Monday, January 5, 2009

Farcry 2 Review

Remember back in July of last year when I was enjoying Half Life 2, in particular the level where you travel along a remote coastline in a dune buggy. The feeling of openness and exploration was refreshing in my own personal first-person shooter experience, as most of those games take place indoors in cramped hallways.

Farcry 2 is that level of Half Life 2 times a thousand. It's an open-ended sandbox FPS, with all sorts of missions, both main story ones and fun side ones. You travel along dusty roads, through run-down African towns, jungles, wide-open savannahs, sandy deserts, rocky terrains, and swamps and rivers. How do you travel, you might ask? In various trucks, officially licensed Jeeps, boats, and other special modes of transport that shall remain unnamed because they are too cool to reveal.

Getting around is made easier with a great built-in map system, but the game also comes with a helpful paper map to use as well. Grand Theft Auto IV did this, too, and it really warms an old-school gamer's heart to see paper maps included in videogames once again.

So the explorer in me, probably the biggest part of my gaming psyche, is in heaven. How are the graphics and gameplay then? Well the graphics are just stunning. I've never seen such great visuals on plants in a game before. This African nation is gorgeously realized, from the aforementioned fauna to the run-down look of the huts made from scraps of metal debris, to the wildlife such as zebras and gazelle.

I stood there the other day watching a zebra grazing through my sniper scope, it's movements natural down to its ears twitching and its head picking through the grass. There are moments like that all through the game (I'm at 23% completion now), like the sun rising and waterfalls splashing.

The combat is pretty standard FPS stuff, but the enemy AI is certainly worthy of note. It's very off and on. Enemies will do amazingly smart things, like flanking you, and crawling away when injured to hide in wait until you get closer, but sometimes they are incredibly dumb and won't even see you when you're right next to them. Mostly, though, they are cunning and offer a good fight.

And fight them you will. The two warring factions of the game seem to have an endless supply of these ragtag soldiers, as an outpost you clear out will be restaffed when you come back, as long as you go a good distance away.

While we're on the subject of fighting, now might be a good time to talk about the game's weapons. You have three slots - a pistol slot, a rifle/machine gun slot, and a big gun slot for rocket launchers and the like, plus a grenade slot. Realism is the design choice here, and in the case of tiny little African wars, the weapons are rusty old hand-me downs from previous conflicts, so the ones you find on fallen foes tend to jam on you at the worst times, or even break in your hands.

The solution to this is the game's weapon shops, which allow you to purchase better ones, as well as upgrade them. You get a free restock of ammo at these places, and for the most part, ammo can be found pretty readily at most of those checkpoints that you'll clear again and again (remember the restaffing speed I mentioned earlier). You can also buy storage crates, so that extra weapons can be held in reserve at the many safe houses you'll unlock.

At those safehouses, which also upgrade through normal gameplay, you can save and restock on health and ammo, and you'll almost always find a vehicle there. The game is not stingy with save points in general, nor vehicles, so the frustration level is very low when you fail a mission. You maintain an entourage of "buddies", who will come to your rescue if you fall in battle, reviving you and giving you a second chance to finish things. You might have to heal them, too, though.

The world design has all sorts of hidden pathways and things in it that are a joy to discover, but I won't spoil them here. The story is gritty, of course, and the characters are pretty well fleshed-out, but not all that deep. Nonetheless, when I failed to save one of those buddies that had rescued me a half dozen times before, I felt somewhat saddened.

Like Grand Theft Auto IV, Farcry 2 gives players a great game experience set in one of the most visually impressive, breathtakingly enormous, and brilliantly designed virtual worlds I've ever seen. 2008 was certainly the year for that kind of thing, wasn't it?

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