As you track the distant gazelle weaving its way through the sparse tree line through the scope of your sniper rifle, and dawn's first rays light up the skyline and the sun slowly reaches its warming fingers out across the plains and over the canyon towards your vantage point, the wildlife starts to sing its appreciation at the day in prospect. The glare from the morning sun dazzles you as a lone jeep trundles along a remote path kicking up wisps of sand, the gunman on the back scanning the savannah for signs of life. You slip off your rock and meander your way down the canyon path towards your boat in the gently twinkling water below, plotting your path across the wilderness towards your next target - a political assassination of a top ranking police officer.
Sounds lovely, right? Right. David Attenborough with guns, almost (now there’s a game). This is exactly what I love about Far Cry 2 - the atmosphere, its sense of place. It does Africa so very well, and not just the truly astonishing landscape and ambience. It also conveys the sense of oppression very well, with militias and mercs roaming the country spoiling for a fight. Which is a good thing considering that's what Far Cry 2 is based on.
You play a meathead, who you pick from a list of many, who has been sent to take out the arms dealer who is supplying the warring factions in this fictional area of Africa; The Jackal. Your first task is to escape the confusion of civil war and hook up with some buddies who'll fix you up, arm you, and send you on your first mission proper. From that point on though, it's up to you what you do - you can take missions from any of the arms dealers dotted around the map (I can only assume these are good arms dealers, considering the main plot); from one of the many communications masts where you get given a mission by a gravel voiced, uh, voice; or you can work for your buddies or either of the warring factions.
The non-linear approach works well and suits the setting. The map is split into two large sections, with the second opening up after you complete a certain amount of story missions. Aside from that, you can go where you want, when you want, how you want: stroll around on foot, rake it through the bush in a jeep, laze about on a boat. Hell, you can even repeatedly stove your face into the dirt in a hang glider. So you take a mission, it gives you the desired outcome and location and it's up to you how you go about your business. It all sounds rather lovely, doesn't it?
And it is. Up to a point. And that point is repetition - nearly all side missions are exactly the same. They may be in a different location and, yes, you may well be able to approach them in completely different ways, but they are still essentially the same: assassinate this bloke who's stood completely still; eliminate an arms convoy; eliminate another convoy; how about assassinating a completely immobile dignitary? All the same. It extends to the slightly more diverse story missions as well - you know full well that, as you walk out of the guerrilla's headquarters, your buddy is going to call you and ask for a favour. Also, all missions involve gunning down a township full of people or sneaking past them. OK, so this may be righteous fun, but it does get boring after a while. Making your way around the map can also be a chore. Militias roam the landscape and will attack on sight. Although this provides plenty of opportunity for highly enjoyable bloodshed, it does mean that travelling about can be a grind.
I should probably flesh out the buddies at this point. During the game you'll meet various people who will become your chum. Perhaps you rescued them from a nasty situation, perhaps they've rescued you - either way they're now your bestest friend in the whole wide World. Your main buddy will dish out the story missions, but your other mates will also give you side missions from time to time. However, they're not just plot devices. Oh no, these buddies earn their stripes in the field (or desert, or swamp - wherever really, they're not fussy). If you go down in a fight, your buddy will appear and drag your sorry ass away from the battle, so you can heal yourself and get back on your feet. They'll then hang around long enough to help you clean up the bads before disappearing again. You can also use them to help out in missions, although I never did. Call me a one-man army.
The gun fights themselves are great fun - wonderfully kinetic. Barrels fly, fires rage, and bad guys stagger about the place clutching wounds. Ammo dumps explode in a fountain of bullets - all very satisfying indeed. The only thing that lets it down slightly is the AI - they're prone to walk into trouble, often walking to their death in front of an ammo cache that's mid-explosion. They're also pitiful drivers who seem to enjoy repeatedly driving into rocks whilst you snipe them from afar. One of my favourite aspects of the gun fights is the fact that you actually need to heal yourself by injecting pain killers. If your health drops below a certain level though, you need to find cover and repair yourself (for example pulling a bullet from an open wound, or, er, cracking your knuckles back into place). This vulnerability leads to a great panic induced scramble for decent cover in the middle of a bullet storm and adds immensely to the tension.
And the graphics. Oh, the graphics! They're stunning, absolutely stunning, and the engine copes with them admirably. There's barely any slow down as you pound around the gorgeous landscape, even at dawn and dusk when the sun is throwing shadows all over the place. These times of day are the most eye-wateringly attractive and watching the sun rise in Far Cry 2 is possibly the most beautiful thing yet seen in a video game. The sound compliments the graphics with subtle music and great ambient sound. Mind you, the voice acting is laughably poor - some of the worst I’ve heard.
So, what I do I think about Far Cry 2? It's great. It really is - the setting is incredible and it really feels fresh to wander around Africa. The gun fights are also superb - the much-vaunted fire adding a pleasing dimension to an already enjoyable experience. The downer? The repetition does begin to grate after a while. A while that's not that long to be perfectly honest. I do very much enjoy the game, but I enjoy it as a great experience rather than a great game.
However, I'm going to end on a positive: you can scatter a herd of zebra with a rocket launcher. Tell me you don't at least want to try that?