Guest Post: Exploring what he considers the last good game in the series Hax Monster reminises about Far Cry 2

Posted by: Jason Silverain / Category: , ,

Like with your pride the first time you manage to make a fire in the woods without matches, the amazement about a good video game series simmers down when it all starts burning itself to the ground. Series like Call of Duty, Assassin’s Creed or Thief are masters of their genre and pioneers in gaming technology until suddenly they look back, realize that they’re so popular they’ll never have to do a damn until the end of days and spend the rest of their runtime extensively testing that feeling. And usually you can point out one game that was the turning point; a game that perhaps wasn’t bad itself but which ushered in the era of minimum-effort player-milking games. With Call of Duty it was the first Modern Warfare and with Thief it was Thief (god, that sounds stupid). 
With the Far Cry series, that game was Far Cry 3. While immensely popular and actually quite good in it’s own right, it forebode a time where Ubisoft would not know what to do with the franchise; for Far Cry 4 they simply did Far Cry 3 again with some snow added and Far Cry Primal isn’t really a sequel at all as it has as much to do with the other Far Cry instalments as it has to do with the newest instalment of Jaffa Cakes. Therefore I want to reminisce about the last undoubtedly good Far Cry that I remember: Far Cry 2.

In Far Cry 2 you take the role of a mercenary sent out to an African country where two factions are fighting a long civil war. Your job there is to take out an arms dealer named ‘The Jackal’ and to do this you do jobs for the warring factions and a truckload of side missions for all kinds of nutters that are all in their own way trying to get a slice of the African pie that is the country’s vanishing wealth. Inbetween the mission you get an open game world with cars and enemies smeared out evenly like butter on toast, with the freedom to go pretty much everywhere. So far, so generic. Then what is it that makes this title the hidden jewel that it is? I’ll show you!

Pub quiz time! Name as many games as possible that are set in Africa!

Well, how did you do? I myself can only think of Serious Sam 3, although calling Egypt an African country is like calling Origin serious competition for Steam; strictly true but practically not quite. The only other African game that comes up for me is Far Cry 2. So on the originality scoreboard Far Cry already marks highly on ‘setting’ for me. The setting is perhaps the biggest and most important ingredient of Far Cry 2’s recipe that I devour with so much gusto. As soon as you start the game up you are presented with an overwhelming feeling of being in that dry, war-torn hostile place and you are immediately immersed eyehole-deep. The colour palate delivers the dryness of sub-Saharan African steppes in dry season, the vegetation moves naturally and is very real, the light is beautiful and intense. 
You get to soak up all of the setting during the game’s very well-executed intro cinematic that for me is only really bested by Bioshock’s bathysphere ride. During this first moment of the game you are driven around a large part of the map where your cheerful cabdriver acquaints you with fires, oppressive troops, panicking civilians and misery. Normally this kind of exposition is all setup and no payoff, but when you do actually roam freely around the world you get the same feeling as when you were in the taxi. With the game’s superbly subtle soundtrack and beautiful lighting the game world always has this characteristic looming feeling of threat over it. Everything feels even more real when you take a moment to spy on a few enemy camps from a distance. All those soldiers chat with each other in really well-voice-acted dialogues and are constantly doing things normal people do as well, like pissing up trees and try to get mobile reception for hours. A lot of little details like this make the world feel ever so vibrant. And although this is nothing as intense like, say, Spec Ops: The Line, Far Cry 2 managed to do quite well when it comes to setting up a miserable country with scared people, traumatized by war.

For those curious here is a video of the intro - Silverain

This is, of course, all framework. What is the actual painting part of the painting like? Very briefly described, the core gameplay of Far Cry 2 is that of it’s sequel, only more slowly paced and less forgiving. The slower pace has to do the higher difficulty of stealthing and the lower movement speed. This is a lot closer to Arma 2 than it is to, say, Call of Duty. As far as the unforgiving is concerned, Far Cry 2 is like a cheap hotel bed: full of sand, blood and, most importantly: obnoxiously hard. On higher difficulty settings especially you will never win a fight unless you got in a perfect position beforehand and mapped every enemy out for yourself. 

 An example of perfect positioning.

