Thursday, 30 October 2008

Hocking's Masterpiece

I went to bed last night thinking about the ending of Far Cry 2. My response, entirely subjective, was a mix of dismay and real, genuine sadness. The feeling was comparable to the one I get at the very conclusion of the Harry Potter series – a kind of melancholy sadness at having to say goodbye to this mind-blowing world, compounded by the tragic events of the closing pages. Similarly, I know there are many people who don’t like the Harry Potter series, or the ending, and can’t help but think that some people will react similarly to Far Cry 2. The ending is imperfect. It’s flawed. But for those few of us who now care about this game, it’s also deeply emotional.

I can forgive the flaws of the ending, however, and now rate it as one of my all time favourite videogame conclusions ever. Partly it's because it is going to be somewhat unpopular, and I don’t want it written off or forgotten. But in it’s depths I can see the glimmer of the potential that it was trying to achieve. Hocking’s Masterpiece.

Far Cry 2 is about the individual; death; nihilism. The contentious design decisions, even the whole game, only starts to make sense when viewed through this lens. Like a David Lean epic from the golden era of cinema it deals with many concepts and issues all viewed through the prism of a central concern. Doctor Zhivago’s conceit was viewing the Russian revolution through the personal story of one man. Similarly Lawrence of Arabia also possessed the same focus on viewing history as it orbited around an individual. Far Cry 2 is about you and death. Of course every single person you meet wants to kill you. Of course you spend about as much time fighting the environment as other persons. Of course you are clinging to the barest scrap of health and well-being; Even the malaria is trying to kill you.

Some people will probably want to throw around that clichéd phrase “You’re a survivor” and the sentiment that goes with it, but the truth is, you’re not. Take from that what you will, but Far Cry 2 reminds at every possible opportunity that life is fatal. No one gets out of this place alive. It makes for what I believe to be truly the first game that goes beyond, or outright rejects, the mental switch-off performed by pathological mass-murderers and videogame players. That
switch you flick in your brain when playing a shooter - the small part up the back that empathises with your victims, and which is incompatible with what most games narcissistically tell us – that you should survive, you deserve it, you’re the hero. Here instead, nihilism is the name of the game.

As the man you have been trying to kill says, “No one is going to die today that didn’t have it coming.” Far Cry 2 screams that we all have it coming.


Anonymous said...

Interesting analysis. I still haven't played the game, but I do hope that Hocking himself drops by this post and comments, simply because I'm interested you call the game 'Hocking's masterpiece'. Regarding film, I'm not a massive fan of the auteur theory, and I suspect it applies even less to games. You're almost certainly using it as a turn of speech more than anything else, but it's fascinating, none-the-less.

Ben Abraham said...

I guess I believe that every creative product, if it's to have a solid vision, needs to be controlled by one person or a very small group. That goes for both film and games. I mean someone has to sign off on then decisions, and as Clint has said elsewhere "The buck stops with [him]".

I actually have a whole load of questions I'd love to ask Clint, so even if he doesn't come back I think I might try and weedle an email address for him from someone and try and get to the bottom of some stuff.

Anonymous said...

Finally getting around to reading your Far Cry 2 raves now that I've finished the game. (There may be some ***SPOILERS*** here for anyone reading this comment, so bail out now if you don't want to know!) I have to say that while I really did like the game and many of its choices I feel like that it is definately not in the final view a "masterpiece". It was on its way, perhaps, but the flaws that exist in it are such that I think ultimately it falls well short of that mark--though it does rank as one of the most interesting games I've played all year, and I don't think anyone should miss it who cares for the medium.

First, the good: I love that things break down, that you can trust no one, that bad things can happen to you for seemingly no reason at all. I love the possibilities of the world, the richness of its environments, the creative freedom, the consistency of character, the detail in the flora and the fauna and the fire. I love the weather and the distinct biomes and just the whole natural feel of the sprawling world you have to trek around and fight in. I love the different strategies that you can employ, the variety of ways to get where you want to go, the way you're thrown into the story with no clear way to progress beyond flailing around talking to people and making choices. Somehow, I even eventually sort of grew to love the weary tedium that came from long drives across the veldt and trudges thru the jungle--it's so evocative of the place and so reflective of what I know of how colonialists felt when thrust into Africa that it really helped make it feel right even when it felt almost wrong in a videogame sense. I really applaud the developers for having the guts to go with this sort of an globally environmental angle--it's risky, and could easily play against them commercially. So bravo to Hocking and co. for not playing it safe and for trying to push the boundaries a bit.

Next up, the bad: I hated that every frakking bastard in the world shoots at you every time you come into eyeshot even if you're doing a mission for their side. I hated the bugginess of the PS3 version--you probably didn't get this on PC, but I had slowdown, molotov cocktails that hung suspended in mid air, enemies who would get out of jeeps and stand in mid-air shooting down at me or who would scale cliffs that I couldn't climb. Twice I had instances where I was getting a mission where I couldn't leave the mission room even after getting the mission--one was an underground mission where the guy wouldn't give me the travel papers I had to deliver, and another was the last mission I was supposed to take which I accepted but then found the door shut and a dude who just kept telling me I had no choice and should reconsider. But I had accepted the mission and gotten the folder already! Argh. Lastly I thought the diamond hunting bit was kind of a waste of time given the amount of diamonds you could earn via missions--I stopped looking for briefcases almost entirely once i got to Act 2, there didn't seem to be any great reason to poke around for 'em.

I also did not have a lot of love for the way the final act funneled you into that chasm after the untoward freedom of all of the predeeding acts. It seemed sort of forced and constricting after all of the openness that had gone before--it was like after being granted wide latitude for twenty five hours I was suddenly channeled nearly onto rails for the finale. I didn't really mind the way the scenario played out--the thing with the buddies was a little awkward and imposed artificially, but I didn't mind it that much as a story mechanic. (Quick aside; one of my favorite parts of the whole story was earlier when I was given the end of Act 1 choice to go to where my buddies were or to go to the priest and the children; I knew that my buddies were bad people. I knew I should go with the helpless kids...but I was so caught up in my role as mercenary that I rushed to the aid of my "pals", even though I KNEW they were no good. That was fascinating to me, that I picked that way almost instantly...) I also had no real trouble with the way the Jackal storyline played out nor that the sacrifice you needed to make at the end was the only way out. That seemed right to me, really, since your character had no other real route to redemption and if you're going to accept the Jackal's final words then there really is no exit other than death. And again, I think this was a case where the developers made a bold choice they should be congratulated on--no easy way out, here, which is really not something you get to see a lot of in videogames.

Overall, I'd sure have to say I was pretty well satisfied and happy with the game despite its few troubles and occasional annoyances. I really hope it sells enough for them to do Far Cry 3, because from what I read it seems they acknowledge some of the flaws and could probably churn out a true masterpiece if they smoothed over a few things and extended what they were trying to do in some other areas. It's undoubtedly a talented team and they chose to take an interesting and somewhat daring approach to a genre that too often sees cookie cutter versions of the Same Old Thing, and I'm sure glad they did. Hopefully we'll get to see even more.