Far Cry 2 might have been greeted by positive reviews on launch (including our own), but it's one of those games that picked up something of a bad reputation in the months following its release, and seemed to be soon forgotten. To say Far Cry 2 didn't deserve this is a huge understatement.
Set in a huge, open, war-torn Africa, Far Cry 2 casts you as an assassin on the trail of an arms dealer called The Jackal. In order to close in on your quarry and finish the job you’ll need to gather info from the main factions operating in the area - The UFLL and APR - who will only help you if you prove loyal enough.
Neither side knows the whole story about The Jackal though, so you’re forced into playing both sides for profit and information as their war escalates. It’s admittedly a well-worn plot at best but it serves as a good enough join-the-dots between missions and the trick to enjoying Far Cry 2 is to put this plot nonsense to the side. It's not what you're here for, not really.
Like its predecessor, Far Cry 2 excels when it's showing you a situation in the distance - a farm house, a junk yard, an airport – and then asks you to kill everyone inside it. Like the original Far Cry it gives you lots of options to accomplish that objective with, but in Far Cry 2 the variables at your control are much more exaggerated. The amount of choices you make for each mission start piling up long before you even get in sight of an enemy, until eventually you sit on a hill overlooking a target and are seconds away from the point where everything is going to culminate into something spectacular.
Stop following me!
It starts in near silence, in a rundown hut with a dilapidated computer that creaks at you as you buy weapons from the local arms dealer. Each purchase gets hung on the wall of your personal armoury next door. It's an apparently peaceful process, a calm oasis of shopping from the hostile Africa outside, but it's also in here that your plans begin to formulate. You browse around an almost crumbling garage toying with the ideas each weapon brings.
Flame-throwers, for example, are always fun. And with the fire modelling in place here it would be almost rude not to take one, but they are short range and messy. Maybe that sniper rifle would complement it nicely? And an Uzi just in case? But then stealth is a hell of a lot more stylish, so maybe stick to a silenced pistol? Or you could go completely the other way, equipping nothing but propelled explosives, grenades and the ever comical remote mines. With so many choices, narrowing it down to just three weapons is a torturous process.
It might just sound like Gun Porn, and to an extent it is, but it also stretches far beyond that. As you choose your weapons you are also choosing a strategy based purely on your expectations and a scant mission briefing. How many guys will there be? How hidden are they? Will you have room to manoeuvre? All these questions are running through your head as you cherry-pick your tools. Selecting, reselecting, seeing how each gun feels and gauging its potential usefulness for the task in hand. Then, of course, you factor in your mood. A silenced pistol isn't going to hit the spot after a tough day at the office, but that automatic shotgun - well that just might. And finally, after this almost ritualistic selection is complete, it's time to hit the road. You step out into the wilderness and find a car.
Two birds, one bullet
Driving was a major factor in Far Cry 2 getting a bad rap at times. It can often seem slow as you traverse the same roads again and again to get somewhere exciting, and it was only broken up by random encounters with mercs either on patrol in their own cars or at pre-designated checkpoints. The implementation isn't great, the checkpoints re-spawn enemies almost instantly at times and patrols boil down to an inconvenience. It's nothing short of exhausting having to put your mission objective on hold again in order to get out of your car, kill 5 or 6 guys, and get back in; only to have to repeat the whole process minutes later. The reasoning is there for it - this is an action game, you probably should be shooting someone every minute or so, but it could – should - have been handled better.
Still, there are choices here, in these mini-sandboxes and the checkpoints can even make for great trial runs before you delve into the mission proper. Are you going to get out of your car and pick the mercs off from afar, or simply ram a truck through and hope to get out before they have time to organise and give chase? The former is far safer but can potentially drain ammo and health syrettes; the latter faster but more dangerous and lethal if it goes wrong. There is equal chance however that neither is a viable option and the best plan you can muster is simply "rocket launcher". There’s joy in that too, after all.
When you do get close to that elusive objective it's map time again: this time to pick an entry point. A back entrance is always preferable but it might mean an extra checkpoint or an overwhelming amount of open terrain to cover on foot, and you could just be spotted right away anyway. And the map that tells you all of this surprisingly isn't something to be glossed over; it's a physical thing - something you hold. You can keep it in your peripheral vision while driving, or assess it while keeping half an eye on your environment in case that patrolling guard comes back. It's another way Far Cry 2 tricks you into immersion - it makes everything physical and never breaks first person perspective. The whole game is like this and everything is built to put you in Africa and not let you out.