There are a few things you need to know about Far Cry 2 going into it. First off, this is nothing like the original. The first Far Cry was all about crash landing onto a tropical island covered with mercenaries and mad doctors who used the isolation to conduct Nazi-esque experiments. This resulted in a war with you, the mercenaries, and the genetically mutated monsters going at it in a picturesque Caribbean free-for-all culminating in an insane confrontation within a freaking volcano.
Far Cry 2 has absolutely nothing to do with that. Instead, whoever made this game decided that it would be a better idea to try and simulate a morally ambiguous, murky and modern African warzone. No mutants. No reference or commonality to the original in any way. At first, I found this baffling and an immense turn-off when it came to holding my interest. It was as if, wanting to rent the sequel to Sahara, I ended up with Blood Diamond.
But, after this initial sense of betrayal, I came back to Far Cry 2 years later, fully prepared to look at it as being its own animal, wanting to give it another shot.
The Ambitious Experiment
I have to give Far Cry 2 props for trying to break the mold of what we come to expect from first person shooters. Unlike most, Far Cry 2 attempts to call attention and life to the African savannah, focusing particularly on how dark and despairing modern conflicts can get on that continent. Instead of aiming for just a straight mindless run-and-gun, this game attempts to dwell on the futility and hopelessness that tends to accompany the unending wars between tribes and clans in Africa. It seeks to highlight how, to locals, foreigners seem to swoop in just to benefit themselves and play one side against the other.
Your main objective is to find and kill The Jackal, an infamous mercenary who arrived at the conflict only to turn into an amoral monster. Echoing themes from Heart of Darkness and aping the story of Marlon Brando's Colonel Kurtz from Apocalypse Now, Far Cry 2 proves to be quite ambitious; it is rather rare to see a video game try to make political and social points while simultaneously making references and nods to literature and film throughout.
The Tragic Failure
But, sadly, Far Cry 2 fails to near the dizzying height for which it reaches. The Jackal, while intriguing, takes an eternity to reach and hear more of, lessening the impact. The factions warring with each other are virtually the same: unlikable, hostile, and having no empathetic qualities. The missions that you go on seem pointless, appear to have no lasting impact, and provide meaningless moral choices that have no ramifications. When all the characters feel the same, when your decisions as a player don't feel as if they amount to anything, and when you have to jump through endless hurdles for no purpose... the game's charms and aspirations fall apart very quickly.
The gameplay only contributes to this dissonance between dream and reality. Far Cry 2 attempts to add to the feel of African war by giving your character incurable malaria (to emphasize hopelessness), guns that rust and fall apart (to better simulate the nastiness of fighting in the middle of Africa), and enemy checkpoints that forever repopulate with hostiles (to reflect the feel that you can't permanently change anything). Although, theoretically, these design choices fit perfectly with the themes Far Cry 2 tries for, in practice they make for a tedious gameplay nightmare. You have to constantly stop what you are doing to retrieve more malaria medication. Having your weapons become very crappy very fast as you use them is really annoying. And having all your work be rendered pointless as every enemy respawns behind you is the opposite of fun.
Though I do not recommend Far Cry 2 to anyone, I still have to say that I respect what the game designers tried to do. It is a brave move to try and create something that departs from the conventional mold. I only hope that this failure doesn't discourage others from trying new things themselves.