Far Cry 2 - Are You A Real Mercenary?

October 28, 2008

If a solid first-person shooter brings tears to your eyes, it's time to turn on the waterworks. Far Cry 2 is a sequel-in-name, but it ditches the uninteresting lead character from the first game, taking a realistic mercenary angle that leaves no room for the super-powered mutant shenanigans of the past. Instead, you'll get mission-based, open world gameplay and a few buddies to watch your back. It's a good deal, and it definitely works on both the consoles and the mouse and keyboard.

So Far Cry 2 isn't really a sequel to Far Cry. For a game that was essentially all about advanced technology and impressive AI, it's no big loss. In Far Cry 2 you play one of nine mercenaries, each with a unique name, look, and background. None of this really comes into play during the game though, so character selection is essentially a paper-thin role-playing conceit. You'll know yourself primarily by your gloves and forearms.

The game hits set plot points in a linear order, and the basic set up is simple. You're in a fictional African state consumed by civil war. Your job is to take out the Jackal, a dangerous arms dealer who's fueling the conflict with smuggled guns. The warring factions don't make your job easy, so you'll have to resort to shady dealings yourself if you want to come out alive. It's a depressing real world scenario, and this moral grey area is a great setting for a game about blood and profit.

Your stomping grounds encompass one extra large-sized chunk of land with a day-night cycle and no real artificial limits other than the far edges of the map. You'll take missions from important people and be paid in diamonds--the only currency that flies. Main missions move the story, side missions help you make bank to purchase better and more reliable guns, and buddy missions build relationships and get you perks. You'll hit story milestones as you complete main missions, and get closer to the Jackal after each act.

With miles of virtual terrain sprawling in every direction, you're going to need vehicles to get around. There are a few bus stops that ensure you never have to drive the full length of the map if you don't want to, but you'll still spend a lot of time traveling. Fortunately, there are a copious number of hidden diamonds to discover with your tracking sensor, and the local warlords will do their best to keep you from getting lonely. Machine-gun-equipped pickup trucks known as technicals are never too far away.

Unless you're holed-up in a safe house, danger is a constant in Far Cry 2. Not only do you have to contend with bullets by performing some quick self-surgery, this could be the first FPS to give you malaria. You'll need to take a break and pop a pill when your vision gets fuzzy. It doesn't happen often, but it can definitely shift your priorities in the middle of a gunfight. Frequently you'll have to run a mission to score more meds, which becomes more difficult as your notoriety increases.

There are a few class-based multiplayer modes that borrow the two warring factions from the main story, and while it's clearly not the title's focus, the 16-player online component is reasonably well done. The map editor is the most impressive feature here, letting you create multiplayer maps and easily share them online. There's a rating system to make sure the cream rises to the top, but finding quality maps isn't easy just yet, and it will be interesting to see how it works out on down the line.

Being a mercenary, your job description doesn't change a whole lot. You reach a location, kill someone and/or blow up something, and then make it out alive so you can do it again. Controls are in-line with the genre standard, with surprisingly good vehicle handling and one very satisfying and useful run-and-duck move to perform. Weapons feel great to fire and each has its own distinctive feel, making trying out new guns a pleasure. Enemies can soak up a lot of damage, though, so headshots are essential.

You're pretty sturdy yourself. The health bar is divided into self-contained sections that don't regenerate if they're completely lost. If you go down the last bar, you'll need to perform a quick procedure or the remaining health will bleed out. You're able to carry a handful of syrettes, which bring you back to full health any time, but if you can't lay low for a few seconds you'll have to rely on a computer-controlled buddy to save your hide. Though, go down twice in succession and it's curtains.

Still, a reliable gun goes a long way. You can pick up a wide variety of hardware from fallen enemies, but these weapons are prone to jamming up and can even crap-out altogether. You're effectively encouraged to log missions, scrounge diamonds, and buy your own permanent arsenal from gun stores, eventually stocking your safe houses with your preferred personal selection.

Finally, fire is one of the big selling points of the game and it adds both realism and danger to the world. It's fun to play with and can certainly be used to your advantage, but it won't necessarily change the way you play. If you've got a little pyromaniac in you, there's a way to satisfy the urge.

Far Cry 2's version of Africa feels ruthless, but it's actually quite scenic--when it's not on fire. The realistic and detailed environments come closer to creating the impression of a living world than a lot of games, even if the number of gun-toting thugs per-square-mile seems abnormally high. Texture pop-in can be an issue and there's only so much variation in scenery, but the visuals still rate highly both technically and artistically.

One of the strongest points of the presentation is an impressively varied set of first-person character animations, highlighted by believably painful battlefield first-aid and harrowing buddy rescue sequences. Yanking a bullet out of your flesh with a pair of pliers is burly stuff, but you'll always welcome the site of a friend coming to your rescue, even if you'll eventually wish you could skip it.

Far Cry 2 is a ruggedly good-looking game with an ambitious design and a cutthroat feel. The action is high-quality, free-roaming stuff, and the game earns major points for its smart way of dealing with getting shot up, patched up, and bailed out. The story does keep you on a leash and your objectives tend to repeat without too much variation, but if you enjoy this line of work, Far Cry 2's dangerous African landscape is a great place to be a merc.