So I'm a few hours into Far Cry 2 and I'm going to just quickly report my impressions of it so far. Firstly, it pains me to have to quit out of the game to blog about it, which is a good sign, but also a bad sign. The bad being: it locks up if I alt-tab. That said, I have ignored the game's pleas to update both Vista and my Nvidia drivers, so I'm probably partly to blame for technical difficulties. That said, even with my updating laziness, the game runs fantastically on my 8800 with everything maxed. Not quite comparable with Crysis, perhaps, but that really doesn't matter: it pulls of the dense, jungled African valleys impeccably. The action is smooth, and the world detailed.
The one thing that no one seems to have taken much time to mention yet is the general ambience of the game setting. If feels very low-key, gritty even, when compared to just about any other shooter I can think of. It's real-world, and kind of ugly and organic. There's a kind of continuous tension in the game world, and not least because you yourself are fighting illness, and being hunted by both factions in this wartorn realm. It's really selling the idea that this is a seething, hatred-filled place of violence, de-sensitized by war and greed. The rolling, rumbling soundtrack bolsters that. It definitely lacks the charm of Stalker, or even Boiling Point, and I'm unconvinced by the African setting as a whole, but it works.
There's a lot that you can say that about in this game: it's not exactly genius, but it really works. The game is boldly functional: the ultra-minimal GUI and general world interactions definitely demonstrate that. Nothing seems over-complicated, but there's enough on offer for this to be a shooter that has some depth.
Being hunted by both factions seems to be freaking out a large number of people: as if they didn't expect to shoot and be shot at by large numbers of people in this, a first-person shooter? Odd. Anyway, the areas in which you *aren't* involved in a sprawling, endless firefight, are superb, with surly, suspicious faces everywhere, and believable understated characters lurking about, or offering you mercenary fare. The towns are essential abandoned: just home to militias and criminals now. I found that something of a shame - having more human life to the world would have been great.
The missions seem to be all combat, but that's fine by me: the first instance of ramming a Jeep convoy off the road at a junction, leaping out and gunning down every member of the party couldn't have been more thrilling. Watching the target blip on the map and timing my race across the dirt-tracks to collide with him so precisely was fantastic. My subsequent "death" at the hands of pursuing militia was less elegant, but it at least showed me the superb death-is-not-death mechanic. Once down, and unconscious, You're pulled back from the brink by a buddy, and stumble back into consciousness in the midst of the firefight. It's dramatic, perhaps a little silly, but superbly done. It's like a game both being honest about what quicksave means for videogame metaphysics, and still plastering over the cracks with its fiction.
Finally: I can entirely understand people's concerns about the enemy AI. It's as if they are deaf, slightly dizzy, and at the same time absolutely blood-crazed. They're probably the weakest link the game, but if I can put up with Stalker, then this is fine too. They aren't exactly convincing adversaries, but right now I don't care. The combat is brutal enough - with people going dying just easily enough - for me to keep on going.
Right now this is a game that is more intriguing than amazing. I want to see where it goes, and whether it can deliver any more impressive ideas. So far, so good.
If you've not started playing yet, I'd recommend turning off the subtitles. They felt intrusive to me, at least.