Far Cry 2 manages the remarkable feat of being a game that I knew practically nothing about before booting it up and yet which still managed to disappoint me. It shows a substantial amount of promise in the first thirty minutes of the game that it completely fails to make good on. It tries to depart from standard FPS memes but is ultimately too scared to make itself truly unique. And so it occupies this extremely weak middle ground, where it has no scripted events that can grab a player’s attention and also ties the hands of those who get their kicks out of exploration, resulting in a crippled hybrid failure of a game.
The premise is a very strong one: upon starting the game I was thrust into the shoes of an African mercenary who had been sent into a wartorn country to assassinate an arms dealer called the Jackal. This is an awesome concept for a freeform shooter since it pretty much casts the player in the role of Captain Willard in Apocalypse Now, an influence the game openly acknowledges with audio recordings of the Jackal’s psychotic ramblings. Just think about the sort of game you could build around that: working for factions; cultivating informants; securing allies, money, arms supplies; all building up to a final apocalyptic assault on the Jackal’s hideout. It’d be a Deus Ex for the next generation.
Sadly Far Cry 2’s implementation of this idea is tragically one-dimensional, with the game preferring to fill its playtime with pointless monotonous bollocks. This tone is set right at the beginning, with the player contracting malaria at the end of the five minute on-rails taxi ride before they’ve gotten to do anything more exciting than look out the car window. I mean, just try to imagine the design meeting where they made the decision to kick things off like that. It is the most horrible way to start a game I can think of – my chain of thought at the time went something like “Yeah, I’m in this awesome sandbox environment, taxi is pulling up at the hotel, time to start my hunt for th- oh wait I’ve caught a deadly tropical disease that’s going to cripple me for the rest of the game.” It kind of put a crimp on my gameplay experience.
Now, I’m not saying the malaria idea is inherently bad. It’s probably possible to make an interesting game out of the concept – but that game is not Far Cry 2. The way it worked in game was that every so often my screen would go all blurry and I’d have to press H to take some malaria medicine. Sounds riveting, right? It got even better when I ran out of malaria pills; this forced me to go to the local church to talk to a priest to get some more. Except he wouldn’t just give me the pills, oh no; first he wanted me to drive halfway across the map to deliver some travel documents to people trying to escape the country. This is what in MMORPG parlance is referred to as a Fedex quest – a notoriously tedious piece of manual labour – but even in MMORPGs Fedex quests have been reduced to filler content, being used mostly to get the player to travel to a new area for the first time. Here it’s a major game mechanic.
It gets better. The next time I ran out of malaria pills I went back to the priest, who promptly gave me another set of travel documents and told me to travel to another location on the map where I could hand them over in exchange for another medicine bottle. It was exactly the same mission – the only thing that changed was the destination.
This is basically Far Cry 2 in a nutshell: make the player perform the same task over and over and over in an attempt to pad out the playing time. This holds true even when dealing with the simple matter of travelling from point A to point B, since this entails driving through two or three baddie-festooned checkpoints. The baddies shoot my ride up and I’m forced to get out and have a gun battle, which is usually a frustrating business since the baddies are all psychic and will literally try to shoot me through walls from the other side of the map. Then when they’re all dead I get a new vehicle and continue on until I get to the next checkpoint, where the same thing happens all over again. And of course the baddies all respawn within a couple of minutes, so when I inevitably have to drive back from point B to point A I’ve got to fight my way through the checkpoints again.
Far Cry 2 isn’t completely devoid of good ideas. I found the health system absolutely hilarious, for example – when I got reduced to a couple of bars of life I had to stop and wait while my guy snapped broken bones back into place and extracted various pieces of hot lead from his body with a pair of pliers, which I found agreeably over the top. The much-vaunted fire and nature effects are also very impressive; this is the first game I’ve played where hearing the wind rustle through the trees has actually meant something. But while these made my first few hours in game different enough to be charming in a way, eventually the sheer weight of repetitive nonsense came to the fore and crushed any sense of enjoyment I was deriving from the environment. I stuck it out for a little while in case things changed and then gave up when the game decided to kill all my “buddies” – who I’d gone to fairly great lengths to keep alive in faction missions – during a scripted event. That was the point at which I realised that even the superficial choices the game was offering me were completely meaningless; it didn’t matter whether I chose faction A or faction B or whether I chose to save the priest and his underground organisation or my mercenary friends at the bar, since the end result was exactly the same: everyone wound up dead.
So that’s Far Cry 2. It shows up occasionally during Steam sales for £3, and at that price it might be worth buying if you want to gawp at the environment effects for an hour or two, but for god’s sake don’t go into it expecting the actual gameplay to be anything other than dull, pointless rubbish.