With just a couple months left in 2008, it’s about time to start seriously considering the annual year-end awards. So what might Far Cry 2 be up for? Game of the Year perhaps? Sorry, no. Best Shooter? Nah-ah. How about Thinnest Connection to a Franchise, Ever. Yeah, that’ll work. Swashbuckling mercenary Jack Carver? Gone. Mad science and human experiments? Axed. Heck, we even wound up on a different continent somehow. So what exactly does Far Cry 2 have in common with the original? Well, there are guns, and lots of dudes to shoot with them. But that doesn’t really qualify it as a sequel, does it? Apparently it does.
Erroneous claims and franchise status not withstanding, Far Cry 2 drops you directly into the middle of a civil war in an unnamed African nation as a mercenary on the trail of a notorious arms dealer known only as “The Jackal”. To get closer to your shamelessly clichéd prey you’ll have to establish yourself, and that means doing jobs for various factions. Most of them amount to approximately the same thing—go somewhere and kill, explode, or steal someone or something. For every story mission one of your buddies will present you with an alternate method of doing the job, which is always more complicated but will net better rewards in the long run, usually an upgrade to the many safe-houses you can unlock by “liberating” them from hostile forces. There are also plenty of side missions to do like hits for hire, helping your local weapons supplier take out the competition, and acting as bagman for the underground in exchange for medicine to treat your malaria. Really? Malaria as a plot device and gameplay element? Yeah, cause that’s not creepy and weird or anything.
Rather than a series of linear missions though, Far Cry 2 presents you with an incredible open world, kilometers upon kilometers of beautifully rendered African landscape. While the crafting of the world is superbly done, the tedious trekking from one mission to another is less than thrilling. Guard posts are everywhere, and no matter how many times you smash through them they just miraculously return in perfect condition with a new set of goons defending them, sometimes just minutes after you’ve passed through and blown everything to smithereens. Enemy vehicles are constant pests who predictably attack in exactly the same way every time, forcing you to fend them off and then repair your vehicle before continuing on your way. None of this is really difficult, it’s just an incessant nuisance rather than anything additive or immersive.
The unfortunate part is that when you actually get to the more meaty missions there is a lot to like about them. You’re given considerable freedom in how you attack your targets, and there is a substantial and diverse arsenal to aid you in all your mercenary endeavors. Enemies do a decent job flanking and taking cover, and everything has a really nice feel. It’s just a shame that so many obstacles have been placed in the way of enjoying these better moments. On the plus side, because the foundation of the game is pretty sound multiplayer actually ends up playing surprisingly well. Class based weapon load-outs and unlockable gear may not be the most original way to go but it gets the job done admirably here, and the robust map editor that comes with the game is just begging for a rabid modding community to run with it.
Some games grow on you the more you play them, as you get used to the little idiosyncrasies and learn to appreciate the finer points. Far Cry 2 is at the opposite end of the spectrum, a game that makes it harder and harder for you to like it by placing more and more junk between you and its best features. No doubt all done with the best of intentions, in the name of open world game design and player freedom, but that doesn’t change the result—a pretty decent shooter that forces you into tedious repetition rather than immersing you in an exciting adventure. The tools are there for an above average game, and in those moments when they all come together it can be spectacular, but there’s just too much in the way to ever really enjoy the whole package.