Far Cry 2 (Xbox 360, PC, PS3)

Until recently, few people could take Crytek's Far Cry franchise of first-person shooters very seriously. While the visuals and game play have been typically top tier, the original Far Cry told a laughable B-movie tale of an island infested with mutants; the Ubisoft-developed follow-ups didn't do much to escape the first title's campiness. So, really, no one should be alarmed that Ubisoft Montreal struck out in a totally new direction with Far Cry 2, especially considering that the finished product is superb.

Far Cry 2 isn't shy about severing its ties to other games bearing the Far Cry name. It does away entirely with the plot, setting and characters found in the previous titles and instead opts for a grittier, more realistic scenario. The player takes on the role of a gun-for-hire sent on a mission to assassinate the Jackal, a nefarious arms dealer who's fuelling the conflict in a war-torn African state. After touching down in Africa though, things get more complicated – you contract malaria, have a sooner-than-expected run-in with the Jackal, and find yourself in the crossfire of the nation's warring factions. From there you've got to make your own way, playing both sides of civil war for profit and connections, tracking down anti-malarials, and just trying to avoid being filled with lead.

The core of Far Cry 2 is straight-up gunplay, as you'd expect from a first-person shooter, and the action here certainly doesn't disappoint. There's a satisfying variety of guns and you can create all manner of chaos and destruction by kindling fires with a flamethrower or Molotov cocktails. The game's real claim to fame, though, is its seamless open world. While typical shooters consist of a series of A-to-B levels, each of Far Cry 2's missions takes place on one of two massive maps, giving the game more of an open-world Grand Theft Auto format. Each map consists of 25 square kilometres of terrain and the landscape is so realistic and varied that exploration never grows dull.

The visuals, in fact, are probably Far Cry 2's strongest feature. The immense and beautiful world is complemented by excellent lighting effects – seeing the sunrise filter through the trees may make you briefly forget you're really looking at a collection of pixels. The game also goes out of its way to immerse you in the action. The camera never breaks from a first-person viewpoint and your character's tools, arms and legs all animate convincingly whenever they wind up in your field of vision. Particularly noteworthy are the healing animations, which are necessary in order to recover from a critical wound. After taking some heavy damage in a gunfight, hitting the healing button will treat you to a view of your character digging a bullet out of his leg with a knife (or doing something equally wince-inducing), which gives the game an extra shot of visceral punch but will be certain to turn weaker stomachs.

Though it's a strong package overall, Far Cry 2's quality is diminished by a few nagging flaws. The AI can seem pretty obtuse, but at the same time will rarely miss a shot once you're spotted. This makes the game unpleasantly tough for novice FPS players. Another issue is travel time – the game world is so large, you'll have to spend half or more of your play time just getting to mission locations. The travel is usually visually stimulating and eventful, but players looking for a faster pace will be turned off by this element of the design. The game's multiplayer suite is in the same boat as many other games these days: the competitive play is solid and includes loads of maps and features, but most gamers would still rather stick with last year's slightly better multiplayer titles. The multiplayer isn't the meat here, though – the story mode will take most players upwards of twenty hours to complete; it'll be significantly longer for those who want to experience all of the side missions and obtain every one of the collectibles.

Far Cry 2 isn't for casual gamers or those who demand breakneck pacing in their action games. If, however, you'd like to spend some time exploring a beautiful African landscape and feeling the impact of some nerve-wracking gunfights, Far Cry 2 brings it all to the table, minus the B-movie mutants.

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