We have a theory that all really good PC games begin with the player confined to some method of transport that they can’t control, forcing them to watch the scenery roll by as the backstory filters through to their subconscious. BioShock, Call of Duty 4, Half-Life – all of them start with the player in a car, plane or train for the opening sequence.
Far Cry 2 does the same thing and for the first few minutes you’ll be sat in the back of a taxi being taken to your hotel and watching the waxing and waning of the chaos around you. The backstory is woven into the environment and the contexts around you – one moment you’re watching your driver shoo buffalo out of the way, the next he’s bribing local militia with beer to get you past a checkpoint.
When the game actually does let you take control after this well-made and gentle introduction, the pace rapidly changes. You’re quickly threatened, shot and diagnosed with malaria. In the short term it’s the malaria which is most important – the game draws you in by forcing you to trade favours and complete missions in order to get medicine.
Once your supply of drugs is secured and you’ve got familiar with the two main parties involved in the civil war, the APR and UFLL, the game takes the stabilisers off and lets you really get your teeth in. From thereon you’ll be trading favours, accepting missions and causing all sorts of chaos as you pursue your long-term goal; to kill The Jackal.
Africa is a complex place though and the 50 square kilometres you have to mess around in makes for a formidable playground. The first thing you’re advised to do is to get a safehouse and start making some friends.
Friends play an important part in the game and a huge portion of Far Cry 2 is spent trying to keep your allies happy and your foes confused. At the start of the game you get a chance to choose your identity from one of a dozen or so other mercs with the same goal, but whichever guns for hire you don’t choose will still play role in the game and it’s by finding and helping them that you can unlock some of the game's extra-special features.
One of the first missions you come across in the game, for example, is to try and wipe out a Special Forces squad that is planning to launch an attack on one of the two warring parties. Your mission-giver tells you that you’ll need to destroy all their equipment. It seems simple enough, right? Surely the hard part will just be getting there in one piece since it’s a long way to the Special Forces base (or not, thanks to the busses which act as the fast travel system).
If you’ve managed to make some friends though (and provided they like you enough) then your ally will give you a call and suggest an alternative plan. How about you go to the Special Forces’ informant and force him to feed them some fake data? You could lure your enemy to a more vulnerable position and wipe them out far easier, though you’ll need to do some extra legwork to do it.
This is one of the easiest things to like about Far Cry 2 and it’s also one of the most accessible and useful. By using friends and informants you quickly attach to other characters and are made to care about them, while at the same time getting more options and extra-paths to try if you find certain missions too hard.
That’s not all your buddies are good for though. Ubisoft has done its best to make them a real and functioning part of the game world. Find yourself getting shot down in battle? You can rely on your best buddy to come to your rescue and give you a second shot at a mission by pulling you to safety and working the assault with you. Not sure where to find the best deals on guns and cars? Your friends can help you out with that too, advising you on tactics and how to progress.
Hell, they can even accompany you as back-up if you need and Ubisoft has made sure that they don't slow you down with poor path-finding by ensuring they just meet you at the battlefield.