Far Cry 2 Is My Favorite Far Cry Game

Far Cry 2

I have played some version of every Far Cry game to date. It’s one of those series where each entry is mostly the same in its DNA and execution, just slightly re-branded with differing locals and despots. Of course, entries have built upon those that came before them, like Far Cry 3 adding “RPG lite” skill trees or Far Cry 4 adding new traversal tools like the grappling hook.

Far Cry Primal is most notably the largest departure for the series, doing away with traditional gun-based FPS gameplay and turning the back the clock to prehistoric times (it did reuse the Far Cry 4 map, so there’s that). And for as much as Far Cry: Blood Dragon appeared to deliver a drastically different take on the formula, aside from the aesthetic overhaul, at its core it was still very much a traditional Far Cry game, albeit in a smaller, more self-contained, 1980s neon-fueled fever dream way.

The way I see it, there are three types of Far Cry games. There is the old-school category, which includes the original Far Cry, the game that in so many ways set the template for the future of the franchise (which allegedly sprung from a tech demo called X-Isle: Dinosaur Island before a full-fledged Far Cry game would be commissioned). In this category I include all of the earlier games that adhered to the template or story structure of the original game, such as the Far Cry Instincts and Far Cry Predator titles.

This was a fine stretch of games in its own right, but it by no means represents the formula we identify as Far Cry today. And that brings me to the second type of Far Cry game, which is very much what most people currently consider a Far Cry game to be nowadays. This includes Far Cry 3 and every game after that, presumably including the upcoming Far Cry 6 (at least based on what I’ve seen so far).

This is the Far Cry most people recognize and flock to, the more open-ended first-person shooter that sees you as an everyman, (and always a man) dropped into an unfamiliar location in order to save someone or to set something right (or even as a byproduct of a thrill-seeking vacation, as is the case with Far Cry 3), only to be jettisoned into some sort of local upheaval and left to cull the tumult by any means necessary.

I would also include Far Cry Primal and Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon in this latter category. For as much as those games eschew the traditional narrative structure, and in the case of Primal, the traditional way the player interacts with the world, neither strays too far from the basic mission structure, rewards, and feedback loops defined by Far Cry 3.

Which leads me to the third category, and, in my opinion, the most rewarding and open-ended type of Far Cry game. This is a category that contains Far Cry 2 all by itself. I know this argument has probably been made before. I also know that a ton of Far Cry fans hate this entry in the series. But I stand by my claim, and I would like to present my own argument for why Far Cry 2 is not only the best game in the series, but quite possibly one of the best game Ubisoft has made in the past 12 or so years.

Far Cry 2

Although there have been significant improvements to graphics and performance with each new entry in the series, very few games after Far Cry 2 blended the unique elements and imperfections of the game formula in any meaningful way. Instead, the basic tenets of the series (and the the Ubi-fication thereof) have led to an increasingly predictable and watered-down version of the brilliance that was Far Cry 2.

I mean, we went from the vast and varied cast of player characters and associates of Far Cry 2 to Far Cry 3‘s freaking Jason Brody, the bro-est video-game protagonist of all time.

Each Far Cry game since Far Cry 3 (and I’ll even toss the original game into this statement) has had a singular protagonist that is mostly just a bland cipher for the the player. And for as much backstory or personal motivation or agency these characters were given (superficially, in some cases), they really were just there to serve as a forearm, wrist, and hand, with which to kill every living thing in sight.

Because, at least on paper, while you might be a privileged dickhead trapped by an insane cabal while gallivanting around a tropical paradise, or returning to your ancestral homeland to spread the ashes of your deceased mother, in reality the gameplay loop is still just killing things and blowing things up. Any motivation or personal background attached to that disembodied gun-toting appendage is rather moot, when you really get down to it. So why even bother?

Far Cry 2

Far Cry 2 still has a small backstory, and the playable characters do have some stated motivation. Even so, you literally just pick one of a few mercenaries based solely on which one jives with you the most. None is especially more adept at any one thing than any other. None is really bogged down by the veneer of purpose other than to find the Jackal and to kill the Jackal. This means you truly have the freedom to do whatever you want. Some of the best sandbox games know when to get out of your way and let you figure out who you want to be and how you want to play, and I would put Far Cry 2 among them.

Hell, even in that limited and loosely defined goal, it isn’t entirely clear who you are working for or why. It is all so very vague, which, when viewed through the foggy lens of tribal war, is actually far more realistic. The fact that the Jackal himself spends most of the game basically telling you it’s all meaningless is an apt summation of the motivations of war, just as the vague nature of your ultimate alliances makes for a far more interesting statement than the savior-complex malarky that would define the narrative of later entries.

Far Cry 2 would also have the most diverse cast of characters in the series. You can play as Warren Clyde (American), Quarbani Singh (Indian-Mauritian), Paul Ferenc (Israeli-Hungarian), Xianyong Bai (Chinese), Marty Alencar (Brazilian-American), Frank Bilders (Northern Irish), Josip Idromeno (Yugoslavian), Hakim Echebbi (Algerian) or Andre Hyppolite (Haitian). This looks more like the seating chart at a U.N. bruncheon than the character options for a triple-A game made in 2008. And again, the follow-up, Far Cry 3, gave us Wonderbread incarnate Jason Brody.

Far Cry 2 also has the best upgrade system. Nowhere to be found is any run-of-the-mill skill tree where you can unlock any and every trick in the book, slowly making the game easier and easier by default. Is silently assassinating every enemy in that outpost not expedient enough? Well, simply get enough points to unlock the skill that allows you to stealth-kill two enemies at a time, thus making the game over twice as fast!

