Review: FarCry 2 (PC)

FarCry 2
Genre: Sandbox FPS
Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
Publisher: Ubisoft
Release Date: 10/21/08

The original FarCry was a generally attractive FPS that combined interesting jungle environments and standard FPS gameplay with some amusing stealth elements, trap mechanics, and a few novel special abilities that your character could use. It wasn’t a wholly original game by any means, but it certainly featured some original elements, and those elements were more than enough to make the whole game greater than the sum of its occasionally unoriginal parts. When approaching the idea of a sequel, one would assume that the developers would seek to take the concepts that made the first game appealing and expand upon them; make the traps more involved, the super-powers more absurd, and the stealth FPS gameplay more complex and challenging, while retaining the jungle environment and core gameplay mechanics.

One would, as it turns out, be entirely wrong: FarCry 2 is, for lack of a better description, S.T.A.L.K.E.R. in the jungle, and while that is by no means a bad thing, it isn’t entirely a great thing, either.

The story of FarCry 2 is, honestly, pretty bare bones: you take on the role of one of several mercenaries, and are tasked to hunt down and kill The Jackal, an arms dealer who’s been supplying two warring factions in an unnamed African country with weaponry so they can kill each other, essentially. Upon arriving, however, you contract malaria and wind up half dead when you are confronted by The Jackal himself, who basically tells you that you’re screwed and you should just give up. At this point, you wind up being forcibly recruited into the local civil war, once again as a mercenary for hire, only this time your goal is much simpler: find a way to get to The Jackal and kill him, by whatever means necessary. Stories of political strife and one man armies are generally not bad if handled correctly, and the story of FarCry 2 is generally handled well enough to be acceptable; the game gives you a solid motivation for being in the middle of the unnamed African war-torn country, and the various NPC’s are generally written well enough that you can appropriately understand why they’re doing what they’re doing and what they want from you and from life in general. The fact that your chosen character isn’t terribly important to the story (since you never speak and the choice doesn’t seem to affect anything except the appearance of your body) is something of a let-down, however, since it would have been more interesting if you had been allowed to make your own character instead of selecting from a bunch of unimportant, fairly generic mercs. Speaking of unimportant, fairly generic mercs, well, all of the various characters you can make friends with in the game (of which there are around a dozen) generally come off as, well, little more than uninteresting mission-givers who offer you a means to an end and the occasional rescue, but otherwise serve no purpose; seeing as how these are essentially the only “friends” you have, it’s sad that you often don’t even care about them when they’re around. It’s also kind of obvious that the story is, in essence, trying to convey some sort of political/emotional message, not unlike Blood Diamonds or Lord of the Flies (what with all of the savagery and political backbiting and such), only in a far less interesting, more heavy-handed, less emotionally resonant way. The story is ultimately “okay”; it’s decent enough to carry you through from the beginning to the end, but not particularly interesting or diverse enough to motivate you to play through it again.

Visually, FarCry 2 is damn solid, though the system requirements are heavy enough that this isn’t much of a surprise. The jungle environments are lush and vibrant, light effects are fantastic, and the fire effects are some of the best ever. The various characters you meet look significantly solid, different enough to be convincing, and generally animate well across the board. In fact, nearly everything about the visual presentation is fantastic, save for the odd flashing pop-in glitch here and there, where something will flash white as it draws into the game, which is noticeable if not frequent. The audio is mostly stellar as well, though it doesn’t perform up to the level of the visuals. The music alternates between ambient tunes and fast-paced battle music nicely, and this sets the mood well across the board whether one is picking one’s way through the stillness of the jungle or shooting through a horde of hostiles in the middle of a junkyard. The sound effects are also top-notch, whether they be the rapport of a machine gun, the silence-shattering explosion of a rocket, or the simple chirps of birds and buzzing of insects in your quieter moments crossing the jungle. The voice acting, however, is spotty, mostly because everyone in the game seems like they’re trying to be John Moschitta Jr. Everyone is trying to get across their lines as quickly as possible, for reasons that make absolutely no sense in the context of the game, and it’s just very weird. It’s not even that the voice acting is good or bad; it’s just strange and doesn’t make a lot of sense, though it sounds okay enough.

