Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Far Cry 2

Post-Launch Review
Far Cry 2
Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
Released: October 2008
Played: 42% complete over 13 hours


Far Cry 2 is marketed as a sequel but is actually completely unrelated to the first game. The player takes on the role of a mercenary sent into a war-torn country in central Africa to kill an arms dealer known as the Jackal, blamed for destabilizing the region by providing cheap weapons to both sides of many wars.

At Launch

Far Cry 2 received average review scores of 85%. Reviewers praised the game's world and visuals, the active enemy AI, and the atmosphere and immersion. The primary criticisms included long travel times, instant-respawn enemies, an uninteresting, sometimes confusing story, and overbearing realism that hurts the game experience. Critics also noted technical issues such as crashes, save file corruption, disappearing mission characters that blocked progress, and DRM that limits PC players to 5 installs.

Post Launch

A fix was released for all versions to resolve save file corruption and to reduce (but not completely eliminate) crashes. There are unresolved compatibility issues with Windows 7 that can block multiplayer features.
The PC version's limited-install DRM has been patched out.
A free patch added a new multiplayer difficulty called Hardcore Mode.
The DLC Fortune's Pack includes three new weapons (freely available in armouries), two new vehicles (found around the world), and five new multiplayer maps. The Fortune's Pack is purchaseable on XBL/PSN and is included with PC copies.

Is there such a thing as too much freedom in a video game? When there's plenty of freedom but nothing to do, the answer is yes.

 After the tutorial sequence, you're simply told "The bad guy is out there somewhere. Go!" and turned loose. The only direction you're given is to be told how to find and accept missions. You can only have one objective at once, so you can't play it like an RPG and add quests to your log; you have to either complete or abandon your current mission in order to accept a new one (with the exception of certain side missions).

You find out pretty quick - in the opening truck ride, actually - that you have malaria. You have to take medication every so often to stave off the symptoms, and when you run out of meds you have to get more. Far Cry 2 is not a survival game, so this mechanic seems out of place - especially given that you can't stockpile meds; for some reason you're only allowed to get more once you run out. If the devs were a bit more clever, this could've been a great way to get the player to certain locations at certain times while still feeling organic and non-railroaded. As is, though, it's just an annoyance you deal with sometimes. The game would lose nothing if it hadn't been included at all. 
Voice acting is too fast. It's as if everyone is reading too quickly from a script. It's not bad voice acting, just noticeably too fast, which makes dialogue sound weird. Kind of like if you rantogetherallthewords in an old text-to-speech program. 

Getting around the map is rather annoying for two reasons: speed and enemies. If you check the speedometer on your jeep, you'll notice it claims you're moving at 100kph. But I've been in plenty of cars and that speed does not feel like 100kph. In fact it doesn't feel all that much faster than walking or running. I get the feeling that vehicles are deliberately slow to create the illusion that the map is really big. Well, the map is pretty big, but travel is slow, huge chunks of map are inaccessible, and most of the remainder is uselessly empty and monotonous.
And when you're driving around you'll often run into guard posts, villages, or compounds of various sorts - and every one is packed full of enemies. 99% of all other people you meet in game are hostile, even those belonging to the faction you're working for. The game justifies this by telling you you're on "secret missions" so that even the guys you're working with don't know you're working with them, because... well I don't really know. Basically if you see someone they're going to shoot you, and you can't just drive to a destination without having to mow down a few dozen guys that you can't even outrun because your car slows down and breaks as it takes damage. Of course, you can avoid the outposts if you're willing to spend even more time going far out of the way to avoid patrols and outposts.
The purchaseable upgrades seem pretty useless. You can upgrade the accuracy and reliability of your guns, which is pretty nice, but the other upgrades are stuff like larger ammo or healing capacity, faster repair, etc. None of that is really very necessary because of how easy it is to find ammo dumps or syrettes. Even the stronger weapons are mostly unnecessary, since you can very easily clear out areas with a bit of caution and patience. As a side effect of all this, the one reason the game gives you to explore - finding diamonds - is useless because you don't really need diamonds.
On a similar note, the Fortune's Pack additions aren't super noticeable. I didn't actually realize that the pack included vehicles until I was writing this review. I guess the vehicles help the world feel slightly more varied, since you have more options. I didn't try the shotguns, but the explosive crossbow, while fun, is inconsistent - it can destroy vehicles in one shot and kill anyone inside, but despite the huge explosion it can take several shots to kill a soldier. Also, the bolts frequently bounce off vehicles instead of exploding on impact.

