The Far Cry franchise has been around for some time now and the evolution of the series has produced some radically different games which for the most part each manage to represent their own individual era and the tropes associated with it. For this reason I’m currently writing a four part series with an article covering each game. This week we are looking at the second game in the series: Far Cry 2. Far Cry 2 represents quite an interesting shift in direction for the franchise and set many of the tropes that were fleshed out in the later games. For its uniqueness and change in direction Far Cry 2 earns itself a Marmite effect, it’s loved by some and hated by some with little in between.
Unlike its predecessor, Far Cry 2 is an open-world sandbox with the only gating being between the two areas which are determined in terms of unlock by story mission progression. Rather than player progression being measured through a narrative directed series of levels and connecting corridors Far Cry 2 allows players the ability to roam free across the map completing both story missions and side missions. The side missions allowed unlocks of weapons and such, which could then be purchased and used in innovative and fun ways. The game never pushed too hard on this open-world RPG-esque acquisition of gameplay elements, there is no levelling per se thus avoiding the playing to-make-the-numbers-bigger game. This is significantly different from the original Far Cry, as was discussed last week and this is probably where some of the displeasure came from upon receipt. For anyone looking for the narrative driven linear shooter structure, coming away from the likes of Far Cry and Half Life, Far Cry 2 is going to be a slap in the face. In those examples the narrative is unavoidable, refusing to play a “story mission” as it were would result in being restricted to a single level. Far Cry 2 however is such that avoiding “story missions” is fairly avoidable until the unlock for the next half of the map becomes something you desire, however in terms of choice, it’s the players’. The interesting thing is really that this doesn’t so much represent a move away from the traditional tropes of the original but instead expands those areas where it experimented. Far Cry 2 represents the logical extension of the wide-open levels of the original, the choice of a stealthy or aggressive approach and the option to approach an objective how you want to. The choice of approach is even present in story missions, something horribly omitted by later iterations. Missions are triggered based upon an area rather than time, which means that if you really want to swim up on the target area from behind and confuse the AI, you can.
In addition to some of the more sweeping changes the second game also introduced small things that turned out to be surprisingly important. Take the weapon system, unlock the weapon with a side mission and it would become available in good condition from weapon stores however pick-up a weapon from the ground and it will be in an appropriate condition considering the circumstances, ie, horrifically bad. This means that whilst the run, gun and replace tactics of other shooters can work, more often than not the weapon will be in such poor condition that it will most likely jam. The same can also be said for the ammo in higher difficulties as enemies have very little on them when looted, although at the highest difficulty I reckon that this is taken a little too far as the enemies will happily expend countless magazines at you if seen but only have a handful of rounds if killed stealthily, but hey it’s a Stalker-esque problem. It was changes like these that pushed Far Cry 2 into being something new, perhaps not entirely new in the genre (see Stalker) but certainly something new for a mainstream shooter. Another addition to the game which is interesting and makes the world seem very alive and hostile is the respawning checkpoints. In many shooter games that could be considered open-world the act of clearing an enemy base or checkpoint will render that area clear of enemies however Far Cry 2 has them respawn, this makes the world seem alive and dangerous but at the expense of convenience as on higher difficulties just reaching your destination is far from a sure thing. Some didn’t take to kindly to this, but then they probably didn’t like the setting, the actors, the weapon mechanics or the malaria and I hope they enjoy their boring uninspired jingoistic Call of Duty crap.
Take for example the geographical setting and the mechanics built into that: Whilst the player has free-will within the sandbox there are also certain limiting factors beyond just the edge of the map, one of most controversial of these from a gameplay standpoint is the malaria system. The player contracts malaria very soon after arriving and must complete a certain type of side mission in order to acquire more malaria medicine, failure to do so will lead to the disease killing the player. This is an usual addition to the game and in my opinion an interesting one that further cements many of the themes that the game explores. The game is set in a fictional collapsed Central African state, with the principal actors in the conflict being two rebel factions whom are unsurprisingly linked to Afrikaans speaking bush soldiers as the game progresses. For this reason the game never gives any clean or easy answers, The Jackal, the gun-runner you originally came to the country to find spares your life within the first half an hour of gameplay which sets the tone of the moral fuzziness that the entire narrative immerses itself in. There are no good guys, both rebel groups are as brutal as they can be and The Jackal acts more as an agent of chaos, which is appropriate considering his occupation. There is a great deal borrowed from Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, to the extent that it can be considered a modernised adaptation. On that Far Cry 2 does what neither its predecessor nor successors manage, to have a narrative so morally muddied by themes of civilisation, violence and (post)colonialism that its actually fairly profound and intelligent. This is not a game where the player character is a special all-American hero, nor is it some jingoistic patriotic circle-jerk, it’s a game where the whole damn situation is fucked and your solution to it, what you went in there thinking would solve the problem is actually proving to be petrol on the fire.
Central Africa and its rather difficult past problems with colonialism and the more difficult problems with postcolonialism is a hugely under-explored topic in a game genre that is generally obsessed with conflict and violence. (It’s generally under-explored in most media really). I think it may be Far Cry 2 and its reception among some that manage to show exactly why this is: The region and its various conflicts don’t fit into the neat and tidy politics at the heart of the first person shooter genre, there are no American good guys, or Russian/Muslim bad guys, no perfectly orchestrated “shock and awe” campaigns, no modern weapon tech porn, there are are just people and chaos and killing with whatever will do the job. The relationship that later Far Cry games have with these themes is tenuous by Far Cry 3 (which does a great deal “ironically” in an attempt to make up the distance) and completely irrelevant by Far Cry 4 which is essentially just a big, colourful gun-filled theme park. I’ll discuss these in their own respective articles, but needless to say they don’t manage to match what Far Cry 2 is and in many areas represent a regression.
The setting also altered the manner in which the game is played, along with the gameplay traits that I mentioned earlier. The player can go from fighting in dense jungle to almost desert to savannah in what is a very varied world. The game also has a day/night cycle, dynamic weather and some interesting fire and physics simulations that alter how situations may unfurl. One of my more vivid memories from Far Cry 2 was on a highest difficulty playthrough attempting to survive in an abandoned sandstone constructed African style village with an M249 and a rather significant number of people looking for me, it was a challenging situation to be in. There is actually a great deal more to say on Far Cry 2, however for the sake of brevity and your sanity I will stop here, all I can say is that if you have any interest in a slightly left-of-field shooter which puts its successors to shame then Far Cry 2 should be on your wish list. The game is currently available bundled with its DLC for £9.99 (approx $15.20) from Steam or DRM free from GOG for £6.69 (approx $10.15). It’s a reasonably old game so even mid-range desktop hardware should be able to run it without too much drama, it is however Windows only although the Wine DB entry on it looks fairly promising if you’re on Linux and are willing to use Wine.
Far Cry 2 on GOG.com
Far Cry 2 on Steam: