Reviews

Review: Far Cry 2

June 1, 2009, Author: Trent Pyro

I was browsing the internet the other day and apparently, Modern Warfare 2 is used as a true test of someone’s FPS ability. If you suck at COD, you suck at life. This got me thinking; unless you play on the harder difficulty settings, MW2 isn’t that hard in its brief but brilliant campaign and the only thing that makes multiplayer a grind is the abundance of lifetime players pwning their way through their millionth match of the week. So, to me, it can’t really be a true gauge of a players abilities.

For that, we need a FPS that does you no favours, that drops you in at the deep end with no mercy and leaves you wondering whether you really have the cajones to make it through. To really test someone’s metal, we need Far Cry 2. It’s been developed and released by the Montreal base of the legend that is Ubisoft, known for crafting the Assassins Creed series and both the next gen Prince of Persia titles. It’s the first proper sequel since the original Far Cry for PC in 2004 as the series has had an almost Street Fighter like run, preferring updates, expansions and enhanced ports over obligatory, straight sequels. Boasting “the most realistic fire ever seen in a game” and “over 50 square km of open world”, Far Cry 2 burst onto the scene in 2008 with the usual hype and pre-launch excitement. Many of my friends and colleges here at TIMJ bought it, played it and loved it. Let’s get to the bottom of why…

Up the creek without a paddle
The plot in Far Cry 2 is strange. Rather than a straightforward story that leads you by the hand through cut-scenes and simple missions, the plot here is what you make it. You choose a mercenary out of a group of about ten and get driven into the major city of a country not long since deemed a bullet-ridden war zone, fun times. Arriving at the city, you have a chat with some local bad boys and soon enough, tutorial stuff over, you’re given one task and left alone; find and kill this Jackal bloke. The Jackal is a world-famous arms dealer and general all-round nutter who is fuelling the conflict and needs to be stopped for peace to return to the unnamed African region. How you go about this is entirely up to you and that’s where the genius lies.

While certain missions will get you closer to catching your quarry, you’re never sure which ones. Most of the time, you’re simply trying to get something done in the hope of maybe finding out some useful intel. It’s totally organic, as realistic as I’ve ever seen and achingly slow. The first two or so hours of the game are spent driving around endless Savannah brush, getting lost and making no progress. It sucks, until you realise how clever it is. You’re a reasonably dumb merc from a different country, dropped in with nothing but a map and a few guns. In reality, you would have little to no idea where you are, where to go and what to do. Basically, you’re up shit creek without a paddle and it’s brilliant. Once you get used to the pace of the plot, you really begin to feel like you’re there, tracking convoys through the brush and taking out faction checkpoints like Rambo.

That’s the best comparison I can make; First Blood. You know how Rambo just hides in the forest and after being chased a bit and begins to hunt those who are hunting him? That’s how it feels when you get to grips with the game. The checkpoints that used to stoke fear and apprehension in you now become opportunities for fun and resources. You make attack plans and tactical, Guerrilla warfare-like decisions like it’s second nature and breeze through groups of dumb enemies. That which you once feared will come to fear you and you’ll love it.

I’m getting off track here but to be honest the plot is so scattered it’s difficult to pin it down. Your chief goal is to kill The Jackal but that’s about it. How you go about it, who you make friends with, which side you’re on and which missions you undertake will change all the time depending on innumerable factors. It’s impossible to say; my route to The Jackal may be completely different to yours.

There are two main factions fighting over what’s left of the country; the United Front for Liberation and Labour (UFLL) and the Alliance for Popular Resistance (APR). Despite their ridiculous names, chances are anyone who fires on you will be part of one of these warring groups. Each is out for their own cause and has their own agenda but the game doesn’t let you get bogged down in ideology and all that. They field you missions that, conveniently, they don’t trust their own men with. This means that, despite your working for them, they’ll still treat you like a dumb tourist or a hostile enemy, of which you’re a bit of both.

Completing these missions earns you diamonds, a smart currency choice considering the lack of government. Diamonds buy you things at the Gun Shop, including upgrades, vehicles and of course, guns. Strangely, the faction boss always pays you in advance for the jobs. I suppose this is to prevent the tedium of having to make the long trip back to the faction base after you’ve completed the mission and I love this quirk. Every single open-world game makes you needlessly traipse back to the quest-giver after a tough, long mission just to see a pointless cut-scene and receive payment. Given the sheer vastness of Far Cry 2′s world, I’m glad they’ve done away with it and after a while it feels normal. Even the absence of cut-scenes feels like a breath of fresh air. People just talk at you; if you stand still and look at them they carry on but if you walk away they make a comment and shut up. It’s odd at first but soon feels natural and brilliant.

Just three of the jovial mercs you'll get to choose from...

