For the latest Bitmob Wants You challenge I ended up writing 2000 words on Far Cry 2. I’m sorry.
“So I’m chasing this jeep, right, when BOOM, something hits the bumper. A zebra’s legs fly over the roof. The jeep turns, I cut the corner and ram the jeep into a boulder. I jump out and shoot through the back window. Mission complete, achievement unlocked, the game saves. I rest my controller. But when the game resumes one guy is still alive. He shoots, I'm down, my buddy has to rescue me. Then the jeep bursts into flames and rockets into the air. I sprint away from it, the grass catches fire, and soon a four-feet high wall of flame separates me from my enemy”
“The question, sir, was ‘Is this your handwriting?’”
What makes a good anecdotal game?
You know the type, the game you’ll talk about to anyone, including non-gamers who have no idea what you’re on about. Not title-specific conversation about how awesome a mission was, but general chat where you can’t help but tell of the time something funny or strange happened to you in a digital world. I asked my tiny brain What games have I heard people tell stories about? My brain responded with a short list: Demon’s/Dark Souls, Grand Theft Auto IV, Left 4 Dead, and Far Cry 2.
I haven’t played the Souls games (hence me classing them together). One reason the games seem suited to conversation is the freedom the player has in choosing how to complete a quest. “Collecting the Monkey Stick first will make it easier to defeat the Howling Brain”, “Get Phallic Lightning to kill the Bunnies from across the pond, then you can hang-glide into Castle Grayskull” and so forth (I honestly haven’t played it). The games also have unusual features (no pause, unwanted invasion by other players) that make for varied play.
GTA IV’s unscripted events and sandbox freedom make the game notable. The last time I played it I tried to nudge a labourer off of a roof with my car but got over-excited and both of us went tumbling over. The car landed on top of him. I got out unscathed, took his money and ran away. Later I was chased by a hooker. GTA IV lets you kill pigeons, drive drunk and speed cars off of ramps, all in the course of a normal day in Liberty City.
Randomness – from both the game and the gamer – makes Left 4 Dead a conversation piece. The AI Director ensures the game is different every time you play, multiplayer increases the probability of something cool, funny or irritating happening. Director + Horde + + 1337Joe never equals the same thing twice.
There are many good RPGs and sandbox games that I’ve rarely heard come up in conversation. So freedom alone doesn’t cut it. But some cocktail of freedom, unusual features and relatively random events can make a good anecdotal game. Which leads me, finally, to Far Cry 2.
“I approach a safe house and prepare for some stealthy killing, Sam Fisher style. Sam would be ashamed. I fail to notice a guard right beside me. I’m getting shot in the face. I try to return fire and realise my rifle has jammed. I pull out a submachine gun. That’s jammed too. I use my machete on him and unjam my other weapons. I kill the others, but one man remains. Suddenly, he vanishes. I hunt around but there’s no sign of him or his body. Perhaps he died of loneliness and was absorbed by The Force”
Freedom: Far Cry 2 says, essentially, ‘Here’s a story you won’t care about, so here are loads of missions, do them in the order you choose. There are people to kill over there, there and there. You can get ammo here and here. How you go about it I don’t care, go nuts’
Unusual feature: you’re constantly in gameplay. Whether you’re choosing a mission, looking at a map, suffering from malaria or repairing a jeep, you’re doing so in real-time, the game is still playing around you.
Random events: hostiles randomly patrol the game world. If your enemies are driving you’ll get a few seconds notice of an imminent attack from the engine's roar. If they’re on foot you might be lucky enough to hear a yell before the bullets arrive. You might’ve been happy wandering through the jungle and looking at deer, but now you're in a shootout.
I resumed my game of Far Cry 2 and found I’d last played in November last year. In total I’d put in little more than two hours. Most of that amounted to a lengthy tutorial, much of the game’s expansive map being frustratingly off-limits. But now I had more freedom to explore.
The game begins and I’m in a hut. To save your game you go to sleep, so I guess I’ve just woken up. I turn to see a man watching me. Oh, eh, hi there. Has he been here the whole time? I remember that he’s my buddy, a chum the game assigned to me who’ll help me out and will probably die by my hand. I’m reluctant to make conversation with the guy who just watched me sleep. I open the door and step out into the jungle.
