Posted: November 27
Far Cry 2 is rather an anomaly amongst AAA releases, and - in light of Ubisoft's more recent games - a world away from their typical modus operandi in the way it presents an uncompromising and utterly standout creative vision, ridden all the way to completion.
It's not a perfect game - there are a number of features that are evidently only partially implemented and have little effect on gameplay (the buddy system, the reputation system, the malaria), and the story and characters are lacking to say the least. But, what it lacks in narrative it makes up for in atmosphere and pure creative integrity.
I've never played a game that so accurately recreates the FEEL of a real-world location as Far Cry 2 does Africa. Whether the sun is rising over the still river water in the morning, or setting over a fire in the dry grasslands, this game is DRENCHED in atmosphere. You can almost smell the dirt and feel the sweat dripping off you as you play. Aside from creating a living, breathing world (which, in my opinion, is one of the most important features that open-world games often fail the include), it shows that there was someone with vision that pushed the creative team to create a product that was not necessarily going to hold the hands of the player (unlike Far Cry 3 with it's HUD crammed full of indicators telling you what to do and when). For Ubisoft to make such a choice and release a game which may not have been accessible to every single walking, talking wallet is, in light of their recent history, utterly mind-boggling, and I applaud the team behind this game for their efforts.
Everything else aside though, the game is genuinely well-made - the core features all work wonderfully, with solid gunplay, responsive driving, and a well-designed sandbox that rewards exploration with many distinct and beautiful locales.
The enemies are aggressive and unforgiving, typically forcing you to plan your attacks and prepare the right weapons for the job - it's so rewarding when a plan comes together. Equally rewarding, however, are those moments when you're caught unprepared - perhaps you only have a sniper rifle, a pistol, and some molotovs, and are caught from behind by a number of enemies, so you start frantically flinging molotovs in the direction of the enemy who are somewhere out there in the bush, as you relocate. You find a new spot and look back to see the bush ablaze and enemies fleeing, some already dead in the fire. These moments of pure, unscripted tension and excitement are what makes this game far deeper than it would seem on the surface, and this is perhaps why this review is littered with anecdotes. Because this is a game that creates anecdotes organically.
Of course, with Far Cry 3 they made a number of changes that made it more accessible, but less memorable in my opinion - in favour of a realistic setting they crafted a cartoonish tropical island, in favour of a do-it-yourself mission style they filled the HUD with feedback and mission markers, in favour of challenging fights and impressive AI they put enemies in brightly coloured shirts who bum-rush you the second you fire a bullet, and on top of that they littered the world with meaningless fetch-quest items. It's not to say that I think FC3 is a bad game, but I find myself getting bored quickly every time I play it. Far Cry 2, however, is a game in which the fun one has is limited only by the player's imagination and creativity.
The thing is, in its quest for realism, and its lack of strong narrative, I find the game actually offers the player a freedom that few other games genuinely do. The side missions are typically pretty bland, yes, but the strength of the world design and the freedom that you're offered means that there are quite literally countless ways to finish them. So you need to assasinate a target? Perhaps you block the road with your car and lie in wait to ambush him. Perhaps you wait until night and sneak in with a silenced pistol. Perhaps you snipe him from a nearby hillside. Perhaps you trap him in grassland and set the countryside ablaze. Perhaps you stride in with an RPG and just blow him the hell up. Even the way you choose to get to the location is undecided - do you drive the quickest route? Do you take the long way off road to avoid the checkpoints? Do you hop in a riverboat and take a shortcut downstream? You're given a target on a map, and complete freedom to traverse a believable world from then on.
And even though I will criticise the lack of characters and story, the characters that are there feel like real, shady people. The main antagonist (although he is no Vaas) is enigmatic, and his cynical and exhausted outlook on the world becomes genuinely affecting as the game progresses, and I find that the thread of narrative that exists actually leaves you thinking about the real world situations that exist right now in so many African nations.
It's clear that have a deep affection for this game, and that may be taken as bias by some, but it's an affection that was hard-won from release day as I slowly got used to Ubisoft's take on the franchise, unravelled the features of the game, and then began exercising my complete freedom to explore and manipulate the vast and beautiful landscape. This is a testament to what a strong creative vision can do to a AAA release, and while it might not go down in history as a particularly successful iteration, I feel that Far Cry 2 is one of the most criminally underrated games ever released and I defy any player not to be caught staring in awe as the sun rays filter through the canopy overhead.
I highly recommend this game to anyone looking for a dirty, gritty, realistic shooter in an incredibly immersive world that lays the tools on the table, and lets the player decide what to do with them.