Ubisoft, 2008
Video game review
Far Cry 2
Interesting, complex environment. Some novel concepts for a first-person shooter. Gorgeous graphics. Lots of room to play around in.
Uneven delivery can be frustrating. Not comfortably in sandbox or linear camp. Uninspired characters.
Tedious. Some of the new mechanics are deeply aggravating. Not worth the price (as of April 2009).
3

Excellent graphicsExcellent graphics:

Who says there's nothing to be said for eye candy? Although the standards of graphic excellence are always moving forward, something about this game's graphical presentation really stands out. At the time this review was written, the graphics were top-notch, either in their class or in gaming altogether.
InnovativeInnovative:

Something new is truly being brought to the table here. Although others may have had aspects of it before, this game is raising the bar by presenting an experience that is fundamentally novel in some way. In playing it, you should find yourself exposed to something you've never done before.
Astronomical scopeAstronomical scope:

Nobody was thinking small when they designed this game. The attention to detail or the vast range of possibilities afforded when you're playing it will cause you at least once to step back and utter a Keanu-inspired "whoa". Somebody shot for the moon here, and more importantly they hit it.
Standout in a crowded classStandout in a crowded class:

This game may be part of a pretty common genre, but there's something about it that sets it apart. It may just be that the graphics are cell-shaded or the acting is done in cut-scenes with talented actors, it may be a fundamental element of the gameplay, but in a crowded field this game nonetheless manages to find something that lets it stand out.
UnevenUneven:

Some parts of this game are ridiculously awesome, while others are just ridiculous. This note is for games that lack consistency--typically for games that are otherwise extremely good, but have weak points that mar the overall presentation. It might still be worth playing, but the range between the high points and the low ones is vast.
Achievement gapAchievement gap:

This game makes lofty promises--maybe even sold itself on the strength of those promises--but getting from the Grand Idea to the delivery is apparently as difficult as jumping the Snake River Canyon. And here you would've thought it might be simpler to just build a bridge...
OverpricedOverpriced:

Regardless of whether this game is good or bad (though more often because it's bad) it's definitely overpriced. Maybe it's worth five or ten dollars--maybe it's worth twenty. Regardless, the sticker on the box at the time of the review significantly overstates its value. Careful how you spend your money, or you might be left holding the bag on a game that isn't quite what you bargained for (but that's why you read these reviews, isn't it?).
TediousTedious:

At some point, the game designers seem to have forgotten that the point of video gaming is generally to have fun. Perhaps the storyline is consistently interrupted with the same repetitive minigames, or perhaps getting between two points seems to inevitably require a thirty minute journey through absolute nothingness. Either way, haven't you been putting off your taxes this year? Perhaps you should go do that instead.


Sunset, on a stretch of savannah in some hellhole god gave up on a long time ago but didn't bother to tell the locals. I've been crawling on my stomach for what feels like hours, trying to find a good place to overlook the road. Five minutes ago a jeep went by not ten feet away--thank god they didn't see me. I've been "in country," like we used to say about the Nam, a couple of weeks now. The guy who sells me guns says one of his rivals is sending a convoy through. Beyond that, so long as it never makes it to its destination, he don't care.

Well. I care, and so does my RPG. We're just waiting for the right opportunity--like this outcropping, here. It'll be good cover; I can... wait--I hear something. Yeah--there they are now, the bastards. A big old truck--one of those Russian ones, I think, with an engine you could hear from space. Real distinctive-like. A truck and two escorts. Well, this'll be easy.

I pull out my AK--well, I've come to think of it as mine. Pulled it off a dead whenwe a couple days back--ammo's real plentiful here, good ol' 7.62. It's rusted a bit--dumb bastard who had it before me didn't take such good care of it--but in the crimson of the dying sun behind me, it glows a bit too. I watch the convoy get closer. Everyone travels in packs here, like wolves. That's all anyone is here, fucking dogs tearing at scraps and thinking they're getting ahead. Until it ends in a bullet.

Like the driver of this little jeep. I sight in on him, watching him come--he can't see me against the sun. Well, his loss. Just like hunting deer--calculate the path, the bullet drop, the deflections. The target's smaller, that's all. I squeeze the trigger and the driver jerks before sliding forward against the dashboard. The jeep eases to a halt without the pressure on the gas, and the truck behind slows reflexively before starting to turn off the road to get around the stricken hummer.

That's all it takes. Quick as a viper, I've got the RPG out--the truck's side is to me; a nice, tempting target. The round goes true, and I find out what happens to a load of high-explosive and bullets when a shaped charge hits it. Nothing left of the truck, and the explosion rips apart the gunner of the jeep I'd nailed as he's trying to find out where the round came from. Twenty cents for a round of 7.62; three bucks American for the grenade.

What can I say? Life is cheap.

The other escort car has a pretty good guess of where I am, and he turns, throwing it into low range and shoving the pedal down to let the tyres bite eagerly at the dust of the savannah, devouring it like a starving man. I've got the AK back out, but the jeep's moving too quick to get a good shot off. I can see the driver now, and I know he sees me. There's no hatred there, no fear--no emotion, just the look of a predator. Ain't we all? As our eyes lock, I have time to get one round off.

