If Far Cry 2 were released in 2018, it would be praised as a radical new take on the Ubisoft formula. The following three Far Cry games, and almost a dozen across other Ubisoft franchises, have all followed the same model: take down outposts and defeat bosses to regain control of zones on the map. Far Cry 2 would have felt like a new, minimalist version of open world game that Ubisoft had never tried before.
Instead the influence of Far Cry 2 can be felt all through gaming. From survival games to battle royale and even some of the most popular action games and RPGs of the last several years, everything seems to take a little piece of Far Cry 2. But, since it came out in 2008, not 2018, Far Cry 2 is doomed forever to be disastrously ahead of its time. Forgotten in name, but certainly not in legacy.
The story doesn’t really matter
Far Cry 2 had more of a premise than an actual story. You select one starting character from a list of several (though it didn’t matter who you chose). You’re tasked with infiltrating an unspecified African nation to assassinate an arms dealer named the Jackal. Once you’ve landed things, predictably, went south fast; you are ambushed and find out that you have malaria ... for some reason? After that, it becomes the kind of open-world game we’re at least somewhat used to: start from nothing, do jobs to help a couple of different factions so you can get gear and weapons, work your way back to the guy in charge who you’re supposed to kill.
What’s strange about Far Cry 2 is that it’s open world is inhabited by so few NPCs and even fewer cutscenes. Missions just sort of happen with minimal direction from other characters. They’re all about making things fun on your own terms with the world and systems that Ubisoft has given you. While both of these things may sound common today, they were a far cry (I’m so sorry) from the NPC-stuffed open world of Fallout 3, 2008’s biggest RPG, or Metal Gear Solid 4, which features more cutscenes than actual gameplay.
Now, 10 years later, Fallout’s looking a little thin on NPCs itself, and in 2016 Metal Gear Solid V toned down the cutscenes in order to clear out room for players to make their own decisions — and their own fun.
Replacing the standard NPC quest-givers, most of the character interactions in Far Cry 2 came from buddies — which are actually just whichever characters the player doesn’t choose to play as. These were in-game characters that you could bring to missions with you and could augment the way certain story missions went, generally by making the objective easier to achieve. However, they came with a catch: if they die and you can’t revive them in time, they’re gone for good. It’s the kind of hook that felt a little prohibitive back in 2008, when I was worried about losing my favorite character thanks to one bad fight.
Today though, this seems like perfect fodder for streams and Let’s Plays, a ready-made factory of heroic moments for a streamer to save their fallen ally — or react wildly as things go terribly wrong. This kind of permanent death and unavoidable consequence are exactly the same kind of mechanics that helped make survival games, and the battle royale games they inspired, the go-to genres for some of the biggest streamers on Twitch.
The origins of survival
Far Cry 2’s ties to survival games — like DayZ, Rust and The Forest — include more than permanence. Remember the malaria we talked about earlier? Well, throughout the game, the player has to keep taking malaria medication every few hours or they will eventually succumb the symptoms of the disease. Now, it may be a lot more brutal, and nonsensical, but the mechanic itself is basically the same as hunger in most survival games. If your character doesn’t eat, they die.
Far Cry 2’s healing system should also look familiar to most people today. Rather than the automatically regenerating health that was most popular at the time, thanks to games like Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, players had to choose to heal themselves. And in traditional survival fashion, the items that could heal you were limited. Players could carry up to five morphine syrettes at a time. When they used them, the player would gain full health, but that would also be one less heal for later. If you can’t place why that sounds familiar, it’s probably because just last week Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 released with a very similar healing system; the player has to manually use a syringe to heal themselves.
Even the guns in the game weren’t exactly reliable. Each and every weapon had a limit to the wear-and-tear it could take. After too many uses, a gun would simply explode in the player’s hands. In other words, every resource in Far Cry 2, from the guns, to the medicine to the healing was finite. Just like in most survival games, and especially battle royale games, you constantly had to be on the lookout for more of the tools that were essential to staying alive.
When Far Cry 2 was released it didn’t exactly set the world on fire. It got fairly positive critical reception, but commercially the recognition was a little less warm. In fact, according to NPD, it was only the 18th most popular game in the month it was released. In the intervening years, the franchise has moved further and further from the mechanics that Far Cry 2 introduced. But even if the game was mostly forgotten, the fingerprints of it’s systems are still alive and well in just about every corner of modern games.