For me, it was an open-world first person shooter called Far Cry 2. It’s easy to feel disillusioned with Far Cry 2 in your first few hours of play when you’re standing beside your ruined Jeep technical, out of syrettes and low on ammo, surrounded by dead militia after you were ambushed YET again on a lonely African road while just trying to get to your damn safe house to save the game. I very nearly gave up on the game after seemingly repeating this dilemma over and over again, until I was struck by the thought: “there has to be a better way!”
I was encouraged to stick with the game because, frustrating as it was to get my ass handed to me on a plate for the tenth time in an hour, the game had given me snippets – moments – that blew me away (pun intended) in a good way. Like my first encounter with an armed militia guy in Pala (a ceasefire “safe” zone). Your character automatically slings his weapon when in town, so I just stood near this guy wondering if I could interact with him. He looked right at me and said “F*ck off, I don’t like to be stared at!” Another guy a few metres behind him noticed the potential confrontation, and ever-so-threateningly drew a large revolver from a holster at his hip. Not wanting to get slaughtered without first exploring the town I turned away and walked off, only to hear the first guy goading me as I slinked away: “Yeah that’s right, keep walking!”
Another moment was during one of my many walks to look for diamond cases (diamonds being the currency you use throughout the game to buy weapons etc). I rounded a small outcropping of rock, startling a water buffalo on the other side. The large animal huffed angrily and pounded away, across a field of swaying grass, illuminated by a dazzlingly real sunset I couldn’t help but stand and simply admire. I’d never experienced anything like these events in a FPS before. And I wanted more.
It was part of my predicament that I had just finished playing through three Call of Duty games, a Medal of Honor and a Battlefield Bad Company. So, I came at Far Cry 2 in much the same way – treating it as a linear shooter, “Point A to Point B, storm in like Rambo and kick a**” type deal. I couldn’t have been more misguided. I took a moment to realise that Far Cry 2 is a sand box game, more akin to say, Grand Theft Auto than Call of Duty. I was also really annoyed at the constantly respawning enemies. Until it dawned on me that (because of it’s open-ended nature) without these respawns you could essentially “cheat” the game by travelling around the entire map upon first starting the game, killing all the patrols, subduing all the guard posts, and then enjoying an incident-free (though incredibly boring) run through all the missions. As it is, the only “linear” aspect to Far Cry 2 is that it sends you to different areas of the map to complete each objective. Having respawning guard patrols in all areas of the map ensures that you always have obstacles to overcome when travelling to and completing your objectives. This catches newbies out (myself included) when you roar around the map like a bat out of hell because you inevitably wind up setting off patrol after patrol and quickly getting in over your head. It necessitates some planning,
Having realised all this, my next encounter was a little different. After equipping myself with a sniper rifle and going “off the beaten track” to get to my next objective (thus avoiding a few of those damn road patrols), I found myself staring across a body of water at the building I had to assault. In Call of Duty I’d simply frontal assault with guns blazing. But this time, the guys manning the balcony machine guns had no idea I was hunkered down behind a rock across the water, watching them through my high powered scope. I realised I had the upper hand, and that I could take all the time I needed to plan my attack. Needless to say the feeling of power went straight to my head. Of course my plan went to sh*t when I fired the first shot (taking out a sniper on the upper balcony) only to notice with delight that all the other guys scrambled inside to take cover. I was delighted because hell, that’s what real soldiers would do and now I would have to adjust my plan accordingly. A FPS that made me do that. What a revelation! I was sold on the game and realised at that moment that Far Cry 2 would soon be responsible for many late nights to come.
Once I started playing the game a little differently, the “moments” i spoke of earlier are more numerous, and always exhilarating. From getting the drop on a guard post by crawling through long grass and then unleashing a barrage of grenades and rockets before wading in to finish off the one survivor with my machete, to a unbelievably tense encounter when narrowly avoiding a patrol by diving into long grass after sprinting across the road hearing the engine approaching. From a nerve-jangling sneak into a restricted zone in Pala to pilfer militia diamonds (as a mercenary I am learning to be very opportunistic) to climbing a rocky outcropping at 6 am to watch the sun rise over an African savannah. It’s with this last one that Far Cry 2 really distances itself from other, linear shooters: it allows you to stop and smell the roses. So many times playing Call of Duty I had wished to be able to simply slow down and take it all in. FC2 lets me do that, and I love it. Don’t get me wrong, Modern Warfare and the new Medal of Honor rank as some of my favourite games ever, but variety is the spice of life and FC2 is just the change I needed to keep my FPS appetite satisfyingly ravenous. In the interests of value-for-money it’s also worth a mention that even on Veteran difficulty, the average CoD takes me roughly 6-7 hours. It took me 35 hours to complete Far Cry 2. Admittedly I play very conservatively and stop to smell those awesome African roses quite a lot, but this is the longest I’ve spent with a single game since my Syndicate addiction in the early 90’s.
The game plays with an interesting RPG element I believe the designers refer to as Infamy. In a nutshell this is your reputation as the country’s biggest bad*ss. This grows based on your actions in the game. Go all sneaky around guardposts or do nighttime stealth dashes in and out of locations to grab dossiers and your Infamy will not grow as quickly as if you take the time to eliminate everyone at every location you come across. Or instead of hiding in a bush and then slinking away, you lie in wait with a rocket launcher to deal with those pesky patrols. I discovered the reputation thing purely by accident. For some reason (call it some childhood issues) I enjoy wiping out all resistance at mission objective locations so I basically have free run of the place and can grab up whatever items or kill whatever bad guy I need to at my leisure. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a bit of stealthing and I’m anything but gung-ho about my approach to Far Cry 2, but I do like to wade in with an Uzi after taking down a few roaming guards with some scoped headshots. I enjoy the freaky chaos of thinking I’ve eliminated most of the opposition from afar only to discover myself surrounded by assault rifles and shotguns when I waltz in like Rambo. Anyway, doing the missions in this fashion, I found my reputation increasing quite rapidly. Guys in town went from insulting my mother, to backing away with a quickly uttered “sorry, my fault” when I bumped into them on my way to get a mission. When attacking guard posts, I went from hearing “you’re gonna die a**hole”, to a panicked “are you sure it’s only one guy?” And imagine my goofy grin when I discovered that due to my reputation, guards at various outposts had taken to wearing body armour in anticipation of my comin-a-callin. (I knew I’d eventually make that guy sorry for that crack about my Mum.) But, like most things about Far Cry 2, this has a flip-side of the coin. As my reputation increased to “people around here think I’m the Devil himself”, I got all cocky and a wee bit careless when approaching a guard post on the way to an objective. Three syrettes, about 150 rounds of ammo and even some hasty battlefield surgery later I stood amidst about a dozen corpses and three smouldering vehicles wondering what the hell just went so horribly wrong. The answer: I believed my own legend and paid the price. Needless to say it’s a mistake I will not be making again.
That’s another thing I quickly grew to like about this game: it’s a harsh teacher and it doesn’t suffer fools gladly. Suffice it to say, if you make newbie mistakes like the one I just mentioned, you’ll be punished so severely you’ll never make the same mistake again. Unlike other FPS games where if you die horribly, you start again from the last checkpoint and do the same thing over and over again until you succeed, in Far Cry 2 you are forced to adapt your approach, change your strategy on the fly, or even retreat to a safehouse to lick your wounds and come up with a new plan entirely.
Anyway, sorry for the long post, just wanted to share my impressions of a game that was an acquired tastte, and for those still reading by this point, ask if any of you have had similar experiences with games>