During the first few hours of play Far Cry 2 is almost frustrating as a result of the way its open world gameplay has been designed. It's off-putting and about as pick-up-and-play as a 2D Treasure shooter. You'll want to enjoy the open-world from an almost therapeutic, scenic route perspective, but you can't because driving just a mile down the road will incur the wrath of the game's soldiers as you pass through a check point. And when they force you off the road from repeated bullet fire, reducing your ride to a pathetic mess, you'll sigh. Here we go again, you'll say. Can't an honest merc just get from A to B in this bloody country without having to dodge bullets?
Some will applaud Ubisoft Montreal's approach. Some will criticise it. Whatever your opinion, persevere. Soldier through the difficult opening few hours, keep earning diamonds, keep reducing the recoil and reliability of your weapons with upgrades, and above all, keep experimenting, because it's only through experimentation that you'll realise Far Cry 2's undoubted potential.
And it's also through experimentation that you'll experience the magic moments you'll not find anywhere else. Here's only a few of ours: Spotting the score of cockroaches darting about the floor of the APR HQ in town, evidence of Ubisoft Montreal's incredible attention to detail. Swimming in a ravine as the morning sun rises over the horizon, a breathtaking vista reinforcing the game's graphical credentials. Driving through the Savannah wilds with a pack of zebras at your side (we only ever accidentally ran over animals, promise). Chucking a Molotov cocktail inside a heavily guarded building and watching the propagating fire technology flex its muscles as it sweeps in the direction of the wind, torching everything in its path. Using the grenade launcher to destroy a convoy and praying the charred metal doesn't fly in your direction. Completing the game's first act and feeling your jaw drop as the southern district map presents itself, transforming the game from what might have been a meaty 15 hour romp into an epic 30 hour adventure. Taking the time to scout, using the monocular to add ammo dumps, sniper spots, vehicles, health stations and turrets to your map before landing five head shots in quick succession from half a mile away. Stalking an unsuspecting enemy in the early morning rain, biding your time before sprinting in, sliding and taking your machete to his chest. Without experimentation we might not have experienced any of this. We've probably missed out on much more.
And yet, for all its brilliance, there are some glaring flaws that have crept into Far Cry 2's interactive innards that stop it from scoring that perfect 10. Much of this is to do with the AI. The AI on many occasions will do some hilariously nonsensical stuff that, rather unfortunately, reminds you that you're playing a game and not some virtual reality Arnie movie. They will often point the wrong direction while shooting, and yet still hit you. They'll also pump round after round into the cover they're hiding behind, perhaps thinking that their bullets will somehow make their way through that metal car door and into your flesh. When the car-driving AI spots you it'll automatically speed towards your position, often with nary a care for obstacles in its path. You'll hear exactly the same rev of the engine every time you're spotted too - a technique we know is the game's way of providing the player with an audio clue that a vehicle is inbound, but something that jars with the wonderfully unexpected nature of the rest of the game.
The save system will be a bone of contention for many as well. There are no checkpoints in Far Cry 2, at least not in the traditional sense of the term. Instead, you'll get a pop-up asking you if you want to save after you complete mission objectives, when you use the coach transportation system (only from a handful of coach stations dotted about the maps) or when you go to sleep using one of the Safe Houses. While this adds to the tension and realism of the game (every death is a meaningful one - the antithesis of BioShock's Vita-chamber feature), the problem is that sometimes you'll die attempting a mission and realise that your last save was about 40 minutes ago in that Safe House you passed en route to your objective.
As a result the game is more repetitive than it needs to be. This feeling is exacerbated by the fact that enemies respawn, so you can never once and for all clear enemies from that check point on that road you keep using to get to and from town. But these problems are well and truly put into the afternoon shade by the spell-blinding brilliance of what Far Cry 2 allows you to do, and how impressive it is from a technical point of view. That the game includes a brutal, class-based set of multiplayer mercenary deathmatch options and a truly superb map editor (complete with online sharing, editing and rating) makes it feel like even more of a complete FPS package.
Obviously if you're a shooter fan you should buy this game. A simple glance at the score should confirm in your mind, if there was ever any doubt, that Far Cry 2 is nothing but brilliant. But we're already looking to the future. Our minds are already spinning at what Ubisoft Montreal might come up with for the inevitable Far Cry 3. Just like your options when it comes to tackling a mission, the possibilities are endless.