Open world first-person shooters would strike fear into even the most robust developer, and to a certain extent the task has trumped Ubisoft, holding their game back from being the classic it might have been. Although it has its draw backs, Far Cry 2’s freedom results in a unique, engaging experience that other first-person shooters have never even had the guts to attempt.

Far Cry 2 isn’t a sequel, nor even a continuation of Far Cry’s life span. It’s more accurately described as a reincarnation christened with a name that only acts as Ubisoft’s marketing tool. Set in the plains of an Africa that echoes the gun laundering setting of Andrew Niccol’s film Lord of War, you’ll recognise little from the “prequel.” But you needn’t worry: the game might not have been made by the masterful Crytek, but Ubisoft has been just as bold.

After selecting one of eight indistinguishable characters, you’ll enter Far Cry 2’s Africa in a car convoy that gives you the same realistic impression that Grand Theft Auto 4’s open world gave you in a taxi ride.

Before long your character has passed out from contracting malaria, to be woken by the gruff voice of the game’s antagonist – The Jackal. Rolling speeches off his tongue, he lets you live, but it’s not in your orders to afford him the same blessing. Africa’s arms saturation can only end by cutting off the fuel supply: for the flames to die, The Jackal must die.

Due to the open nature of the game, where you’re able to choose from a number of side or main missions, the story takes considerable time to warm and until that point, the overenthusiastic voice acting and shallow script might be lost on you. Then again, the narrative isn’t really the game’s main attraction –- you’re in an open world where you can do whatever and go wherever you want.

Despite a lack of predatory animals, Far Cry 2’s world really does feel alive and not in a way that leaves you as the spectator. The world is populated by militant posts, vehicles, arms dealers, zebras, and buffaloes. All can be interacted with in any manner you might expect.

There’s graciousness in driving metres outside of an enemy post, sneaking through bushes and taking inhabitants out one by one with a sniper rifle. Or why not perform under the cover of darkness by taking a nap in a safe house and then setting fire to their camp with a flare gun?

There are a few joyful things mentioned in that previous sentence. First, choosing the time of day by napping in a safe house results in a real-time shot of your surroundings experiencing time passing. This displays the true glory of Far Cry 2’s lighting engine. It’s spectacular how Africa is lit in the game, where dynamic shadows change their reach as the day moves on.

Then there’s the fire, which can be started in the scrub with a flamethrower, petrol bomb, or the aforementioned flare gun. The fire will develop in the direction the wind blows, overcoming dry grass, reaching and climbing scorched trees, alighting wooden buildings, and setting off ammunition stores in a blaze of popping fireworks. All the while enemies will try to avoid the flames, coming unstuck when their getaway vehicle’s fuel tank catches fire and explodes. There really is an experimental realism found here that’s uncommon for shooters.

This realism is complemented by most actions being performed in-game, such as a GPS map held by the character, allowing you to check where you’re going en-route. Before being treated for malaria, you’ll be struck by blurred vision as you stagger in the midday sun — out come the tablets. Picked up an enemy gun? It’s unreliable and will jam in battle, leaving you to fiddle around and thus liable to injury — this calls for an injection of adrenalin.

Although it’s odd that the gun was fine when the enemy used it, this does allow Ubisoft to employ a satisfying method of upgrading weapons bought from arms dealers, increasing their power and reliability with the more diamonds (earnt from discovery or completing missions) spent on them.

The realism does falter elsewhere. Though enemies are generally more proactive than other first person shooters, showing cunning by flanking your position, they are often dim-witted. Despite not knowing you’re a threat at the beginning of the game, the A.I. obsessively shoots at you without prompt. Perhaps a Western face is enough to be guilty. Often driving after you and blocking your escape, the drivers have an odd obsession for jumping out and standing by their vehicle oblivious to the grenade you just lobbed under it. More suffering than all of this is the fact that cleared enemy posts experience a complete repopulation upon return.

Plus, Far Cry 2’s story might have depth, but you’ll never be engrossed by its narrative. The open world has resulted in a fragmented delivery and even if you continuously complete main missions, you’ll still struggle to understand their narrative relevance, leaving you to pick up the pieces by reading the ‘lite’ journal. What you’re left with is a scattering of similar missions that have indiscernible connections.

Still, there’s no escaping that Far Cry 2 presents an incredibly engaging and beautiful world like no other. And as soon as you think you’ve seen it all, you’re presented with a whole new map. It’s not only a wonder that Ubisoft got all of this on one DVD, but also that almost every area is visually distinct. Moreover, the narrative does begin to pick up towards the midpoint and there are many memorable missions to be completed in a multitude of methods.

Far Cry 2 makes new ground in the FPS world by introducing a convincing open world that performs well technically and creatively on consoles. It’s held back by the monotony of repetitive task syndrome and A.I. that’s both obsessed with killing and apt at dying. Ultimately though, the game supports freedoms uncommon in the genre, which is enough to make Far Cry 2 a very solid purchase.

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