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

Comments

Perhaps because I haven't been a big fan of the GTA series, this game worked for me. One element that should also be mentioned is that FarCry2 does manage to duplicate one of the best parts of FarCry, the ability to approach most missions from many different tactical perspectives. That does make up for some of the similarities. Maybe on the last assasination mission you snuck in and killed the target. This time you may use a sniper rifle from long range. Next time that RPG could be used to good effect. And so on. Plus, there is some variation and surprises in mission types that may seem repetitve the first few times you do them.

Congrats, samfisher! You made it to the front page!

Very enjoyable read, I made it all the way through the article and I never really cared about any of the Far Cries/Cryses even the slightest bit. I wonder why is that so - I'm all for mindless shooters, but Far Cry always bored me. I could analyse it here, but I don't really have a rational explanation. I suppose I just never found it to be fun. Same goes for all GTAs beyond 2 for me.

I never really cared about any of the Far Cries/Cryses even the slightest bit

My case is even stranger, I liked Far Cry a lot but I am getting bored with Crysis. For me it seems the AI is worse and the cloack ability introduces a game mechanic that repeats too much, cloack, fire, take cover, cloack, fire, take cover... GTA was perfect for me until San Andreas, I couldn't bare it more and haven't tried GTA4.

So do you think that Far Cry 2 is for me? As sarkus said the ability to approach objectives in different ways is a plus for me, one of the things I liked from Far Cry.

Hooray for sam!

samfisher wrote:

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.

That's too harsh. Do you really believe that all they did was copy-paste process of ready GTA format? In my eyes this game is full of interesting design choices which prove that they tried to work out something really innovative. And while I might not like some of these choices but I can't say that they aren't there. I've got to admit: I see certain similarities to GTA IV too. But that doesn't justify assumption that all they wanted was to make GTA in Africa.

anyone wrote:
I never really cared about any of the Far Cries/Cryses even the slightest bit

My case is even stranger, I liked Far Cry a lot but I am getting bored with Crysis. For me it seems the AI is worse and the cloack ability introduces a game mechanic that repeats too much, cloack, fire, take cover, cloack, fire, take cover... GTA was perfect for me until San Andreas, I couldn't bare it more and haven't tried GTA4.

So do you think that Far Cry 2 is for me? As sarkus said the ability to approach objectives in different ways is a plus for me, one of the things I liked from Far Cry.

It would be misunderstanding to compare it to first game (no resemblance whatsoever), Crysis or GTA. I guess you should go to gametrailers and see some gameplay by yourself, those videos should give you really good sense of how gameplay looks. Generally, if you like both shooters and games that give you freedom within game world you should be in heaven.

I've seen enough in the videos online to still want to play it. Attacking missions multiple ways is most attractive to me, far more so than how just about all of the GTA4 missions really had only one way to do each of them.

In the earlier days of first person shooters, you always heard the term "Doom clone" - well that passed and I think the "GTA clone" stage will pass too. Open world sandbox games are going to share some basic similarities, but the devil is in the details. I think GTA itself has run into a wall creatively, and was "out-GTA'd" by Saints Row 2, considered by many to be simply a lot more fun. And I think Far Cry 2 is a lot more fun as well, just in a different way.

Most games have basic mechanics that are repetitive - and most games can been reduced to simple descriptions like "you just drive and shoot" - but that is missing the point. The main point being - is it fun? And is there enough variety within the framework of those mechanics to keep it fun, and interesting? For me, there certainly is in FC2. Acquiring new weapons, choosing loadouts, and having the ability to change strategies for *how* you kill the enemies adds enough variety to keep it feeling fresh - and the actual mechanics of combat I find very fun.

Beyond that is the world - and we agree that it is immersive, gorgeous, and technically very impressive. And this adds to and greatly enhances the gameplay. For me anyway, being in an immersive and atmospheric gameworld is huge. Just being in FC2's world and soaking in the sights and sounds is enjoyable. The sense of isolation and serenity. .. interrupted by random, explosive violence.