The good news for those who like FPS games is that FarCry 2 basically plays exactly as you would expect on the PC, complete with the ability to change your key config to suit your tastes at any time. Your character looks/aims and fires weapons with the mouse, and moves/jumps/ducks/swims with the keyboard, allowing you a significant amount of functional control over your character as he maneuvers around the world. You can aim all of your various weapons by holding the right mouse button down to improve your accuracy, run around by holding down a key/button, interact with the environment, and so on, as you would expect, and all of the controls are easy to use and work with. There is a huge compliment of weapons to play around with, from your basic pistols, shotguns, and machine guns, to your more interesting heavy machine guns, flamethrowers, rocket launchers, flare guns, and more, which gives you a ton of neat stuff to play around with. You can also drive various vehicles around, from dune buggies to jeeps and cars to boats and hang gliders, which, again, gives you a ton of variable tools to play with, each of which make the experience more interesting as you encounter each of the new toys you can play with. So, the game is certainly familiar enough that casual FPS fans should have little trouble getting into the game and having a bunch of fun with it.

The differences, however, are what make FarCry 2 interesting, and it has those in spades. For one thing, the game isn’t a completely linear romp through a jungle environment; instead, you’re given a large environment to fight through, a ton of missions to take, and the freedom to do what you want however you want. Instead of presenting a linear, closed-off experience, Ubisoft has instead seen fit to make FarCry 2 into what amounts to an FPS version of Grand Theft Auto, which actually makes the game feel a good deal more interesting than one would expect. First, this means you’re not beholden to do the missions the game expects you to complete in the order the game expects you to do them, meaning you can take on any mission that’s available at any time from any person who is offering work. Of course, the two major warring political factions in the game will be offering work at various points in time, obviously, but they aren’t the only employers in town. You can also get missions from your allies to increase your standing with them (more on that in a bit), or from the local gun shop owner to earn new weaponry to purchase, or from radio towers for extra cash, among others, which increases the overall variety of what you’ll be doing when. Second, this also means you can attack your problems in whatever way you wish, which means missions aren’t a simple case of “go here, do this” so much as a general outline of what needs to be done, leaving you to plan the details. A perfect example comes up early in the game, when you’re tasked with blowing up a train car. The standard FPS mentality says that you need to march into the base where said train car is housed, kill everyone defending it, then blow up the car and leave. However, in FarCry 2, you aren’t restricted to doing ONLY this; you could instead, say, climb to the top of a nearby cliff, aim a rocket launcher at the train car, and take it out from there, thus completely avoiding any sort of confrontation with the guards, or you could wait until nightfall, slip into the camp silently, kill the guards under cover of darkness with silenced weapons, and then take the car out with minimal fuss, or whatever other way you can conceive of. The limits of how you complete missions are, mostly, limited only by your resources and imagination, and given enough time, you’ll find yourself coming up with some innovative solutions to common problems.

FarCry 2 does a bunch of other interesting things that one doesn’t often see in FPS titles. For one, the Buddy system. Basically, you’re given two buddies at any time; one will offer you alternative solutions to missions that can improve your ranking or will offer you stand-alone missions to improve your ranking with them, while the other will save you once upon death, pulling you out of deadly firefights and helping you out as needed. These are small details, mind you, but they’re neat all the same. For another, the healing mechanic in FarCry 2 is novel. You have multiple bars of health that deteriorate as you take damage, though if a bar doesn’t fully deteriorate, you can regenerate that bar if you stop taking damage (as with Resistance). To replenish health, you can either sleep at Safe Houses (more on them in a minute), drink bottles of water, or (most commonly) shoot yourself with syringes of healing drugs. Here’s the thing, though; when you’re at two bars of health or more, you can simply do this and heal up, no problem, but at one bar of health, you need to perform makeshift surgery on yourself to heal up, be that yanking a metal bar out of your ribs, using a Leatherman tool to rip a bullet out of your hand, or snapping your broken arm back into place, before you can heal up as normal. Aside from being gruesome, this is a surprisingly interesting mechanic. For three, fire and its myriad uses. See, as much of FarCry 2 takes place across the savannah, fire is a very effective tool for getting things done; a simple Molotov cocktail thrown at a crop of dry grass, when the wind is right, can burn into an enemy base and wipe out everyone in it in seconds. Fire in FarCry 2 really does mimic the behavior of fire in real life; it burns in whatever direction it can, consuming and destroying everything in its path, be it you or your foes, making it an unpredictable obstacle or a choice tool for doing business.

On top of the above, there are all sorts of other wonderful things FarCry 2 does that make it interesting to play. The local arms dealers offer up all of the weapons you’ve purchased from them at no additional charge, allowing you to constantly replenish stocks and re-outfit yourself before going into battle. You’ll need to do this, of course, because if you don’t, you’ll find out that your weaponry deteriorate the hard way when a gun jams in the middle of a firefight. Not just your weapons deteriorate, of course; weaponry you find anywhere will be in some sort of a state of disrepair, meaning you can either choose to live weapon to weapon by scavenging from bad guys, or you can replenish with fresh stock from the weapons dealer, but either way you’ll be exchanging weapons constantly due to weapon decay, which also keeps things fairly interesting. Safe Houses also help to keep you outfitted and fresh for battle, and are another very interesting element of the game that not a lot of games have done. Across the huge game world, there are various houses that (once emptied of hostile enemies) can be used as safe hiding spots where your character can sleep and such; as the game starts you’ll only find yourself sleeping in these locations, but as things progress you’ll find them stocked with weapons, ammo, health powerups and new vehicles for you to re-equip with as needed. This also nicely compliments the more difficult, involved missions you’ll face, meaning that you’ll have some new assistance as the game ramps up.

