There are a dozen things to love about "Far Cry 2" and one big reason to hate it.
The follow-up to Crytek Studios' beautiful first-person shooter isn't a true sequel. The game doesn't involve former special forces commando Jack Carver, and it has nothing involving genetic mutations or feral powers.
But that isn't the reason to dislike the game. In fact, Ubisoft Montreal did an exemplary job creating a title that's politically meaningful and explores a serious area where games rarely tread.
"Far Cry 2" is grounded in the problems of a nameless African country run by two brutal warlords. After picking one of nine mercenaries as their avatar, players find themselves on a mission to kill the Jackal, a man reportedly arming both sides. But upon landing and contracting malaria, players discover that the situation isn't what it appears to be.
The player gets caught up in the conflict between the United Front for Liberation and Labour and the Alliance for Popular Resistance. Working for the two groups, players find themselves between two murky evils, and they'll do jobs that hurt each side at the expense of the long-suffering citizens.
Although the game looks like a first-person shooter, "Far Cry 2" plays more like an open-world game. Players are free to choose their missions and determine how they finish them. They can snipe foes in the underbrush or do their best impression of Rambo and run with guns ablazing.
It's a great formula. Unfortunately, the experience is muddled by an awful transportation system in a ponderously large world. Although the African landscape is gorgeous, moving around "Far Cry 2" is a painful experience. Ubisoft Montreal almost punishes you for driving. Hitting the road, players will encounter troops that will shoot you down or run you over.
Try to avoid them by going off-road and players will end up crashing into rocks or debris. The only way to travel in "Far Cry 2" is by foot, and that's a daunting task when missions are spread out over two territories and 31 square miles. If players don't know their way around, this flaw almost becomes debilitating to the gameplay.
But if they have the patience for it, the single-player campaign has an engrossing story that's backed by some amazing scripted scenes.
A MIXED BAND: For the past year, Activision and Neversoft have found themselves playing catch up. The team now responsible for the "Guitar Hero" franchise had to create an experience that compares favorably to Harmonix's "Rock Band."
The new title had to feature a drum kit, guitars and vocals, but to prevent the game from being a clone, the team had to add new features.
With "Guitar Hero World Tour," the team partially accomplishes its goals. RedOctane created a slew of new instruments that are better when compared to those of "Rock Band.". Unfortunately, when it comes to the game side, Neversoft offers a mixed package.
Individually, Neversoft invents new ways to use the instruments. Some of its ideas are right on. For example, bass players have a note that's played with a strum and no buttons. On the drums, players hold notes by tapping repeatedly and activate Star Power by striking the cymbals at the same time.
Other ideas, like the touchpad on the new guitar, lets players jam as if they were on a real ax but the implementation is wrong. There doesn't seem to be a rhyme or reason to using the new feature.
Vocals are frustratingly hard to get right even on easy.
Collectively, these disparate play styles don't mesh as cohesively as they do on "Rock Band." Neversoft gives players bonuses for playing together, but the shared Star Power and the inability to save failing players removes any camaraderie inherent in a band.
On top of that, the game doesn't have a uniform look. With a lot of the blatant advertising and weird symbols, it feels like a mish-mash of jagged pieces instead of an intregrated whole.
Despite these flaws, Neversoft brings some good things to the table. A large library of songs will attract players with diverse tastes, and the ability to create and download user-generated music gives the game some long-term potential. But so far, most of the tunes feature remakes of 8-bit soundtracks and sitcom theme songs.