No matter how derivitave parts of FC2's design may be, for me playing it feels like something I haven't experienced before, and it feels great - the end result is much greater than the sum of its parts. In a year crowded with great titles, Far Cry 2 is so far easily my favorite game of the year.

It's a fantastic game if the idea of a tactical-lite sandbox shooter appeals to you. The variety of weapons, the wide range of tactical possibilities, the fantastic fire mechanics, and first rate enemy AI all contribute to create some of the most gratifying combat I've seen in any game over the last few years.

It obviously borrows some of the open world mechanics from the GTA series, but to insinuate that it's essentially an FPS GTA clone is really unfair. Far Cry 2 takes some real risks with its design.

edit: AcidCat said it better.

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.

I was floored how well this game ran on my laptop of all things. Even my roommate who is playing this game on an old P4 chip is running this game on low settings and I still look at his screen going damn that is a good looking game. They really optimized the game super well.

Cheers all for your very supportive comments, and also I would like to take the time to say thanks to Certis and the GWJ editorial team who read and re-read my piece many times, this wouldn't be here without their insights.

UCRC wrote:

That's too harsh. Do you really believe that all they did was copy-paste process of ready GTA format? In my eyes this game is full of interesting design choices which prove that they tried to work out something really innovative. And while I might not like some of these choices but I can't say that they aren't there. I've got to admit: I see certain similarities to GTA IV too. But that doesn't justify assumption that all they wanted was to make GTA in Africa.

It would be misunderstanding to compare it to first game (no resemblance whatsoever), Crysis or GTA. I guess you should go to gametrailers and see some gameplay by yourself, those videos should give you really good sense of how gameplay looks. Generally, if you like both shooters and games that give you freedom within game world you should be in heaven.

Far Cry was a good intense experience, otherwise it would still not reside within my software collection right now. They did a lot of things right and I would not have said so otherwise. My issues mainly lie within the fact now that more and more games, we are seeing the same things being played out, perhaps under the guise of another franchise.

As for the variety of approaching objectives, I found that once you had fired off a single shot, the whole area was alerted to your presence and all the careful consideration of stealth went out the window. It was just a fire fight over and over again. I believe even the gameplay videos where you were shown the different ways of doing the same objective all descended into a bloodbath. Having played the game for a significant period before arriving at these conclusions, I truly believe I could not say anything other than what I wrote above.

Maybe now after the race for technical perfection, the gaming industry has become stifled in it's ability to come up with new material, just like Hollywood has with all their constant remakes, and we will see things repeated over and over until "The Next Big Thing"

What we have here is Grand Theft Auto, given a new haircut, a smattering of mosquito repellent and a first person perspective.

I see this reaction again and again and again. Games with open-world elements get compared to other open-world games, not to other games in the same genre. You take a competent, functional shooter, remove the corridor level design and replace it with a wide-open world and players feel like something is "lost."

The final conclusion is usually "there isn't enough to do," ie, "I can do X, Y, and Z in other open-world games, why not this one?" As more open-world games come out, this reaction compounds.

As for the variety of approaching objectives, I found that once you had fired off a single shot, the whole area was alerted to your presence and all the careful consideration of stealth went out the window. It was just a fire fight over and over again. I believe even the gameplay videos where you were shown the different ways of doing the same objective all descended into a bloodbath. Having played the game for a significant period before arriving at these conclusions, I truly believe I could not say anything other than what I wrote above.

That's completely dependant on your subsequent choices. If you choose to make a stand while all the enemies poor out to see what the fuss is about, then yes, it will play out similiarly every time, and similiarly to a lot of other FPS's.

The beauty of the game is in how the exceptional, non-psychic AI allows you to choose not to stand your ground, by far the least effective strategy. Instead dash off, break line of sight, and slip into the undergrowth to silently, one by one, pick off the search party as it fans out to cover more area. Or slink from brush to brush, around the encampment, and steal off in the night, or sabotage their truck with an IED, or steal it! There's an entire spectrum of actions from The Professional, to First Blood, to Behind Enemy Lines, to Last Action Hero. Each sliver of the spectrum applicable to to any situation, as effective as the terrain, enemies, arsenal, time of day, and player mood allows.