Missions are pretty much all the same: travel to an area on the map and kill some guys. Some of them mix it up with such daring, experimental objectives as blowing up an object instead of a guy, or by having the target move in a small predictable loop.

There was even a great feature cut from the first Far Cry: scouting enemy locations. The first game let you spot enemies and tactical features and mark them on your compass. You can still scout turrets, ammo piles, vehicles, sniper nests, and medkits, but this time around you can't mark enemies. Since this was pretty much the whole point of recon in the first game, it's odd to cut out the feature and make recon pretty much useless.
All these annoyances are especially discouraging because the world is so gorgeous. The gently rolling hills of the grasslands are spotted with trees and bushes and occasional rock outcrops, while a few zebras and gazelles pick their way around. Vegetation density is high, so the world never relies on flat textures for grass - it's all there, waving in the wind, as high as your knees. The day/night cycle is fast enough to be noticeable but not slow enough to be jarring, and sunrise/sunset can create some really fantastic views out of previously ordinary areas. The time of day even affects enemy behaviour: they can spot you more easily during the day but prefer to stick to the shade; while at night enemies are more alert and active but have a harder time seeing you.
The other really cool thing about this game is fire. It's an environmental hazard that spreads on its own and burns away vegetation, leaving charred ground and leafless trees in its wake. The fact that fire spreads and leaps is already really cool, but what's even better is that it's somewhat controllable: some of the weapon options are fire based, like molotovs or flamethrowers, so that you can start fires in key locations and use them to funnel or burn enemies. Fire doesn't spread super far and burns pretty quickly, which is a little unrealistic in dry grassland, but on the other hand it never gets completely huge and out of control, which is good for gameplay. And the spread is affected by weather conditions and environment type, which is also awesome.

Recommendation: don't play it.

Far Cry 2 is a solid shooter set in a beautiful world where awareness and control of the environment are important. Unfortunately the game is severely bogged down by tedious repetitive missions, slow and annoying travel, fast-spawning enemies, lack of stuff to do, and a general lack of direction or sense of progress. Honestly, when I was looking at reviews to write this article after giving up on the game, I was shocked to see a Metacritic rating of 85%. This is a game that could have been great with a few tweaks, but instead packs in too many annoyances to be fun.
But this isn't quite the end of this review! With a game that had so much potential and squandered it so badly, I couldn't help but think about how I would have improved things. Here's what I think could have made Far Cry 2 a lot more fun and engaging.
  • Either strip out the survival elements, or commit more strongly. The first bit is pretty self-explanatory, so I'll expand on the commit argument. First, make malaria pills harder to get. Don't just hand them to the player for killing a couple of guys; force the player to either buy them or find small quantities around the map. Make vehicles rarer, and make them harder to repair - instead of pushing a button, make the player collect engine parts, and it costs parts to fix a car. Also put more enemies in patrol vehicles so it's harder to steal a new car if yours breaks down.
  • Hide more stuff around the map. Move upgrades out of the weapon shops and into the world - hide parts and manuals to reward the player for exploring, and add a different coloured indicator light for upgrades on the player's GPS (which is currently only used to find diamonds).
  • Bring back the first Far Cry's scouting - allow the player to scout enemy locations and mark them on the map or GPS to make recon more rewarding.
  • Put a longer spawn timer on enemies - instead of respawning immediately after the player takes a 5-minute nap, set the respawn for a number of game days after death (or game hours, if that's too long). Or, optionally, reduce the number of hostiles by turning the troops of the faction you're currently working for into friendlies. One of these would be helpful; both is probably overkill.
  • To mix up the enemies a bit and add some unpredictability, perhaps add some dangerous animals that are hostile to both the player and NPCs - lions or hyenas could be always hostile, while rhinos could be neutral and turn hostile when attacked. (apparently the devs thought of including predators but stated that they'd eat all the herbivores and starve to death, which is incredibly stupid in a game with infinitely respawning human enemies - just make the animals respawn!)
So that's how I think Far Cry 2 could have been improved. These changes would have big effects, but wouldn't alter any of the game's core systems or gameplay - just make the game feel fuller and more alive.

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