I have to say, the trailer to Far Cry 3 makes me really want to run out and pick it up. The depth and breadth—not to mention the various critics’ praise—shown in the ten-minute teaser trailer is impressive. The single-player story looks cool, the environments look immersive, and the leveling up tattoos and gun modifications look amazing. But I’m still a little hesitant; it looks too much like an improved Far Cry 2, and Far Cry 2 was one of the most disappointing games I’ve ever played.
Far Cry 2 didn’t try to follow in the original game’s footsteps, other than having lush, expansive environments to drive around in, which wasn’t necessarily a bad thing to focus on; they even expanded the amount of sandbox, putting Far Cry 2 on the Elder Scrolls/Grand Theft Auto level. It took place in a war-torn African nation, playing a mercenary stricken with malaria who was after the arms dealer supply both factions in the war. With an arsenal of weapons, it’s your job to take on the two factions and fight your way through the jungles to kill the arms dealer. Sounds all good so far, right?
Well, the actual gameplay is very hit or miss. Some of the game’s mechanics are great, some of them terrible. Most of them are just bland and irritating.
- The setting is just plain huge, covering deserts, plains, jungles, slums, all the key African environment types. And when I say huge, I mean fucking gigantic: the map you start out on is bigger than most sandbox games, and then halfway through the game another map is unlocked, doubling the world size. The day-night cycle is impressive, and goes by at a decent pace. And those expansive maps are filled with lush vistas and really cool locales, even if the plants can be rubbery at times.
- The problem is, it’s empty, and infuriatingly boxed-in despite its size. Big and expansive with not a damn thing to do it in, except at the scattered waypoints on your map. There’s no real wildlife out there, and except in the wide-open plains and desert areas, you’re restricted to either a.) traveling by foot, which takes YEARS for you to cross the map, or b.) driving along rivers and dirt tracks through the jungle.
- The problem with the dirt tracks and roads is that there are faction checkpoints every mile or so filled with troops that you have to kill. Between the checkpoints are roving vehicles on patrol. Either way, you have to stop to fight after about five minutes of traveling, which gets monotonous and repetitive. Worse, it takes the focus away from the gorgeous scenery.
- Respawns! When you leave a checkpoint after blowing it up and looting it, walk five feet out of view, turn around and go back because you’re short on grenades, bam reinforcements have arrived. There is no sense that anything you do impacts this world, since the checkpoints and road patrols regenerate some ten seconds after you get out of view. This also works in the inverse; walk too far away from a vehicle and it vanishes.
- Enemy AI! This exists only in on/off form; either they’re shooting at you, or they’re milling about. If you silently kill one of them trying to be a stealthy sniper, they all see you and open fire within minutes, and have the accuracy to shoot the ass off a gnat at half a mile. Enemy tactics revolve around a.) seeing you regardless of how well concealed you are, b.) shooting way more accurately than you do, and c.) running wildly in your general direction. Gone are the tactical geniuses of the original Far Cry; these guys are just dumb mooks with superhuman accuracy and x-ray vision. Their vehicles drive faster than yours, too, which makes chases not very interesting.
- Realism! Your weapons will degrade over time, so you have maybe three or five pitched battles before that awesome assault rifle blows up in your hand. Pick up an enemy weapon and it blows up even quicker, because these sniper ninjas use garbage equipment. The same thing happens to your vehicles; they can take scant little damage before their engines start smoking and you have to hop out and crank the fix bolt a few times to repair it.
- Malaria Outbreaks! As part of the realism, now and then your screen turns sepia-toned, and you have to travel back to the center of Map A to restock on medicine. If you don’t, you become sick and wobbly-cam ensues.
- Vehicles! Handle like overladen shopping carts, and can accelerate from 3 to 30 in about a minute. They are made of glass, except for the special Unimog armored truck (which is made out of particle board). There’s also a hang glider, which is neat, and boats, which are not.
- Fire! Okay, this was pretty cool: throw a Molotov cocktail or set off an explosion and the world catches fire. It spreads out to a certain radius and stops, but it looks cool and can be really helpful. The plains burn especially well.
