Far Cry 2 Review
Far Cry 2 is one of the most ambitious game releases in years. It nabs the gold medal spot for the biggest and most expansive first-person shooter ever, with a sprawling world filled with options, upgrades, and missions. Sadly, it's also plagued by a combat system that rarely elevates itself past basic gunplay. The game's open nature belies a core combat experience that doesn't change very much as the game progresses. There's a huge amount of content, but the straightforward nature of the fights makes those events blend together, particularly since so many battles occur for no reason whatsoever.
To be clear, my negative feelings are tempered by my amazement at the world's size and the presentation of the experience. As the sun sweeps up over the savannah horizon and light rays flit across the shadowed grass of the plains, it's hard not to stop and stare. It's easy to be overwhelmed by the scope of this beautiful world. You'll likely spend a dozen hours playing (about the length of most other games in the genre) before you realize the true size of this huge world. Every primary mission offers at least one significant choice that alters the narrative path, and numerous optional side missions could keep you busy for hours.
The story of a mercenary playing both sides of an African war is both relevant and emotionally powerful. Ubisoft is exploring some compelling themes here -- from an exploration of the roots of war to the nature of human barbarism. The thematic content would carry a lot more weight if there were any other option except to blaze across the country shooting anything that moves. What at first appears to be a complex interplay of competing factional powers reveals itself to be an unfortunate slog through endless firefights with endlessly respawning gunmen. Nearly everyone you encounter in the world is firing military-grade weaponry at you. Missions often have interesting objectives, but simply getting to the mission sites can be a profound frustration -- random encounters with wandering enemies occur almost every minute. The action feels tight and responsive, but changes little over the course of the game. Expensive upgrades mean that the stealth path really isn't viable until many hours into the game, so the default option of charging in and hoping for the best becomes the standard. As a result, the fights are always challenging, but they often feel repetitive. Ultimately, the grating frequency of the fights is at odds with the tense desperation of the individual encounters.
It will surprise me if the multiplayer portion of the game garners nearly as much attention as the sprawling campaign. While competent, the competitive matches are pretty straightforward. The most notable feature is a robust map editor, which could extend playtime significantly.
The most affecting moment of Far Cry 2 hit me during a random mission I was completing with one of the several NPC buddy characters you work with throughout the game. After a brutal fight, I found him on the ground bleeding out. No amount of medical attention I could provide was enough to save him, so the only choice I had was to expend enough of my own medicine to ease his passing. Ubisoft has managed to strike some potent emotional chords with Far Cry 2. Combined with the depth and breadth of the sweeping African environment, they may very well be enough to overcome a combat system that isn't nearly as intricate as the game world in which it is housed.