully transported me into the mind of the protagonist by the end. To me, that sort of experience is worth something… in the neighborhood of $5-$10.