Many games in the past have boasted the ‘approach each mission from any angle’ tag (it was very popular in the later years of the PS2 era) but Far Cry 2 genuinely lets you do this. Take the aforementioned checkpoints. Ran by either faction, they are everywhere; at almost every junction. They consist of a few ramshackle huts and machine gun emplacements and soon become the bane of your existence. The genius here is the multitude of approaches you have. While the obvious thing would be run in and gun everyone down, that’s usually not the best option, as I’ll explain a little later. My favourite method is to drive a gun truck almost into the heart of the checkpoint, then hit A to climb up to the gun and pound the area until everyone’s dead but you could just as easily pick them off with a sniper rifle, sneak in like (again) Rambo and get some machete action or break out the Rockets and Molotov’s and have a fireworks display. It’s completely up to you and while this hands-off approach is jarring at first it soon becomes preferable to the hand-holding prevalent in most modern FPS’s. Throwing a spanner in the works, however, is the gameplay…

A whole different ball of wax
Far Cry 2 is mean as hell. Not only does it drop you in the middle of nowhere with nothing but a strange map (more on that later) and a few shooters, it makes you an awful shot and the most unfit man alive. This is no Modern Warfare. You are not a highly trained, experienced Special Ops tough nut. You are not a square-jawed, brass-balled US Army Ranger. You are a two-bit, money-grabbing gun-for-hire and you suck like one. Playing Far Cry 2 like any other shooter will get you killed very quickly and very often. It takes a while to adapt but once you do, you most definitely see the upside.

Control-wise, it’s not a massive departure from other games in the field, so at least that’s something. Basic shooting, jumping, crouching and reloading will be familiar to fans of COD, the only difference being the weapons are situated on the D-pad. You can carry one main gun (assault rifle, sniper, shotgun), one sidearm (pistol or tinny, useless bullet-munching submachine gun), one noisemaker (RPG, anti-tank rocket, mortar?!) and a razor sharp machete. It’s nice and realistic, in keeping with the rest of the game.

There are a few unique gameplay quirks that really make Far Cry 2 feel different from everything else on the market. Weapons can be bought from the Gun Shop man as I said before and can also be robbed from downed enemies. In any other game, the Gun Shop is a convenience but here it’s an irritating necessity. Guns found in the world are mostly old, rusty and crap. This not only affects their accuracy and range but increases the chance of them jamming; this can happen when reloading or firing at any time. Imagine getting stuck in to a firefight, standing out of cover peppering an enemy position like, well, Rambo and all of a sudden ‘click!’ your gun jams and you’re left with your pants down. It makes you feel like a fool. Your saving grace is the gun man, who always supplies shiny new pieces with no chance of jamming.

In addition to this, every weapon kicks like a mule making full-auto a rare option. I spent most of my time carefully lining up shots and pulsing RT, in the hope of eking some accuracy out of my battered G3. At first it makes you feel weak but, again, after a while it makes total sense. The enemy will run their magazines dry and hit nothing but dirt while you carefully pick them off with bursts of fire. Add to this the strange health system of quick-healing ‘syrettes’ and the occasional need to actually stop and dig a bullet out and running into a checkpoint guns blazing doesn’t seem like such a good idea anymore does it?  Some of the larger machine guns spit out so many rounds over such a wide area that going hell-for-leather is still a viable option with the right tools though.

Finally, the map. Hitting Select will whip it out but instead of going to a paused map screen you just hold it in front of you. It still moves and reacts like a standard game map, it’s just viewed in real time. This causes hilarious tourist moments where you wander around a grassy plain, map in one hand, GPS locator in the other, spinning in circles trying to orientate yourself, of course it also means looking cool when you glance down at your map while driving, just to make sure you’re heading the right way. The map holds all the usual location info and mission markers but as there are never any on-screen pointers or guides, you’ll spend more time than you’d like holding the map in front of you like a muppet. Not very mercenary-like but it’s another tick in the realism box.

There’s so much going on in Far Cry 2 I could write an entire review about just the gameplay. Safe to say it’s unlike anything you’ve played before and it’ll challenge even the most seasoned COD veterans to change their ways and adopt new tactics. All the complications simply add to the fun and soon enough you find a personal rhythm that makes getting around and dealing with pesky bad guys feel like an everyday chore. Basically, it’s great but what about that super-realistic fire? Well, let’s see…

Momma, the barn is on fire! Wait, is that the barn?
OK so one of the big things about Far Cry 2 in its pre-release hyperbole was the presence of fire that actually acts like fire. While it’s not the best looking fire in the world, it does react pretty damn realistically and it’s easy to be caught off guard. I once fired an RPG in front of a hut and the rocket trail coming out the back of the unit set the hut on fire!

Throwing a Molotov into a patch of brush filled with enemies spells fiery doom for not only them but every tree, bush and tuft of grass within a square mile. It’s not only immensely fun to play with; it allows you to use fire as a realistic tactical option for the first time. I completed an assassination mission by burning down the hut my target was in, causing him to run out in fear right into my machete blade. Toasting an outpost from afar by sniping an explosive gas tank and watching the little Guerrillas burn is one of gaming’s finer pleasures. It’s just a shame it doesn’t look as good as it feels.

Burn, baby, burn!

