What is it that makes something a sequel: a resolution to a cliffhanger; a continual, expanding story; a new adventure for a favorite hero; or just a title with a number slapped on the end of it? Well, we've seen all of the above with games really, so the subject is kind of moot. Nonetheless, Ubisoft Montreal's Far Cry 2 seems less like a sequel than just an excuse to use the Crytek namesake. All of the science-fiction, story, and, not to mention, characters of the first Far Cry game, and its re-releases, have been dropped in favor of a more conflict-ridden reality.
With its contemporary setting, Far Cry 2 tries some new things with the first-person shooter. While technically sound, and with some intriguing mechanics, the game does well in differentiating itself from others in the genre—it just gets kind of stale after awhile.
From the very beginning of the game, you can tell Ubisoft Montreal went for that full-immersion experience: You choose your character from a list of mercenaries to be sent into a war-torn African country where your perspective never leaves the first-person. Between pulling up a map in-game for directions, to fixing broken weapons and vehicles, to being dragged away from intense firefights by a buddy, the dedication to the first-person is much appreciated, especially as it's done fluidly and naturally.
Similar to Infinity Ward's latest shooter, FC2 uses this first-person perspective most dramatically (literally) for all of its story-telling elements. The game opens up as you're taxied along the dry, arid Savannah region in the fictional setting. As a merc-for-hire, you've been sent into the country to hunt down “The Jackal,”an arms-dealer who has been supplying two warring factions with black-market weapons, keeping them from achieving their cease-fire settlement.
It's in this opening scene where you first get a glimpse of the impressive landscapes typical of Far Cry 2. When Crytek's original IP was released, it was well regarded for its lush jungle landscapes. The change to the varying African environment certainly doesn't disappoint on the PS3, and the full day-night cycles and weather effects produced by the DUNIA engine enhance the believability of the locales. Being able to go from dune-filled deserts to rain forest environs, without having to worry about load times, is a treat in and of itself.
Things are only made more impressive as all of the in-game vegetation reacts to everything from gentle breezes to compression from your own weight. Larger trees look and mimic their real-life counterparts, with large banana leaves being stripped from their relative safety high in the canopy; however, smaller shrubs and grasses still have a template feel, as they look flat and are less dynamic in reacting to different types of physical interaction.
Not everything is completely convincing with the virtual African countryside however. While its clear that the main selling point of the game are the vistas, jungles, and deserts, the experience tends to fall flat with inclusion of its digital wildlife. A lack of predators aside (lions and other carnivorous beasts), the open fields, lakes, and jungles all feel stagnant. Every once in awhile you'll stumble across a few scattering zebras or antelopes, and maybe there are few seagulls flying overhead, but where are the prides, gaggles, and herds that are so publicized in Safari advertisements? This is a small issue, especially since the game isn't meant to be a digital Safari itself, but if development boasts a realistic African hinterland, then it should feel alive—not just look it.
But Far Cry 2 isn't supposed to be a Discovery Channel experience; it's about action. Being a first-person shooter, weapons and gunplay are the main attractions for the game's fans. Yes, you can drive, boat, and run about 50 square kilometers of open-world terrain, but there's so much more fun to be had with flamethrowers, Molotov cocktails, mortars, RPGs, and various rifles and handguns. While the list of weaponry isn't extremely varied or novel, its the consequences of their use which are fun to experiment with.
Ultimately, a story of moral consequences gets lost in extremely repetitive missions of go there and kill that in both main and side missions—but, no matter what, it's still fun to play with fire. There is a small degree of destructibility to the various buildings, huts, and other objects in the game which isn't anything exciting when compared to some offerings of other titles past, present, and future, but where Far Cry 2's destruction differentiates itself is in the propagation of fire. Depending on the environment which you may be in, its possible to set the landscape ablaze. It's a fun mechanic that can either be useful or baneful, as you burn tall, dry grasses to make enemies run, or you end up having to load your last save point because you got caught in the flames.
Setting fire to an enemy's cover is an extremely helpful element to the game since the AI in-game is unscripted and, to a point, actually intelligent. There are times when you'll come across a wall-starring bad-guy, but, for the most part, you're more likely to die from a group of flanking faction members. Friendly NPCs, or “buddies,” also act equally as competent. After recruiting a buddy, you can use them to subvert the missions given to you buy the rivaling factions; and doing so usually yields easier missions, though at a price: possibly losing your buddy. Once you build up enough of a relationship with your buddies, they can also save you if you happen to become overwhelmed by your enemies—being half-conscious, watching your buddy drag you to safety (all in first-person!) and shoot their way out of harm is a great touch.