Combat from a car is a pain in the arse in particular because the AI always drives faster than you do and can have a gunner in the car while someone else is driving. Your chances are therefore very slim in chases. Then there is the tricky health system. There is practically no regenerating health and once you are at low health, pressing the heal button makes your character arduously extract the bullets from his arm or put a bandage on it which takes about as much time as getting three hundred involuntary metal piercings all over your body. You also don’t have a minimap that is always visible and weapons degrade quickly, which can be very frustrating unless you neurotically switch your gun for a new one every single time you pass by a gunstore. So the game is harsh, but that too builds atmosphere. Where in Far Cry 3 you felt like some kind of demi-god that could survive a breezeblock to the face, you actually feel very human while playing Far Cry 2. You are still a squishy walking pile of meat, stuck together with flimsy bone. That feeling is quite rare in shooters these days.

Then there is another fine bit of original immersing game design: the buddy system. In Far Cry 2 you, over the course of the game, meet a bunch of NPC’s who become your friends and give you side missions. One particular buddy also gives you optional objectives for main story missions and, most remarkably, another buddy will appear into the game and revive you whenever you die. Then he fights alongside you. That and their wide variety in looks and, albeit shallow, personalities makes you care about them. It’s only a shame that they are just like you: walking piles of brittle meat. They die the moment an enemy so much as looks their way and sometimes when they are downed, if the gods of random number generators are not on your side, they die no matter how hard you try to revive them. For me, whenever that happened, it was actually a sad moment. All of them can die. This frailness also makes them feel like actual people that you care about, not refrigerators with miniguns strapped to their pecs that kill all threats for you. 

Then there are a bunch of other details that make the game as great as it is. Sometimes, when you shoot an enemy, he is downed but not dead. Of course you can just shoot him again to kill him but if you don’t do that, the enemies think you have left and the stars have aligned then a teammate of his will come up to revive him. When he is being treated the panic in the injured soldier’s voice is also really well-acted and believable. In general this game has really good voice acting. It is odd, however, that things like enemy taunts are really well-acted while a lot of the story cutscenes have really dull, uninterested voice actors. Luckily, considering that there are not that many scenes of that kind, it’s no dealbreaker. Then there’s stealthing. Far Cry 3 gave you an enormous arrow indication that lit up when an enemy so much as smelled your farts but here, there’s nothing like that. You actually have to listen to what enemies are saying to know if they spotted you or not, which will happen very quickly because this is not Skyrim, where you can stay invisible in plain sight when you are at a high level. Here enemies actually have realistic cones of vision so staying hidden is really hard because you can’t allow yourself to see the enemies either, or they’ll see you. 
If all this is great, then why was this game forgotten so much that you need me to tell you about it again? Beyond the high difficulty that can be attributed to a few factors. Firstly, missions are quite repetitive. Missions from the same sources always have the same layout and objective and only differ in location. Then there’s the really annoying feature that this game is a sandbox in the same way as Borderlands 2 for instance: not really an open world, but a bunch of linear paths that cross each other a lot. There are so many mountains that you can’t cross that the game world is an enormous Swiss cheese. The kind of gaming audience that spends hours in Skyrim walking over mountains just for the sake of taking the direct route isn’t going to like that. Then there was the money system that I didn’t really like. Money was very limited and could only come from the finite number of missions or from exploration. Because of this you could never really get a lot of weapons and that is a shame because there aren’t really many in the first place. 

On console ports aiming your gun felt as clunky and slow as redirecting a nuclear submarine and the multiplayer was practically unplayable because of that it required ALL twenty-or-so people in the game to ready up for the next round. On the PC version I couldn’t even get it to work in the first place. The console version also has a ported level editor that is more annoying to work with than an autistic baboon. I can’t imagine why that was designed in the first place. Furthermore I think it was a shame that we don’t actually notice the war itself going on beyond one or two scripted events where the two factions actually fight each other. The war’s feeling of threat is there alright but we never see it actually happening. If I’d lure enemies from one side to a camp of the other faction they would just all fight me like they are one team. They are supposed to be actively fighting each other if you’d believe the story, but you barely see that happen beyond fixed moments of exposition.

Beyond that there are a few technical imperfections. Clipping issues are very common, especially when you shoot someone sitting in a car and enemies have this curious tendency to end up in a shoulder-shrugging position when they are dead. Explosions can make large things like cars spaz out and one other glitch once caused the enemies I was fighting to suddenly stat shooting the corpse of one former comrade of theirs that I just killed. Then there’s the slight issue that the AI can’t drive DLC-added vehicles. 

So, undoubtedly this game requires your attention if you’re up for a shooter that’s a little more organic than a nuclear power plant. I can’t guarantee that it will work on newer computers because I can’t run my old disc copy on my Windows 10 machine, but that might also be because of that the disc is seven years old. Avoid the console ports and just get it for PC. Get it and enjoy yourself, just try not to run over too many zebras on the way!


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