While everything is rendered to generational standards, nothing really stands out. Each little shack looks like the last little shack. I can understand why the Savannah plains look the same; they all look the same in real life but the buildings look so similar it’s impossible to know where you are just from looking at them. It’s as if the developers made the map, then just dropped faceless buildings where the map says they should be. This was supposed to be a country once, so where’s the schools, hospitals, shops and churches?

Okay, so there is a church but it doesn’t even look like one! There’s no sign of recent loss of government, economic downturn or any indication that civilians once lived there. The UN have bizarrely kept out of it despite the conflict having been raging for months, so there isn’t even any Western outposts or aid centres. Basically, the world has forgotten this little patch of Africa and it isn’t hard to see why. Looking at the buildings, there wasn’t anything there in the first place!

So while everything is rendered in glorious detail, there isn’t much to look at. Thankfully, the sound is much more varied.

What was that? Gunfire from the east!
Like most shooters, Far Cry 2 gets the guns sounding ace but in the interests of realism (which is becoming the word of the day) they also sound crap. Let me explain.

In real life, an Uzi sounds like shit. It rattles like a motocross bike starting up. A shotgun goes boom, sure but not like the almighty explosions we hear coming out of our TVs when we kill someone with one on MW2 or the like. An RPG, however, sounds fantastic. The crack and fizz of the initial firing mechanism, followed by the cacophonous noise as the rocket tears out of the firing chassis and the trademark scream as it rips through the air on its way to a target. Juicy.

So in Far Cry 2, the Uzis, Pistols and Shotguns sound a bit rubbish but it’s all for a reason. You see, the cheap cackling of your G3 or M4 may be underwhelming at first but as soon as someone breaks out a rocket launcher it all makes sense. The guns sound weak not only for realism but also to make the rockets and explosions sound all the more powerful. It’s by far the most accurate depiction of real-life guns I’ve ever experienced in a game and a mile away from Black’s use of a mini-gun as the sound of an Uzi.

One small niggle though. The grenades look and sound awful. I’ve seen a grenade go off before (well, on TV) and it definitely does not sound like a firework stuck inside a tennis ball. Also, backtracking a bit, the explosion looks like one of those special effects squibs they use in the movies to imitate a bullet hitting the dirt or a mortar landing. Which I suppose is sort of realistic but there’s no sign of the initial gunpowder flash or the pieces of razor-sharp, deadly shrapnel so it gets a thumbs down from me.

There’s a bunker over there. How do I know? I put it there dummy…
Multiplayer is another odd one in Far Cry 2. For a game so intent on giving you a realistic brushland warrior experience, it settles on some pretty basic modes for its multiplayer section.

Aside from the standard Deathmatch and its team variant, there’s Capture the Diamond (basically CTF but it’s with a case of diamonds) and Uprising, which is like a cross between MW2′s Domination and Gears of War’s Execution and presents the most interesting battle. Firstly, the teams fight to capture control points that only the Captain of each team can interact with. Once one team has all the control, they then have to find and kill the opposing Captain to win. This leads to an unusual pace.

In my experience, the first half of the match is bedlam. Each team, co-ordinated or not, bolt around trying to get all the control points and wrestle lost ones back. The Captain is, of course, leading the search as he’s the only one who can activate the points but as soon as one team has them all, the mood flips. The Captain of the losing side must now be protected; if he dies it’s game over but putting him in a hole means he can’t retake any control points. It makes for a tense game on both sides. The winning team is searching for the enemy Captain and waiting to see what he’ll do, while the losing team is either hiding or ferociously covering their Captain as he tries to turn the tide.

It’s a shame that only one match type provides anything new but all the game modes have something to offer and Far Cry 2′s trademark fire, jamming guns and woefully inaccurate shooting all remain, so it’s a unique experience in at least one respect.

The thing that elevates this from being just another multiplayer shooter is the map maker. We’ve all seem them before, either in Halo’s much-touted Forge mode (which I will admit is great fun) or in the original Far Cry. This one, however, is fantastic. Overwhelming at first, the options available are myriad to say the least. There are over a hundred different types of Wall to play with, not to mention the zillions of other structures, plants, rocks, textures and items. It’s huge, way too big for me to explain in great detail. I’ll just say that you can make practically anything you want. While the interface is a little awkward at first, once you get the hang of it you’ll be making great maps in no time and have loads of fun doing it. My only issue is that, aside from the plethora of stuff, it doesn’t really do much more than any other map maker. I’m still waiting for the day when you can place enemies and allies and program your own missions, à la Timesplitters 2.

Not A ‘Far Cry’ From A Classic!
In conclusion, Far Cry 2 is an acquired taste but a brilliant one. The emphasis on realism offers up a very different take on the FPS and is refreshing for those bored with the same old run and gun offered by the Call of Duty’s and Battlefields. This realism also prevents me from wholeheartedly recommending this to everyone. While many will be blown away by Far Cry 2 and appreciate and learn to enjoy its approach to the genre, I suspect many will be turned off by the inability to play it like every other FPS and the need for tactics and careful planning. Far Cry 2 will grind your bones to make its bread but if that’s your bag than you’ll end up with a damn tasty loaf!

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