Although the buddy system in the game creates added steps when executing missions, it also adds options to the storyline, however limited those options might be. As is usual with open-world games, a decision-based mission structure is the claim with Far Cry 2. By subverting the faction's plans with your buddy's option, you open up different ways to complete your goals: use a truck of explosive material to blow up a strategic target instead of just neutralizing the truck itself.
Expanded mission options are nice, but the main flaw of the game is repetition. For the most part, Far Cry 2 is perhaps one of the most technically impressive games out there, with relatively no major bugs and very few instances of having to suffer through a load screen—especially for an open-world title. There are the occasional clipping and boundary issues, as well as some hit-detection problems with your machete, but they don't impact gameplay in the grand scheme.
No, the problem here is repetition in execution. After a couple of hours playing through the different mission types you start to predict how each will play out. Not only do most of the missions themselves end with you doing a similar task from the last one, but they start and end in the same scripts. Story missions having you taking a job which you have to complete by yourself; but if you opt for your buddy's plan, you'll have to save them from a deathtrap after your objectives are complete, and you'll have to decide whether they live or die with the same mini-event. Numerous other animations are recycled throughout the game as well, along with similarly repetitious side missions. Jumping between mission types offers a break from monotony, but more diversity would yield a more addictive experience.
We appreciate the technical mechanics that are in play with Far Cry 2, and with small elements such as degrading and jamming weaponry, its a shame that it all kind of gets boring when you're only about a third of the way through the game. Firefights are one thing, but doing it over and over again don't lend themselves to an “exciting” category. But what about quiet, sneaking-style tactics to vary gameplay and for catching guards off...guard? Well, while it's possible to purchase silenced weapons and use your machete for silent kills, doing so will somehow alert sentries who will then pick you out of thick bushes. It's a little easier to stay hidden at night, but it's apparent you're no Solid Snake.
Also detracting from the game is the limited number of vehicles at your disposal. As mentioned, there is a huge in-game environment: too bad there's only a handful of of trucks, two trademarked JEEPs, a small coupe, and a buggy to drive around, and only a couple of boats to cruise. We're not asking for GTA variability here, but there's gotta be more than this in Africa. Things only get worse, however, if your wheels happen to blow up—then you're doomed to walk your distances until you come across a defended outpost. Subtle Sixaxis controls, on the other hand, have been integrated really well, making the driving portions kind of entertaining on the PS3 version of the game. Alternatively, there is a bus system to travel to a couple of specific locations on the map, but it comes at the cost of a lengthy load screen.
Though the story and fun mechanics may be overshadowed by recycled missions in the single-player experience, things are much better when you make your way online. All of the gameplay mechanics present offline, make their way into multiplayer; so that means you're going to have to be wary of fires, fix jammed weapons and broken-down vehicles, and deal with various kinds of environments. There's a progressive rewards system for doing well in both ranked and unranked matches, which grants you access to better weaponry in various classes, but it's not extremely complex when compared to other available shooters out there currently.
Match types are your standard fare also: deathmatch, team deathmatch, king of the hill, and a capture the flag derivative. The big difference with multiplayer, however, is the included map editor. It may not be as expansive or technical as a standalone program like the Unreal editor, but for a console-based editor, it's a treat. Starting from scratch, you build you terrain, add static and physics-based objects, and fields-of-play, then you can test your creation and publish it with certain criteria for different game types. After publishing your creation, you can head to the Map Community where you download other's creations. Alternatively, if you're in the middle of a session and a map comes up that you don't have, all you need to do is download it in-lobby.
The potential for a long-lasting, ever-expanding online experience is there, and there are some already strategy-intensive maps out there. We definitely like the move to user-created content.
It may be not as fresh or engrossing as the previous Far Cry iterations, but the re-envisioning of the franchise is certainly anything but a disappointment. True, the story is lost to repetitiousness and missions are reduced to bare-boned tactical elements, but a strong multiplayer offering and detailed game mechanics complement well-rendered environments and characters. Poor voice-overs by only a few actors who lack intonation or punctuation mark the low points of an otherwise strong audio component with a worldly soundtrack.
With open-world games there often seems to be a disjointed equilibrium between gameplay and technical execution; Ubisoft Montreal, however, have done well in bringing these two elements together.
Beautiful African environments, 50 sp. km. large
Propagating fire and weather interaction
Online, with included map editor
Oh, hell no:
Repetitious mission structure
Weak tactical options