Far Cry 2 casts you in the role of one of several mercenaries plying their trade within a fictional African nation torn between two warring factions, each promising to lead everyone to prosperity while secretly lining their pockets from their misery. You’re only there for one thing: to kill the Jackal, a near-mythical arms dealer playing both sides and who shares nothing in common with Nicholas Cage.
The bad news is that you also seem to have contracted malaria upon your arrival to Africa and are nearly killed at your hotel thanks to the war not having the good sense to wait until you feel better. The Jackal even stops in to say hello before leaving you to your fate. It couldn’t get any worse. But thanks to the timely intervention of a mercenary buddy who clues you in on the action and pulls your arse out of the fire, you live to fight another day as long as you have pills to keep your malaria at bay.
It’s not a sequel to the first game, so there are no mutants or live volcanoes to drive through here, sharing only its love of open world exploration with its wide open vistas and sandbox-like FPS formula and to its credit, it demolishes everything that the first one did with those elements. It’s a virtual tour of sub-Saharan Africa within a fictional nation serving as a not-too-subtle analog of the conflicts raging there in the real world.
And it looks so incredibly fantastic that you might want to wear shades and set a fan next to you to simulate the breeze that washes over its savannah and desert dunes. Ubisoft Montreal’s artists and programmers have continued the Ubisoft tradition of crafting gorgeous worlds and then dropping the player feet first into their imagination. The way the grass shimmers at high noon before it accidentally catches fire from an exploding car, the sunlight flickering through the branches of the thick forests until an ambush disturbs the silence, and hazy waves of heat rising up around you in the desert bring Ubisoft’s slice of Africa to vibrant life. Among the titles that might be used to show off your new HD set, you can’t go wrong with FC2.
The narrative created by this open sandbox lined with bullets and malaria is both gritty and unforgiving in drawing from its parallels to the real world which is its greatest strength. Tackling the topics that it does while immersing the player in the violence and ethical quagmires that its mercenaries and would-be freedom fighters contend with on a mission by mission basis is a refreshing direction for a game like this to explore. From delivering passports to help desperate refugees escape in exchange for the medicine you need to keep your malaria symptoms at bay to assassinating an ex-king, the player is given a variety of dirty jobs to perform as they seek their ultimate objective in killing the Jackal. The mercenary they role playing won’t leave them with a clean conscience.
There are no moral compasses that work in the game, only the jobs that you must take in order to see this through to the end. Well acted performances that color the hard attitudes, condescension, and desperation within the voices of everyone the player runs into only serve to create an atmosphere where no one can trust anyone else, and the soundtrack is a mix of African themes and fast action pieces keeping pace with the dirty laundry.
And no self-respecting merc would be caught without their favorite firearm next to them. Plenty of effects fill your speakers with an unending rattle of bullets and explosions that send fire and bodies flying as far as the physics in the game can take them. Even the environment is as deadly as the mercenaries that want to take you out. Firing an RPG from a patch of dead grass might trap you in a flaming inferno as the wash from the rocket sets it aflame, spreading as it consumes everything in its path forcing you to run for your life before you end up barbecued. Fuel tanks can be sniped providing a convenient distraction, and gas pumps at an abandoned station can be blown to help soften the enemy population.
The central city of each region is considered a neutral zone where anyone can come and go as long as they don’t break the peace and is also where the main story is played out through the missions that the main factions in the game, both of which are convinced that they are the only hope for the embattled nation, can hire you for. As a mercenary with no loyalty to anyone except for the rough diamonds that serve as payment and their contract, whoever you choose at the start of the game to play as will be the wild card whose work may tilt the odds in anyone’s favor as long as the price is right. There are also other mercenaries in the field that you can find and rescue who will join your side as buddies and hang out at the local bar. They’ll also have their own agendas that you can help out with, strengthening your friendship with them which can pay for itself in certain upgrades to your safe houses or in being there to pull your ass out of the fire when things get really bad.