Aside from the single-player campaign, there’s also a fully functional online multiplayer mode for you to screw around with. The game modes themselves aren’t particularly special and mostly consist of the normal Deathmatch/Team Deathmatch/Capture The Flag modes you’ve come to expect from these sorts of games, but they’re still pretty fun. Further, however, the mode becomes significantly more interesting than one might think thanks to the robust level editor, meaning that you can not only make your own multiplayer levels, but you can also download the levels others make to play in as you see fit, for a lot more replay than one would first expect. Further, as you play online, you earn online diamonds which can be used to upgrade character classes. Each class is designed for a certain type of role (long range, short range, explosive combat, whatever), and has specific equipment devoted to this. As you play, you can upgrade your favorite class, meaning you can open up new and interesting weaponry for them, thus allowing your Sniper to sport a Dragunov instead of the crappy bolt-action they started with, for instance. Aside from the wide-open multiplayer, the single-player campaign should take around twenty to thirty hours to plow through (depending on how many side missions you take on), which is a surprisingly large amount of time for a non-RPG oriented FPS to take up. Couple this with the fact that replaying the game allows you to change up your buddies and choices, and there are a surprisingly large amount of hidden items to find and improvements to unlock, and you’ll find that there’s a whole ton of stuff to do in FarCry 2, and FPS fans should have a ton of fun with the game right out of the box.

This, however, is not to say the game is flawless; on the contrary, the game has two GIGANTIC flaws that will most likely agitate players considering the fact that the flaws are so agitating in a game that is otherwise so good. The single biggest problem with the game is that it is, frankly, annoying as hell in many respects. Driving ANYWHERE is a hassle, as you’ll find yourself running afoul of checkpoint patrols and random drivers, all of whom want to kill you. You will literally have to stop driving about every two minutes or so to kill enemies, which either involves switching to the gun turret on your vehicle or stepping out of the vehicle entirely to do your business. This is, and I cannot begin to emphasize this enough, HIDEOUSLY frustrating when all you want to do is go somewhere and do something, and considering you’ll have to do this something like two thousand times (no, really) between the beginning and the end of the game, most players are going to stop playing the single player campaign LONG before they get to the end. Managing your malaria is also, frankly, a useless mechanic; every time you get sick, you need to take a pill, and when you run out of pills, you have to go do a mission for the Underground to earn more pills… which is, politely speaking, a mechanic that was added on by the developer simply to make the game feel longer than it is. Further, the game is also rather tedious; while the story missions can potentially be exciting and fresh, the side missions amount to “go here kill/blow up this” CONSTANTLY, which does not really serve to make the game feel any less artificially lengthened than the malaria pill missions would first indicate to you that the game might be.

Aside from these two major flaws, there are a bunch of smaller, minor flaws that kind of add up to make the game less than it seems to want to be. The game, despite its attempts at showing you that you can do things however you want, occasionally goes out of its way to punish you for doing things a certain way. For example, taking a mission that requires you to kill someone in a “no-fire zone” might make you think that the best way of doing this is to sneak into town under cover of night and kill them with a silenced pistol shot to the back of the head, but this is not the case; doing so still alerted the guards to not only the fact that someone had been shot, but that I was the shooter, thus FORCING me to fight my way out of town, even though I had taken every precaution to be as stealthy as possible. That was, uh, pretty lame, frankly. Also, driving around the game world often takes an inordinately large amount of time, and becomes boring in a hurry when the person giving you a mission wants you to go to THE OTHER SIDE OF THE MAP to do something; aside from the fact that you’re getting jumped every two minutes, this still takes forever, regardless, and is often exceptionally boring. The fact that there is bus travel in the world doesn’t change the fact that often, the bus travel doesn’t take you all that much closer to your target makes said fast transportation somewhat less than useful. I also don’t understand why I can’t fire out of my car window with a pistol or something from the word go, leaving me to either have to switch to the back gun or climb out of the vehicle entirely in order to engage in battle. I can also safely say, after five attempts, that while the dune buggy seems like a useful vehicle, it’s ultimately useless in forested areas considering it’ll get immovably stuck on the first above-average sized rock you find, leaving you to walk to find another vehicle after about ten minutes. THANKS GUYS.

