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Far Cry 2
Graphics: 8.2
Gameplay: 8.8
Sound: 8.4
Control: 8.7
Replay Value: 8.9
Rating: 8.5

The competition in the FPS genre has never been higher, but certain developers are always up to the challenge. Take Ubisoft Montreal, for example, who have delivered a highly anticipated sequel that is entirely unlike the original title. Therefore, perhaps the most important aspect of Far Cry 2 is this: if you were a fan of the first entry, this doesn’t necessarily guarantee that you will enjoy the sequel. However, this new style may actually appeal to more next-gen gamers as it emphasizes freedom over the standard linear style of play. You’ll go through a simple tutorial at the start, but after it’s over, a whole wide world awaits your exploration, and while it’s certainly not as expansive as Grand Theft Auto IV, it’s certainly intriguing in a backwater, intimidating, Crocodile Dundee sort of way. There’s very little wrong with this particular production, and although the small flaws have a way of detracting from the overall experience, most will be more than satisfied with the result. What we have here is an engaging, absorbing, atmospheric adventure with plenty of replay-ability.

Considering the original Far Cry was initially developed with the PC in mind, any future iterations for consoles will be dissected by the graphics aficionados that won’t let the tiniest imperfection slide. And while it’s true the PC version of Far Cry 2 - using the highest possible settings – does look better overall, the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 versions hold up admirably. There’s plenty of great detail, the changing times generate accurate shadows and lighting alterations in the environment, and the developers up the ante by focusing on solidifying the little things. The character design isn’t all that fantastic – especially in most of the NPCs that populate the area – and there are several hitches and glitches that mar an otherwise impressive presentation, but all in all, the graphics are about what we expected. We could argue that much of the environment is repetitive, but we’re dealing with a bunch of poor villages and towns in the jungles of Africa, so yeah, a lot of it is gonna look similar. Besides, the atmosphere is so involving, it’s tough to be critical.

Good voice acting and excellent sound effects make the sound in Far Cry 2 enjoyable, despite a lacking soundtrack that oddly seems understated and even out of place in certain situations. For whatever reason, the music didn’t live up to expectations although that’s more of a personal gripe. The effects, on the other hand, are spot-on. The resounding crack of a handgun, the shocking impact of the rocket launcher, the resonation of bullets on different objects in the background, the yells of the attacking opponents; it all gels together in a clear, stand-out performance. We found that some characters spoke very quickly, but that’s not necessarily a drawback…it was just a little disconcerting, that’s all. If they had managed to implement an effective soundtrack to go along with the stellar effects, this would’ve been one of the best-sounding titles of the generation. But as is, the background jungle sounds work beautifully – especially at night – to drag you into the experience, and all firefights are appropriately emphatic and forceful. That’s what great effects do for you.

As we said before, the gameplay is more about the freedom than anything else. You’ll have to work your way through a brief tutorial at the start, but it won’t take more than an hour and after that, you’re on your own. You do have a primary goal, and of course, you’ll have to complete the main story missions in order to accomplish that goal, but there’s plenty of extra stuff. You have nine characters too choose from at the start of the adventure, and the other eight will pop up during the plot – usually as Buddies – to assist you in some way. You’ll suffer from Malaria right from the get-go, which means part of the tutorial will have you securing pills for the disease that causes recurring and damaging symptoms. You’ll have to keep yourself erect and healthy if you wish to continue, and that means paying frequent visits to medical boxes – you can carry a bunch of syringes to heal yourself – and keeping those valuable pills in your pocket. You can also visit weapon shops, take extra missions from the weapon vendors, and explore a variety of different locales scattered throughout the jungle. You can use different vehicles and there’s even a bus depot for automatic transportation.

