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A Game Mechanic Smörgåsbord
Published on November 18, 2008 By mittens In Gaming

I just got another mission from the unnaturally quick-speaking warlord of the African UFL -- one of two warring factions in Far Cry 2 -- when one of my buddies gave me a call on my cell phone telling me to meet them if I wanted to make my mission take twice as long as it would if I simply followed orders at no real additional benefit to me. I guess I could just do it, though. I mean, my buddy Nasreen is, apparently, one of the only two women in all of Africa. It wouldn't hurt to endear my playing character to her a bit more. It's an awfully big safe house, after all.

Wait, why is my screen pulsing and turning yellow? Oh, it's my Malaria. It's flaring up. There's an on-screen pill bottle that's telling me I should press my left shoulder button. But, I'm also in the middle of driving through the jungle since that checkpoint I just cleared out before getting my new mission already is restocked with new people. Maybe they're just meandering civilians? Probably not. They have guns. Do civilians in Africa have guns? All right, I'll just slow down my truck and take my pills. Done. No more yellow screen. I'm also out of pills, but I just got them refilled after I delivered some transit papers to an African family hiding in a broom closet in a veterinary office (under control by the African Underground). Am I really out of pills or do I just need to deliver more transit papers? Africa has a strange exchange rate.

Malaria is probably contagious. I guess that rules out my chances with Nasreen. Maybe she'll give me more conflict diamonds when I help her out in lieu of, well, anything else. I think I just hit a zebra while I was looking at my map; oh, and I just entered into range of the checkpoint. That's okay, I'll just drive away fast -- my engine is smoking. They shot up my engine. I could run faster than my truck's new top speed. Normally I'd be able to get out and repair the engine back into it's racing shape, but considering that I have an assault truck with two angry African soldiers speeding towards me is probably out of the question. Normally, since I have a vehicle of my own and don't really want to steal theirs, I'd just whip out of my high-grade rocket launcher -- since I just payed thirty-five blood diamonds to get access to it since my old RPG was far too inaccurate -- but that has a bit of a blow-back that would probably cause my smoking Jeep to burst into flames (killing me in the process). The assault truck is getting closer; I don't have much in the way of cover around me and if I get ran over it's game over. I got it: I'll bring out my AR15 and try and pick off the driver, leaving the gunner out of range to do any serious damage. Got him. Now the gunner that is moving into the driver's seat. Done and done.

Now my screen is pulsing red and the quickly-diminishing last notch of my life bar tells me I'm in the process of bleeding out. Unfortunately, I took far too much damage to just hit the left-shoulder button and inject myself (with what I assume/hope are mere painkillers) so now, instead, I see my player character look down at his leg -- there's an enormous bullet entry wound. That looks pretty rough, but it can be bandaged up. Wait. What. What is my character doing? Why does he have pliers? Is he -- oh, okay. He just pulled the bullet out of his own wound. And I have my gun back, which means I guess I'm going to live. Why is there someone in front of me with a shotgun -- oh, that wasn't friendly. Ouch. Neither was that.

I guess I'm dead now. The screen is fading to black, so I'll just load my last saved game; wait, the game faded back in and now I see my other friend Michelle (the only other woman in all of Africa). "Hold on, I'll get you out of here" she says as she whips out her AK-47 and fires at some off-screen enemies (I assume she avenged my near-death by killing my almost-murderer). The screen is fading back to black. Was she too late? Oh, it's fading back in. Michelle is dragging me somewhere. She is saving me, right? Fading back to black. And back to Michelle; "all right, patch yourself up" she tells me as she places a shiny, new Desert Eagle in my hands. I get up, inject myself with the last of my mysteriously-filled syrettes I carry around, and now I'm out for blood. Not mine this time. Why did I forget to stock up on syrettes when I was in town? Why?

I should have been paying more attention while I was taking the drive to my destination, as this isn't any old checkpoint; this one seems to have about ten or eleven mercenaries spread across a small plot of land. And they already know I'm here, so that makes any stealth kills nigh-impossible. But, I do see a way to take out about six guys with a single action. Three of the mercenaries are standing near a large ammunition dump; if I hit that with a rocket then the immediate explosion should kill at least one guy, but that will also cause the ammunition canisters do explode and every single round of ammo contained within to go crazy and start firing in a every direction which, hopefully, will take out the other two guys. The other thing the explosion should do is set fire to the nearby trees and grassy areas which, ideally, will engulf another two mercenaries (and hopefully, that will spread far enough to kill one more mercenary).

That plan ended up working for all but the fire-spreading. Which I "aided" by throwing a molotov cocktail at the desired patch of grass and trees. At this point, I still have full health, but I also have to deal with another four mercenaries. From my well-covered spot (a big rock), I was able to pick off one enemy but, by this point, the other three were well within range to kill me swiftly. As I started frantically firing at one of the trio my assault rifle jams up -- in the heat of taking a new mission and figuring out if I could somehow woo Nasreen or Michelle I forgot to make a trip to the armory to replace my rifle and pistol. My rifle is rusted to hell at this point; I'm actually pretty lucky that it just jammed and didn't, essentially, disintegrate. At this point I'm madly mashing the X button (reload/fix jam), fix the jam, and then fire another few shots at my assailants. Then the gun disintegrates. At least I have my shiny silver Desert Eagle that Michelle gave me, though. A few seconds later and I'm free and clear. I only have two of my six health bars, but I'm not bleeding out.

And this is what Far Cry 2 is about. There are complaints about the amount of driving, the incredibly quick enemy respawns for checkpoints (never when you're in the area, at least), and the lack of civilians that populate the country (strange given the story is about them), but Far Cry 2 goes beyond such petty issues. It's one of the first games I've ever played that really embodies the concept of emergent game design (or progressive game design). It's an open-world game that, although only partially "open" in terms of its narrative progression, does everything it can to keep players confined to the game world. There is only one time where the game camera doesn't function as the player character's eyes and that is when a player "sleeps" in a safe house and the player is treated to a time-lapse view of the outside world as the amount of daylight changes.

The primary result of placing the player so firmly in the game world is that every player action has a sense of gravitas attached to it. It's a feeling that pervades the single-player portion of the game so strongly that the first I jumped into multi-player I felt oddly confused. Missions near the end make players wonder if what they're doing has any semblance of "right" to it whatsoever; the mission may get the player closer to his/her objective, but what's the cost attached to the player's action? It's a shame that the player is locked into a limited number of actions when given a mission; there has never been a game I wanted to have more narrative choices in than this one.

I still can't believe I accidentally hit a zebra.

on Nov 18, 2008

FIRST!! Hitting the Zebra was a happy moment for me, next to runnning over Africans. I just like to go in guns blazing all the time, a lot of fun. Overall a good game.

on Nov 18, 2008

the complaints you stated are the only complaints i have with it as well.  overall though, i'm still having a blast with it.  so many different ways to approach a situation.