Developed by: Ubisoft Montreal
Published by: Ubisoft
Platforms: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and PC
Released on PC, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 four years after the original Far Cry came out, Far Cry 2 turned the one-hit wonder into a franchise with each subsequent game sharing the same themes of surviving in the harsh wilderness against mercenaries. Inspired by Joseph Conrad’s novella “Heart of Darkness” (which also inspired the film, Apocalypse Now), Far Cry 2 takes place in a fictional East African country in the grip of a civil war with a crafty arms dealer known as the Jackal playing both sides of the conflict. The plot feels largely incidental to the game itself, and I never found myself particularly engrossed in the civil war aspect with each side (APR and UFLL) having no real distinction from each other.
The game consists of a series of missions that the protagonist must complete to advance through the ranks of both organisations before the conflict erupts into chaos. Players have multiple options when it comes to completing the missions – either following the rules laid out by the APR and UFLL, or working alongside fellow mercenaries to subvert the missions and unlock bonus items. The ‘buddy system’ is an interesting mechanic to the game, but again there is no real connection between the player and the characters aside from the names and screenshots. If a buddy is injured on the field, you can perform medical care at the scene or euthanize the poor soul if they are too far gone. I felt no real attachment to any of the ‘buddies’ as I had a number of them that I could rely on and they were quite interchangeable; It would have been nice if the game nurtured the buddy relationships a bit more, as there are other games that succeed in making you care for NPC companions such as Skyrim and Fallout.
There is plenty to explore in Far Cry 2 with an expansive open-world map split into two 3×3 grids. Littered throughout the map are countless briefcases containing blood diamonds that act as the game’s currency and allow for weapon, equipment and vehicle upgrades, as well as counting towards completionist achievements. Players must collect 221 briefcases and complete both the assassination missions and primary missions to accrue 1,000 diamonds. In my first playthrough, I was short by 15 diamonds and annoyingly had passed the point of no return and had to restart the game to try again. Damn, my OCD! In addition to the primary missions are a number of bonus buddy missions that do not contribute to the main story (or achievements!) so I left these to one side, but gameplay-wise, there is enough content in the single-player campaign to warrant over 40 hours’ worth of gaming. Unfortunately, the multi-player aspect is a graveyard of empty lobbies or people trying to boost XP using dummy accounts.
With such a huge map, it is important to strike the right balance in terms of ‘fast-travel’ and rewarding exploration. Too easy and the game becomes a case to zipping to locations via map menus, but too difficult and it comes a long-winded trek to travel between spots. Far Cry 2 has five ‘fast-travel’ hotspots across each of its 3×3 map grids, which means there is still a significant amount of manual travel to be done. This wouldn’t be too much of an issue if the game didn’t continually respawn enemies in the various checkpoints between locations, resulting in repetitive battles that just slow down progress. It would have been nice to be able to ‘fast-travel’ to each of the unlocked safe houses (where gameplay could be saved) to ease the burden somewhat – especially when it comes to collecting these briefcases.
Combat in the game is fairly typical to the first-person shooter genre with the usual range of pistols, automatic rifles, shotguns and sniper rifles available. For the most part, I relied on the standard machine guns as most of my conflicts tended to be mid-range. In an effort to court realism, players can only carry one gun of each type, making it essential to plan your armoury before heading out on a mission. Missions tended to vary between assassinating a key figure, locating an item or blowing up something – making them all rather samey and repetitive. Even the subverted missions just involved adding an extra step or two in the process, turning the game into a courier service as you drive from A to B to C, occasionally bumping into jeeps filled with gun-toting mercs. I played my Xbox 360 copy of the game on the Xbox One, and graphically the game remains just as impressive after all these years, especially with how it manages to convey its East African ambience through a mix of soundscaping, colour tints and location design. The enemy AI is also quite challenging at times with enemies hiding amongst the long grass or behind trees, although it can be somewhat predictable to deal with them when they are chasing you in a jeep.
Overall, Far Cry 2 is an impressive game for its time although it lacks some of the mod-cons that we find in sandbox games nowadays. With a surprisingly detached storyline that doesn’t quite engage the player as much as it should, much of the joy of playing Far Cry 2 comes from the exploration of the East African wilderness and random encounters with the local gangs. Perhaps a stronger storyline and more dynamic characters would have helped create a more memorable narrative, but it feels that the game was purposefully vague to allow players to fill in the blanks themselves. Far Cry 2 definitely succeeds as a foundation for future Far Cry games to build upon, and judging from reviews, it seems that subsequent Far Cry games do just that and have more of a personality, with their various antagonists becoming the defining focus of the titles (and cover art).