- One of the great ideas the game brought in was the allies system; you’ll have some mercenary allies who’ll ask you to do sidequests, and will offer alternate routes for doing main quests. Do enough of those and their friendship bar will increase; then, when you’d otherwise be shot to death, one of your buddies would arrive to pull your ass out of the fire. Way cool. What made it better was when your buddy went down trying to save you, requiring your medicinal syrettes for healing or a mercy-kill overdose if they’re too badly injured. Added a bit of depth to a game that sorely needed it.
- The game uses conflict diamonds as currency, which is a fantastic piece of flavor.
- The diamonds are used to unlock weapons, then to buy and upgrade them. There’s a wide and interesting selection of killin’ utensils, but the best options are if you preordered to get the bonus DLC. At any one time, you get a selection of grenades and Molotov cocktails, and get to pick between one light weapon (pistols, machine pistols, a flare gun, an M79 grenade launcher, or a sawed-off double-barrel-shotgun), longarms (a variety of assault rifles, a shotgun or two, and a bolt-action sniper rifle), and heavy weapons (an RPG, a crossbow that fires explosive bolts, a flamethrower, a mortar, machine guns, and a recoilless rifle). The upgrades only modify accuracy, damage, and reliability (how long it goes before it blows up), and are a nice touch, but I’m not actually sure how much they improve anything by.
- The designers tried to institute some story-oriented missions and sidequests, but these are so predictable that they become boring as hell. Standard mission setup involves you traveling to the other side of the map, emptying out all the checkpoints in between, killing everything at the mission location, then clearing out the checkpoints on the way back, to get paid with a few conflict diamonds. Missions include “blow up the convoy looping endlessly from point A to point B,” “kill dude X for the dude at the cell towers,” “kill things so the gun shop unlocks more gear,” “kill everything at location Z and bring back the area’s macguffin,” etc. Imagine a half-dozen copy/pasted versions of those mission types and you get the picture.
- The main missions weren’t much better, and only a handful fall outside the most generic mission types. In truth, there isn’t much of a story, just an endless series of repetitive quests similar to the sidequests. Lord, it’s like the world’s emptiest MMORPG. The exceptions were hunting for secret diamond caches (a scavenger hunt), and unlocking safehouses (you’d bump into them, kill the occupiers, and have a save place to sleep at night). Both were useful and entertaining pursuits, from an exploration standpoint, if a little gamey.
- TL;DR: To complete one mission, you’ll most likely have to end up driving for half an hour, adding ten to fifteen minutes to the trip for each checkpoint you run. After spending the better half of an hour to get to the mission, you fight more mooks—just like at those checkpoints, but at someplace bigger!—then fight your way back through that half-hour drive and all those refilled checkpoints. Rinse, wash, and repeat for six billion identical missions.
- Did I mention that no matter whose side you’re working on, all the faction checkpoints will open up on you at first sight? The game tries to play it off as you being some undercover operative on a secret mission for the head honchos so they can’t tell their hired mooks not to shoot at you, but it feels like lazy game designers.
So, some interesting features, fantastic immersion, great graphics, and a number of serious, critical flaws that ruined the entertainment value of the game. I get the feeling the developers were trying to make a first-person Grand Theft Auto, which they set in the African equivalent of an Elder Scrolls game. But they did so without understanding what made those sandboxes fun. Most of all, those worlds were packed with interesting locations, NPCs, and missions, things that Far Cry 2 sorely lacked. In a way, it was too much sandbox, not enough content. And your actions had next to no impact on the cookie-cutter world.
Some people really liked Far Cry 2. The critics loved it; just look at its Metacritic rating to see the difference between “critic” and “corporate shill.” I stopped playing after some twenty hours and went off to beat Deus Ex: Human Revolution. Maybe things got better on the second map, but I was just too bored—it’s not a game, it’s a slog. Compared to sandboxes like Fallout: New Vegas, Just Cause 2, Saints Row 2, Oblivion, Skyrim, even the STALKER games (limited sandboxes though they are), I just didn’t find Far Cry 2 entertaining or redeemable. Hence my apprehension at the third game in the Far Cry series, despite the trailer’s lovely promises. Won’t get fooled again.