A Diamond In The Rough

When the original Farcry came out, most people were amazed at the quality of the graphics, myself included. I know I was supposed to be shooting the mercenaries but I just wanted to walk around their sandy beaches and swim in the cool blue water. Today, even though we are more used to high levels of eye candy, Farcry still holds its own in terms of graphical quality. Farcry 2 follows this tradition, though amazing graphics are pretty much par for the course these days, so the game doesn’t stand out quite so much.

The original game had a pretty good storyline. You were basically a normal guy, a charter boat captain, who gets caught on an island in the Pacific being chased by mercenaries amid the lush foliage, the ruins of a World War II Japanese garrison, and some modern buildings that look like they were constructed by a James Bond-like agency of super villains. And then of course there were the stupid monsters. The game was great, but everyone hated the monsters, which could leap 50-feet and kill you in one or two swipes. They also could absorb way too many bullets before going down.

Thankfully, Farcry 2 has nothing to do with mutants. In fact, it takes place on a different continent. You play a mercenary and can even pick what you look like and your background, though I don’t see how this actually affects the game at all. I’m not sure why the choices are even there other than perhaps to have some multiplayer skins.

The plot is that Africa is tearing itself apart. If you have ever seen the movie Blood Diamond with Leonardo Dicaprio, you have a pretty good idea of the landscape. There are two main factions, the APR and UFLL. Neither one is really the good guys, though the UFLL seems to be the less evil of the two. Your initial mission is to kill an arms dealer named The Jackal, who is making millions arming both sides. You are not really told who your employer is, though it hardly matters. As soon as you get in country, your malaria acts up and you are pretty much crippled by it. Of course The Jackal shows up in your hotel room and taunts you, but doesn’t kill you. In fact, The Jackal does not seem like too bad a guy really, at least compared to all the other lowlifes you will be forced to work with.

Perhaps forced is too strong a word. You are a mercenary, so you work for the highest bidder. You might take a contract from the UFLL to kill a police lieutenant with APR sympathies one day, and then march across the street and agree to blow up a UFLL ammunition dump for the APR the next. You are paid generously in rough diamonds for each mission, and nobody seems to care too much that you work both sides. In fact, when you are out in the world, every single person is considered hostile. There are no civilians. If you run across someone, you gun them down, or they gun you down. This is a little unrealistic, but at least it makes it easy to tell friend from foe. The few times you will find a civilian will be in set encounters where you can’t shoot at them.

You are supposedly still looking for The Jackal, but taking a bunch of missions on the side to make ends meet. You can use your diamonds at weapon shops to upgrade your equipment. If you buy a weapon then you will be able to find unlimited quantities of it in a shack beside the weapons hut. These weapons will be in perfect condition, as opposed to the rusty and unreliable junk you will pull from all your fallen opponents. In this way, the game keeps you in check and only lets you have better weapons as the difficulty ramps up. Oddly enough, even though captured weapons jam all the time, they never seem to malfunction for the bad guys.

There is a nice variety of weapons to compliment your play style. For me, I went with a scoped Springfield rifle instead of an assault weapon for my primary slot, though there are plenty of AK-47s, AR-15s and the like for those that like to run and gun instead of the more one shot, one kill style I enjoy. You can also hold a secondary weapon like an Uzi or a pistol, and a special weapon like an RPG. One of my favorite secondary weapons was the IED, or improvised explosive device. Those little gems are great on convoy destruction missions. Simply place them by the side of the road and then find a little spot to hide out and wait. When the convoy comes by, flip a switch and say goodbye to a huge area, including the unlucky convoy truck.

Unlike the original Farcry, which had you moving from island to island and covering quite a distance, in Farcry 2 you are stuck on a single map for most of the game, though eventually you get to move to another which looks pretty much like the original one with minor changes and more water. This is both a good and bad thing. It’s good because you will get to know the terrain pretty well, but it’s bad because after a while it seems like you are doing the same mission over and over again. Its like, you just blew up that generator? Well now go blow up this ammo dump. Then go blow up this irrigation farm. Rinse and repeat. A lot. Near the end of the game you get so many assassination missions that I almost think they were going for some type of dark comedy.

The one cool thing is that you can meet buddies, which are other mercs who are in the country and are not total jerks like the ones you are killing constantly. When you get a mission, your buddy will call you on the phone and offer advice on an alternate way to complete the mission. This normally involves extra steps and more difficulty, but better rewards in terms of tricking out your hideouts and boosting your reputation.

