When Ubisoft acquired the rights to produce further Far Cry games from ace developers Crytek, people expected the series to be milked and to follow the previous lacklustre games that followed on from the original dazzling PC classic.
Ubisoft had other ideas. Team Montreal decided that lush tropical islands separated by tinkling blue seas were all well and good, but if a game series was to totally reinvent itself, it needed to shift continents.
With that in mind, Far Cry 2 is set in the arid dusty savannahs of Africa and couldn’t be more different from the original Far Cry if it tried. Gone are the genetic mutant creatures, gone is the lush thick jungle and instead in comes the run down war town desolation of a fictional region in Africa.
You are a shadowy character. Not much is known about your background other than you’re more than a bit handy with any weapon you can lay your hands on. Your task is clear though, to rid the country (and the world) of an insidious character known simply as “The Jackal” – a man who has armed both sides of a civil war that you currently find yourself in the middle of. You must seek allies on both sides, find this man and eradicate him.
The game starts off in time honoured FPS fashion with more than a nod to Call of Duty 4 in that you find yourself a passenger in a car for the first few minutes of the game and can sit back and languorously admire the scenery. Before you can reach the seedy rundown hotel that is your destination, Malaria takes hold of you and you wake up feverish and close to death. This is your introduction to how you will spend the rest of the game, lurching between bouts of frenetic violence peppered with extreme illness which must be tempered and combated if you’re to progress.
You get your first meeting with the Jackal at this point. I won’t ruin the story further but as far as a piece of scene-setting goes, this opening to Far Cry 2 is bang on the money.
As with the first game, from this moment on you’re better off sticking with the assumption that everyone in the entire country is out to kill you. So once you find your first couple of weapons (that Jackal fellah’s an accommodating soul considering you’re out to kill him) you are thrown into the deep end and must make your first contacts with the resistance underworld and undertake your first tasks that’ll bring you ever more closer to the man you have to kill.
Far Cry 2 is (literally) a sprawling sandbox of a game with 50 square kilometres of African landscape to play in. Objectives and points of interest show up on your handy GPS system as targets and you can use any means necessary to get around in the country, stealing any vehicles that are left idle (boats, cars and later on you’ll take to the air but I won’t spoil the fun and tell you how).
The new game engine, built from the ground up specifically for the game is very impressive even on 360 (sharing more or less the same tech minus a few tweaks as the PC version). Far Cry 2’s Africa is picked out in shades of muddy browns and greys but is nevertheless very impressive. There are some elements of screen tearing but you’ll be too immersed in the action most of the time to notice them – and the instances are usually more prevalent in interior locations so most of the time they won’t bug you too much. Special mention must go to the way the game uses fire. You’ll see what I mean but when you consider that a flare pistol can be the singularly most impressive armament you’ll carry in the game, you’ll swiftly learn how to use fire to your distinct advantage.
As I said before, working on the assumption that everyone wants you dead, you will find respite from time to time when you meet characters in the game who have a use for your mercenary skills and want to hire you. You can choose to perform tasks for them, and usually these are to your advantage – either netting you more information about the mysterious Jackal, or boosting your mineral wealth, as the in-game currency is diamond-shaped, a nice touch that fits with the atmosphere of the game.
You can use your currency to grab extra weapons and equipment at any of the arms dealers dotted around the map. These locations are also handy for topping up your medication and saving your game though one niggle is that checkpoints are usually well defended and a little too few and far between, really making you work to secure your objectives and stay alive.
Various characters will also offer to pitch in and rescue you, should you find yourself wounded in the course of your actions. That said, you’re more than adept at digging bullets out of yourself if you do get shot (the animations for your character’s healing cycles are rather grisly so don’t play this while eating, it’s a bit stomach churning.
Control-wise, Far Cry 2 is very much a slick product with plenty of control options and setups so you should find one to suit the way you like to use your pad in FPS games.
It’s mostly impressive but as soon as I hit about a quarter of the way through the game, missions seemed to dry up slightly and I seemed to find myself aimlessly scoping out the map to try and figure out what to do next. Once again the curse of sandbox gaming is present here, in that you’ve got a vast game world to play in but not many toys to play with and side missions tend to err on the repetitive side of things, causing frustration and boredom fairly quickly until you find another meaty mission to sink your teeth into.
In losing the fairly linear approach the first Far Cry game had, Ubisoft have offered up a rather weak feeling disjointed underlying structure to Far Cry 2 which is partially masked by the impressiveness of the game’s tech. I seemed to spend far too much of the game being shot at or relentlessly chased through checkpoints, ending up with my only means of transport being trashed out in the middle of nowhere meaning a long foot slog back to civilisation was the only way to progress. Any sense of enjoyment and fulfilment quickly turned to frustration and annoyance and there were far too many instances where I switched the game off in disgust because of a poorly checkpointed mission or a frustratingly tough battle needing to be fought before progress could be made.
One other irritation is the way speech is handled. Everyone in cut scenes seems to talk at ten to the dozen, and it all sounds a bit ridiculous and can be incredibly annoying when you’re relying on a contact to impart vital information, but they speak gibberish at you at 1000 miles an hour.
For all its impressive visuals and atmosphere, Far Cry 2 is a game that doesn’t quite capture the essence of the original and loses that “Island of Dr Moreau” vibe, replacing it with yet another run and gun escapade that seems to be the stock in trade of FPS games far too much at the moment. There is a long quest ahead of you but the frenetic action punctuated by long passages of boredom begins to irk you more quickly than it should.
To summarise, love the visuals and explore the fantastic gameworld Ubisoft have created but don’t expect anything ground-breaking or life-changing because this just isn’t as innovative as it wants to be.