As an FPS taking place in a giant sandbox, each mission will feed your weapons with plenty of cannon fodder which means that you’ll always have something to shoot. But also puts your weapons through serious wear and tear, eventually causing them to jam often enough making them as deadly to have in battle as in facing your own enemies. New weapons can be purchased from weapons dealers who also maintain a conveniently located garage next door acting as your personal arsenal of freedom with replacements supplied free of charge with only the initial purchase price required to make use of them. They may even have additional weapons and upgrade options that you can purchase as long as you are willing to perform a favor or two for them by taking out the competition’s supply lines. Enemies will also drop weapons, but these are almost always rust covered garbage. Still, they can be useful for when you run out of ammo and need to pick one up in a pinch while on the run. You’re not a walking weapons platform and can’t carry a massive arsenal.
FC2 is as much about wandering around its wide, open world with a gun in hand as it is in performing favors for everyone around you, but the main story doesn’t come into its own until somewhere halfway in. The story taking place in between either of these two factions, depending on who you decide to support first, will take center stage for most of the game which may surprise players expecting an ongoing narrative in pursuing the Jackal with a reminder mission every so often. In a way, the gameplay’s focus on immersing the player in the problems of this small nation are a part of the backstory that follows the player’s personal quest, and there is a lot to get through. FC2 is probably one of the longest, single player titles ever made for an FPS with over thirty or so hours of campaign missions and side work to perform before the ending is even in sight.
But as much as the story, and the nation’s narrative, are shaped by these missions, the mechanics behind them whittle away at the story’s grit making the experience bland and featureless through repetition. Much of this sounds exciting on paper, but in practice, FC2’s problems work against maintaining the kind of open world enthusiasm that other titles such as Rockstar’s Grand Theft Auto series or even Bethesda’s Elder Scrolls have largely succeeded with. The wide open world is stifled by playing only to its FPS trappings, refusing to challenge you into thinking that there might be more hidden out in the wilderness than hidden briefcases and random firefights. It plays at civil war, but the only battle that will be waged here is the one that the game confronts you with. You won’t even get chased by any of the wildlife in the game, so don’t expect to run through the jungle hoping that a panther or leopard isn’t nipping at your heels.
One of the bigger problems that breaks this illusion is that the mercenaries and other guns-for-hire in Far Cry 2 all hate you and only you. Only when they’re scripted to actually fight each other is there any sense that you are caught in a war between two sides, but it’s only a deception because once peace is declared again, they go back to painting your back with a target and stop shooting each other. Are you that much of a threat to this country? I suppose so since you’re the only target that they will ever really focus all of their attentions on.
For such a detailed world supposedly divided into desperate men and delusional warlords, even if you race past them with a mounted grenade launcher, the lone soldier you might leave behind will actually give chase despite seeing the trail of bodies you might have left as your calling card and never think that it might be a bad idea. This happens every time so it’s not because that one soldier was looking to avenge his friends, making every bad guy in the game suicidal to the point of comedy.
Every one of these idiots will make it their personal mission to kill you, and only you, because heat stroke has convinced them that you are Cthulhu’s spawn only not as frightening. Travel the back roads and through the villages of FC2, and you’ll quickly believe that the only war being waged is a crusade to stop you from catching the next bus. You won’t see skirmishes between small groups of fighters, battles on the river, or the occasional raid against an enemy stronghold. It’s the entire world vs. the player. When both factions give you your missions, they conveniently note that they won’t be able to tell their own people that you’re working for them. After so many of these missions, I started wondering if these guys even know how to use radios or cell phones. Everyone in the game seems to have them, yet they don’t use them a whole lot except to look good or confused when they lose signal forcing you to drive all over the place, but that’s a whole other issue.
Making this one-sided world even more appealing are the guard posts that lie scattered along the road which dispense instant soldiers minutes later even if you’ve blown everything to ashes, complete with vehicles and supplies. This might not have been much of an issue at all if such outposts regenerated themselves after a day or so, or several in-game hours later instead of simply driving a few hundred yards away and then swinging back to see that everything was rebuilt as if you were in at the Delos Resort.