So it sounds like an amazing game right? Well, there are some major flaws to go along with the many minor ones. The biggest one is the respawn rate of the enemies. To get anywhere you need to drive down roads or take boats. This is pretty fun at first because most vehicles have mounted guns that really add to your firepower, and gun battles on the water are really fun, especially when you start to get grenade launchers on your craft. But soon this becomes highly repetitive, especially on land, because here are these checkpoints everywhere in the county, but instead of checking anything they just shoot you on sight. You can tear them up, which is a lot of fun the first ten times or so, and even set them on fire.

I left one gas station a burning wreck littered with bodies. The problem? Three minutes later, the same gas station was completely rebuilt and crawling with enemies. It looked like there had never even been a fire. You quickly get the feeling that you can’t really affect the world at all. No matter what you do, it all goes back to normal about a minute or so after you leave. Given that you are marching back and forth over the same ground and over the same maps, this is highly annoying.

Secondly, for all the talk about the intelligent AI, it’s very stupid. I mean I’m blasting away with a Browning M2 heavy machine gun and all they can come with to stop me is to run down the middle of the street and hope I won’t see them? Or I shoot a rocket launcher into the center of their camp and it blows up the ammunition dump and two vehicles. A guy standing ten feet away looks at his buddy and says, "Did you hear that? Do you think we are under attack?" before wandering off to find a newspaper to read or something. I guess since they know they will be resurrected in a few minutes, its okay to die for their cause.

Also, the fact that you have malaria is an added "feature" that I think the game could have done without. Apparently your malaria flares up all the time and you have to pop these pills to make the pain stop. You can’t fight when you’re under a malaria attack, so if it happens in combat you have to stop and take your pill, which is impossible if you’re being shot at by a lot of enemies. Of course the game uses this to "force" you to be good, because only the underground, which is kind of like a third faction in the game, has access to the pills you need to stay alive. Work with them smuggling people out of the country, or die of fever.

There are also a lot of little glitches, like when you are called to help out a buddy and you get there but no bad guys show up. So you stand around with them for a long time. Then the enemies will spawn right beside your friend and kill them. Stuff like that happens all the time.

And this might be a minor complaint for some people, but it’s much more for me. There is supposed to be a stealth interface and you can even buy silenced weapons in the game, but it doesn’t seem to work. First off, you can’t tell if you are being stealthy or not. Most games give you some indication as to how hidden you are to make up for the fact that you can’t get the same feeling of stealth in a game as you can in real life. I didn’t expect Thief: Deadly Shadows or anything like that, but some way to tell if you are hidden or not would be good. Sometimes the enemies would walk right past me in almost broad daylight. Other times someone would see me crouched down across a field in the middle of the night. There didn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to it, which is sad because I like to play a sneaky character. And the fact that you can crouch down, but not go prone is a serious flaw. When you are outnumbered, you want to be on your belly making as small a target as possible. Here, low cover doesn’t seem to offer much advantage because you can’t lay down behind it.

In the end Farcry 2 is a bit like the currency you are paid with in the game: a rough diamond. I think it’s valuable and you can have a lot of fun with it, but it takes some work and dedication. And that is something that not a ton of people will be willing to put in, especially when there are other games on the market with fewer flaws.

I suppose I could say that multiplayer is its saving grace, but really, its not. People who loved Farcry did so because of the single player campaign. Finding a lukewarm one at best in Farcry 2 won’t earn it many friends. If you want multiplayer, try a game like Quake: Enemy Territory that is designed from the ground up for it.

Also, I would be remiss if I didn’t say that this game has a horrible ending. I won’t give away any spoilers, but you end up with two choices. One is really horrible and the second is slightly better, though not by much because you don’t get a chance to really choose what you will do. But before that even happens, something even more silly occurs near the end of the game that just does not make any sense whatsoever. Trust me, you will end up hating the game because of it. I checked the normal fan sites and nobody liked what they did, and lots of people were pretty blatant haters. I suppose the new developers at Ubisoft Montreal wanted to have a "surprise" ending to try and put their mark on the world, but what happens is just so blatantly stupid that it really eliminates all the work you have done throughout the game, especially in your side missions. Trust me, you will feel like all those hours slogging through repetitive missions has been wasted. I lowered the Fun score by half a gem just because of this. You’ve been warned.

Oh, and please don’t force gamers to watch the credits after the game ends. I know watching a bunch of names scroll up on a black screen for over five minutes seems like loads of fun, but people are just going to hit CTRL-ALT-DEL to escape that madness.

I may seem a little (or a lot) more harsh with Farcry 2 than I am with most games, but I expected quite a lot as the follow-up to that classic. Here, it’s like Farcry never existed. It could have been called African Conflict or Blood Diamonds and would have made a lot more sense. Although the game stumbles a lot, you should have good time here if you like your shooters gritty and tough, and don’t worry too much about the plot.

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