Let me start by saying that I really enjoyed watching “Blood Diamond” last year, the inhuman brutality in such a stunningly visceral setting offered an interesting and thought-provoking juxtaposition that gave the film a nervy energy and made sure I never quite felt at ease with what was going on, even though I could sympathise with the protagonist.
Now, Ubisoft announced Far Cry 2 six months after that rainy January night when I stepped out of the cinema and fought the urge to call my taxi driver “bru”. They announced that it would be set in Africa, that conflict diamonds would be included in the plot somewhere and that it would be awesome. They always say the games are going to be awesome at these announcements so I ignored that point but the “Africa” and the “Conflict Diamonds” bits sounded great. Kanye West was looking forward to it too.
Far Cry 2 was developed by Ubisoft Montreal rather than Crytek, the original team behind Far Cry (and more recently Crysis). At first this made me a little nervous, you expect the sequel to be something like the original and when franchises switch development houses it can often mean they lose touch with the original vision. I thought that would be a bad thing, I massively enjoyed the original Far Cry back in 2004 and looked forward to something similar. Well, let me say that Far Cry 2 is not much like the original. It is hard to understand why they called it a sequel to be honest. It really is more like a sequel to Blood Diamond but they don’t make movie tie-ins this good. The game engine was redesigned almost totally, only two or three percent of the original engine’s code was included in the new “Dunia” engine. There are no mutants, the player-character is not just a normal guy (with a past), you choose from a group of mercenaries sent in to assasinate an arms dealer. In fact, the only similarity I can think of is the slightly more tactical way you have to play the game. And the bits of jungle.
Please understand one thing about Far Cry 2: It is not a First Person Shooter. Yes, it will be marketed as one, categorised as an FPS on websites and in shops. Many fans of the FPS genre will recognise that genre in this game. Essentially you view the world from a First Person viewpoint and you shoot stuff. So it is a First Person Shooter. But it’s not. More so than anything else I can think of recently this game splits genres. It controls like a standard FPS, no cover system for easy hiding, triggers for firing weapons, aiming, throwing grenades and administering health but you have to play it like Metal Gear Solid, sneaking past enemies when possible and using distractions to confuse them. Far Cry 2 is tactical and should be played with a bit more thought than the normal FPS. Your enemy is clever, they’re smarter than any AI I’ve played against. They flank you and not just in that really obvious way that most AI’s manage these days. One or two of them stay behind to distract you from the front while a couple more sneak round your flank and put holes in you. Its quite brilliant but you’ll curse them every time they do it.
So, that’s the genre sorted out (or not), what about the game itself? To say this game is pretty is an understatement, the graphics and lighting are simply some of the best I’ve seen on any platfrom from any game. The textures are brilliant but I did notice the finer foliage forming grid-like patterns when you view it from a bit of a distance, it’s a very minor annoyance that you probably wouldn’t notice if you weren’t being super critical for a TSA review (nofi whips us if we submit a badly written review, he’s harsh but fair). Before we move on let’s focus a bit more on that lighting. I’ve already said that it’s great but it also makes a difference to the game, it is much easier to sneak up on guards at night time but also, if you are in shadow you are harder for the enemy AI to spot, fires and flare guns really do light an area (and make you easier to spot again). When you step into a dark train carriage from the brilliant mid-day sun it takes half a second for your eyes to adjust and it’s all done exquisitely. I can’t remember a game making this light/shade dynamic work quite so well before so it definitely deserves a mention.
The in-game environments range from dusty desert plains to lush green jungles via grassy savanahs and grubby towns and all are well presented and visually stunning. Your range of weapons starts off limited to a pistol and a machete but almost instantly you’re playing with rocket propelled grenades and assault rifles. As with other aspects of this game though, the weapon set-up is not quite as it seems. Your assault rifle jams and your RPG misfires, giving away your location to the Mensa-members you’re trying to kill. It takes time to earn diamonds (the game’s currency) to buy weapons that don’t jam (as often) which could easily have been annoying, the weapon upgrade system is quite harsh, it takes a lot to earn new weapons. Again though, the implimentation of the weapons malfunction is done so well you will eventually love the extra pressure of stepping through a doorway to an unsuspecting guard, pulling the trigger and watching with horror as your rifle jams and you have to make a quick exit or get shot in the face. The RPG misfires are also hilarious, just remember to run while you laugh as the RP bit of your RPG doesn’t actually kick in and you’re left with a grenade spinning around at your feet.
Predictably the internet has been awash with talk of frame rate problems and laggy multiplayer in the PS3 version. This is only half right, I didn’t notice any frame rate problems whatsoever, noticable pop-in at huge distances and only once or twice was there any noticable graphics tearing. I would guess that it performs just as well as the Xbox version and probably just as well as all but the best PC set-ups. The multiplayer is basic and can be laggy although I’ve had more smooth games than jumpy ones. Still, not up to scratch and hopefully will be fixed with a patch and/or server upgrades from Ubisoft. It would be a shame if the multiplayer wasn’t made perfect because one of the most impressive things about Far Cry 2 is the multiplayer map editor.
I’ve used map editors before but they were never this intuitive, responsive or easy to use. Creating a map is a joy and simple enough that we are getting the chance to “Play. Create. Share.” before the Politically Correct crowd would like us to. The only thing that I would like to see added to the editor is the ability to place bots. At the minute they are multiplayer maps so you rely on other people finding and downloading your map (search for “Utility Grab” by the way) and then being online at the same time to play on it. With thousands of new maps hitting the servers every day this is obviously not going to work and bots would give almost endless playability to the game.
So far so good, this game is awesome, 10/10 right? Well, no. There are some problems. The story mode forces you into some strange situations where, without spoilers, you don’t have much of a chance. There are a couple of glitches which will presumably be patched out within a week or two that prevent the game from continuing for certain people. The scripting is pretty awful and the interaction with your “buddies” could not be more fake. You are sometimes needed to rescue them (and it’s important that you do try to resist the urge to shoot them) but then all of a sudden one of your buddies shows up dead on your buddy list and you don’t know why. I suppose in a country like this, at conflict and with the type of people you’re hanging around with (your mother would not approve) that might be realistic but it means you resist any feelings of connection with future buddies and lose your emotional involvment in their stories. Many people have also complained that the “sandbox” style leads to way too much time driving about to get to mission destinations but I found the driving times to be generally acceptable and with plenty of checkpoints and safe houses to raid you don’t have to be bored for long.
So, to summarise, Far Cry 2 is a brilliant game, beautifully presented and intelligently executed with a few problems with the multiplayer side of things and a couple of frustrations in the story mode. It has wonderful lighting effects, great physics and super-smart AI and its map editor is the best thing since, well since Co-op mode in Saints Row 2 but its almost as good as that. I would love to give this game top marks but unfortunately it has just a couple of minor annoyances (and the aforementioned glitching problem) that might be too much if people are approaching it expecting the FPS they saw advertised.