It may be hard to think of a videogame as an acquired taste but that is exactly what Far Cry 2 is. This open world first-person-shooter drops you into a dusty African outback, sandwiches you between two warring factions and, furnishing no clues whatsoever, challenges you to locate and terminate a mysterious gunrunner named the Jackal. It also challenges you to explore the Far Cry 2 gamescape and understand the rules of engagement, as it were, in order to find your groove and figure out exactly how to have fun.
At your disposal to accomplish this enigmatic task is a potentially wide array of realistic weaponry including assault rifles, sniper rifles, rocket launchers and grenades, a smattering of which you acquire at the outset of the game. The remaining weapons are acquired by visiting weapon shops where you can either purchase more weapons to make them available for acquisition in adjacent armories or go on missions to unlock new weapons to make them available for purchase.
Weapons are purchased with diamonds, the game's currency, and diamonds are either found in hidden briefcases liberally scattered around the gamescape or are earned by completing missions for either of the two warring factions. You can also earn diamonds by taking on assassination missions which are dispensed at various cell tower locations.
Navigating around the Far Cry 2 gamescape is accomplished by using a handheld map which may be equipped and studied at will. The map which —depending on your current location— has up to three zoom settings, marks the location of all weapon shops, cell towers, faction headquarters, your current location and the location of your next mission's objective(s).
Upon finishing a comparatively brief series of training missions which adroitly acclimatizes you to Far Cry 2 gameplay, you are simply stranded in a town that has been declared a ceasefire zone and left to your own devices to decide what to do next. You are armed with little more than that which is described above and surrounding you is 50 square kilometers of open African country filled with backwoods, fields, deserts, dusty dirt roads and winding rivers all of which you may freely explore. Numerous vehicles including boats, jeeps and the occasional hang glider are scattered about which you may use to travel about the landscape. For the most part, there are no set paths or corridors confining you. You may drive down the roads, hike or drive through the bush and swim or boat down the rivers. You simply travel about as you wish.
You may go anywhere, anytime.
Frustratingly Repetitive or Fabulously Intriguing?
And this is essentially the make-or-break point of the game. Depending on your approach and how much you savour your freedom, the game will either very quickly become frustratingly repetitive or fabulously intriguing. Personally, the needle on my fun meter teetered wildly between the two until about halfway through the game when it finally and firmly settled on the latter.
What can make Far Cry 2 repetitive is hastily proceeding through the game choosing the most obvious (and orthodox) route to the location of your next objective which will result in stumbling blindly into the numerous enemy patrols and guard posts.
The former of these two will necessitate what may eventually become an increasingly monotonous routine: stopping your vehicle, switching to the mounted gun on your vehicle, killing the enemies, getting out of your vehicle, repairing your vehicle (they always seem to find a way to damage it), getting back into your vehicle and continuing on your way. This may get old quick and you may yearn for the occasional opportunity to peacefully drive to your next destination without being accosted by yet more enemies. (A big clue that you're not having fun is when you hear yourself screeching "For f#@k sakes! Not again!" every 3-4 minutes.)
As for the enemy guard posts, although they may be clearly marked on the map, as a Far Cry 2 newbie, you may eventually tire of being repeatedly forced into close combat on account of an AI that can seemingly spot you a half a mile away. Plans for stealth and strategy may quickly dissipate as you realize that once again you have been 'made' and the enemy AI has executed a flanking attack on your position before you've had a chance to do any recon on theirs.
What eventually made Far Cry 2 fabulously intriguing for me was learning to approach the game correctly. This involved a number of key strategies including the following:
- Enemy patrols are part of the game. If you regard them as some kind of nuisance that must be endured and swatted like buzzing flies, you will find them annoying. If, on the other hand, you learn to fully expect them and even learn their routes, you will get a big kick out of getting the drop on them and even ambushing them.
- Proceed slowly. Yes, enemy guard posts can spot you from great distances but you will never learn just how close you can get without getting spotted if you keep barreling around the game like it's the Daytona 500. Once I learned to slow down, watch the map carefully, get out well before guard posts and cautiously approach them on foot, the game completely turned around for me and I found plenty of opportunities for stealth and strategy. Oh and don't forget to purchase a sniper rifle at the weapon shop.
- Go off the beaten track. Learning to hike and/or drive off-road to avoid enemy positions and patrols was another key to enjoying the game immensely. Here it's all about exploiting the open ended nature of Far Cry 2 to the max and on top of which it's off-road where the immersive quality of the photorealistic graphics in this game really shines.
Now granted, having to take the right approach to a video game in order to have fun may seem like a foreign concept to some. After all, you're paying good money for it. It should entertain you, plain and simple. But personally speaking, I am so glad I did not give up on this game so easily as it is now, far and away, the best video game I own (as my Youtube page clearly attests) and the bazillion approaches to completing each mission guarantees tons of replay value.