Well, now that I've done a bunch of soapbox-y, preach-y three-pagers, how about a nice, short, soapbox-y preach-y segment with lots of pictures? I was tempted do do this entry on Deus Ex: Human Revolution, but having already spent my biomechanical energy on the Sarif piece, I figured it'd be better to revisit a game that's not quite as recent.
Oh, how many words I could extract out of Far Cry 2
. I never seem to hear it spoken of kindly; people (rightfully) tend to recall the sparse narrative that, like a horrible boyfriend, opens up with a bang, but shows up again only once or twice, stumbling around drunkenly for a bit before rushing through the obligatory motions and hastily bowing out the door; they can only seem to remember the bloodthirsty roaming guards, who would DROP EVERYTHING to chase you to the ends of the earth,
especially when you were working for them
; they always mention its painfully repetitive missions, which only break up the identical go-here-kill-this jobs by inserting identical go-here-get-pills tasks in between.
And yet, Missed Potential: The Game
remains one of my favorite games of 2008, second only to Fallout 3
and the incredible Grand Theft Auto IV
, thanks to the very thing in this blog's title: Location. Far Cry 2
it when it comes to setting, from the mosquito buzzing across the main menu to the torrid sunlight dancing across the lush savannah grass to the half-naked mercenary rolling on the ground, crying in Afrikaans for somebody to put out the wild flames that have engulfed him and the fifteen square meters around him. Nothing in the game - neither the increasingly-grimy weapons and vehicles that require continued maintenance, nor the fiddle and drum-laced soundtrack, nor the rough map and fuzzy GPS, nor the minimalistic UI - escapes without being run through its blood-and-coffee-colored filter.
Oh and fire, don't forget fire
I hate to drop the word "immersion," since it makes me sound like a lesser order of hipster trying to convince you why my preferences are so superior in ways you just can't understand, man
, but there's simply no better term to use. It's rare enough that we see games with the kind of pervasive thematic consistency that courses through every micron of their presentation, but Far Cry 2
coats it all in a slick, tight layer of AAA polish that elevates it above something like, say, S.T.A.L.K.E.R.
, whose rough frays and edges continually poke outside the suspension of disbelief, popping the fragile bubble in which the game tries so hard to encapsulate me. Far Cry 2
's repetition definitely is tiresome and its hyper-aggressive inhabitants are indeed infuriating, but - crucially - my frustration with them rarely pulls me out of the dark and twisted world its designers have crafted.
I could drone on and on and on about this, but my insistence on providing due reverence would stifle any entertaining witticisms I could provide just as much as it would bore you to death; so, instead, I'll go and take a few in-game shots and annotate them - somewhat in the spirit of an expedition to a foreign land, you could say.
While the grand vistas are certainly impressive...
The details are even more important. Little things like the player's arm stretching out to grab some ammo...
...and the visceral intimacy of plunging your machete into a wounded enemy stack up, enhancing the player's sense of physical place in the world despite not being immediately apparent.
This is a zebra. Gameplay-wise, its contributions are insignificant - it will run when I approach it and fall over when I shoot it or hit it with my car, and nothing else. From an aesthetic standpoint, though, it's another out of the dozens of elements that serve to make Far Cry 2
's Africa so singularly believable and (here I go again) immersive.
Look and sound isn't everything. The brutal and satisfying gunplay is an element that does not so much add to Far Cry 2
's locational coherence as it prevents a subtraction - were the shooting anything but great, any clunkiness, floatiness, or other failing would instantly tear me "out of the game."
Similarly, the sense of freedom provided by the open-ended nature of the missions furthers the impression that the game's environment is a living, reactive place, rather than a static, artificial gallery.
The tension in the cease-fire zones is palpable - everybody has a gun and nobody likes you.
The sense that a firefight could erupt at any second is made even stronger by little taunts thrown your way - "We both know you ain't gonna do shit" when you point your pistol at somebody, for instance.
The fire propagation system possesses an interesting duality - it serves to both show how fragile Far Cry 2
's natural world is, highlighting the wanton barbarism of its warring factions...
...while, thanks to its tendency to also engulf you, serves to emphasize the cruel, unforgiving themes at the heart of the game's design. Oh, and if you'll let me take off my elitism hat for a second - it's also f*cking awesome.
And really, that's what makes Far Cry 2
's setting so impressive to me - it can at any time (and sometimes simultaneously) be beautiful, detailed, and alluring; expansive, indifferent, and living; cruel, merciless, and overpowering; and, most of all, absorbing, captivating, and - one last time - immersive. Location doesn't get much better than that.