So I've just driven about 12 km's and managed to avoid too much confrontation at the last two checkpoints before quietly rolling up about a kilometer away from my target. I still don't know much about it, or what to expect so I have to be quiet; take things easy and assess the situation. Thankfully there seems to be a large rock face lurking over the immediate area that should keep me out of sight while I recon the potential damage.
Scurrying up through the thick brush, I find a fairly inconspicuous spot, kneel and pull out my map and GPS. From this position I can see most of the camp, so I pull out my monocular and target the guard post at the camp's entrant, click and add it to my map. Behind the guard post there's also a med box, which should come in handy if the shit hits the fan. Click, it's been added. Panning along I also manage to see a sniper perched high and above my target area, but he hasn't seen me yet – click. Before finishing up I also notice a bench of ammo located under a makeshift shelter, and realise I'm running low myself. I click and add it to my map and retreat back to the safety of my vehicle. Time to plan my approach.
From this point on I can choose to take out the encampment in any way I see fit. I could jump in a jeep with a mounted machine gun and head in there gung-ho, no-holds barred, or I could attempt to stealth my way in, sneaking up on enemies with only my machete drawn to take them down silently. I could pay attention to the wind, stand up-wind and start a fire a little ways off so it eventually propagates down and terrorises the camp. I could go completely over-the-top and lob a bunch of grenades, set-up bombs or just fire a couple of RPGs down their direction to blow the hell out of them, or I could change my weapons up and perch myself, sniper-style, and pick them all off from afar.
The Jackal has come into Africa, amidst a cease fire to profit through conflict. How does he do this? He’s selling weapons to all sides and inciting war among then. You’ve been hired to take him down, and you’ll actually meet him very early in the game. He knows who you are, but because of your malaria, no longer sees you as a threat, leaving you for dead. This, however, is obviously a good thing as out of his mind, it’s much easier to get close to him.
In short, the opportunities for engagement - based on my own reconnaissance
- are endless (well, as endless as the game will allow
, which is still very extensive). And bear in mind, the description above is based on one encampment from one mission; throughout the world of Far Cry 2 there are numerous villages and camps - all with different location types and therefore different ways of being broached (or breached, as the case may require).
In fact, there's 50sqkm of ground to cover with varying factions, encampments, rebels, towns, safe-houses etc; all waiting to be explored or exploded. But finding
stuff to blow up
isn't even remotely the point of Far Cry 2 (though it is one of its most enjoyable parts), and it's in the game's main goal that it truly shines because, for all its intensely robust parts and size, you truly only have one endgame goal – to find "The Jackal" and kill him. That's it.
A few awesome gameplay innovations stem from having a single goal in a massive fully functioning game-world. One is finding
a single person (who clearly doesn't want
to be found) in such a huge space – like the proverbial needle in a haystack.
Another is utilising said functioning game-world to edge ever closer to your goal, and in Far Cry 2 this is accomplished by making uneasy alliances with the three main factions of the game; the UFLL (United Front For Liberation), APR (Alliance for Popular Resistance) and the Underground. As The Jackal is supplying weapons to all and sundry without discrimination, it creates all kinds of mission goals for you with branching outcomes that paint a path that will (obviously) eventually lead to your target. While that sounds like Videogame Design 101, the fact he is only an endgame goal means anything
can happen in the lead up to your eventual showdown.
There's already a synergy then between the first and second gameplay innovations, and so invariably each of these is equally fed by having to live
in the Africa Ubisoft Montreal have created for you, and believe me, despite looking lush and beautiful as a place of nature, the denizen representation is anything but. This is war-torn, poverty-stricken Africa – a place full of guns-for-hire, separatist gangs and corrupt governments. It's also a naturally dangerous place as you'll discover within your first five-minutes in-game because you're suffering from a severe case of malaria. And it's seriously messing with you (and doesn't go away for quite some time, so get used to being crippled, also.
While weakened by your virus, The Jackal actually pays you a visit, tells you no one will ever find him and then leaves you for dead pronouncing you no longer a threat in his eyes. Good thing, because now he won't be expecting you, which means you can start the game grassroots proper, and this begins with having to escape the hotel you're lying sick in because, as is the case in most areas of Ubi's Africa, war has broken out and you're smack in the middle.
What all this means is your initial strength, conviction and goal have been stripped back. You're starting from square one and as Ubi's Africa is a big place - you're going to need some help.
This comes in the form of a buddy system that may sound borrowed from GTA 4, but these guys are far less cumbersome, and the reality is you could kill them all if you wanted to (their deaths in-game are permanent).
At the beginning of the game you're asked to choose from manifest of characters - all free agents working to gain from both sides but ultimately bring down the Jackal. Who you decide to play as will have dynamic affects on particular conversations, missions and more. It's subtle, and doesn't alter the game-world a great deal, but it's still cool to know Ubi have included enough to keep gamers interested, should minor nuances like this tickle your fancy.
The other free-agents left after you've chosen your persona are then available to you as "Buddies". These guys can pull you out of tricky spots in fire-fights, or if you're hurt enough you'll die. To get their aid, however, you will need to unlock them.
Initially one of your first missions is to free a buddy, but the others are strewn about the game-world and once found, will get you to perform some side-quest to add them to your buddy stable. Once added, they not only save you on the battlefield, but can also offer different ways to complete accepted missions and may even sometimes have a plan that benefits you even more.
Benefits in Far Cry 2 come in the form of safe-houses, weapons, vehicles and diamonds. As you're told early on, paper money isn't "worth wrapping a fish in", and so one of the personal sub collection quests you can follow is to collect every diamond in the game. There are over 200 scattered about Ubi's Africa (you can find them via your GPS as it will blink when one is nearby), while others are gained through completing missions for the game-world's denizens. You then use the currency to buy and upgrade your weapons and the like at various weapon stores and you'll even be given side-quests by shop-keepers that go a long way to helping you fully flesh out your arsenal. It's all very RPG in scope and execution, and just another deep element that'll keep you playing for a long time.
What all of this means is you're never lead down a linear path, never told there's only a single way to complete a mission and never told you're playing the wrong way - this is sandbox gaming in all its glory, and for the most part they [Ubisoft Montreal] have nailed it.
It's more than a refreshing approach to the FPS genre, and while the original Far Cry attempted something like this, Crysis's effort is barely a patch on what Ubisoft Montreal have done with Far Cry 2 (so much so, I really think it should have been called something else). However, in saying that the development team's epic ambitions have most definitely lead to more than a few design inconsistencies and omissions that should have been clearly obvious from the outset as essentials.
The control set-up (on console) is very much the same as Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, which is in no way a bad thing, however, the running implemented in Far Cry is not nearly as natural feeling. You can't really alter course once you've set your path meaning you have to stop, change then run again. Moreover, while I like the fact Ubi have utilised the D-Pad for weapon hot-swapping (you can also carry more weapons in FC2 than in CoD: 4), having to push up on the D-Pad to select my machete (my only
melee weapon, mind you) while in close-quarters in order to dispatch enemies is pretty ridiculous. It's even more ridiculous then you don't really use R3 for anything when it could have clearly been used as a melee attach for any of the weapons you have equipped.
It's also really annoying that everything in the game respawns (barring mission-specific kills). I understand that having such a massive game-world you could potentially empty if you were so inclined wouldn't make for much replay, but I think the respawning of check-points, and various other impediments is just too quick. At the very least, randomise it so it's not an expectation.
Finally, the enemy AI is really good. But something CoD: 4 did right that hasn't really been done properly since the days of N64 GoldenEye of Perfect Dark is reactive hit-points on targets (though I know there are more, but they were among the first).
There's nothing worse than facing off against an enemy who has you in his line of sight and can still shoot you with deadly aim no matter how many times you're hitting him. Having reactive hit points would add to the game's realism and would also complement the AI cover and flanking system here which is great, but without reactions appropriate to the fight, they [AI] just seem a bit too
Those issues aside there's still so much to enjoy. If it's not the warring faction intrigue that gradually draws you in or just being able to burn massive portions of the environment, the obvious online support to follow alongside the already impressive list of features will more than keep you spinning the disk.
An obligatory online multiplayer mode is well supported, but having a map-editor across all
platforms is just the absolute icing on the cake, and the depth available to even console players is something I guarantee will keep creatively ardent people happy for a while (there are even map editing Achievements to unlock).
Beyond all that, the impressive technology at-hand is a marvel unto itself. With an engine built from scratch (initially for PC) that not only lets you play in a 50sqkm game-world, but also only loads once despite an unbelievable amount of detail and actions all working at once
and streams almost seamlessly (I saw the most minor of hiccups in frame-rate here and there), you're going to find yourself marveling regardless.
There is definitely room for improvement in a number of key gameplay areas, but the sum of its parts far outweigh a few gripes that can most definitely be overlooked. At the end of the day, this is a sure winner for shooter fans. Though it does spark the beginning of the end of the year when everything of incredible quality claws its way into your wallet or purse, it does have the advantage of being among the first, and given I was clearly over 15 hours into the game when writing this review with a percentage completion rate of just under 20, you can bet you're going to get some serious value for money (and that's not counting the online and map-editing stuff).