Every time a new Far Cry game is released, without fail, regardless of how good or bad the new title is, the conversation will eventually turn to Far Cry 2. With the recent release of Far Cry 5 things are no different, with the conversation this time spurred on by a recent video showing how the series has seemingly regressed in design. So what is it about the second game in the series that’s held people’s interest in 10 years since it’s release, is it just the pretty fire physics, or is there something more?
Let’s start by looking at the situation FC2 places you in. The main motif of the Far Cry series has always been to place the player in far away, and fully realized locals. The first title in the series, and it’s spin-offs all took place in tropical islands, the third game did likewise, Far Cry 4 took place in the mystical mountains of northern Asia, and even Far Cry 5‘s Montana feels like a different world for anyone not from there. Far Cry 2‘s Africa is certainly far away and well realized, but there’s an unmistakable darkness around it. This is a land that wants to swallow you whole and leave nothing to find.
The atmosphere of FC2 is, itself, a far cry from the rest of the series. The first game was heavily influenced by 80’s action flicks, starring a generic buff dude in a Hawaiian shirt, killing mercenaries and aliens to rescue the headstrong but attractive female. The third game and later titles have all felt like more modern action, cracking jokes with a wink as something cool blows up in the background, always on the side of right. Far Cry 2 was different, you rarely felt like the good guy, and even when you did it was really for your own selfish needs rather than out of the goodness of your heart. You can’t even interact with the civilians until you absolutely need to.
The focus of Far Cry 2 is instead on you as a mercenary, mostly nameless and faceless, playing two factions of equally crappy warlords against each other. Neither one is the “good” faction, both seek to strip the country dry for their own desires and simply remove whatever obstacle might be in their way through brute force. These factions are so detestable that the only person with any sort of moral compass is the arms dealer supplying both of them, who you’ve been hired to kill. The whole thing borrows heavily from Heart of Darkness, and wisely leaves the plot to simmer on the back burner in favour of the open-world gameplay.
When it comes to gameplay there’s a strong emphasis on immersion, more than most other shooters even to this day. It’s not just the minimalistic HUD, with no mini-maps and only small meters for ammo and health, but every aspect of the game has been worked into immersing you. There’s no map screen like many games today have, instead your map is an actual object you can look at in game, which doesn’t require any load times and allows you to look at where you’re going on the fly. Being that you’re in Africa, surrounded by mud, your weapons jam from time to time after prolonged use, and can even explode. You can heal by using adrenaline shots, but these are limited, and when you’re low you’ll need to resort to other, much more disturbing measures of ad-hoc first aid. Then there’s the infamous fire system, which allows you to dynamically burn down large areas of the map, either as an accident during a gunfight, or as a strategy to direct the fighting to where you want.
There’s a lot of other great thing too, like how the enemy AI reacts to the time of day, or if you don’t use headshots enemies will be alerted by screams. There’s the physics engine that throws objects into the wind when exploded, or how plants dynamically come apart with gunfire. There’s the day-night cycle that feels realistic, weather that comes and goes whichcan affect your visibility. There’s the way enemies will communicate with each other, going so far as to try to rescue fallen comrades while providing cover fire to one another.
To be certain, there are also bad things Far Cry 2 is remembered for. The story, as mentioned, is largely on the backburner till the end, and never feels all that developed. The game is brutally hard to the point of being unbeatable on the higher difficulty settings, with enemies taking obscene amounts of punishment. Finally there’s the infamous enemy outposts, which respawn the second you leave visual range and are filled with vehichles that will relentlessly chase you without fail. All of which seems to be forgotten until mere moments after another install.
Despite these issues many still think of Far Cry 2 as the series’ high point, and in some ways it is. Sure, it doesn’t have the glitz and excitement of the other entries, but there’s a certain masochistic joy found in the blood and grime of an African mercenary sim. It’s version of Africa sucks, and it wants to make sure you know that every second, and that sense of immersion is nearly unmatched in any other game. It may not be the best entry point to the series, but if you’ve played the other games and want to know why people keep talking about Far Cry 2, then now is as good of a time as any to visit sunny Africa for yourself.