But, even putting aside the fact that the game is often annoying, occasionally tedious, and infrequently flawed, there’s also the notable fact that it’s not terribly original either. With the exception of weapon deterioration, ally assistance, and ripping bullets out of your skin, what elements aren’t taken from the original FarCry are borrowed liberally from S.T.A.L.K.E.R. or Grand Theft Auto, and the multiplayer component feels fairly similar to the Call of Duty games, what with the leveling up and all that is a part of it. Sadly, FarCry 2 left out the trap mechanics of the first game, which was one of the cooler things that game had to offer, which is also quite disappointing, to be honest. Further, many of the original parts don’t seem very, well, useful. Healing yourself by setting an arm or pulling out a bullet sounds cool until you realize you’ll often be doing this WHILE UNDER FIRE, and since your character stops healing as soon as an enemy hits him, well, if your health bar hits the one bar level, you’ll either have to run like hell or you’re dead, period. Also, building up a reputation, aside from making some enemies run in fear from you, doesn’t DO anything interesting, and as such, there’s no point in bothering to take on Buddy missions since 1.) whatever buddies you have leave eventually, only to be replaced by new ones, 2.) the end of the game essentially makes your Buddies moot anyway, and 3.) doing their missions doesn’t pay you any more money and just makes the game longer, meaning there is LITERALLY no point to these missions. None. At all. All indications point to the fact that the system that was supposed to be affected by this being eliminated at the end of the development cycle, and while that’s fine (hey, things get axed during development), leaving in missions that are functionally useless without TELLING the player they are functionally useless leads to the player wasting ten hours doing missions that DON’T DO ANYTHING. Once again, THANKS GUYS.

Look, if you have the patience of Job, FarCry 2 is a fantastic looking, fun to play, awesome good time that’s worth every penny you’ll spend on it, but if you don’t, you’ll either be best served sticking to multiplayer or not playing it at all. The story is serviceable if not good, the visuals are great, the sound is mostly quite good, and the game play is fantastic. The game is open-ended, in-depth, diverse, and fully encourages you to play the game your way to the best of your ability, and I cannot stress enough how awesome that is. Fixing your own wounds and replacing rotted weaponry adds charm to the experience, and frankly, the game is oozing with personality, something that less and less games seem to be able to claim as time goes on. That said, the game expects you to murder people every two minutes and forces you to take twenty minute drives to locations, which can become tedious and frustrating quickly, and the game seems to have been padded a bit with repetitive side quests and missions to earn medication that just seem to be in the game to make everything longer without being any more exciting. Further, the fact that the originality of the product is far less notable than one might first think, combined with the fact that many of the in-game mechanics don’t work well or don’t work at all, make the game feel less like an awesome experience and more like a rushed cash grab. Assuming a patch that repairs some of the more obvious issues is forthcoming, or that you have the patience of a saint, FarCry 2 is easily worth your money; otherwise, you’ll most likely find the money invested to be made worth it in the multiplayer, as the single player campaign, despite all of its promises, falls short of excellence.

The Scores:
Graphics: CLASSIC
Sound: GOOD
Control/Gameplay: CLASSIC
Replayability: GOOD
Balance: GOOD
Originality: POOR
Addictiveness: MEDIOCRE
Appeal: GOOD
Miscellaneous: MEDIOCRE
Final Score: ENJOYABLE.

Short Attention Span Summary:
FarCry 2, while not a particularly bad game by any means, doesn’t really do very much to keep up the good will the early parts of the game impress upon the player all the way to the end, which might be just as bad as being openly unlikable. An inoffensive story, fabulous graphics, solid audio and excellent gameplay mechanics come together nicely into a game that’s mostly quite enjoyable, and thanks to an open world design and a bunch of neat toys and upgrades to play with, the game ends up feeling like a good ATTEMPT at what Ubisoft was trying to do (basically, to create a jungle-based, less buggy S.T.A.L.K.E.R. clone). However, this doesn’t excuse the fact that the game is often frustrating and annoying in the way it forces constant disruptive battles on the player, nor does it excuse the tedium of long drives to locations and repetition of mission goals. Even beyond that, the fact that some mechanics seem to have been shoe-horned into the game for no good reason, others don’t work as well as expected, and some have been excised that leave empty holes in the experience ultimately leave the game feeling less like the fantastic experience it could have been and more like a failed attempt at greatness. Barring patches or copious patience on your part, FarCry 2 will most likely remain a multiplayer novelty at best and a bargain acquisition at worst, simply because of the fact that it does just enough wrong to dampen the many things it does right.

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