The first thing that Far Cry 2 deems to tell you is how damn pretty it is - and by God, is it a visually stunning game. Unfortunately, it turns out that this is going to be a one note song. Sure, it'll try a few other notes and chords, but most of them simply ring too familiar, and a couple even fall flat on your ears.
As I mentioned, the game is absolutely stunning, with enormous draw distances showcasing some of the most detailed landscapes in video-gaming history, populated with low brush and trees of impressive realism. Architecture for buildings is realistic and pleasingly impoverished, despite limited access to their interiors, and character models are expressive whilst managing to avoid delving into the uncanny valley. But perhaps most impressive of all is the fire physics. Whilst not as beautiful as Alone in the Dark's, what it has got over that is propagation - with blazes set by Molotov cocktails and large explosions advancing through the plains, burning down trees and enemies alike. It looks amazing, especially when viewing the carnage you've created during the night. Never before has such a realistic depiction of the desert been realised than it has been here.
The physics engine - whilst not quite at the level of the Source engine - is still robust enough to handle most of what you decide to throw at it, be it launching a Jeep off a small outcropping into the middle of, or blasting a group of enemies with an RPG, bodies and chunks of vehicles fly about in a rather entertaining manner.
The controls, too, are responsive and intuitive, with the PC version featuring full gamepad compatibility. Two omission in the form of the ability to go prone - particularly when most cover leaves you with your head and shoulders poking out over it is perhaps a little frustrating - and some kind of rock-climbing ability seem slightly lazy, but those aside, you can pretty much pull off 90% of the manoeuvres that you want to. Coupled with the 'choose your own way' style of mission undertaking means that there's very little to limit how you tackle any given mission. Do you sneak in with silenced weapons? Snipe from afar? Or just throw a grenade into the mix?
The story is fine, although it fails to be truly engaging partially due to the massive expanse of the map - you'll spend hours driving around, and the large amount of time between story missions means that by about the half-way point you'll probably have forgotten what you were doing anyway. Fortunately, it doesn't detract from the action, which is plentiful and just about enjoyable.
But this is where the flat notes start to hurt your ears. The weapons - despite having a vast array of them at your disposal - feel underpowered and rather unsatisfying, particularly the smaller of the small-arms. They're difficult to aim, and this fact is compounded by a lack of sticky-aim when playing on console and/or using a gamepad on PC, and you'll have to expect to use an average of four or five shots from a standard assault rifle to kill any given enemy. Given that the 'arcade-y shooter' in realistic context saw its death around about the time Call of Duty hit our screens, its rather bewildering that there are barely any weapons which can kill with a single shot to the head. Notable exceptions are the sniper rifles, and - obviously - any of the explosive weapons.
The health system too seems rather flawed - seemingly an attempt to combine the recharging health of new with the health meters of old, it instead is simply an annoying break in combat that feels clumsy and awkward at best. It does, however, make way for one of the more satisfying healing animations - your character leaning down to wrench a bullet from their thigh, or pop out a dislocated elbow feels incredibly visceral, especially from the first person perspective. Had this been included with a true blue regenerating health system, the game would've been better for it.
The final, critical, glass shattering chord, however, lies with the AI. Too clever for its own good, instead of being challenging it comes across as relentless, with generic soldiers hunting you down mercilessly, regardless of how far you run and how many you kill. Almost as soon as you approach a guard post, you'll be greeted with a hail of bullets from at least two sources. The third and fourth guards - depending on whether you're on foot or in a vehicle - will either mount up on a machine-gun-equipped jeep, or they'll spread out and start flanking you instantly. This is without you firing a single shot. If you're in a car and manage to drive through the guard post without your vehicle becoming too damaged, the aforementioned armed vehicle will pursue you and continue to chip away at both you and your jeep's health, until eventually you have no choice but to hand-brake turn and fight.
Considering that there are usually at least three or four guard post between where you are and where you invariably need to go, this seemingly minor frustration ('What? So you can't deal with a few guards every so often? Just because the AI's good at fighting you? Wimp.') turns into an absolutely enormous annoyance, and coupled with the fact that they are seemingly invulnerable to bullets, along with their uncanny ability to reduce you to one bar of health from a mile away despite the fact that there're three trees between you and them means that the combat becomes less of a challenge and more of a grind. Expect to see yourself constantly quick-save and quick-loading, as on the harder difficulties, you will be dying or cowering in a corner using all of your morphine syrettes.
But all things considered, the AI isn't quite enough for me to be against recommending the game. The impressive open-world visuals, free-form mission style and challenging gunplay - relentless AI aside - more than make up for the relatively weak story and lack of any real innovation to the genre.
Ross' Rating: 75%