GAMING GREATS #22: Far Cry 2 (2008)

With part three currently keeping FPS fans busy, Thomas revisits the second coming of Far Cry. 

Who made it?: Ubisoft Montreal (Developer), Ubisoft (Publisher).

Genre: First-Person Shooter/Open-World.

Platform: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Microsoft Windows.

Format: Blu-ray disc, DVD-ROM.

Released: October 24, 2008 (UK).

It’s been a long time since I played a shooter on the Xbox 360 that I felt deserved some kind of “… of the Year” nomination. The last FPS that truly floored me was 2007’s Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. Take that as something of a compliment to the game because I’m going to let you in a on a little secret: I am not a CoD 4 fanboy. Moreover, 2008 was a pretty listless year for first-person shooters. Battlefield: Bad Company was a fantastic exception, what with its dry humour, superb action, and top-of-the-line visuals. But as summer came to a close and we approached the holiday shopping season, Ubisoft Montreal’s big-budget, no-holds-barred, go anywhere/do anything sequel to CryTek’s beautiful Far Cry (2003) marks one of the few – perhaps only – times an FPS has allowed the player so much freedom.

Although the respective development teams behind then recent open-world games like Grand Theft Auto IV, Saints Row 2 and the aforementioned Bad Company have allowed you to play their games how you saw fit from a somewhat generalised perspective, the key variables were always the same. You could not progress unless you did what the game wanted you to do in each specific way it wanted you to do it. In the case of Far Cry 2, you will notice that everything is brutally open-ended. If you see a guard post you don’t want to deal with at the moment, you can very well sneak/drive/swim around it, or just tackle the problem head-on.

Enemy AI is non-regimented as well, meaning it is programmed to do one thing and one thing only: react to the player accordingly. I have been witness to many moments where enemy NPCs will talk amongst each other, trying to figure out where I am if I cannot be found after a firefight. Once I am spotted and if I happen to take cover in a tiny little shanty, they may try their best with bullets for a bit. Then one communicates with the other, “I’m tossing a grenade,” and sure enough, one of those little green buggers lands at my feet in order to flush me out.

I feel I should mention, though, that Far Cry 2 is more akin to Mercenaries 2 than the first Far Cry. You select from one of nine different mercenaries at the beginning of the game, each with their own strengths, weaknesses, and unique appearances. The other eight mercs show up later in the game as “Buddies.” These are characters that you can align yourself with, but must be very cautious of as they can turn on you at any given moment. Choices must be made concerning your Buddies, as well. I’ve faced a situation where one came to my aid in a firefight and was gunned down moments later. I was then given a choice. Do I inject him with the serum that refills my health when in a pinch, to revive him and put him back in the fight, or do I shoot my fellow merc in the head, effectively putting him out of his misery? It may save you some health in the process, but remember that they can no longer come to your aid in battle or offer you missions later in the game.

It’s these kinds of realistic decisions that you must make, even if the game doesn’t really have a plot (other than to eliminate the game’s main antagonist, arms dealer “The Jackal”). Even the game’s small nuances, like being able to interact with your avatar when health is low, are remarkably impressive. Digging bullets out of your body, extinguishing flames on your person, popping busted bones and joints back into place, etc… It all adds to the experience.

Much like the great Half-Life and its kin, Far Cry 2 is played entirely from a first-person perspective. By never taking you out of this POV, the gamer really gets the chance to live the environments, locations, vehicles, weapons and characters. For example, going from the front seat of a truck and fluidly climbing onto the mounted machine gun, then watching the screen jerk as you fire it, feeling the controller shake as you do so, is absolutely incredible. Fire realistically propagates with the wind and leaves charred shrubs and burnt grass in its wake. This is a game that is all about immersion and, even if there are some things that don’t quite click, they are easily forgiven.

I guess the game’s biggest flaw, as I mentioned above, is that it is pretty much plot-less. There are no big twists or revelations, there are virtually no cutscenes, and for a gamer like me that favors big plot-oriented games over any others, this is a bit of an issue. Far Cry 2 tends to become repetitive if played for too long, sure, but the shootouts are spectacular and its various effects are top-notch. Setting one of your enemy’s ablaze with a flamethrower/Molotov Cocktail, then watching him writhe in pain in a patch of dead grass as he consequently starts a huge brush fire, is mesmerising. Far Cry 2 isn’t so much about plot (or lack thereof), it’s about the action and the experience. Both are wonderfully executed.

Even from a technical standpoint, Far Cry 2 stands as one of the best-looking 360 games of 2008. The title was so far ahead of the competition that few noticed its minor visual hiccups. It is absolutely stunning to take a moment and simply observe your surroundings. Quick strolls through various jungles in-between tasks will offer up several dazzling effects; one of them being sunlight cutting through the large trees above and projecting light onto the shrubs below. Shading is incredible, and the rising/setting Sun, which does both in real-time, is something that I can only describe as enchanting. The rocky plateaus look amazing, and the dense bloom effect creates this sense of tangibility within the stark African landscape. I doubt few wouldn’t get caught up in watching a gust of wind realistically blow the plant life around as leaves and dead grass swirls around your merc’s POV. Granted, some of the textures tend to look a bit lifeless and character models could be improved slightly, but this is general nitpicking that simply doesn’t do Far Cry 2‘s visuals proper justice.

As far as I’m concerned, this was THE action game of 2008. Who cares if there are only a couple of different vehicle models with hasty paint-jobs? Who cares that there really isn’t much storytelling going on besides “do X for (insert Buddies name here)”? Who cares if the enemies seem to take way too many rounds before finally dropping for good? Nitpicking aside, this is one of the most rewarding, intense, graphically impressive and aurally exceptional games I’ve ever played. It excels in every way imaginable: from vehicle controls to intense firefights and insane physics. This is one of the best sequels no one ever saw coming.

Useless Trivia

(Via Wikipedia)
  • The protagonist of previous Far Cry game, Jack Carver, is not featured in this game. When Ubisoft interviewed players about the original Far Cry in their research, the interviewees did not find the character very memorable or likable. As a result, in the sequel the player chooses from nine different characters to play, each with a unique look and back story.
  • Around the time of the game’s release, the second of two Far Cry novels were published in Germany, authored by Michael Bhatty, the former Lead Game Designer of Sacred. The first novel primarily tells the story of the first game, and also features the sequel’s Marty Alencar as a character, as well as including a flashback scene taking place in Far Cry 2′s African setting. The second novel acts as a prequel of sorts to the game, with the plot focusing on Paula, a war veteran-turned-mercenary, and her struggle in the diamond conflicts and civil war which are the focus of Far Cry 2.
  • By 2009, the game had sold 2.9 million copies.

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