In Far Cry 2, you can purchase manuals that allow you to carry more syringes to heal with, or bullets to unheal with. You can get a camo upgrade that makes you slightly more stealthy (though the A.I. is so unforgiving you might be hard-pressed to notice any difference). You can buy manuals that teach you how to repair vehicles slightly faster. You can buy more guns and upgrade their ammo capacity, as well as your own capacity for carrying grenades and molotovs. You can also buy more storage slots in gun cases at safe houses for tucking away the weapons you aren’t currently using. And that’s pretty much it. You might be tempted to call this barebones, but I would call it elegant.

The upgrade currency is diamonds, which you get from missions or by rooting around the map. This allows you upgrade options if you’re so inclined, but you could also ignore the upgrades and muscle your way through the game without them (though that’s admittedly the more difficult option). If I do choose to pursue upgrades, they are only quality-of-life improvements and not overpowered abilities that have you silently throwing three knives at a time with perfect accuracy. There is no skill to make crouching movement faster, no skill to allow you to tag more enemies or chain stealth kills.

Shoot, there isn’t even a canned stealth-kill animation. It’s literally just you hoping to get close enough to an unsuspecting victim that you can try to slice them with your machete. And to you I say, “Good luck.” Doing this in the game is about as easy as it would be in real life (or as easy as I imagine i to be, since I’ve never actually tried this in real life). Even though you are crouched and in stealth mode, enemies definitely still see you and can certainly still hear you. This works in tandem with the unknown element of enemy placement, unlike in future installments in the Far Cry series where you can tag every enemy to your heart’s content.

Far Cry 2

There is no ability to tag enemies at all in Far Cry 2. If you want to get the jump on an enemy encampment, you had better learn troop movements before you sneak in so you have a general idea where they might be. I love this. For as much as it is handy to know where every enemy is positioned, or even, depending on the game, which direction they are facing, it basically drains the tension that should come with sneaking behind enemies lines where you’re up against an untold number of enemies.

Which leads me to the enemy A.I. Although their patrol patterns are pretty rudimentary, the enemies do not pull any punches. When you are in an enemy’s vision cone, they spot you, whether you’re crouching in shadows or now. They might even spot something that alerts them to your presence indirectly. Some people took issue with how tough and almost omnipotent the enemy A.I. could be in Far Cry 2. And I get that.

But for me, I am far more interested in playing a game in which everything can go awry at a moment’s notice because I forgot an enemy’s patrol pattern or stepped too far out of the brush. The later Far Cry games just don’t do it for me in this regard, especially when it takes several seconds for an enemy to think that they might see something, then become pretty sure they see something, then decide they really did see something, only to choose to investigate for a while rather than alerting the others. Being able to single-handedly take down outpost after outpost by simply crouching and unleashing your barrage of earned skills can get old fast.

But in Far Cry 2, if enemy outposts are too big a struggle for you, they can mostly be avoided altogether. In fact, so much of this game can kind of be avoided if you would like.

You don’t really need to chase blood diamonds or Jackal cassette tapes (although the latter is quite enjoyable; they’re a bit like listening to Max Payne if he were a vicious war profiteer). You don’t need to complete buddy missions or cell phone tower missions or gun store missions or even explore off the beaten path if you don’t want to.

Far Cry 2

The real thrill and genius of Far Cry 2 isn’t its grand-scale chaos. You will never be on the brink of executing a stealth assault only to have a tiger show up, or a random rebel patrol coming to your aid. And don’t get me wrong, those elements of later Far Cry games are great for those particular games, but that’s only because they’re built to be more like carnival rides, albeit somewhat forgettable ones.

Far Cry 2, on the other hand, has given me countless moments of unpredictable mayhem that feel unique to me — smaller yet more personal moments. For example, sometimes a fire I set during an infiltration gets out of control and circles most of the compound, which will force the remaining occupants to make a beeline to the opposite side of the facility where I will (of course) already be waiting, so I can mow them all down during their mass exodus to hell.

To balance this out, your character is stricken with malaria, resulting in them needing to randomly pop an anti-malaria drug in order to stave of the delirious on-screen effects. It usually pops up at a manageable time, but it can sometimes flare up during a hectic firefight or car chase. In those instances, it sidelines you and forces you into a moment of reprieve so you can take your medication, knowing you will be at the mercy of the situation for a few brief yet crucial moments.

Far Cry 2 is definitely not lacking in atmosphere or palpable tension. It is also pretty darn close to a modern open-world masterpiece in some regards. It’s certainly not perfect, but even its rough edges add to the appeal and challenge of the game. For as much as Ubisoft likes to tout its open-world prowess and its ability to create endless things for a player to do, there has yet to be an entry in the Far Cry series as refreshing, as player-driven, and as fully realized as Far Cry 2.

It knows when to hold ’em, and gosh darn it, it knows when to fold ’em. It is a game I go back to now, even more than a decade removed from its initial release. And although technology has certainly progressed since 2008, the Far Cry series as we know it now seems far too focused on where the next game will be set, how big the map is, and what sorts of current political trends can be exploited while Ubisoft claims to remain apolitical. What sort of randomly generated mayhem can the game systems wreak while the events themselves feel more and more scripted?

If Ubisoft would simply sit back and examine the things Far Cry 2 did well — the loose narrative, the truly diverse cast of characters, the sense of place, the stripped-down upgrade system, the small moments that feel big rather than the big moments that feel small — perhaps the series would be a Far Cry from the utterly tame and hollow franchise it’s become.

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Paul
Paul
1 month ago

You’ve nailed it! I’m currently playing FC5, grateful that the protagonist has no voice, enjoying the US rural setting, but wondering why I’m not as driven to return to the game with the same obsessive frequency that I had for FC2 (which I completed twice). Imagine what Unisoft could achieve by throwing away the current staid formula!

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