In this series, Richard Clark examines games that disturb us rather than indulge us, examining what makes them resonant and valuable. For an introduction to this concept, first read Why The Best Games are The Unsettling Ones.
For those of you who prefer to play your open-world games as a “good guy”, I offer you a complete walkthrough of how to accomplish this play-through in Far Cry 2:
Arrive in Africa. Die. Turn off the game console.
If you are playing Far Cry 2 with intentions of clear heroism, of saving lives and making the world a better place, you’re playing the wrong game. Far Cry 2 puts you in the position of a mercenary, not just by equipping you with the proper tools and giving you the same opportunities, but by putting you in his headspace.
The game inspires in the player an acute sense of desperation and frustration. Guns jam, malaria attacks overwhelm, and checkpoints full of armed militia are scattered all over the place, never allowing the player a sense of security. The African jungles and desserts of Far Cry 2 are littered with people who want you dead, simply because you are an outsider.
If there are innocents nearby, they are unimportant because they are ineffectual. If you help someone, it’s because you must in order to get what you want. If you accomplish a goal for one faction, you often find yourself accomplishing your next goal for the opposing faction. You may begin this bouncing back and forth between sides trying to determine which of the factions has the most honorable goals, but both factions ask you to do things which undermine progress and ultimately harm innocents. They are destroyers at peace, and little more. Ultimately, you find yourself engaging in a series of revenge missions. Fed up with everyone involved in a bloody civil war, your final determination is to let the country burn. Then you spend the rest of the game burning it down yourself.
That’s the kind of person you are in Far Cry 2: self-involved, frustrated, uncaring, angry. But Far Cry 2 is the rare first-person shooter that is willing and able to call into question the value of shooting first and asking questions later. Throughout the game, there are subtle nods to your inability to accomplish good as well as the dangerous nature of your bloodthirsty tendencies. Like most first-person shooters, your character’s default position is with a gun pointed outward; but in Far Cry 2 that gun can jam, a moment that both frustrates the player and causes him to reconsider his actions. Malaria infects the player, lying dormant until random moments when the symptoms hit. In order to prevent these attacks, the player must take a break from killing to help families escape the war-torn area. It’s an unnerving contrast with the more violent missions. You take the passport from a priest at a church, travel to a helpless family, and literally hand them their salvation. In any other story, it would be a moment of sweetness and triumph. But in the world of Far Cry 2, it’s a footnote to the real action.
But perhaps the most valuable aspect in this regard is the African jungle setting, a deliberate, incredibly crafted nod to the beauty of creation.
I spend 15 minutes engaging in an exciting and dynamic firefight. Incredible things happen: I throw a grenade under a truck, causing it to explode, flying high into the air; I set the brush on fire, taking the men hiding in the brush with it; I shoot a rocket at a group of enemies stationed next to a tree, destroying them and causing the giant tree to shudder and sway. I walk away thinking, “That was awesome.”
But then, I look at my map and sigh – it will be a few miles yet until I reach my destination, and I have blown up my vehicle. I find a boat down by a river, get in, and take off for my objective. I turn a corner and am confronted, like a rocket in the face, with the sunset. It is majestic, shimmering off of the water, in between the canyon walls. I consider the action-packed violence that I indulged in previously. It’s not an ethical realization as much as an aesthetic one: this is better. I just coast for a while.
Richard Clark is the editor-in-chief of Christ and Pop Culture, where he often writes about video games, and a staff writer for Kill Screen. He can be reached at deadyetliving at gmail dot com or followed on twitter @deadyetliving.