If this is supposed to make the drive more exciting by creating instances of chaotic action and nail-biting gunplay, it has only made the core of the game incredibly boring through repetition thanks to everyone piling on the “let’s only kill the player” war wagon now served up at every checkpoint for your pleasure. For everything that it did wrong, at least Deep Shadows’ Boiling Point wasn’t as obnoxious with its firefights and actually made an effort in making both sides go at each others’ throats outside of the scripted events.
They’ll even ride up to you and attempt to get out of their car, making it hilariously easy to just stand there and wait like a lethal meter maid armed with an assault rifle. They’ll do the same thing every time without fail, thinking that they might…just might…get the drop on you. Would you try and step out of your car while the other guy casually aims their machine gun at you? I thought not, but the mercs in this game will, making every encounter eventually feel as if it just gets in the way. After dealing with a string of three trucks and the gaggle of gunmen that they came with for the hundredth time, I started hating having to go anywhere in the game. I’d use the bus network, but in what can only be a reason to force the player to drive even more in the game and expose themselves to even more bullets, many of the stops fall short of most everywhere that you may need to go.
There’s not much of an incentive to win most of these firefights other than to finish them quickly because the secondary rewards are pretty much worthless. You can’t gather and sell any spare weapons that they might have to the dealers, nor get any extended use out of them because the only thing holding them together is rust. Are they carrying diamonds? No clue, because you can’t search their corpses. The only reason to shoot these guys is to get them out of the way which is pretty much what twenty or thirty hours of shooting boils down to in FC2. I like FPS but facing the same challenge every time slowly burned away whatever enthusiasm I had in playing the part of a hardened mercenary. Perhaps much like the mercenary I played in the game, I was growing cynical, amoral out of not caring anymore because I had grown numb to the fighting, and simply wanted to get the experience over with. As realistic as that sounds, it didn’t make the game any more entertaining or as deeply insightful than the repetitive, formulaic exercise it began to slowly transform itself into.
But the worst feeling was that FC2 had wasted its open world opportunity by sticking firmly to a shallow set of missions along with dropping nothing more than a few trinkets into its beautiful wilderness. What about joining a cell of self-employed fighters in raiding a medical convoy ‘appropriated’ by one of the two sides that you might run into? Or discovering a cache of Soviet equipment hidden in an abandoned bunker? Talking to an independent spook who might be in the market for hired help while on “holiday”? Or accidentally running into one of the military convoys moving through the area, loaded with plenty of supplies for you to take? It might not have mattered, though, until the repetitive gunplay is dealt with allowing the player to breath in and appreciate the world around them.
As much of an Oblivion-like potential that this has for choice, many missions are also fixed to one outcome, no matter what you might think to do instead. One mission had me destroy an operation producing medicine for one of the factions, medicine that I could have used, but I had no choice but to demolish the ovens. But you’re dying of malaria, wouldn’t finding a way to KEEP the medicine be worth a little subterfuge? Despite how you might feel for either side in this civil war, you also have no choice but to basically run through all of the missions they will offer in order to reach the inevitable conclusion, much like any other run-of-the-mill FPS title. FC2’s wide open world only has the illusion of choice.
Reaching the end of this journey rewards the player with a sobering, cinematic finish which is actually worth seeing. When the last few missions play out, it actually feels as if the gameplay has found its own focus once again in making every fight count towards building the narrative. Multiplayer rounds out what is left in case the player has the need to exchange shots with fellow mercenaries around the world, sending sixteen desperate souls into one of several gameplay modes ranging from Deathmatch to Capture the Diamond. The class-based gameplay gives you plenty to choose from to match your preferences and players can improve their ranking. As dangerous as the environment is in the single player, multiplayer offers the same thing along with all of the vehicles.
Far Cry 2 should be remembered for the action pieces that it gives the player and the sandbox world that it wraps their expectations within as well as the story that it tries to tell by peering into the darkest heart of Africa. It starts off as a blistering fight to survive a battle that comes at you from all sides whether it is the sickness tearing you up from within or the mercenaries that want to permanently cut you out from the action everywhere else. But the abrasive world questioning the player’s scruples with every mission is squandered by the repetition the gameplay seems to thrive upon until the end, making enduring its journey a fight against tedium.