I wonder if he sees the muzzle flash of the bullet that kills him. Probably doesn't have the time, but his body comes forward, jamming the accelerator down, and the wheel swings over so that the car is moving at an angle when it hits a rock in front of me. It ramps into the air, spinning like a rifle bullet, and I've had haircuts that didn't come as close as the roll bar of the jeep as it flies over my head, landing on its back with its tyres spinning frantically. It's flailing like a cockroach, I think.

The gunner was thrown clear in the spin and he's disoriented, trying to get up. That's all it takes. I put my machete through his back and he goes down hard. Just another day in Africa, ain't it?

But the explosion of the truck has started a fire in the brush, and I burn to death.


Far Cry 2, which has nothing to do with the first Far Cry except a couple of words in the title, is a lot like that. When it is good, it is amazingly fun, incredibly atmospheric and deliciously enjoyable to play through. When it is not good, it is fucking horrible--and the time it takes to go from one extreme to the other can give you whiplash.

Set in a fictional state in Africa ("Blood Diamondistan" perhaps), Far Cry 2 sets you up as a mercenary sent to kill an arms dealer, who finds you first, so that your assassination mission fails at first and you're thrust headlong into the brutal regional politics, competing factions and general disarray of a diamond-rich, respect for life-poor country in the Dark Continent.

The first thing you learn is that everyone hates you. If you're walking along, trucks driving by will man their M2 machine guns and cut you down mercilessly. I was tooling along in a completely-unarmed hatchback when somebody came up next to me in a 4x4, shouldered me off the road and into a cliff, and shot me dead in the driver's seat before I could even figure out what had happened. Similarly, I made the mistake of stopping at a stop sign, whereupon I was double-teamed by a pair of technicals. I've had people shoot me in the back with a shotgun while I was trying to get first aid, been RPGed canoeing lazily down a river and had my body ground to death up against the wall of a mansion by somebody in a deuce and a half.

I find it somewhat hard to believe that anyone anywhere has acted like this outside the Mongol horde. But then, Far Cry 2's characters are definitely not its strong suit. For the most part, they're so stock you get the distinct impression they were bought pre-made at Wal-Mart. There's the reporter who wants to Let Their Story Be Heard. There's the Kurtz-like arms merchant. You have friends, all of whom stereotypical badasses as far as I can tell (my first was such a blatant rip-off of Vasquez from Aliens I expected to have to take off and nuke the country from orbit. It's the only way to be sure).

The ridiculousness of the characters contrasts strongly with the serious tone the game at times tries to adopt. There's a lot that goes into making it seem gritty and grim--I was joking about the country's name above but Blood Diamond was a painfully-clear inspiration for the set and setting of the narrative. Things burn, people die. Everything is run-down and shitty. But then this world is populated by cartoons. It's odd.

So if it doesn't tell a good story, how is it as a game?

Schizophrenic, as I said above. For example, the poor story is countered by the absolutely phenomenal graphics. When it wants to be, the game is prettier than just about anything out there, including Crysis. Watching the sun set over a river, or the breeze ripple through the tall grass of the savannah, or the brief distortions in the air left by your bullets is a sight to behold that I cannot convey in either words or pictures. It really, really has to be experienced.

Similarly, though, the sheer brilliance the game displays when one of your ambushes or carefully-planned attacks falls completely into place can be quickly undone when you burn to death in a fire, or when your drive back to the gun shop is interrupted every thirty seconds by people in technicals trying to gun you down.

The same goes for the game's gimmicks. Your character has malaria, which means that every hour or so you have to take a pill or your game starts melting around you. The existence of the disease or these magic pills adds precious little to the plot save for being incredibly irritating when you're driving (somehow a malaria attack flings you from your car) or in the middle of a firefight.

Your guns start to degrade after being toted around in the African bush for awhile, rusting even if all you're doing is hanging out in the desert. This degradation makes itself known in the form of a jam that you have to clear, and diminished accuracy. There's no way to repair the gun, and they break down incredibly easily. Apparently Africa is infested with Kalashnikov termites.

It isn't exactly clear to me what the point of this particular mechanic is. It's not realistic, and since guns are plentiful it's not even really an impediment. You don't have to buy guns after you've bought them for the first time (you apparently pay for an unlimited supply). All it means is that your nice sniper rifle breaks down after five shots and you have to go get another one from your armoury.

Doing so means driving approximately fifty miles across roads that are infested with people who have been sworn to kill you by some bizarre higher power. The roads are marked, which is nice, with clearly legible street signs (they light up in different colours to point you to your objective), but that doesn't change the fact that it's so mind-numbingly dull and repetitive it can make you question the whole point of playing the game.

One wonders if the designers had ever seen a weapon when one sees how quickly they break in the game. But it doesn't even take that kind of specialised knowledge to know that having to drive ten minutes to get somewhere is not fun. So, advice for you, game designers: if people wanted to experience paying money to have to wait to do what they really want to do in order to spend some time driving somewhere making constant, aggravating stops, they don't need a video game. Most cities have busses that will accurately provide this experience.

