Rarely have I had such mixed feelings about a game as with Far Cry 2. The first Far Cry was loads of fun. Sure, the ending was stupid, but 95% of the time I was playing it I thoroughly enjoyed myself. Great sound and graphics, scary and humourous in turn, nice weapon choices, a variety of transport choices, tough encounters and innovative gameplay made it one of those rare commodities: a mostly-scripted shooter that is fun to re-play.

Far Cry 2 has a lot of those same qualities. The graphics and sound are so utterly immersive, I often feel that I am alive inside the landscape of the game. Escapism at its finest. I haven't reached the end yet, so I can't comment on that, and so far there has been very little humour or anything particularly scary, which is a shame. Weapon choices are diverse, although quite limited at first. Transport choices are also abundant. Encounters are so far relatively straightforward, but I have heard that I should expect more challenge later on. And of course FC2 includes some gameplay innovations. But does it all work?

In a word: yes. The game is a lot of fun to play. Encounters with bad guys start to get repetitive after a few hours, mostly because the outposts you constantly drive through are manned by people who want you dead and who respawn once you drive around the next corner. These computer-controlled fighters are somewhat intelligent; they take cover (usually), use emplacements, use vehicles (albeit somewhat maniacally), fire from cover and make flanking maneuvers. I'm playing at the medium difficulty level and with a bit of caution when approaching outposts I can usually handle them fairly easily. I expect this to change as I progress through the game; already I'm running into occasional mortar and RPG fire, which tend to spice things up a bit.

Ammo tends to be a problem. As you approach an outpost, the bad guys there will often engage you from a distance, which effectively forces your hand. You can charge right in but then you'll face fire from all sides. On the other hand, if you engage from a distance, you risk running out of ammo before you can pick up more at the outpost or from dead bodies. One solution to this dilemma is to use the weapon mounted on your truck to clear out the outpost from a distance. This works fine, except that the truck will take a lot of damage; if it takes too much it will explode, but attempting to repair it under fire is obviously risky. Your mileage may vary.

Vehicle control is great. Doing a three point turn in a narrow space with a pickup truck feels completely natural. Even the boats are reasonably responsive. All vehicles are slightly more fragile than I would prefer, but as long as they can be repaired this is usually just an inconvenience.

Many things in this game will burn or explode - or both. When I come to an outpost, I look for propane tanks, fuel drums, ammo crates and fuel pumps and shoot them. The resulting explosions are spectacular, often sending debris sailing high into the sky. Shooting a fuel pump creates a tall, vertical torch that lights up the night. Ammo cooks off, sending rounds randomly in all directions. Don't get too close! Once you've started something burning, fire often spreads to the surrounding dry grass, brush and even trees. You can set deliberate fires to burn out your foes.

FC2's voice acting is good enough not to be a distraction. There's not a lot of humour in what the bad guys say, although they are somewhat given to braggadocio. What they say depends on the situation and their condition, which is nice. When wounded, they say as much and warn their buddies that they don't have a shot or can't make a move. They will still shoot at you if you happen to pass them - another nice touch.

Once you've befriended another mercenary, they can come to your aid if you fall in combat. Where you would otherwise die, your buddy appears out of nowhere, drags you to safety, then heals and rearms you. Of course, this is less of an issue with ad-hoc saving - you can always just quickload. Still, it's a welcome innovation.

The day/night cycle and weather systems add to the immersiveness of the game. Speeding down dirt roads in the middle of the night is an interesting challenge, particularly if that last tree you hit took out your headlights. Playing at night is of course optional - you can choose to sleep instead. Changes in the weather come on slowly and are utterly convincing.

Most of my complaints about FC2 are fairly minor:

Still, even with these annoyances and missteps, the game continues to be tons of fun. It's just that whenever I play, the wow! moments are punctuated by ugh! and groan moments. This reduces the immersiveness. I'm totally immersed, then suddenly walk into an invisible wall called the user interface. You'd think game developers would learn these lessons eventually.

Platform usedWindows
TypeFPS, open, unscripted
EngineUbisoft Dunia
In-game advertisingyes
User Interface7
Voice acting8
BugsA few bizarre savegame issues
MultiplayerLAN, Internet (ubi.com); PvP only
Co-op multiplayer vs. botsno
Map editoryes
Copy protectionSecurom: disc, internet connection required, limited installs
Classic blundersunskippable splash screens

UPDATE (2009-03-20): I'm about 65% of the way through the game and I'm starting to run into bugs. There's a guard post where a bad guy is stuck inside a rock. I can sometimes see the top of his head, but can't shoot him. I've tried grenades, rockets - everything. Can't hurt him, but he can shoot me, which is annoying. He doesn't reset outside of the rock when I drive away. A couple of times now a mission stalled in a weird way: all the bad guys were dead but somehow that didn't register. My buddy was still acting like there was something left to do. Both times this happened, driving away triggered something that reset the mission, I went back and completed it. I had one save game recently where I was in front of one of the faction headquarters, but when I triggered the guard to frisk me and open the door, I ended up on the outside of the door, not inside. I had to revert to an earlier save to fix that one. And now I'm stuck on a mission where I'm supposed to intimidate "Seth Uniya". The first time I got to where he should be, he simply wasn't there. I drove away, came back, fought all the bad guys again, and this time he was where he was supposed to be, but he didn't react to my presence at all. I'm running version 1.02.

UPDATE (2009-03-21): Now my keys stopped working. Only solution seems to be loading a previous savegame. This is getting ridiculous.

UPDATE (2009-03-27): Finished the game. Very weird ending. Had to backtrack a few times when it became clear that my savegame was irreparably hosed.

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