Far Cry 2 (2008, PC)

By alison / June 5, 2016

This game is my favorite single-player first-person shooter of all time. I enjoyed Doom back in the '90s, but other than that I am not really a fan of the genre. I find the mechanics somewhat repetitive — you are forced to kill everything, everywhere, spraying bullets around like you're in some kind of direct-to-video action flick. Even acclaimed shooters like Half-Life and BioShock come across as cartoonish and tedious to me. Counter-Strike changed everything. A game where you only get a rifle and a sidearm, where every shot matters, where a bullet to the head means instant death and spending the next few minutes learning from people far more skilled than you. After playing Counter-Strike, every first-person shooter felt like a mindless kill-fest where stealth or tactics did not matter. The good news is those things do matter in Far Cry 2.

   You are still pretty much railroaded into killing everything that moves. It is an FPS, after all. But stealth always feels like a possibility. The tension before the killing ensues, the time you spend crouching motionless in elephant grass, is a highlight of the game.
   The enemies in Far Cry 2 are some of the most human I have encountered. It's why killing them takes a toll — they are a lot like you. If you have been seen — if any of your enemies spots you — the whole base goes on alert. Forever. They will lay down suppressive fire in your last known position. They will wall-bang. They will establish search parties. They will freak out and start getting paranoid over the slightest noise. If you are seen — or heard — again, expect to die. One or two shots from an enemy rifle will wipe you out. But stay perfectly still, crouched in the undergrowth, and the enemy may creep past just a few meters away. And, as they widen their net, you may be able to slip through and circle round. Inevitably, shit will go south. You are spotted and clipped, then running through the jungle, sliding to obscure their line of sight, spinning round to lob a grenade or to spray and pray. Mostly, you will die. It is fucking brutal.
   I know some reviewers have complained about the mechanics of this game. Respawning bases. Deteriorating weapons. Malaria. But it all makes sense to me. You are sick and scared and stumble into the jungle with a pea shooter. So you see an AK, grab it, but it jams in no seconds flat. You see an unguarded jeep, jump in, then get hit by an RPG half a click down the road. The game teaches you these hard lessons in the first half hour. How are you supposed to survive in Ubisoft's nightmare version of Africa? Don't pick up jury-rigged weapons. Don't jack jeeps. Wait till dusk, get your belly in the mud and proceed to your destination at a crawl. Avoid the roads, avoid the checkpoints, scout your targets and look for a headshot. Value reliability over firepower. Value cover over speed. Value your life.
   The story is grim. You play an opportunistic soldier of fortune in the midst of a civil war. Almost everyone is evil and corrupt, and the vast majority attack you on sight. Even if you try to minimize casualties on an assassination or sabotage mission, something will invariably fuck up and the bodycount will rise. Or your next mission will require you to clean out a whole area anyway. Every time you hear a squeak you expect a technical to pull up and unload 50 cal into your back. Every time the sun falls on a certain pattern of leaves your trigger finger will twitch. And gosh, those hanging vines really do look like bodies sometimes, don't they? I loved Spec Ops: The Line for its simulated PTSD effects, but those were mostly scripted. Far Cry 2 plays it totally straight and your brain still goes there. Shit is fucked up, man.
   So yeah. The game is punishing. It's bleak. You spend most of your time holding your breath and crouched in the dirt. Every now and then you are awed by a herd of zebra crossing the savanna at sunset, or the majesty of a tropical storm, or the slow-rising moon. And then a bullet ricochets off a nearby cliff face and everything turns to shit again. A lot of games have made an impact on me due to their strong narratives. Far Cry 2 is different. The plot is thin as a potato chip, but its unforgiving sandbox houses an atmosphere thick enough to haunt me offline. Best single-player FPS ever? For me, yes. Hands down.

Far Cry 2 is Insomnia's 2008 Game of the Year.