Far Cry 2 Xbox 360 Review
Console gamers must be absolutely sick of Far Cry. The first game was developed by then-unknown development studio Crytek and it hit the PC as one of those out-of-nowhere, excellent games that at the time took DOOM 3 and its pitch-black corridors head-on with its large, bright outdoor environments. Then the publisher, Ubisoft, got their hands on the license and released a couple of console games based on the property, first on the Xbox in a highly neutered and fairly inferior port, then on the 360 as a much different game. Unfortunately, neither game really took advantage of what made the original Far Cry so much fun (at least until the last third of the game with its instant-death mutants and such). But this time, Ubisoft, with the rights to the franchise held fully as Crytek has gone off and made another franchise with EA entirely, has delivered a console game that should do a bit of justice to the name.
Far Cry 2 is similar to the first game only in name and gameplay style; it's not a sequel at all and includes none of the Island of Dr. Moreau-type wacky creatures to fight. It takes place in an unstable country in Africa where conflict diamonds flow freely as currency, two major factions are gearing up for open warfare, and your mission, as a foreigner who just arrived, is to kill the man that has outfitted these factions with cheap weapons. His name is The Jackal and you've got some good leads on how to find him, but there's a twist: your character has malaria. As you get to your hotel you basically pass out from the pain and wind up losing everything including your intel on how to find him, so when you wake up in a fevered haze to find open fighting in the streets, you can't take much of it before you collapse again.
It's not long before you're awake again, this time now somewhat indebted to one of the two factions that are fighting. You'll have to find yourself some drugs to hold off the malaria, start doing missions for the locals, and continue to work on your mission to kill the Jackal. After a rather lengthy but very fun and interesting tutorial, the entirety of the game's vast countryside is opened to you and you're free to explore, take out the enemies that are stationed at guard posts all over the roads, find hidden diamonds scattered throughout the land, and do missions in the order you want. When you start, you choose one of several characters to play as, and the ones you didn't pick then become part of the story and will help you with missions and give you their own goals - or modified versions of the missions you'll get from others - for extra benefits at the safehouses you have across the country.
You get paid in diamonds since paper money has become worthless, and can head to the local arms dealer to unlock new guns through his own missions and then buy them for your own uses. There are dozens of weapons in the game, although most fall into the typical archetypes of pistol, submachine gun, rifle, shotgun, light machine gun, and various explosives. You can even buy manuals to upgrade the weapons too, and while, yes, you can pick up guns of fallen enemies from the ground, these weapons are very unreliable and should be avoided if possible. They will jam a lot, causing you to have to mash the X button to get them working, and through this you'll see some great first-person animations of unjamming the guns. The problem is that you'll have two or three guys pumping bullets into you as you're doing this. The game's first impression can be a bit harsh for a player who is used to just snagging any gun off the ground like in other games and expecting it to perform just like all the rest. The ones that you've unlocked and grabbed from your armory are much more reliable, so stick with those.
The whole thing is made worse by the fact that you can't tell what condition a gun is in when you pick it up. It also helps to know that if you're holding "your" version of the gun - which may be the same thing that's on the ground but this one is from your safehouse so it's reliable - that you have to have it out and equipped and sit on the one on the ground for a second to snag the ammo. And ammo is an important concern, because you won't be able to carry much of it to start for any of your guns. So if you do pick this game up, remember to hold onto the guns you've unlocked and look for similar ones on the ground to scavenge ammo from.
Your travels through the country happen entirely in a first-person view, so any vehicles you hijack are also driven in this perspective. For some games this is a drag, but here - much like in the Half-Life series - it's rather nice. And doing these missions is often a case of plotting out how you're going to do it before you charge in. The shantytown of Mokuba, for instance, has guys with rocket launchers posted near the top of the town which is partially on a hill, so if you come in from the top, you want to take out those guys first and then drop down each level to finish off the rest of your enemies. If you come in from the bottom, you're in for a tougher time.
