Friday, December 19, 2008

Latest Reviews

My two latest reviews at Gaming Trend are up and here they are: Madagascar 2 and Far Cry 2. You might notice a significant difference in the writing styles for both and the explanation is simple – one sucked and the other most assuredly did not.

To make it easier to discern which is which, allow me to extol the further virtues of "Far Cry 2" forthwith. I wasn’t a big fan of the first game. Much like “Doom 3,” “Far Cry” was an engine in search of a game. It presented a massive world that was top to bottom beautiful, and let players loose in it to do what they would. Sandbox style shooters are nothing new, but “Far Cry” left me bored. Even when it took a hard right into science fiction territory, it did so by just throwing a bunch of mutants at you and still letting you go on your merry way.

“Far Cry 2” has no such sci-fi elements, electing instead to keep things firmly grounded in the real world. The game immediately benefits from this by setting up a massive powder keg in the middle of Africa, then dropping you in the middle of it to find and kill a single target – the gun runner behind both sides of the conflict known simply as the Jackal. It’s an ingenious setup but what truly thrills is how the game utterly swallows you.

This is not a twitch game by any stretch of the imagination. It will take you a while to move from one place to another even after mastering the bus system, the only rapid transit available. Otherwise, you’re on your own to find transportation (surprisingly easy) and surviving the drive along the numerous dirt roads (somewhat more difficult). I’ve been playing it constantly for over a month now and I’m just to the point where I can experience the back half of the game.

This thing is one of the most immersive titles I’ve played since BioShock. Nothing else touches it. I’m thrilled that it’s sold over a million copies because with everything else hitting right now (Gears of War 2, CoD: World at War, Fallout 3, Rock Band 2, et. al) this is the gem that would absolutely be swallowed. I’m sure people bought this then dropped it after a day to play GoW2 or CoD and those sad souls are missing the winner of the bunch.

“Far Cry 2” is not interested in just throwing bigger and bigger guns at you and letting you wade through the bush nuking the hell out of everything in sight. There is a purpose here, but one that is not immediately evident. The purpose here is to literally live the events, and every single action happens through your character’s eyes. Walk up to a car and you watch as your character slides across the seat or climbs up into the gunners seat. Get into a gunfight with a crappy firearm and watch it jam, usually at the worst possible moment. Get shot up almost to the point of death and check it out as your character pops bullets out of his/her arm with their fingers (and no I’m not kidding about this).

At no point in the game does anything feel video gamey. Well, that’s not entirely true. Attacks on the roads are more frequent than they should be and enemies can hit you a mile away it seems with little effort and with crap weaponry. Also the dialogue coach at Ubisoft should be fired immediately because all the characters deliver their lines as if there was no punctuation used anywhere in the script.

Forgiving these minor grievances allows one to indulge in a game world so vast and rich and detailed that it’s stunning. During development, the designers took a trip to Kenya for a safari to see for themselves whether what they’d come up with was accurate. Upon returning, they tossed everything and started over. The resulting level of detail takes you across the planet to an honest rendition of Africa via the country of Kenya. I’m left stunned every time I play it.

So what haven’t I liked? Not much really. My gripes are pretty contained to the ones listed above and that’s about it. I hate having to go through so many checkpoints, i.e. guard stations, but off-roading cures that little hiccup. Ditto the random battles that happen quite frequently. The guns breaking or jamming infuriates me but just compare the rusted POS you pick up off some local thug to the nice shiny weapons available for purchase at the gun store and tell me which one looks more reliable. Running out of ammo in the middle of a firefight can happen, so dropping a gorgeous gun and picking up a rusted one for the sake of expediency adds to the tension. How many shots until this thing jams or worse, breaks completely? Your heart races as soon as the shooting starts.

Every. Single. Time.

As for the story, this is not a plot driven game so to speak. There is an overarching story, but the game is more about the experience and less about the tale being told. This isn’t “Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time.” Early on, the player is told by a journalist that he lost tapes of a conversation he recorded with the Jackal and when you start finding those tapes the lights will begin to turn on. The further you delve into the game, the more the tension builds and your understanding of the Jackal is fleshed out by these tapes. It’s a clever way to build anticipation towards your eventual show-down with him. You come to understand not only his philosophy on world events but also what he’s doing in this particular war-torn area of the world.

The buddy system is also pretty cool in that you stumble across people who will assist you. They don’t run with you all the time but if you get hurt, one usually shows up to get you out of the situation. I like the fact that even though they can take an inordinate amount of punishment, they can in fact die. If they do, then they are gone for good. Bonding with at least one or two is inevitable and when one of your close buddies dies, as happened to me, it genuinely hurts.

I can understand how this one seems to have been marginalized by the press in favor of Fallout 3, the latest Call of Duty, and so forth but this is an honest gem. If you have the chance to really check out Far Cry 2 then do so but be prepared to be swallowed whole.

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