David Yun (Xbox Live Gamertag - Vawce): (contact-deleteme[at]-deleteme-direman [dot] com) 2009-08-25 16:38:02
Far Cry 2 - Rank B
Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
Also available for PlayStation 3 and PC
Far Cry 2 is a thematic successor rather than a straight sequel, as it features none of the supernatural elements of its predecessor. Instead, it shoots to establish two parallel advancements in design. The first such ambition is to provide a wide open game world to explore. Unlike other first person shooters since time immemorial, it grants the freedom to go anywhere at anytime as opposed to funneling players through restrictive corridors. Complementing this, Far Cry 2 also endeavors to construct a serious, nuanced, and morally complex setting to interact with. Neither is fully successful, but the earnest attempt warrants attention and credit.
The first choice nearly paralyzed me. Upon starting a new game, I faced a screen demanding that I select a character to play as. It was filled with an abundance of dossiers, describing mercenaries of varying nationalities, backgrounds, and specialties. This bespoke of rich potentialities, and I wanted to make the "right decision". As it turned out, the ones I didn't choose became supporting characters that I could befriend and interact with. Next thing I know, I'm dropped into the middle of a firefight between warring militias in an unnamed African war zone. Tasked with a mission to assassinate the gun runner destabilizing the area, I was forced to escape, survive, deal with an ongoing bout of malaria, equip myself, and hunt down my quarry by playing both sides against each other for intel. Freelancing as a mercenary in a wide-open game world fraught with morally ambiguous choices sounded TERRIFIC to me.
Unfortunately, the playing environment is largely one-dimensional. Once you're out in the field, everyone is simply out to kill you. EVERYONE. And they respawn. The practical offshoot is that you're constantly and indiscriminately killing nameless hordes of armed militiamen. The biggest pain is that every other crossroads is a hardened checkpoint. Let's say you're on a mission and need to get from point A to point B. Your route takes you through such a checkpoint. You clear it out, killing every single guard present. You proceed to your mission objective, which is usually as subtle as killing someone or everyone. On your way back, the checkpoint is now repopulated with the same murderous guards.
I suppose this is the developer's solution to force action into the game's many long and monotonous commutes, but this only serves to make them MORE tedious. You'd think that after the third time you massacred everyone at a certain checkpoint, they'd learn to let you pass unmolested. Instead of fighting EVERYBODY ALL THE TIME, a deeper design would have given the player options to bribe the guards or make alliances with them. At the very least, aligning with one of the two militia factions ought to give the player some amount of leeway and cooperation, depending on the strength of the association. It doesn't make any sense that they'd pay you to accomplish a mission and then try to kill you en route.
Likewise, your relationships with the supporting characters begin with intriguing potential, but quickly devolve into "go to Point A and kill someone" or "fetch quest" missions. You will typically have a buddy who comes to your aid should you receive lethal damage. He or she will rush in laying covering fire, while dragging you to safety. This is a powerful moment that immediately creates a sense of rapport and connection with another character. But beyond this, these relationships are devoid of any depth. It's all shallow manipulation that creates the illusion of purpose and choice.
For example, a buddy will offer a means of "subverting" any main storyline mission. This is always an optional objective or means of twisting the objective to meet alternate goals. The problem is that there are never any consequences one way or the other. It doesn't matter which way you do anything in Far Cry 2 or who you align with. All "choices" ultimately lead to the same result. You could choose to accept an assassination mission, but killing the nameless generic target has zero impact on the politics of the region. The game world continues to maintain the status quo: everyone tries to kill you on sight.
Some of the attempts at realism fall flat. Guns, particularly those picked up from fallen foes, steadily degrade increasing the chances of jamming. This sounds cool on paper, but is never welcome when it happens in the middle of an intense firefight. It's patently ridiculous to me that a professional mercenary would ever allow his weapons to fall into a state of such disrepair. To combat this effect, you can purchase manuals from the weapons store that reduce the rate of deterioration. Other manuals also increase accuracy of fire, or even increase the durability and repair efficiency of vehicles. Instead of the shallow artifice of these "videogamey" mechanics, I found myself wishing that the initial character selection I mentioned above had some impact on these procedures. Choosing a sniper orientated character could have increased proficiency with marksman rifles and provided bonuses to stealth. A rugged heavy infantry type could excel with assault rifles and machineguns, and absorb more damage. A smuggler could conceal contraband through checkpoints and handle vehicles better. On and on. There were so many interesting possibilities (as well as replay value) passed up here. The character selection screen sums up the game; a superficially complex decision that has zero impact whatsoever.
The themes of Far Cry 2 are also superficial. The player is meant to flounder with the moral atrocities of an environment in anarchy. The game goes so far as to make a blatant Heart of Darkness reference. However, in violation of the Writer's Prime Directive, it's a story that is "told", not "shown". The game's currency are conflict diamonds, referring to the trade of blood and misery for wealth, but you never see the human toll. They are simply the financial instruments you are paid with for undertaking jobs, or find in collectathon briefcases hidden in the wild. An underground movement smuggling refugees is used as a mechanic for creating missions, but their objectives always consist of killing all the ne'er-do-wells loitering outside a safehouse. You never see the plight of the civilian populace in any meaningful way.
It strikes me that this may be the worst game review I've yet written. I haven't described the vast and gorgeous scenery, the excellent variety of weaponry (thus variety of combat), the soft and mushy controls, or the decent online multiplayer mode, because I've been fixated on critiquing Far Cry 2 based on what it isn't rather than what it is. It's just that Far Cry 2 lays the foundation for a revolutionary first-person shooter, but then neglects to capitalize on those conceptual advancements. It's reminiscent of Crackdown in that it is a deeply flawed game that nevertheless establishes a signpost in the uncharted wilderness that is game development. This game is undeniably important. I do not want to discourage gamers from playing Far Cry 2 because it does provide genuinely enjoyable and unique experiences; just be prepared to endure the frustration of being granted freedom on a constricting leash.
[Note: The PC version clearly offers the highest visual fidelity, but the console versions are no slouches. The Xbox 360 and PS3 versions are comparable to the point that selecting one over the other is just nitpicking. The nits as I see them are slightly smoother framerates on the 360 and slightly richer textures on the PS3. I always prefer the triggers of the Xbox 360 controller for shooters, but soft controls eliminate the superior tension of the 360 thumbsticks.]