Far Cry 2, the new open-world first-person-shooter from Ubisoft, asks a lot of you. It's definitely not a dumbed-down game and it surely is not for beginners. It's spartan features and rigid gameplay elements make it sort of the masochist's Mercenaries 2.
The game begins with a long opening movie of you, a mercenary for hire, riding into a civil war-torn town somewhere in Africa. Out of the civil war two main factions have emerged: the Unified Front for Liberation and Labor (UFFL) and the Alliance for Popular Resistance (APR).
Because this brought up memories of the all-to-real events in Sierra Leone over a decade ago, events so hauntingly recounted in Ismael Beah's "Long Way Gone," I had to come up with my own names for them, so I got in the habit of calling them: the United Federation of Lame-o Losers and the Association of Postal Retirees. There, that feels better.
Fary Cry 2's main story arc is based upon you finding and eliminating Jackal, an arms dealer who supplies weapons for both sides of the war. This devil of a man is responsible for every bullet and every death in this war ravaged region, essentially giving you that warm fuzzy feeling for meting out justice with, well, bullets and death.
The game progresses fairly formulaically, sending you on a few tutorial missions where you learn the ins and outs of driving, shooting, buying weapons, using health, and other basics. Although, in an odd twist, you are stricken with malaria, causing your vision to go blurry every now and again. Throughout the game you'll have bouts of blurry vision and sickness, which will cause you to go in search of medicine (if only you had taken your quinine!). After completing this sequence you are on your own to do what you please.
The missions that are available to you at any given time revolve around the two factions (essentially, your story missions), getting medicine to treat your malaria, doing side missions for buddies (whom you meet in the game), taking out rival weapons vendors, and good 'ol assassinations. Missions will earn you money in the form of diamonds, which you can use to purchase upgrades, and help boost your reputation as a bad ass merc.
One interesting gameplay element in regard to missions is that faction missions allow you to choose from two different alternatives. One is always a direct attack, while the other is a sneaky way of trapping or tricking the people you're after, making them easier to go eliminate. For example, one of the first missions asks you to, "Either intimidate the informant at the villa into sending the false coordinates," "Or destroy the foreign commandos' gear."
The game's area, its sandbox, if you will, is huge. To get around this large environment you have at your disposal a variety of vehicles from cars, jeeps (real branded "Jeep" jeeps), boats, and of course, that famous Far Cry glider.
The first time that I really got a sense that this game asks a lot of you is when I opened the map. Being a veteran of 30 kazillion FPS's and action adventure games, I'm pretty darn good at reading a map. Most of us are used to a very precise map with pretty colors, instant GPS route guidance, the locations and movements of enemies, and the ability to set a marker or waypoint.
Far Cry 2 takes those maps and unceremoniously kicks them in the balls. Your map looks like a map drawn by Mrs. Mugabe's 5th grade class. You have two views, a 1km x 1km view (the close up view) and a 3km x 3km view (the zoomed out view). There is nowhere near the level of detail that most of us are used to, and that's pretty much the point. While it is actually quite frustrating at first, you do get used to it as you learn your way around.
One nice feature that helps to alleviate some of the frustration is that the sign posts in the game are color coded to match your missions, so, for example, if you're mission is colored blue in your objective dossier, the sign posts at road crossings will be blue to show you the way there. It's a small touch, but well implemented.
That being said, the rigid gameplay elements continue in the form of driving: You can only drive in the first person view. While this may be fine for those of you who choose to use this view in games such as GTA4, Mercenaries 2, and just about any other game where you are allowed to choose first person view, from behind view, or farther from behind view when driving, those of us who rely on the far from behind view will find this constraint rather disconcerting. But, again, that's kind of the point.
The same thing goes for shooting your guns. While you can turn on crosshairs and aim assist in the game's options menu, by default, it's just you and the iron sights (looking down the barrel of your gun to aim). The videogame-esque elements of auto-aim and nice bright crosshairs that turn red/green depending if you're aiming at an enemy or a friend just don't belong in this game.
Another element that adds to the authenticity of the game is that it seems as if I run over a small twig or a tiny pebble my jeep explodes. Okay, t's not that bad, but throw away any notion you have that you can just drive your vehicle unscathed through checkpoints or enemy attacks. A few bullets to your vehicle and you're on the side of the road hoping the AAA truck will be by soon. When it doesn't show up, you realize that you can actually repair your own vehicle by lifting the hood and pressing a button to do some ratchet work on one screw (which, of course, fixes the entire engine). Again, this is tedious. Why not just make the jeep less vulnerable to enemy fire? Because, in the real world, your jeep doesn't like bullets very much and neither does the one in the game.
The game's inflexible points of view and navigation, while frustrating, do function to pull you in. Without realizing it, your palms will be sweating due to the tension of not knowing exactly where the next enemy is located. Your heart will pound as you try to repair your vehicle before the next jeep full of enemies arrives.
That is what Far Cry 2 excels at. It's the authenticity, the verisimilitude. If you're expecting to get shot 25 times and not die, this game isn't for you. If you expect to head shot every enemy with the help of auto-aim, bullet time, and a nice red crosshair, this game isn't for you. If you get frustrated in the first hour of a video game when it seems too hard, this game isn't for you. Try Mercnearies 2, it's for wussies and people who want to get through a game in a weekend.
However, if you're a masochist and enjoy precision, a bit of planning, real world reactions to weapons fire, brilliant AI, and of course, setting fire to vast fields of dry grass with your flame thrower, then Far Cry 2 is the game for you.