Intel’s Game On initiative has released a free two-new-mission pack for Ubisoft’s Far Cry 2. Each mission apparently covers a handful of objectives and adds maybe 3-6 hours to the game, depending on how omniscient or incompetent the AI decides to be during your particular play experience.
I actually started up Far Cry 2 again last night in hopes of seeing something I’d missed the first time. This is one of the games I was really expecting great things from, and it has so far failed to impress in nearly every conceivable interpretation of the word. To my mind, adding another three hours to the torture is not the best way to improve it.
The mysterious and elusive Open-World Shooter (Apricus mundus iaculorem) is perhaps the hardest game format to do well. Titles like Crackdown and Mercenaries 2 manage, but they’re hybrids at best: on consoles, in third person, and with plenty of minor problems like repetitiveness and weak plot threads. The clear winner so far is the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. series, including both Shadow of Chernobyl and the more recent Clear Sky. Even those games are far from perfect. Everyone looked to Far Cry 2 as a sort of proof-of-concept for the… ah… concept; Ubisoft is a big company with significant resources and a lot of talent: two things you need to produce anything as ambitious as an open-world shooter. Leads on this game, people like the uber-talented Clint Hocking and indomitable Patrick Redding, seemed very committed to making a game that would demonstrate the real potential of this gold mine of interactive opportunity.
So how was it screwed up so badly? The issues with Far Cry 2 are plain to see: even the game’s minutia is endlessly repetitive; the malaria thing is dumb; all tasks devolve to straight-up firefights; the territory is extremely difficult to navigate; the weapon purchase/upgrade system is immersion-shattering; the storyline takes hours to even begin; the enemy AI is inconsistent to the point of schizophrenia; random, game-slowing encounters occur every 40-90 seconds; the driving and repair mechanics are inspid; enemies respawn within seconds, often right in front of you. Maybe worst of all is the fact that you simply cannot play the game the way it was advertised in the many trailers: things like stealth are nearly impossible due to the inconsistency of AI and the persistence of vegetation that provides no cover but is impossible to see around.
Far Cry 2 has essentially two things going for it: a luscious, superbly-optimized graphics engine that Ubi can use for years to come, and gleefully destructive fire propagation physics that let you burn down half of Africa. And that’s it. Everything else promised by this game is as empty and hollow as the make-your-own storyline. Quests are always “go there and kill them, then come back;” a normal enough thing if it weren’t for the relative impossibility of effective overland travel. It takes hours to get where you’re going and hours to get back; vehicles are disposable and difficult to drive, and the failure to provide an onscreen compass to go with the it-works-better-in-theory-than-in-reality map system makes navigation ten times more irritating than it needs to be.
However beautiful the game world of Far Cry 2, its endless trees and copy-paste shacks make me yearn for the bleak handcraftedness of S.T.A.L.K.E.R.’s Exclusion Zone; the annoying weapon huts for Clear Sky’s cleverly implemented equipment repair and upgrade system, in which a gun was a friend to be cherished, the replacement of which was a big decision. For all that this game was supposed to uncover the future of the open-world shooter opportunity, Far Cry 2 is nothing but a throwback to its own unrelated precursor: a game that looked far better than it played, and ruined itself through careless design and failure to comprehend what the ideal experiential balance might have been.
What bothers me most is the 8.5s and 9s that Far Cry 2 is getting. I’ve always been an apologist for the gaming press even as I knew that journalists would, from time to time, hand out over-complimentary scores to undeserving games. This debacle is simply too much. I am not a newcomer to games, to shooters, to open worlds, or to open-world shooter games. I know what I’m talking about, and I saw in seconds how badly Far Cry 2 had stumbled. Days after I severely penalized Clear Sky for its own (not insignificant) shortcomings, I discovered the game we’d all held out hope for was a far, far worse specimen than even the gloomiest of naysayers had imagined it might be.
Far Cry 2 fails as a game, because it is frustrating and incompetent and not at all fun to play. It fails as a narrative or thematic object, because its narrative is meandering and it has no themes, aside from a Blood Diamond-esque “people killing people for loot is mean but alluring” undertone. The only place it succeeds is in its technology, and for me that’s not good enough. Tacking on a few more missions that’ll be just as obnoxious is nothing more than an expansion of disappointment.