It's like Grand Theft Auto IV on the Serengeti, but not really.
At first blush Far Cry 2 looks and behaves a bit like Grand Theft Auto IV: The game has an open world, friends who can come to your rescue, a phone you use to contact them, safe houses, a detailed map for guidance and a non-linear story line.
But where at its heart Grand Theft Auto IV is an action game, Far Cry 2 has its roots deeply embedded in the bedrock of shooters and from what I saw during my short time with the game it seems to remain true to those origins.
I asked the developers about the similarities and he seemed genuinely surprised, I think that's because most of these similarities are obvious design decisions made once you've decided you want to create a sandbox game and the parallels are for the most part quite superficial.
Friends for instance. In Grand Theft Auto IV, you can call them for help, but they don't really get involved in missions. In Far Cry 2 they are your salvation.
Playing through a chunk of the game, I got caught up in a particularly hairy firefight. As is often the case when I play games with an option for a stealth approach, I stumbled into an enemy camp and managed to alert just about everyone there without firing off a single shot.
Soon I was taking fire from all sides. As would be expected, the aiming and controls in Far Cry 2 are excellent, well-honed mechanics. Whether you're sniping, firing off rockets (which can be laser guided to a target), or just popping off rounds from a rifle, it is easy to land precision hits, even on the go.
The enemy artificial intelligence seemed quite robust after I tipped them off to my presence. A man in a wooden watch tower fired off sniper rounds at me as men tried to flank me from both sides. I managed to take out the sniper and two men and then blew up a nearby gas canister to try and distract the rest of the bad guys. Unfortunately, that seemed to attract the attention of nearby men, who cruised into camp on a jeep.
Muscling my way through the camp proved to be far more difficult than I assumed it would be and shortly into my escapade, I was downed by enemy fire.
When I started playing the game, I went into a safe house to meet up with a contact and then befriended one of the game's main characters. It was this newly minted friend who, unbidden, came to my rescue, pulling me from the ground, where things had become decidedly black and white for me, and hustling me to safety.
What was so neat about this mechanic was that I really had no control of what was going on. The sequence, seen through the shaking vision of a dying man, took away all control and forced me to watch as a friend dragged me through combat to a place away from enemies, and then patched me up. That can't help but make you feel attached to your friends, something I hope the developers take advantage of in the game's storyline.
Healing, as has been noted before, is also rather unique. You still need to grab what are essentially health packs, but the developers added a collection of unique animations to the healing mechanic so you get patched up in different ways depending on how you were injured. If you're shot, you use a knife to dig out a bullet. Burned, you pat out flames. It's superficial, but still kinda neat.
The game's map also has plenty of neat touches. It's an actual map you pull out and hold in front of you when you use it. So driving becomes a one-handed affair when you are looking at the map on the move. The map also updates with information when you spot things like bad guys or tactical information through your binoculars. The whole thing feels very organic, very real.
During my time with the game I played through a single, relatively short mission that had me driving from a safe house (there is always one about two minutes away on the 50 square kilometer map) to a nearby camp where I was to shut down a gas line. The game will feature more than 100 missions, I was told, 25 of which are tied to the main story line and the remaining 75 are considered side missions, assignments you get from your buddies.
I remain impressed with the game's graphics, controls and feel. It is a game that has managed to erase the bad taste of Far Cry Instincts from my mouth, but just barely. I played on the PC version of the game simply because that's what I plan on getting when it comes out, but the developers insist that there is no difference between how the game will perform on the PC, Playstation 3 and Xbox 360.