2008’s Far Cry 2 was a benchmark game in open world design. Boldly defying the linear mission based structure of its predecessor, Far Cry 2 offers one of Ubisoft’s most bold and realistic open world experiences – even today almost 11 years later.
Far Cry 2 takes the player to an unnamed fictitious nation in the heart of Africa being gripped by a brutal civil war. As a mercenary employed by the CIA, it is your job to track down The Jackal, an arms dealer supplying weapons to both sides of the conflict. After landing at the airport however, the mission immediately goes south. You contract malaria and pass out, awaking in your hotel room face to face with The Jackal. After a brief monologue, you are now free to wander out into the sprawling open world of Far Cry 2.
One of the most first things you will immediately notice in this open world is its striking colour palette. Filled with dark browns, luscious botanical greens and deep blue skies. The plains of the African savanna are visually stunning in Far Cry 2, with a perfected blend of gritty realism and beautiful artistic style. This colour palette is also constantly adapting and changing, due to the game’s real time day-night cycle.
This day-night cycle also affects gameplay in very practical and tangible ways. At night patrols are much tighter, more linear with few guards willing to stray from their posts – if you mind your business, they’ll mind theirs. In the daytime however, patrols are plentiful and more dynamic with guards reacting much quicker and far more aggressively to visual and auditory disturbances. During the day, there are also many more vehicles with convoys of guards moving from outpost to outpost making the roads much more of a threat than their nighttime counterparts.
This day-night mechanic lends itself to a certain formula: nighttime is for attacking bases and completing missions and daytime is for laying low and performing lighter tasks, like searching for collectables in the dense jungle or purchasing new weapons from arms dealer shops. The inclusion of a sleeping mechanic, which can be triggered by using beds in any of the numerous safehouses throughout the map, allowing you to manually input the time you want to wake up further indicates that this was indeed the strategy the developers intended for you to take.
There is unfortunately one colossal problem with this. The game’s stealth system. Stealth in Far Cry 2 is fundamentally unfinished and incredibly broken. Unlike later entries to the series, Far Cry 2 lacks the series’ characteristic awareness indicators (the little circular things that surround your crosshair telling you who can and can’t see you) meaning that you never really know if someone can and can’t see you. Being seen yourself is also incredibly easy, with guards dirty brown camouflage blending in perfectly with the landscapes. Their hearing too is completely unmatched, if any guard makes even the most stifled of yells every single nearby heavily armed murderer and their dog will be able to instantaneously triangulate your position and set off en masse to hunt you down.
The game even teases you with tantalising black painted silenced armaments. However, even with the quietest of weapons at the dead of night one missed shot, one seen body or even just accidentally tapping sprint will summon the inevitable collective exodus of guards from their posts to your exact location.
If you can move beyond their unprecedented psychic abilities you will come to find that the AI in Far Cry 2 is surprisingly advanced. In combat they behave realistically, keeping low and darting for the strongest cover around them or dashing for a powerful turret. When shot, they clutch at their affected limb and begin to crawl away, or are picked up and dragged into cover by their friends and comrades. Even when all else has failed, they lie in the dirt or mud, clutching their bleeding wounds and fruitlessly taking potshots with their weak pistols until you finish them off. It is safe to say that the AI in Far Cry 2 is the most advanced in the series and presents some of the most authentic reactions to injury found in the whole of gaming.
Authenticity is one of the key aspects of Far Cry 2 that serves to make it so incredibly engaging. The experience of Far Cry 2 is one of the most immersive gaming experiences ever created. Everything, from the handheld map and GPS navigator to the practically non-existent UI creates a game where you never feel pulled out of the action. The developers went to extraordinary lengths to keep everything ingame, keeping menus and clutter to an absolute minimum. Missions are accepted in person, with documents and payment handed to you in a file after listening to a briefing from a character, objectives are marked on your map and GPS – both of which exist physically as items in your hands throughout the game rather than relying on a cheap traditional map screen. Even the usually immersion destroying menus in shops are worked around, with your transactions taking place over a clunky computer terminal, accompanied by whirring and your character’s clicking of the keys.
