If ever an explosion could be described as "lovely"
It’s a curious fact that most protagonists in first-person shooters possess incredible telekinetic abilities, but use them solely to open doors. Even in Half-Life, gates swing open hauntingly with a push of the Action button. So imagine my surprise when, on encountering a door in Far Cry 2, my character actually bothered to use his hands. In fact, he uses his hands for many things: repairing a vehicle when it is damaged, un-jamming rusty firearms, picking up ammo and performing grisly ad-hoc surgery on himself when wounded. Far Cry 2 embraces ‘first person’ like no game before.
The plot kicks off after a taxi ride during which you are introduced to the joys of malaria, waking in the presence of the Jackal. A notorious arms dealer supporting civil war in the game’s fictional African setting, he is the quintessential nasty chap your character has been contracted to kill. After a brief rant, the Jackal leaves you to succumb to your illness. At this point you gain full control of your character and, after acquiring some anti-malarials, are free to explore the world. It’s an impressive world, albeit the brownest ever conceived. The environments are remarkably diverse, ranging from steamy swamps to grasslands and eerily silent deserts. It merits exploration encouraged by the countless diamonds (the game’s currency) hidden throughout the world.
Don’t get complacent though: an army of multinational mercenaries lurks behind every zebra. Fortunately there’s an impressive armoury at your disposal ranging from rifles to rockets and allowing plenty of opportunity to develop your own playing style. You can only carry a maximum of three weapons so selecting the right tool for the job, whether it’s blowing up a convoy or assassinating a king, is often the key to success.
Should you somehow select a mortar where a pistol would be more appropriate, fear not. After choosing a character at the start of the game, the others become your squad mates. If your face gets shot off during an assignment, they will happily come and stick it on again. They also provide alternative objectives to missions, often more entertaining than the mission itself. Completing a secondary goal results in upgrades to safe houses dotted around the map.
The sheer number of novelties in Far Cry 2 is difficult to take in, but there are some very strange problems. Take the health system for example: a light wound requires a shot of painkillers to keep you going, while serious injury means hiding somewhere in order to reattach a limb or remove a bullet. It’s a clever system, but I eventually realised that drinking bottled water also replenishes any lost health. It’s an inclusion that is completely at odds with the game – a swig of Volvic simply isn’t going to help when you’ve accidentally fired a rocket into your foot.
The enemies are unsophisticated and overly aggressive to the point where they will attempt to run your heavily armed Jeep off the road with a hatchback. The storyline is disconnected, and aligning yourself with a particular faction makes no difference to the game whatsoever. Finally, the primary and secondary ‘buddy’ missions all follow a similar formula, with side objectives shallower than Tom Cruise’s paddling pool.
Having said that, Far Cry 2 can be sublime. One time while raiding an airfield, a stray shotgun blast hit a nearby oil tank and the ensuing explosion knocked me unconscious. My buddy arrived and dragged me from the flames. In doing so, she was seriously burned and collapsed near the rapidly approaching blaze.
I attempted to heal her but having already used my final syrette, my choice was reduced to abandoning her or quickly dispatching her with my pistol. I chose the latter. What is incredible about this incident is that potentially, it might never have happened: the game hands over so much control that a less inquisitive player could miss out on half the action without noticing.
Far Cry 2’s admirable ambition comes at the cost of depth and several notable flaws. However when all the tricks and nuances meld together, it transforms into a highly entertaining experience. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a bullet to pull out of my leg.