Going from the drab interior of the hut into the jungle is akin to Dorothy stepping out of her monochrome house into the glorious technicolour of Oz. The sun burns hard overhead, the tree branches and long grass sway in the breeze, insects chirp as if to say “You’re going to die here”. The insects are right (they often are), I will die here. Many times.
Within minutes of resuming the game I’ve regained the feeling of dread that permeates gameplay. Most shooters give a vague idea of when you’re safe. Your surroundings become wider, dramatic music fades out or is replaced with something lighter. But here your location means little. A few notes might suggest that you’re in danger, but bullets will tell you that first. The music may fade out, giving an illusion of victory, when in fact your enemies are only reloading. Imagine playing Gears of War (go on) and the note that suggests victory and safety plays. Then Locust immediately appear and ambush you. You’d be tense, wouldn’t you? That is to play Far Cry 2.
This is an interesting contrast. The game’s map is big enough that you can wander around for ages without seeing anyone, yet there’s always that undercurrent of danger. The jungles and savannas are so attractively rendered that you’ll want to explore. But in the back of your mind you know that a jeep full of bastards could be racing towards you that very second, armed to teeth and randy for death.
“I approach a guard post and spot an enemy with his back turned. I cut him down, assuming that my silence means no others have been alerted. I turn to see the sun glowing huge in the sky, strangely much bigger than minutes before. That’s no sun, it’s a bloody RPG. I sprint into a makeshift hut as the rocket explodes outside. I’m hit with gunfire, but there’s no one in the hut. I realise the shooting is from outside and is penetrating the sheet metal walls. I run back outside as another rocket lands behind me. I take cover in a corner that puts a tower between me and RPG-man. Guards rush me and I shoot them down. I watch as the man on the ledge fires rocket after rocket at me, every one hitting the tower. Flames from the RPG catch onto the huge surrounding trees. They burn around my enemy, the fire is beautiful”
It would be offensive to discuss Far Cry 2 and not mention fire. Sure, elemental forces have been put to good use in other games, but generally as the game’s main mechanic. Far Cry 2’s main weapon of choice is still the gun; bullets into flesh its chief transaction. You could conceivably play through the game without deliberately using fire to your advantage. But that would be to miss one of the reasons combat in the game can be so enjoyable.
FPS rule #1: shoot a gas canister and it’ll explode, killing anyone nearby. That rule was stretched and made much more complicated by programmer Jean-Francois Levesque. He spent 18 months working on the game’s fire, making it complex and believable but not so realistic as to mar gameplay. The fire is unscripted; it responds to wind, humidity and its own hot gases. Most gamers understandably wouldn’t notice in the middle of a shootout, but when the fire spreads it does so logically.
So shoot a canister and the explosion will kill the two guards standing beside it. The fire can then spread to the surrounding huts and kill the others inside. Or you can use grenades and Molotovs to start a fire, using it to herd enemies in a particular direction. Alternatively, you can use fire to scare animals towards guards, distracting them while you reach flanking position. As far as I can see you can’t send a herd of flaming zebras at a group of enemies, but with Far Cry 2 you just never know.
You can be immensely powerful if you can control it, but this is fire after all, it can always respond in ways you can’t foresee. There’s always some chaos element that’ll lead to you having to flee it instead of your enemies. So use it cautiously. Stay safe, kids.
The unbroken first-person view lends a sense of immersion to the game. When you’re driving in a jeep while trying to read a map you feel involved, almost like you’ve made a dreadful mistake while booking a holiday and ended up in a war-torn chunk of Africa. The game struggles to tell an interesting story, perhaps cut scenes could’ve helped there, but this constant viewpoint made me feel part of Far Cry 2’s Africa, a participative feeling missing from many other games.
Far Cry 2 has its critics, and for many reasons it deserves them (dull story, awkward controls, forgettable characters). But if you’re where I was and own the game but have yet to put much time into it, give it another go. The game takes its time showing its teeth but it does have them. When your range of missions and map expands and you can drive a jeep off-road without it feeling like an Austin Powers three-point turn, Far Cry 2 becomes much more enjoyable. Have a walk about, start a fire, run down a zebra and you may find the makings of a good game, or at least a better one than the last time you played.