Far Crying Out Loud!
Paul Hughes, also known as the Lord of Leisure, samfisher and Sexiest in Socks Champion 2008, has taken the time to pen a Perspective for you. Enjoy.
The sight of my recent bank statements has sent fear running down my spine. With the world's finances looking more and more like the Sahara desert, local job markets are rapidly tightening their already lean belts. For the lucky souls still finding themselves employed, the pressures which have risen as a result can easily reach a stifling level of concern. After yet another week of watching the American stock market rise and fall like a yo-yo, and watching bankers sell themselves for food on the street of London, I finally reached a breaking point.
I turned off the cheerful tones of BBC News, chucked my Blackberry into the nearby rubbish bin and signed off from Facebook. I turned towards the sun-kissed embrace of distant shores for a peaceful respite. Instead of the tried and tested package holidays we Europeans like to enjoy over in Spain, filled with cheap bars and even cheaper people, the travel agent I approached suggested an adventure holiday.
An adventure holiday where warlords rule with an iron gun and villagers live with fear that each day is their last. Disease flourishes in this remorseless wilderness, trailed by blazes whose white-hot rage is unknown to western society. Militant rebels and suicidal wildlife inhabit its Badlands and the desolate plains are a lonesome place where no good man dare tread.
But I’m not a good man. I’d already been there. The place was called Far Cry 2.
While I was busy acquiring various deadly household appliances, dealing with missions doled out by less than wholesome individuals, and driving through the lush wilderness, a strange thing struck me. It was a zebra. My jeep skidded out of control and barrel-rolled gracefully across the grasslands and finally over a cliff.
It was during this period of “gravity getting one over me”, that I realized that Far Cry 2 shares a great deal in common with another well-known series, one which recently has instilled as much misery as the current financial woes. What we have here is Grand Theft Auto, given a new haircut, a smattering of mosquito repellent and a first person perspective. Exterior differences aside, there's a lot about the pair's inner workings that seem remarkably similar.
In GTA 4 you play Niko, a foreign national who has migrated to Liberty City in order to seek fame, fortune and all the other wonderful things the Uncle Sam posters offer. A few ethically dubious decisions later, it turns out that Niko is actually chasing after a traitorous figure from his past. Oh dear, so much for the allure of the American Dream.
In Far Cry 2, you play a foreign national -- from a fine selection of extras last seen on the United Colours of Benetton adverts -- who has just arrived to kill a man called the Jackal, an arms dealer who is more than happy with helping various countries swirl down the toilet. As you can imagine, The Jackal is such a swell guy.
In true epic fashion, both adventures deal with a situation going horribly wrong due to a series of unfortunate events screwing you over. In order to sort out the mess, you are directed to people who engage you in a series of missions which, lo and behold, all involve variations to the tune of over the top bloody violence. In fact the rest of the entire experience is spent killing lots of baddies, blowing up trucks or killing lots of baddies with trucks which then explode. Hell, I’d be amazed if that last one wasn’t in there at some point.
Both games give you a huge sandbox environment to play in, both amazingly detailed throughout, and both games involve a lot of driving around said sandbox. That is no understatement. You will drive across the map and back again, and then back out to where you’ve just been, all without running out of petrol.
Thankfully, both games have a GPS mapping component to help you find whatever shack it is you're looking for, though one uses more realism for the map than the other.
It appears to me that Ubisoft has emulated GTA in order to capitalize on the aforementioned game's success. It must be said that selling over 6 million copies of a title in the first week of release is a major achievement for any developer. As a profit-driven corporate entity, it's only natural that Ubisoft would strive for a repeat moneymaking performance. It's just a bit unfortunate that their effort results in a slightly derivative gaming experience.
Financial considerations aside, lets get to the malaria of the matter. Far Cry 2 gives you numerous opportunities to shoot people throughout the course of its missions. If that is all you are after, then you’re good to go. This potential for carnage in this title is more than adequate to slate your bloodlust.
Of course, no game of this mold would be worth its salt without something potentially controversial behind it. In the case of Far Cry 2, it's the setting that's a potential minefield of issues. Africa is always a powder keg of topical discussion; it usually leads news programs with countless stories about famine, war and corruption and its political conflicts are always a source of speculative observance. Perhaps that is why it is an excellent setting for a story about messy, and often brutal open warfare.
Far Cry 2 does offer new dishes to the gaming dinner table. There are patrols randomly wandering the land with guns at the ready, and if you have the nerve to drive past them, they get in their nicely outfitted jeeps with mounted machine guns and chase after you. Having to keep avoiding various the constant patrols and numerous guard posts does get annoying after a time, but it also keeps you on your toes.
There is now the added fear of one's gun jamming during battle keeps you moving and adds elements of “Oh dear” to the proceedings when you least want it to. Then again, you may start having different thoughts about it after the 76th time the thing jams during a firefight.
As for solving your weapon problems by paying a visit to your local friendly arms dealer, it seems kind of bizarre considering it’s an arms dealer which started this mess in the first place. Surely your rugged foreign-national-turned-mercenary realizes that buying arms is merely adding to the problem.
The introduction of a disease management mechanic is actually a rather interesting concept, and a good evolution of health management systems. The fact that your little malaria problem can rear its ugly head and thwart your missions at the most inopportune time is an added incentive to work through the pain, lest you character lapse into unconsciousness in the middle of a minefield. Unfortunately, little more is made of this than a series of dull side missions just to get the pills required to keep it in check. Thank heaven for easily accessible warzone medical aid.
The technical achievement found within Far Cry 2 simply cannot be underestimated. The vast landscapes stretch on for miles and are simply beautiful settings in their own right. The way you can cut trees down with gunfire, the weather changing the look and feel of the place, even something as simple as lighting contributes to a well-presented environment that feels like its alive.
While the current generations visuals are almost uniformly jaw-dropping, Far Cry 2 remains a glowing example of further goals to strive toward. Even with its dynamic environmental effects and all other options set to maximum, the demands of the game's engine did not bring my computer screaming to its knees. A welcome change indeed.
But for all its wonderful achievements, I quickly became resigned to the fact that, as with GTA before it, the game hits one note and mumbles that same old weak, repeated tune throughout. The rinse and repeat feel to all of Far Cry 2’s missions cannot be shaken off, no matter how many crazed animals turn the tide of your personal war.
I have a suspicion Far Cry 2 will be forgotten quickly, just as GTA4 seems to have been. I can’t shake the feeling that, with increasing frequency, we are going to see the same game experiences again, but from different publishers. Perhaps it will be dressed up smartly, but underneath it all, the soul of a GTA-light will burn, shamefully sniggering over the carnage. As we enter the height of the current year's gaming frenzy, this might be something to look out for.
- Paul Hughes