I do not get exactly when designers decided that people playing their games should have to start commuting in them. It's like this in Far Cry 2, but then it's also like this in Grand Theft Auto, and in the X-series of space simulations, and Freelancer, and Assassin's Creed and so on. It's boring and I hate it. There has to be a way to make a sandbox game where you don't spend 80% of your time travelling between two places, which is not what people do in sandboxes anyway, god damn it.

Unless it's critically important that you actually drive every foot between missions, I think video games should just let you teleport there. I mean, where the hell does the notion that you somehow miss out on something if you're not "experiencing" the "thrill" of holding down the 'w' key for five minutes come from? If the same people who made Grand Theft Auto had made Terminator, would we have been treated to two hours of Arnold driving on his motorcycle before the final confrontation? Really?

Of course not. Because having to go places in your game is monumentally stupid and tedious and it needs to stop, seriously. The only reason anyone does it (aside from GTA where it's also an excuse to drive into people) is to set up random encounters, which are also stupid and tedious. Oh look a truck is blocking my path. I have to get out and shoot them a couple of times before I can get back in my car and drive on. How thrilling. Oh look a pirate spaceship is attacking me ok I will charge my lazer at them oh now I am firing my lazer ok man this is definitely what I spent $50 for.

Whoop-de-fucking-do.

It's seriously like game designers seem to have forgotten that watching the same commercials over and over again on television isn't something we do because we enjoy it, it's something we do because we have to to get back to watching "30 Rock". It's not fun. If you make us do it, you are a douchebag and should have your gaming license revoked.

I am going off on this because, combined with the ragged edges of the game, this repetitive tediousness completely ruins Far Cry 2. Getting to an ambush requires ten or fifteen minutes of intense boredom. Completing a mission is the same way. And if you die--heaven forfend!--then you wind up back at your safe house, looking at another ten minutes of doing the exact same thing, fighting the same stupid enemies over and over again. And then you just quit the game and play some Crysis, which is what Far Cry 2 could've been.

Because the thing is, Crysis was only bad for the last third of the game, and then just because the designers forgot what had made the first part of it so great. Far Cry 2 is bad throughout the game, and for a much more terrible reason: the designers didn't just forget what they'd been doing right, they apparently never knew how in the first place.

Where Crysis was polished, Far Cry 2 is completely raw, like game ore. It's supposed to be a blood diamond in the rough, but it fails on every conceivable level. Crysis understood how to let players choose their own paths without forcing them to spend half an hour to get to the next mission--it let players pick and choose their pace, rather than forcing an artificial, tedious glacialness on them. Crysis understood that even if you didn't have a real great narrative, by letting the player be an awesome, badass character who got to forge his own way of doing things you could also let them gloss over all that.

In Far Cry 2, you're a disease-ridden weakling whose "choices" boil down to cutscenes and deciding between "shooting people in the face and maybe dying" and "spending ten minutes crawling around doing nothing and then shooting someone except they're so far away you have to do it a bunch because apparently G36 bullets don't hurt Africans because of the voodoo magick or something but at least you won't die". Right. Great.

The game's innovations boil down to "you have to hit the 'h' key every hour or you die of malaria", "your guns are made of rust and fall apart like they'd taken out subprime mortgages for their structural integrity" and "you can start fires with a flare gun". None of these are particularly compelling, none of these are particularly fun, and none of these particularly justify the price.

Aside from the graphics, the game could've been made ten years ago. You get diamonds to spend on buying weapons and weapon upgrades. There are exactly enough diamonds in the game to purchase every weapon and upgrade, so if you want your sniper rifle to come to pieces in 12 bullets instead of 10, you have to crawl over the entire seven billion square mile map hunting down briefcases that each contain a single diamond. Or two. I mean, c'mon. They expect you to do that?

The enemies aren't persistent, they have a spawn zone. So if you're trying to sneak around shooting people, you can accidentally leave the zone, step back into it and bam! they're all back again. Shooting you. One of the designers of the game said he wished he'd known beforehand this would piss people off so much because maybe they would've changed it. But really? You have to be told that in 2008 that's not an appropriate way to build a sandbox game? Seriously?

Apparently.

You play Far Cry 2 for those rare moments, like in the ambush I started this review with, where it all comes together and you go "... wow. Fucking wow." They don't happen entirely rarely--the game is full of points where your jaw will be left hanging. You just have to be willing to put up with the bullshit, and unlike Crysis it's not really possible to know when these are coming, to play them over and over again, because Far Cry 2 is juuuuust sandboxy enough to not have the scene-by-scene replay value of a linear game, and juuuuuust linear enough to not be nearly as fun as a sandbox game.

Really, the game's a failure. It ought to be a 2/7. In point of fact, considering it's from a major publishing house (uh. well, Ubisoft...) it should be a 1/7.

But.

When it is good, it is so good it can make you forget about all the bad. So, maybe it's worth a couple of bucks. When I bought it, it was $15 on Steam, and that just might be worth it. Check back at $10 and you'll probably be getting your money's worth.
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