In Far Cry 2's chaotic world of mercenaries, gunrunners, and armed militias, you'll find yourself dropped into a dizzying web of shady clients and paper-thin alliances. All manner of names and faces are introduced during the course of the storyline, but the real star isn't anyone brandishing a smuggled weapon in search of blood diamonds; it's the daunting and awe-inspiring 50-square kilometers of African landscape that make up the game's open-world setting. Aside from providing the opportunity to soak up an amazing sunset, Far Cry 2's free-roaming terrain brilliantly harmonizes with the first-person combat. The diverse landscape and myriad environmental factors work alongside a wide assortment of weaponry to give you tremendous freedom to approach each mission. Combined with solid multiplayer, Far Cry 2's sheer breadth of action provides you with plenty of reason to stay lost in the African wilderness despite an underwhelming plot and the occasional sense of tedium in navigating from one location to another on the gargantuan map.
Far Cry 2 is quite the looker.
Far Cry 2's story is filled with potential. You're a mercenary working for a client who's sent you to an unnamed African nation engulfed in civil war, and your job is to take out a notorious arms dealer known as "The Jackal." He quickly proves to be an elusive figure, so you'll need to begin working for various warring factions that the Jackal has armed so you can trace the supply line back to your target. The two primary organizations at the heart of all this bloodshed are the militaristic UFLL and the revolutionary APR. You'll spend the bulk of the story working for these two groups, getting to know their power structures, and taking on all of the violent tasks they throw your way. Complicating things is the fact that your character has malaria, which means you'll need to occasionally play nice with the more ragtag Underground, the only group with the medical connections necessary to keep your potentially life-threatening symptoms at bay.
Each story mission can be played in multiple ways. There are 12 potential buddies randomly scattered throughout the storyline who you can befriend (nine of whom are available to choose as your silent protagonist), and they're often keen to tack on their own interests to the quests handed out by the UFLL and APR. Instead of just taking out a target, you have the option to earn extra reputation points by working alongside your buddy to first squeeze any remaining assets from the soon-to-be-deceased. This also earns you the ability to increase your level of companionship with that buddy. It's a neat reward, but it doesn't shed much light on their backgrounds. But that's par for the course; the main story is delivered in such a rushed, quick-and-dirty way that you never feel very involved in the game's overarching conflicts. The plot is less Blood Diamond than it is early Grand Theft Auto, a long roster of changing faces that scroll by far too quickly to capitalize on the politically charged setting.
Although disappointing for a single-player campaign that could easily drain more than 30 hours of your time, any shortcomings in the plot are mostly forgivable thanks to Far Cry 2's overall structure. The game is organized in a way that provides a daunting amount of freedom to explore, earn currency, and wreak havoc on the game's landscape and its denizens. It's all laid out in a manner typical of sandbox action games. Pulling out your map reveals a collection of icons that signify available missions and points of interest that you can meander toward at your own leisure. Among these are dozens of side missions that you can take on, with various forms of rewards. Delivering transit papers to trapped refugees earns you malaria medication, destroying rival convoys for gun merchants unlocks new weapons for purchase, and performing assassinations for mysterious voices at the other end of your cell phone rewards you with diamonds. You can also rough up militias stationed in small camps and turn their dwellings into your own safe houses. The side missions can feel a bit repetitive when played through in rapid succession, but they offer a great change of tempo when sprinkled throughout the main narrative. But what's most clever is how their differing rewards intermingle so wonderfully with your needs in progressing through the story: Malaria pills keep your HP and stamina up, diamonds buy you new weapons and ability upgrades, and safe houses provide temporary shelter to stock up and save your game.
With so much ground to cover, you'll be spending a lot of time driving, boating, running, and swimming.
The freedom of choice that goes with selecting which mission you want to perform carries over to how you execute them, and that's where Far Cry 2 really shines. There are a variety of factors that affect the way you approach each mission, from the number of people you need to kill, to the landscape, to the weather and time of day. If your job is to take out a key figure hidden deep within a militia camp in the jungle, you'll do well to take a nap at your safe house until nightfall and silently stalk your prey under the cover of darkness. If it's a windy day and you need to take out a bandit outpost in the dry plains, you can start a fire from far away with a flare gun and let the breeze and arid conditions collude to spread the flames toward their camp, finishing off the survivors with a sniper rifle. Need to clear out a bunch of scattered guards? Why not shoot an oil drum near an ammo stockpile and watch as the bullets erupt in every direction like deadly pieces of popcorn? Of course, you can also get up close and personal with pistols and machine guns, but the moments in which elaborately planned assaults succeed are some of the most gratifying points in the game. The whole process of staging an attack only becomes more intricate and rewarding as you slowly upgrade your safe house into a full-blown armory and unlock new weapon and vehicle abilities--all done through the gun shops.
The sheer variety of weapons plays a big role in your ability to craft a personalized approach to each mission. For every situation, there's a weapon ideally suited to delivering mercenary justice. From the AK-47 to the Molotov cocktail and the remote-detonated improvised explosive device, they all feel like weapons that could easily be plucked from the civil wars of Africa. Furthermore, your weapons will cycle through an authentic level of wear and tear, particularly those picked up from ragtag militiamen; secondhand weapons will show dirt, frequently jam, and eventually break, which means that it's best to buy them from the shop. All of the above makes for a uniquely desperate and makeshift style of combat compared to other first-person shooters.