BitSnark

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Far Cry 2 Review (360)

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In most cases sequels often tend to be more of the same. Sure, there are exceptions to the rule but more often than not, a follow-up will not attempt to reinvent the pre-established wheel (especially if said wheel has yielded commercial success). Thus we arrive with the oddity of Far Cry 2, a title of seemingly confused heritage as the original Far Cry was created by Crysis developer Crytek for the PC platform, and the Xbox/360 renditions of the game, Far Cry Instincts, were developed by Ubisoft who later purchased the rights to the Far Cry IP eventually creating this; Far Cry 2.

The only similarity that Far Cry 2 has with its predecessors is that it is an FPS, other than that it couldn’t be any more different. Ditching previous lead Jack Carver from the proceedings and moving the story away from the paradisiacal tropical locales that characterised the original titles, we now find ourselves in deepest Africa, playing as one of any number of characters which are selectable from the off. Not that it makes a blind bit of difference however as although each character has varying biographies, the player is not benefitted or disadvantaged in anyway by making a particular choice from this generic selection of usual suspects.

Most importantly, the defining difference between the Ubisoft developed Far Cry 2 and any other Far Cry title, is that the Canadian development outfit has displaced Far Cry from its original linear trappings, instead taking the player to that most popular and seemingly fashionable of gaming realms; the open world sandbox.

And that is where the house of cards falls down.

As developers Ubisoft should surely realise by opening yourself up to the sandbox design methodology you have to make it worthwhile and play to its strengths, filling the world with interesting locales, varied enemies, varied tasks and of course a solid plotline with characters that have more depth than a puddle on a hot Summer’s day. Outside of a gorgeous graphics engine that does indeed do justice to the rough beauty of the African plains, Far Cry 2 is seemingly the victim of a poorly executed traipse through a sandbox world that should be much better.

The plot behind the game is fairly uninspired and cliché, but is just about workable given the context; the player has been sent to Africa to deal with an unscrupulous arms dealer (is there any other kind) who has been supplying weapons to the two major factions involved in a conflict that threatens to boil over into all-out war. The player is charged with doing missions for either faction who rewards them with conflict diamonds, currency used to buy weapons and upgrades and subsequently furthers the story. The primary issue with this however, is that both factions seem to be identical (their struggles seemingly vacant outside of your own missions) and as such any believability in their cause, which more often than not is shattered by the sub –par voice acting, quickly evaporates into nothingness as completing these missions have zero affect on either faction other than moving you through the story.

An interesting feature which the game does execute fairly well however is the ‘buddy’ system, whereupon freeing certain imprisoned souls (basically everyone of the other choices for a character that you didn’t choose), allows you to do variations of the faction’s main missions, rewarding you reputation and history with your buddy. In addition to this, some of these people will be ‘rescue-ready’, giving you a second wind and much needed backup should you accidentally eat one too many bullets. Choosing to do main missions over a buddy’s ‘suggested’ mission however, does little to the game other to make your buddy angry at you which would have some impact on the player if it was of any consequence to the gameplay.

The buddy who is with you at the time will also fight with you, and is actually surprisingly good at dispatching enemies for you. Ultimately however, a buddy can die and when this is close to happening they will collapse on the ground, letting off a column of blue smoke so you know what’s happened to them and where they are. Upon finding your injured comrade you can do one of two things; either stick a syringe in them and heal them or if they are too far gone, put them out of their misery with a bullet to the head. Not really gameplay changing stuff, but the dramatic impact is underlined all the same.

Speaking of gameplay, the fact that you can drive cars, boats and even use a hand glider, makes you think/hope that the missions will be more exciting as a result, however this could not be further from the truth; the missions themselves are tiresome and often tedious affairs with transport merely acting as an expedient way to do each one rather than an integral part of each mission. Annoyingly, each time you are given a mission, which is usually to kill someone or steal something of value, the point that you are told to get to is often at the furthest part of the map relative to your position. Frustrating though this fact is by itself, the situation is further compounded by the respawning guard checkpoints that you often go through to get to your objective.

As well as the main story missions, there are also side missions that you can do for various weapon dealers allowing you to unlock better weapons and equipment for purchase. These missions however also wallow in the same monotony that plagues the main faction missions, the difference being that rather than a couple of different mission types from time to time, you just get one; blow up the arms convoy. Each. And. Every. Time.