Now, none of that is mandatory, the game's not about to twist your arm to start making different kinds of choices. Those choices just aren't present in most games. You could try to make these choices, but other games are going to either react too rigidly or not react at all. Hardly any games even attempt to give the player this kind of freedom, less than five do a decent job of it, and none execute it as well as Far Cry 2.

To see Far Cry 2's open world implementation as a derivative of GTA couldn't be more off-base. It's an evolution of Chaos Theory.

Good points Danjo. The player does need to take some initiative and imagination to experience how dynamic the situations can be and how diverse the combat options are.

Danjo Olivaw wrote:

[That's completely dependant on your subsequent choices. If you choose to make a stand while all the enemies poor out to see what the fuss is about, then yes, it will play out similiarly every time, and similiarly to a lot of other FPS's.

The beauty of the game is in how the exceptional, non-psychic AI allows you to choose not to stand your ground, by far the least effective strategy. Instead dash off, break line of sight, and slip into the undergrowth to silently, one by one, pick off the search party as it fans out to cover more area. Or slink from brush to brush, around the encampment, and steal off in the night, or sabotage their truck with an IED, or steal it! There's an entire spectrum of actions from The Professional, to First Blood, to Behind Enemy Lines, to Last Action Hero. Each sliver of the spectrum applicable to to any situation, as effective as the terrain, enemies, arsenal, time of day, and player mood allows.

Exactly. For example, there is a mission where you are supposed to kill a guy who is visiting some ancient ruins. I snuck into the area and set myself up on a hill opposite the area and waited to see if I could pick him off from afar. No go, so eventually I waited until it got dark and snuck into the ruins. I found the guy, killed him, and then ran up the hill behind the ruins where I had spotted a hang glider, bad guys following. The glider took me far enough away from the area that I was able to easily hoof it to the nearest safe house and grab a vehicle to head on to my next goal. And there were certainly other ways I could have done things. Or another mission where I was supposed to destroy something in a house near the river. I cruised up in a boat, snuck along the bank until I was opposite the building, then fired an RPG into it, achieving my goal. Back to the boat and back home with limited interference from AI guys who had no idea where I was.

You can play every mission the same way if you want to, I guess, but as weapons open up your tactical options increase. And that's where the fun comes from. FarCry 2 isn't a linear mission based FPS and shouldn't be approached that way.

This potential for carnage in this title is more than adequate to slate your bloodlust.

Nice write-up! Just one thing, and forgive me my grammar-nazi moment-it's "slake your bloodlust", not "slate". I don't think you can satisfy your bloodlust with a metamorphic rock from the shale family, unless that is also a weapon in the game.

AcidCat wrote:

Good points Danjo. The player does need to take some initiative and imagination to experience how dynamic the situations can be and how diverse the combat options are.

Seconded.

I don't know anything about the gameplay because I haven't played it, but when I saw the TV ad the other night I felt like they were going for a GTAIV vibe. That's just based on the style of the ad. The cutscenes they showed, voice acting, and the indication that the local environment was kind of an 'anything goes' place. GTAIV just popped into my head.

Funkenpants wrote:

I don't know anything about the gameplay because I haven't played it, but when I saw the TV ad the other night I felt like they were going for a GTAIV vibe. That's just based on the style of the ad. The cutscenes they showed, voice acting, and the indication that the local environment was kind of an 'anything goes' place. GTAIV just popped into my head.

The thing is that this is the strongest association we have for a game of this type. Any gritty, open-world game is going to be compared to GTA, any fantasy open-world game is going to be compared to TES. People still refer aRPG games as Diablo clones.

It is only after a massive glut of shooters that they are no longer referred to as Doom clones, they now stand on their own without the comparison.

mateo wrote:

forgive me my grammar-nazi moment

You are forgiven, my child.