When you first start playing Far Cry 2, you’ll be forgiven for thinking that it absolutely bloody hates you. Gunfire flies from nowhere, peppering you to pieces before you’ve even seen your attacker. Your fragile health bar drops to almost nothing within seconds. There are seemingly-random, one-hit deaths aplenty, and even when you do get a warning, the slow and cumbersome health recovery system means that you often won’t get the time to heal yourself before the final bullet sends you staggering to the ground in a pathetic heap.
But it would be a huge mistake to turn away. A huge and terrible mistake. It’s not Far Cry 2’s fault that its opening hour is defined by repeated stabbing of the continue option. It’s just that it’s trying to craft a richer, more satisfying – and challenging – experience for you than a lot of games do. While regenerating health, clueless enemies and a total disregard for the repercussions of death may have made a lot of recent shooters more accessible, they’ve also simplified them, stripping out some of the depth and replacing skill with perseverance. While Far Cry 2 is certainly no Ikaruga or Mega Man style endurance test, its less lenient approach is a deliberate move with the aim of teaching you how to get the best out of it. And there’s a lot to get.
It’s an intelligently designed game with the concept of thoughtful killing at its centre. The real joys of Far Cry 2 don’t come from gung-ho Rambo raids of enemy bases – although they’re certainly possible – or the sheer number of bad guys you’ve plastered by the end of a mission. They come from an immense sense of freedom and the smug satisfaction of a well-executed battle plan.
Dropped into war-torn Africa with just a pistol, a machete and a couple of contacts, the only instruction you’re given is to find the head bad guy (an amoral arms dealer called The Jackal) and kill him. You’ll talk to the local militia to get missions, using the respect earned to gather information. You’ll make friends with locals and traders, who will give you side-quests and even alternative ways to complete existing briefs. But which tasks you accept and how you carry them out will be entirely down to your own choices. Do you, for instance, tackle an assassination in a tense cease-fire zone by going in guns blazing, before making a quick escape in a waiting car and hiding out until the heat calms down? Or do you slowly stalk your prey into a lonely back alley and make a silent knife kill, walking away without a care in the world?