I’m getting ahead of myself here I think though, as it’s certainly worth mentioning that there are a number features besides the buddy features, which at the very least are fairly interesting. All the weapons and vehicles you use in the game can degrade over time. Yep that’s right, the more you use a gun, the more rusty you’ll see it becoming, and with time, it will start to jam more prompting a frantic pounding of the X button to un-jam it (often in the middle of firefight). Keep using said rusty firearm and it’ll break completely, requiring you to get to your nearest arms dealer for a replacement, or, improvise on the battlefield by picking up a weapon from a fallen foe and using that instead.

With vehicles the condition degradation is a lot less subtle, the more your vehicle gets shot, the more steam rises from your bonnet. If smoke starts rising your vehicle is on its last legs and will shortly explode, taking you with it if you haven’t already abandoned it. Luckily, you have a trusty wrench that can be used by standing in front of your vehicle’s bonnet and hitting Y. Up pops the hood and you slowly begin twisting the wrench around a valve and after about 5-10 second, depending on the damage done, the smoke/steam disappears and your vehicle becomes driveable again. While this is certainly handy from a gameplay perspective, the desecration of plausibility here (twisting a wrench around a valve on a car after it gets made into Swiss cheese by a 50.cal machine gun makes it all A-OK to drive again) is such that it damages the facade the po-faced, realistic theatre of war that Ubisoft are trying to portray here.

One of the earlier press releases for the game made note of the fact that the game has a day and night cycle, and that say approaching a fort a night, would be an easier fight than doing so during the day, presumably because of the element of surprise. Well, outside of a notable and very pretty visual impact, the time of day that you attempt a particular mission has no bearing on its success whatsoever. A half-baked feature that reeks of wasted opportunity.

Another such insufficiently realised feature is the manner in which the player becomes gravely injured. Should the health bar drop below two bars, the screen will begin to flash red and attempts to heal yourself via your trusty syringe are instead replaced with a painstakingly long random animation where your rip out the bullet from whatever hole it made, or chunk of flesh it’s presently stuck in. Cool you might be thinking, and yes, I would agree with you if it wasn’t for when this animation occurs it does so when you are being shot and while it goes on you are still losing health. Frustrating in the extreme.

Aesthetically though, Far Cry 2 does shine with the best of them. Running off of the in-house ‘Dunia’ engine, Far Cry 2 ably renders the harsh African plains and shanty town villages seen in Hollywood films such as Blood Diamond and on media news reports with startling visual splendour. Zebra and wild Buffalo gallop across dusty plains, thin golden hay sways lazily in the breeze, the water is fully-reflective I could literally go on and on about just how graphically accomplished this game is, but I’ll skip straight to the highest point of this game’s visually arresting arsenal of retina pleasing tricks; Fire.

Nowhere in any game have I seen fire so expertly created, depicted and thrown around with effortless yet realistic abandon. Any fire caused by the player or as a by product of a battle, will spread across the environment catching the expansive grasslands and trees on fire. It’s truly a mesmerising effect, and one which is not without a gameplay use either as setting fire to the landscape around an entrenched enemy can either burn them alive or quite literally, smoke them out into the open to be picked off.

It would be unfair to conclude this review without mentioning the map creator and multiplayer modes. The former is actually quite a robust map-editing tool, allowing users to create and share multiplayer maps with one another. The unfortunate irony of this however, is that the multiplayer mode is actually a very generic mediocre affair, with all the usual deathmatch and team based modes we’ve seen time and again, sending many players running back to their Call Of Duty M-16’s or Covenant Sniper Rifles.

At the end then, Far Cry 2 does very bravely take the franchise into the sandbox FPS genre, but does so without thinking about the sand-in-the-box. While there are a fair few notable touches here, there are many things that simply don’t work and worse, the core mechanic of the game simply appears to be horrendously broken, as doing pretty much the same set of missions over and over which require the player to travel huge distances and fight respawning enemies simply doesn’t result in a fun and rewarding experience.

Tragically, Ubisoft have created a graphics engine, sandbox and some noteworthy features that deserve a much better game, leaving gamers with a lot of ‘what could be’s’ in their minds as they wonder where it all went so wrong.

If you’re going to reinvent wheel, at least do it properly.

Overall Score: 6.3

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Written by bitsnark

February 16, 2009 at 2:37 pm

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