Not a review: Far Cry 2
January 02, 2009

So I picked up Far Cry 2 today, along with my shiny new 360. I've played pretty much constantly all day, much to my girlfriend's disgust, but I'm by no means far enough through to give a decisive verdict. This is all about first impressions, from the first five or six hours, before I dive headfirst back into it tomorrow morning before Mrs wakes up. Incidentally, I said I'd buy a game for our new console that we both can enjoy. So far, we only have Gears of War 1 and 2, and Far Cry 2. Her favourite game of late is World of Goo. See the problem? Ideas appreciated.

So then.

If there's one thing that cements the Far Cry 2 experience, it's the admirably modernist approach to the whole concept. This is a first-person shooter that defies almost all the expected conventions of the genre. It's the perfect antithesis of Half-Life, the polar opposite of Quake and the complete peer of the modern RPG genre, which has been brave enough to completely overtake its trigger-happy cousin of late. Indeed, it's the sort of game that, although presenting me with a vast number of problems even this early on, I'm inclined to look kindly on simply because of how courageous it is.

Which is weird - 'cause Far Cry 2 has all the gloss and friendliness of a mainstream console game to go with it. It's like what STALKER would have been if it was made by Electronic Arts, or something. It's an oddly unsettling idea, but it proves utterly wonderful.

The premise: after a fabulously subtle intro sequence and a quick tutorial, give the player an overriding mission, drop him/her into a position on the map determined by an unconscious choice a couple of minutes previous, and say "Go."

What, you mean... just... go?


This is, without any shadow of a doubt, the most absurdly brilliant opening to a game I've ever played. After the initial hand-holding, there's literally nothing restricting your play. It's the sort of freeform concept that's usually reserved for Bethesda's RPGs - only this is a straight-up FPS, and it doesn't really have anything amounting to a 'main quest' early on. Far Cry 2 introduces you to a few different people you might like to talk to, and then leaves you to it. "Go. Find the Jackal. I'm not helping you..."

After a while it becomes apparent that Far Cry is a bit more linear than it makes out. Different characters generally just brief you on alternative ways to complete the same mission, and ultimately there are tasks you're going to have to carry out regardless. But it keeps it all very much behind the curtain for the most part. If you want - as I've spent much of today doing - you can ignore everyone completely and just go for a drive around the ludicrously enormous map. (And it is 'around' it, as well, since Far Cry 2 fluffs its enormity-feathers up by putting a bloody enormous, impassible mountain range in the centre of its world.) To start with, I found the African setting to be a bit bland and lifeless, but when you really explore, you're rewarded for it. Usually by some heavy gunplay in a wonderous new location, or in the desert surrounded by hardy wildlife.

I'm not one to ramble on about the graphics in a game, but Far Cry 2 utilises its incredible engine in the best way possible: to ramp up the atmosphere and immersion factors tenfold. This isn't just the best looking game in the world. It's the most credible, genuine, real-feeling virtual environment I've ever seen. It's practically animated-movie-level. It might even surpass it.

When the wind blows, the sunlight peeks through the moving branches, casting waving and shifting shadows onto the surface below. Bush fires spread and wooden structures burst into flames as the heat flows through them. Leaves rustle. Shrubs stir. If it looks like rain, animals move away. As the sun sets, the plumes of smoke from distant campfires rise over the horizon.

You can practically feel it.

I'm usually one for appreciating creative and artistic aesthetics rather than overtly realistic ones. But Far Cry 2 is so genuine, so all-encompassingly real, that I may be inclined to change my views. In this case, at least, it creates the most living, breathing videogame world I've ever seen in my life.

This is what Far Cry 2 is all about. Living the game. Some of its mechanics are a little ropey: the respawning enemies at outposts are somewhat suspect; the controls are a little under-sensitive at times; and it's often difficult to interact with the world unless you're standing in exactly the place the game wants you to stand in. Combat is visceral, brutal and satisfying, but enemies have a terrifying long-range accuracy, frequently gunning you to the floor before you've even spotted them as a speck in the distance. I got stuck in some scenery a couple of times. And sometimes, like STALKER, it's impossible to work out what the hell is going on without reading your journal.

But, again like STALKER, the sense that this confusion and frustrating sometimes manages to add something to the atmosphere is quite astounding. This is a wonderful, wonderful setup for a first-person shooter. It's so good that its problems are all the more infuriating: it's so close to perfection, but it makes schoolboy errors. File it next to Metroid Prime, on this front.

Anyway, according to my XBox, I'm currently 10% of the way through the game. But I'll assume this clocks optional side-quests as well, since I'm told the SP campaign lasts for around 20 hours. When I'm done, I'll play through again, and probably have a completely different experience. I'll pick a different character. I'll go left instead of right when I escape the town, and end up in a different safehouse with a different buddy. I'll choose to align myself with the opposite side of the conflict. I'll explore new areas. I'll live in Africa until another shooter so forward-thinking and so brilliantly inventive comes along, and hopefully irons out the creases that this otherwise godly game undoubtedly sports.

Updates: A few more hours in, and you know what's a huge negative in this game? Oddly, for an FPS, the sheer number of baddies. The vast landscape encourages exploration, and there are loads of places I fancy visiting - but it's not worth it. I'll waste so much ammo and health just trying to get there in the first place that I may as well just crack on with the story. Even then, there are armed checkpoints for every two or three minutes of driving, so you'll encounter four or five just to get from one side of the map to the other. Less checkpoints, more militia guarding specific places of interest, and this would have worked a treat. As it stands, it somewhat undermines the sandbox gameplay.

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Halon Halon - January 03, 2009 (08:05 AM)
I would be interested in a full review for this game since you seem to somewhat like it and you're the first person who I've spoken to who doesn't hate it.
Lewis Lewis - January 03, 2009 (08:53 AM)
Check out the official HG review - Louis gave it 9/10.

I think I'd be more inclined to go for an 8, but it is enjoyable, despite its flaws.

I'll be reviewing it for Resolution - I'll link you to it then.

I can't understand how people could hate it. I can understand people being disappointed, in the same way as I can understand people being underwhelmed by BioShock - ie. after the initial novelty wears off, you're left with a solid but fairly basic FPS. In the case of Far Cry 2, its novelty is that it isn't a basic FPS, but the actual structure of the game does, at times, feel like standard missions dropped into a free-roaming template.

As a reference point: Fallout 3, but with loads more shooty bits, much better combat, and much less interesting quests.

It's by no means bad, or even average, though.

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