You can mostly forget the "2" after the title up there. This game has nothing to do with Far Cry. No mutants, no linear corridors, no gaudy shirts. No, Ubisoft have traded all that in for the tale of a very real, very human mercenary set loose upon a war-torn African country. Where the first game teased freedom before settling into a disappointing first-person shooter, Far Cry 2 begins as a first-person shooter then settles in to become one of the most open-ended and limitless games of the year. Which, when you see it put like that, is a whole load of changes. Were they for the better?
I hear The Drums Echoing Tonight – Far Cry 2's biggest and best achievement is the game world itself. A little slice of Africa, it encompasses a savannah or two, arid deserts and thick jungles, the three combining to form one of the most beautiful, realistic settings for a game I've ever seen. Lazy afternoon sunlight leaks through gently drifting trees. You'll catch a herd of zebra in your headlights as you bounce across the desert in the middle of the night. You'll find yourself stopping in the middle of nowhere and, just for a second, really feeling like you're a bad man stuck in a bad place that's in the middle of nowhere.
I Know That I Must Do What's Right – While Resident Evil 5 probably wishes it had done things a little differently, Far Cry 2 does a surprisingly good job of tackling the continent responsibly, without ever resorting to heavy-handed clichés of social responsibility and morality. There are bad men, there are good men, there are lots of men (and women) in between. Same goes for your missions. You're free to make your own morality in Far Cry 2, the game never forces it down your throat.
It's Gonna Take A Lot To Drag Me Away From You – Far Cry 2 has an outstanding "continue?" system. Death is often not far away in the game, but if you have a "buddy" – the game's NPC allies that are befriended in exchange for help – you get a continue. So instead of just dying (let's say in combat), you'll instead find yourself blacking out, only to come to to see your "buddy" dragging you to a safer spot so you can heal yourself, killing bad guys the whole time. It's a neat, seamless solution.
Gonna Take Some Time To Do The Things We Never Had – Far Cry 2 isn't an FPS. Not in the traditional sense. Sure, it's played in the first person, but in terms of structure, the game has a lot more in common with Grand Theft Auto than Far Cry 1. The game world is comprised of two massive areas, and within each are dozens of location-specific missions. Drive five minutes to a house, get a mission, complete the mission, get money. Just like GTA. Combine this with the perspective, as well as the beauty and design of the world itself, and you get something that feels more free than either GTA or any other FPS is able to match.
I Bless The Rains Down In Africa – One of this game's unsung heroes (and real innovations) is in its use of fire. You can start fires, the fires spread, and it works. Molotivs can be used to torch entire villages, flushing out the bad guys, while an exploding vehicle on a dry grassland can quickly turn a battlefield into a 50 foot-wide inferno.
There's Nothing That A Hundred Men Or More Could Ever Do – The AI is awful. Just awful. Mostly because it's so inconsistent. Bad guys will be unable to find you standing in the middle of a room when they're standing at the door, and yet at the same time they can see you crouched in a bush from a kilometre away in the middle of the night. The latter can remove (I say can, because it seems random) any sense of planning and stealth from a lot of the missions, the former reduces close-quarters battles to an African-skinned Doom deathmatch.
I Seek To Cure What's Deep Inside, Frightened Of This Thing That I've Become – You start the game having already contracted a nasty bout of malaria. Sounds bad, and it is; at random moments your play will be interrupted by a malaria fit, forcing you to take medication. Don't take your pills, and you die. So you need pills. And forcing you to get them is a pain in the ass, distracting you from more important missions and serving no purpose other than to interrupt firefights and forcibly prolong the game.
As They Grow Restless Longing For Some Solitary Company - Far Cry 2 is long. Too long. There are too many missions, the story takes too long to really get going, and Ubisoft risk losing a lot of players from boredom before the game's surprisingly involving finale. Combine a surplus of missions with sometimes-tediously long drives towards objectives and you're looking at a game that'll take you 20-25 hours to complete, but should really have only taken you 10-15.
Here's a warning: you may well hate Far Cry 2 when you first start. It'll seem bewildering, it'll seem broken. You're given little direction on how the world works or how you'll work within it. But this is a game – again, like GTA – where that bewilderment is part of the package. Far Cry 2 isn't about clearing levels or amassing body counts. It's about the sum of the experience, the feeling you get surveying the total package.
You won't love this game when emptying a clip into a bad guy. You'll love it when you hear a rustling in the bushes, draw your gun, spin around and find it's just a water buffalo. Or when you realise that this game is nothing but those brief, best bits of the original Far Cry — the open-world combat, the ability to attack a base however you want.
And that total package is one of the most ambitious games in recent memory. Sure, you'll curse at the omnipotent AI and the rusty guns and the malaria sickness, but they only serve to remind you that the game's not perfect. Which is lucky, because when you drive up a hill, sunlight oozing through your windscreen as you pass a flock of gazelle and survey a rebel camp you're about to destroy in whatever way you feel like, perfect is a word you come dangerously close to using.
Far Cry 2 was developed by Ubisoft Montreal, published by Ubisoft. Released on Oct. 21 in North America, Oct. 24 in Europe for PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 & PC. Reviewed on PC. Retails for $59.99 . Completed 100% of single player campaign. Confused by our reviews? Read our review FAQ.