The game starts off a little rough. The tutorial has given you a safehouse and enough diamonds to unlock your first weapon, but it doesn't necessarily tell you to do so and to the standard FPS player it might not seem important to bother; it might seem a better idea to just live off your fallen enemies' guns, but that quickly leads to frustration and death. Sure, when you go down one of your buddy characters will come in, pull you out to safety and get you back on your feet, but then you've got some time and must meet him at a safehouse again for him to be able to save you next time. The game has no real checkpoint system at all, so while the multi-step missions that may take up to 30+ minutes to complete will let you save your game after completing a major step (and you can save mid-mission at any safehouse you roll past), a death can still mean having to re-play 10-15 minute sections of the game. During that time, you'll have traveled halfway across the game's area, snagged a couple of tough-to-find diamonds, and eventually made it to the mission area and promptly got killed.
Getting low on health in this game is interesting, too. There's a partial regenerating health system here (like Resistance on the PS3) where your health bar is split up into five sections and if you drop down to the next lower section then you can only regenerate to the end of that piece. Going under 1/5 of your health throws you into a bleeding state where you're not actually taking damage from enemies anymore but are definitely going to die if you don't get some cover and hit the LB button to heal yourself. Healing in this game starts off with some rather interesting amateur medicine, from using a knife and pliers to pull a bullet out of your leg to taking a bunch of matches and lighting them to shove into a wound to cauterize it. Arm broken? Just hit LB to snap it back into place (with a nice little scream to accompany it), then hit LB again to use a health-giving syrette. It's an interesting system, but I do have to say that getting cover long enough to yank a bullet out of your hand uninterrupted can be tough to do, and death in this game can be very frustrating. Every time I died I just wanted to turn off the 360 and go take a walk or something.
That being said, getting over Far Cry 2's difficulty "hump" can be very rewarding and once you've learned the game's rather eccentric ammo/weapon reliability system and have some good guns unlocked. The open-ended structure for choosing both what missions to do and how to do them is very charming. The landscape is absolutely wonderful, too; the brand new Dunia engine used in this game shows large, complex terrain with a great light and shadow system. Sure, the 360 version's shadows aren't quite as sharp as what can be seen on the graphically superior PC version, but you'll also need to spend hundreds more to get a PC to play the game better than what you can get on the 360. Overall, these are some of the best graphics I've seen yet on Microsoft's console and really make the environments look and feel natural, especially with the complex day/night and rain systems in place.
Fire is also interesting here, as the wind affects it and you can set the dry grasslands on fire to corral your enemies in a direction you want or even kill them outright if you use it correctly. This was hailed as one of the game's best new features, but I found myself struggling to use it to its fullest and usually just shot enemies instead - maybe other gamers can find better ways to use it to their advantage.
Online play in Far Cry 2 includes a good selection of large maps, some interesting and unique gameplay modes, and much of the great action that makes the single player game so much fun. But the best feature is the included map editor that lets you quickly put together natural-looking terrain and foliage and create all kinds of structures. Far Cry Instincts: Predator on the 360 also included a map editor for online play, but its tools were more simplistic and there was no rating system or quality control, so most maps were made in 10 minutes and had perfectly flat ground with a few super-tall hills with sheer drops and 80 shotguns just tossed in the center of the map. Here, there's a rating system to hopefully get the better maps to percolate to the top. Either way, this is a much more robust system than something like Halo 3's Forge mode, but it remains to be seen if it's really used to its fullest.
Far Cry 2 includes a lengthy campaign that will take 25+ hours to complete, even if at least half of that time is spent just driving across the game's 50 square-kilometer area. The action is great and your ability to plan an assault your own way makes for a lot of fun and really channels what made Crytek's first game so compelling in the first place. Sure, the story kind of falls flat with its fictional African country and made-up conflict, but the firefights are the big draw here and the game can easily rely on them for most of its entertainment. The online play is made unique with its map editor and online rating system, but it still really hinges on whether gamers can make the most of the editor and the final quality of the maps made - if the community really comes forward, then Ubisoft will have a major hit on their hands in both offline and online play. Either way, Far Cry 2 should be pretty close to the top of any console FPS fan's list this holiday season.