Thursday, 20 June 2013

Farcry 2: Game Design Review

Farcry 2 is an action adventure game taking place in Africa in a fictitious wartorn region. It is a sequel to the original Farcry but its best to call it a thematic sequel than a direct sequel as the only thing that connects both is the theme of an open free roaming world. My original impression of Farcry 2 was good. The game starts by having you pick a character with an interesting history and has an opening showing off the very nice graphics. Most importantly, it didn't slow down on my fairly modest computer. That being said, about an hour in, it's pretty clear to me what the faults of Farcry 2 are. I did play it right to the end, so here's my list of what I liked and disliked after about 20 hours or so of gameplay.

What I liked:
Large well-designed 'organic' looking world- Farcry 2 has a wonderfully crafted sandbox map with each area and region feeling differently well design. This is a virtual explorers dream. It's clear a lot of effort was put into making the map topography and geographic interesting and unique.

Solid combat and stealth- Combat is very satisfying and very fun. There are lots of different guns in the game so there's plenty of choose from. If you prefer going in and shooting everything you'll want to carry mostly automatic weapons while those who prefer a long range approach will prefer a mix of sniper rifle and explosives. There are even flame-based weapons that you can wield to set fire to bushes and grass which can spread and kill enemies! Stealth is also definitely a viable albeit slow tactic especially with silenced weapons you can purchase. Just as importantly, you're always carrying a machete as a melee weapon compared to the first game where it took up an entire weapon slot.

Enemies AI and reactions- The enemies are quite smart in the game and will try to flank you, search for you and work together. They flinch if you shoot but miss them and try and seek cover in general. They'll even try and carry away a team mate who's injured!

Environment physics- The environmental physics such as a fires, winds, lighting and weather really help make this feel like a living breathing world.

Static world and enemies- The issue with Farcry 2 is that the entire world like many sandbox games is static and unchanging. Guard posts and enemies continually respawn no manner how many times you destroy them. It doesn't matter how many main quests you complete either, the entire world remains a hostile unfriendly place. This creates a sense that none of your actions have any real weight or impact on the world.

Can't choose multiple quests and poor quest location- Although the game makes it seem that initially you have a choice of faction it turns out you don't have a choice of factions. You have to finish every single main quest for both factions to advance the game.

Lack of story pacing and impact- As a more story oriented gamer this is what disappointed me the most. Farcry 2's storyline is suppose to be about you entering into a war torn region to assassinate the Jackal, an arms dealers who's been arming the two factions. But things go seriously wrong when you enter, you contract malaria and then end up being saved by the Jackal and basically abandoned by the people who hired you. To survive and get out of the country, you start working for both sides of the conflict picking up missions and playing each of the sides against each other.

Now this could have been a great story about moral choice, wartime atrocities, the dark side of human nature. The audio tapes you pick up and philosophy of the Jackal and the ending are actually thought provoking in nature. But the whole story lacks emotional impact because your actions have no consequences in the game. The game world doesn't change, the missions don't change, the way the characters speak doesn't change and when certain game-changing situations occur nothing really happens. You survive and continue to do things in exactly the same way as before, no different from previously. Your choices lack impact undercutting the initial narrative. This is a real shame because for all the freedom the game gives you in the world, the story and narratives as presented is simply uncompelling.

Quests are repetitive- At one point, it just so happened that the main quests and subquests were all located in the same area which meant that I had to visit the same area three times just to do pretty much the same thing, clear it out full of bad guys. It got repetitive and nearly all quests basically involve you going somewhere and clearing everyone out, destroying something, killing someone or picking something up so it can get repetitive fast.

No variety in enemies- Aside from different weapons you'll see the same guys over and over again. Yes some do carry weapons but you're otherwise shooting the same people over and over again.

Enemy intelligence and driving- As mentioned enemies do flank and it's actually fairly realistic. Unfortunately they don't seem to get smarter when it comes to driving. Basically whenever you see a car, the enemy AI will automatically attempt to ram/attack you and then they'll get out and try and shoot you. They have no sense of fear and will quite happily get out of the car as you're shooting them rather than run or drive away. As a result this makes driving more annoying than fun especially when you're trying to travel across to a different part of the map only to constantly attacked every single time you run across a guard post.

Malaria- At the start of the game you contract malaria which serves as an explanation for why you start off so weak and get stronger throughout the game. I thought this was a good idea as opposed the standard amnesia ploy. Your malaria level is related to how many main missions you've done but will also strike at completely random moments throughout the game with no prior warning. And these strikes are serious interruptions when you're unable to move for a few seconds. Occasionally resulting in damage and sometimes death.

No stealth meter or radar- One thing I do miss from the first game is the stealth meter and radar. Unfortunately this makes the stealth portion of the game much harder than before. Some people complain about the lack of crawling compared to Farcry 1 but I didn't really find it too much of an issue as long as I hid in the bushes and foliage.

Buddies are pointless- There is a buddy system in the game where buddies will rescue you if you get knocked out or injured in a fairly lengthy sequence. What else buddies good for? Aside from giving additional missions they don't actually do anything. You can't ask them to accompany you in a fire fight, you can't hire them, you can't drive around with them. It's a real shame considering they gave each buddy a history and animation but they only act as generic NPC backup and only if you get hurt badly enough to pass out.

Overall, I can say I enjoyed Farcry 2 for the first few hours but not the rest. Mechanically very solid but it feels as if no one really took the time to look at the larger game and see how the various bits fit to create a cohesive game. The result is a repetitive game that looks and plays great but just can't offer enough content to justify keep going unless you are solely into shooting. According to reviews, Farcry 3 fixes all this and I think all gamers should skip this game and go straight to Facry 3 instead.

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