If ambition were everything, Far Cry 2 would be one of gaming’s most highly regarded titles. Taking the basic premise from CryTek’s original game, Ubisoft reimagined the idea of Far Cry, but set it in a different kind of tropical setting. Relying less on level and objective-driven gameplay and more on emergent situations, this game strives to bridge the gap between a realistic simulation and a kick-ass action game. It is common knowledge that when a game tries to be all things to all people, it almost always ends in disaster.
In its own way, Far Cry 2 is a disaster — a stunning, singular, near-masterpiece of a disaster.
One way Far Cry 2 stands out from the other entries in this series is in its storytelling. The recurring theme which runs throughout deals with the acquisition of strength and power at the cost of one’s humanity. While the first and third games take more of a literal and fantastical approach to this, Far Cry 2 explores it amidst the backdrop of an unnamed present-day war-torn Central African country. In truth (and I’ve played through the story twice), I still don’t completely understand how all the different factions, the civilians, and the Jackal all figure into it. It doesn’t bother me however; on the contrary, it feels appropriate considering that the player is a pawn caught up in an incredibly complicated situation. The best you can hope for (as in life) is to piece together what you’ve learned and make some assumptions.
The game begins with you getting a ride from the airport, in which the driver provides some background. Mercenaries stand guard at checkpoints all over the place, and look like they’d just as soon shoot you as look at you. Once you gain control of your character, you soon find out how true that is. You’re a mercenary, hired to kill an arms dealer known as The Jackal. Beyond that you’re pretty much on your own, left to contend with unreliable weapons, hostile locals, and a really bad case of malaria.
There is something to be said for a game that puts you in a position in which you need to figure out what your own priorities are and lets you go about it. Depending on which character you start with, you meet one of eight NPCs and become friends. These friends offer you jobs, provide alternative/covert missions while playing both sides of the civil war against each other, and (most helpfully) show up to rescue you if you suffer a lethal injury. It’s a neat gameplay feature because it gives some meaning to doing side missions beyond being a completionist.
As a straight up shooter, Far Cry 2 is really quite fantastic. A wide variety of weapons and upgrades can be purchased by finding diamonds scattered throughout the gigantic game world. Both the weapons and the game mechanics are finely tuned to benefit any type of player, from sneaky stealth types to Rambo wannabes. Beyond that, this game introduces a couple of features that create a more realistic combat environment. The first is the ability to set fires. Once lit, they can become raging infernos in seconds. While it can be an excellent way to trap and distract enemies, it can just as easily cut off your escape. The second feature is that your weapons degrade over time, and may jam at critical moments. These types of things are not for everyone, but they add a nice layer of risk/reward that most games don’t have. In the case of fires, it is still looks amazing five years later.
Far Cry 2‘s open world is easily one of the most beautiful ones I’ve encountered in recent memory. The topography of Central/Southern Africa is wonderfully rendered and so detailed you can almost feel the humidity. Within this world there are a ton of side missions to keep you busy. You can search for diamonds, activate towers, liberate and unlock safehouses, and of course take over guarded checkpoints. While I appreciate the breadth of activities, they could be better. For the checkpoints, it is a futile exercise since they repopulate almost as soon as you leave the area. The others are not bad overall, but the act of having to find them and get to them takes far too long in a game that’s already quite lengthy.
Missions generally consist of the ‘go to place x and kill somebody/blow something up’ variety, which is actually okay because of the number of ways you can execute a plan. The problem with them has more to do with getting around. Just getting to a target zone can take a while, even using buses, which pads out an already long game, especially when you have to turn around and make the whole trip back once it’s completed. I suppose one could argue that it’s part of the game’s aesthetic that you are supposed to take in the environments, but on the other hand would it have killed the developers to put in a fast travel system for places you’ve already visited?
Far Cry 2, much like those hundreds of diamonds scattered throughout the countryside, is an unpolished gem of a game that brushes achingly close to perfection yet is undone by the very qualities that make it so memorable. This game can be easily found and it is often on sale, so picking it up won’t set you back much. I’ll be honest with you; Far Cry 2 might make you want to pull your hair out in parts. It however is one of those games that everyone should play because when it is firing on all cylinders, it is absolutely incredible.
[+Unique, bold story] [+Amazing looking game] [+Unique tactical options] [-Navigating world is tedious] [-Plenty to do, but poorly organized] [-Fast travel would have been a welcome addition]