Even the weaponry in the game reflects this commitment to realism. Whilst later games in the series favours modern military weaponry (even at times where it makes literally zero sense, like the pirates in Far Cry 3 having access to top grade brand new military hardware) that wouldn’t feel out of place in games like Call of Duty, the weapons in Far Cry 2 are cold-war-era rusted up pieces of junk. The weapons in Far Cry 2 feel clunky, but in the most satisfying of ways. They jam constantly in combat (prompting beautifully animated animation) requiring the frantic clicking of R to unjam and occasionally just break entirely. This jamming isn’t entirely random however, and the general dirtiness and level of rust of a weapon helps indicate how much time it has left. Even the brand new weaponry from arms dealers degrades over time, becoming more prone to stoppages and reducing in accuracy. This creates a lovely feeling of completely desperation in combat. As annoying as it is when your brand new assault rifle snaps in half in the middle of a huge firefight, it makes it so incredibly satisfying if you manage to hastily grab an enemy’s gun and somehow pull through.
It is however the times where you don’t pull through that creates some horribly frustrating moments. In its commitment to realism, Far Cry 2 ditches traditional saving mechanics. You can only save at medical boxes found on the walls at towns or in beds at safehouses. Dying after having all my good guns break randomly only to then be smacked in the face by the reality that I lost 2 hours of progress prompted me to alt f4 in fuming anger at least a dozen times. Even without the unfair save system, the game as a whole is brutally difficult with the bullet penetration systems leading to a complete lack of any viable cover, intelligent AI and the overwhelming numbers of enemy AI contributing to this.
Luckily, this brutal difficulty is not a challenge you have to face alone thanks to the game’s buddy system. Travelling to bars in towns allows you to befriend other mercenaries. Once your friend a buddy acts as almost an extra life: appearing miraculously when you’re about to die to drag your unconscious body to safety, restock your ammo and provide covering fire while you heal up. Buddies also lessen the brutality of the malaria mechanic which, although not mentioned until now, is a fundamental gameplay mechanic.
Anyone with even a passing knowledge of Far Cry 2 knows about malaria. It is frequently joked about by the community, and even the developers themselves with Far Cry 3‘s most difficult difficulty setting advertised proudly as “Harder than malaria” (I played it and believe me, its not). For those in the dark, you have incurable malaria throughout the course of Far Cry 2. It basically serves as a constantly rolling number generator. If the trigger number comes up, well then you basically receive the gaming equivalent of a curbstomping. Your screen shakes, becoming green and muddy and motion blur is cranked up to max. If you’re in combat at this point, you’re screwed. Next, your screen becomes black and you fall unconscious – making you an all-you-can-murder buffet for local enemy soldiers. If you’re lucky enough to have recruited a buddy, they help protect you until you wake up again.
The only way to circumvent the threat of malaria is to procure antimalarial drugs, which serve as your motivation to complete many of the games side-quests. With a bottle of pills safely in hand you’re pretty much impervious to the disease’s effects – so long as you remember to take them.
Although being the butt of far too many Far Cry jokes, I would consider the contributions of malaria to the overall game to be very positive. It contributes to the game’s central theme of human vulnerability. With no array of weaponry, no mass of body armour and no volume of bloodshed ever being able to protect you from your own humanity.
This overall feeling of vulnerability is also added to by the complete lack of friendly NPCs (besides buddies that is). Every single NPC encountered outside cease-fire zones are aggressive – even if you are on their side of the war. They’re not just aggressive to you however with the two sides being seen fighting each other quite frequently and very dynamically. The world of Far Cry 2 is decidedly hostile and you are constantly trapped in the crossfire.
Although Far Cry 2 definitely has its flaws, it manages to reach a level of realism and true immersion that hasn’t been accomplished ever since. Far Cry 2 is certainly a landmark game and as the forefather of open world design its contributions to the gaming industry are absolutely huge. If you can grimace your way through its most brutally unforgiving elements, it is certainly a deeply rewarding and extremely enjoyable experience that I would recommend to anyone.