Far Cry 2 makes my head hurt. When playing it, I tend to loathe its very existence: the guard checkpoints, the long travel times, the indistinct, rage-enducingly quiet characters. Everyone knows the complaints by now; I suspect most people could probably list them straight off the top of their head. But it’s when I’m not playing Far Cry 2 that I think my opinion of it rings most true: and that is that it’s an unadulterated work of near-genius.
Those respawning guard posts are where the trouble always begins. Popular opinion dictates that they’re a problem that needs fixing – indeed, the Far Cry 3 team claims they’ve done just that. Popular opinion is certainly correct in suggesting that such a move would be vital in alleviating the sense of repetition and ineffectuality which quickly bites at your heels. And after that, popular opinion proclaims the need for greater mission variety to combat Far Cry 2’s lopsided, craze-inducing spiral of shooting and driving. Alone, these are simple design flaws: fault-lines that any other game would need to fill with cement. And yet these issues of Far Cry 2’s exist amidst a myriad of idiosyncrasies ranging from the irritating to the infuriating, idiosyncrasies which form a disturbingly endearing experience.
Less prevalent an example is the form that character interaction takes in Far Cry 2. If you’re not setting them alight and popping caps in their arses, you’re listening to them drone out orders and philosophies at 300 words-per-minute. After 40 or so hours, you feel no closer to the people you’ve worked for than you did at the game’s beginning; if anything, you’re driven further away from them as their mumbling vernacular draws a line of dissonance between yourself and them.
And let’s not forget the factions themselves. The UFLL and APR? Indistinguishable. In all the times I’ve revisited Far Cry 2’s Africa, I’ve never once caught on to what either of them fights for. They’re faceless, practically nameless, and order you about seemingly without rhyme or reason; you work for both and you’ll be attacked by both, indiscriminately. Each exists in a limbo of sorts, reflected in the game’s nameless, war-torn African nation: an amalgamation of so many countries at the arse-end of nowhere that all of their specific characteristics are dead and buried.
The willingness with which your employers’ factions attacks you, and the immediacy with which guard posts refill and reload, serves to highlight one very clear truth: alive, you are useless. You’re a part of the system. Sent in to kill an arms-dealer, The Jackal, fueling a war, you instead slaughter hundreds of men for both sides – all whilst using The Jackal’s weapons to do so no less. And whilst the lose-lose ending seemed to anger a number of players when Far Cry 2 was released, in truth it was the only way it could have ended. From the moment the game begins, you exist in this world: your former employers barely given a mention, your character’s former life boiled down to an A5-sized fact-sheet. The country and your objective do not change for as long as you try to survive. The only way to break the cycle is to die.
Far Cry 2 is at its best when it’s at its worst: cyclical, repetitive, monotonous. Extended play-throughs are likely to drive you insane, because extended play-throughs are designed to drive you insane. It’s the perfect simulation of a fruitless, warring existence, and is subsequently a miserable farce to play through. Coverage of Far Cry 3’s development has seen the developers talk a lot about charting one man’s descent into insanity. It seems to me that Far Cry 2 is insanity.