But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. You can upgrade the weapons you purchase or find, and as an added bit of depth, certain weapons (especially those used by your foes) can be old and rusty, thereby causing the gun to jam frequently. This discourages you from picking up any weapons in the field, though, so it’s typically better to rely on anything you buy from weapon vendors, which are guaranteed to be brand-spankin’-new. And instead of a standard inventory, you have four simple slots: one each for primary, secondary, and special weapons; everything can range from a machete and the smallest handgun to automatic rifles and rocket launchers. You can pick up explosives like Grenades and Molotov Cocktails, and as we talked about when analyzing the sound, everything sounds exactly as it should. Moving about is easy enough, but we did find the default movement to be too slow, and assigning the Run command to the L3 button is a terrible idea. Think about it: you have to press down on the same button you’re using to move your character about. It’s just cumbersome and annoying. But at least the movement scheme is almost entirely smooth, so that’s good news.

You may have heard negative reports of the PS3 version suffering from additional frame rate issues, but we couldn’t find too many examples of that. Having access to the 360 version as well, we didn’t really notice a significant difference between the two versions, although the PS3 version was more prone to a frame hitch during intense firefights. We maintain that it was a rare occurrence, but it should be mentioned. As for the rest of the gameplay, it’s our opinion that it took many shots to drop an enemy, and most foes were absolute crack shots for some reason. Perhaps it’s in how we played, but it almost seemed as if every single bullet fired from an enemy’s weapon struck our character. The good news is that the Syringes you carry completely restore all your health, and you’ll need it when you find one of those diamond packages and piss off the roving guards in town. And considering the freedom involved, you can approach just about any mission however you see fit; you can drive right into the midst of it, or you can jump out of your vehicle en route and sneak your way into the area.

It’s in this freedom that people may find an absolute gem of a game or an adventure that lacks direction, depending on your viewpoint. Sometimes, in between important quests, we were left doing…well, not much of anything, besides exploring the jungle. Thing is, there’s very little to find except for those valuable diamonds – you find them with an electronic locator – which can be used in trade for new weapons, and you might be wandering aimlessly for a while. Some people like this, as they say it will remind them of a MMORPG or a GTA title, while others will just want to get on with the action. Those who do take to this style will revel in the ability to befriend a bunch of buddies, hold safehouses, upgrade weapons, and accept any number of missions at any given time. How valuable is the “buddy?” Well, here’s a good example: we had just got our first “best buddy” in the game, and not long after, we became involved with an ill-advised battle in the middle of town. We died quickly but instead of the “Reload Checkpoint” screen, we found ourselves dragged to safety by our buddy. She came in, laid down some cover fire, and dragged our character into the jungle to heal and recuperate. How cool is that?

Far Cry 2 is a surprisingly ambitious FPS; we say “surprisingly” because the original FC was nothing like this. There are no special feral powers, we’re certainly not in an island paradise, and again, that freedom and customization is all fresh. The controls are smooth and accessible (with the exception of that stupid L3/Run mapping), there are plenty of weapons and upgrades, and above all else, the little enhancements ramp up the level of engrossment and absorption. Sneaking through the underbrush at dusk, viewing the enemy camp from a crouched position behind a tree, and determining your approach is a nerve-racking situation. The jungle noises are always there, you can hear the guards talking (and they’re not brain-dead, although the AI can be questionable sometimes), and with the setting sun, everything feels quite authentic. Even stopping at a safehouse and setting your watch to sleep and heal yourself feels innovative, as does the freedom, Buddy system, and unique environment. There are recurring technical issues, however, and the aforementioned “aimless wandering” tended to happen a lot for us. Furthermore, the character design isn’t so great, and due to featured player freedom, the storyline takes a definite backseat.

However, in regards to the multiplayer aspects of the game, they don’t stand out as much as the single-player campaign. But that extremely in-depth map editor is a huge bonus for those who love micromanaging the tiniest elements of the experience. At the end of the day, Far Cry 2 is most certainly worth playing, and one of the better October releases out there. There are a ton of them, but this one really oughta be near the top of your list.

10/28/2008   Ben Dutka