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:
- Time is an important factor in the game, so why isn't my character wearing a watch? The only way I can tell the time is to look at the sun. Sure, that's kinda cool, but if the weather sucks or it's night, then what?
- When I'm in a boat that has a gunner position, I can't switch easily between the gun and driver positions. In a car or truck, you just press a key to switch. In a boat, you have to exit one position, move and/or turn around to get to the alternate position, then enter that position. Very annoying and inconsistent for no apparent reason.
- Emplaced weapons sometimes have limited travel. The most annoying example is in boats, where the gun has an arc of fire that's about 45 degrees (if that). Combined with the previous item, this makes what would otherwise be my favourite mode of transport something far less.
- Crates. I found a game FAQ somewhere that explained these, so I finally understand how they work. But they still don't make much sense to me. When you buy a crate (one per weapon slot), the net effect is that when you put a purchased weapon into the appropriate crate, you will be able to retrieve that same weapon from any other crate of that type in the game. Or you could just go to an armoury, where purchased weapons are hanging on the walls. So what's the point of crates? I guess it's because they make your weapons available at more locations; in other words, both armouries and safe houses. Whatever.
- What's the deal with safe house saving? What's the point? I get the feeling that in an earlier version of this game, there was no way to perform ad-hoc saves. You were forced to find a safe house or arms dealer in order to save. If I was play-testing this game and that limitation was present, my first recommendation would have been to allow ad-hoc saves. I've been saying this for years: why punish a player when they are forced to shut down the game at an inopportune time? This kind of thinking made sense when we had to feed quarters into games, but not now. Anyway, FC2 allows saving at any time, so what is the point of these special save locations?
- I don't mind that weapons wear out, but I'm supposed to be able to judge a weapon's likelihood of jamming or misfiring based on how it looks. Sounds good on paper, but when my only view of my current weapon is from an acute angle, and the rust and other wear effects are fairly subtle, effectively all I know for sure is that it's either a) apparently fine or b) apparently somewhat worn. That's just not good enough. If I could be allowed to inspect the weapon more carefully, or, better yet, if there was a wear score somewhere, that would be fine. I think this is the first game I've ever played where weapons wear out and there's no effective indication of the amount of wear. Dumb.
- Which brings me to the incredibly annoying fact that I can't see anywhere what weapon I'm actually carrying. Again, I can't think of many games where this was an issue. Most at least give you a brief indication of the weapon name when you switch to it. Nothing like that here. Your only option is to look at what you can see of the weapon profile and match it up with the list of upgrades in the game menu. In a way it's sort of cool that the best way to figure this out is to just learn what the weapons look like, but not everyone wants to be an arms expert.
- The manual says that I should keep my weapons in good repair. That implies there's some way to repair weapons. How do I repair weapons?
- Early version screenshots showed the player with a compass. That would be nice. They must have removed it from the final version because I sure can't find it. I'd like to be able to see what direction I'm facing without looking at the map. With the map shown, you can't really see much of the terrain in front of you, making driving somewhat tricky. I'm reminded of Buster Keaton in The Railrodder, hurtling down the tracks with his map stuck to and covering his face.
- On the map there are little diamond indicators showing where you've found diamonds. Places where you've found diamonds and never will again. So, what are they for? At the top left of the map is another little blue diamond with a number next to it. This number has no relation to the number of diamonds you've found or the number you currently possess. What the heck is it?
- How do I know what vehicle I'm driving? This may not seem important, except that you can purchase upgrades that affect how fast you can repair a vehicle. How do I know which upgrade to buy if I don't know what vehicle I'm driving?
- Where are the kill stats? The stats page shows lots of stuff, including shots fired and hit percentage, but no kills. Perhaps that's because you have to kill so many bad guys the number would just be ridiculous. But again, what shooter doesn't give you kill totals?
- One of my favourite innovative features of the first Far Cry game was the binoculars. With great zooming and - best of all - amplification of sounds wherever you pointed them, they added a lot to the game. In its place we have the monocular, with no zoom levels, no sound amplification and the only way you can use it is to bring up the map first. Huh?
- To open a briefcase, wherein you find diamonds - the game's currency - you must be standing directly in front of the handle. If you're off to the side a bit, you can't open it. This applies to other actionable objects in the game as well. That's just sloppy, and should have been cleaned up in playtesting.
- Onerous copy protection. You must enter a serial number during install, have the disc in your drive during play and have an active internet connection during install and play. The number of installations is limited. Ubisoft is maintaining its sad reputation as one of the most backward-thinking publishers in this regard.
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.
|Type||FPS, open, unscripted|
|Bugs||A few bizarre savegame issues|
|Multiplayer||LAN, Internet (ubi.com); PvP only|
|Co-op multiplayer vs. bots||no|
|Copy protection||Securom: disc, internet connection required, limited installs|
|Classic blunders||unskippable 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.