This diary first appeared in PC Gamer Magazine Issue 366 in January 2022. We do it once a month, taking on new challenges and approaching our favorite games from a fresh perspective – letting you know how we all get along.
You emerge from the iron shed into a bright dawn, a blue hour vision full of tension, from shattered darkness and saturated colors to the overlapping of strings. In front of you, a thicket stretches on the reddish horizon into the shimmering desert. But there is a car ahead.
It’s a sports car, but you know it was born in a second-tier factory in the 1980s, its sharp corners are now obsolete, its metaphorical corners have been pared down. The racing stripes are gone under the rusted and rotten exterior. However, you know this car is someone’s pride and joy, the result of many night shifts and dull days. Now it’s a powerful sign of worsening UAC. Misplaced money, exploitative imports, shattered dreams…then a cloud of dust in the distance heralds the end of the reverie for this moment and you have to shoot someone in the face.
This moment has been with me for over 13 years. It’s one of the most vivid places I’ve ever experienced, sitting alongside other unique, real and virtual sacred memories, from near ecstasy, to the spectacle of the Masai Mara itself.
I love Far Cry 2. There’s an atmosphere and cinematography that Vittorio Storaro would be proud of, and a soundtrack featuring Baaba Maal. The slight touch suggests that the developers believe players can fill in the gaps if they provide a sufficiently immersive experience. On top of that, I had dreams of an FPS Elite, a truly open world where I could live and get as close as I saw fit, with as little interruptions in the mise-en-scene as possible. I was not disappointed.
I love the actual map and GPS you hold up in real time, the healing animation, being resurrected by an acquaintance and then taken to safety, the surrounding desert provides the softest wall of invisibility. All of this helps maintain immersion, even as the game’s thirst for realism bucks the trend. The general opinion is that it sucks.
Most people are annoyed by recurring malaria episodes, but I think it’s genius. Likewise, both sides of this war, equally mired in murder and corruption, want to kill you, no matter what you do for them. That means you’re always getting shot by everyone.
“I can’t drive anywhere without being chased” is a common complaint.
My answer was, “Where did you drive?” If you’re not hiking into the mountains to watch the sunset over the savannah between missions, you’re playing the wrong game. I guess that’s where gamers start to divide, now that the world is open and real enough, between those who were all about “demolition and chaos” and those who were later designed for walking simulators. The latter will live in the hills and forests of Z-Day and Rust, be molested by the former, and then fall in love with Delilah in Firewatch.
Bed and Shipwreck Festival
I long to go back to UAC, I’m after hikes, sunsets and zebras. a holiday. I’m not interested in a journey to the heart of darkness or nihilism, I’m not even following people like Jackal. He just took the optional day trip.
So, no unnecessary deaths. No guns. There is no moral relativism. Just a good time.
I took a taxi from the airport and that’s how all vacations start. I saw the locals flee, leaving the battlefield to the thieves westerners. Nevermind, I’m going to leave it all behind and “see the real UAC” like some qualified backpackers.
I don’t remember the introductory tutorial being so linear. Malaria dominates the opening scene. I pass out and wake up to meet my target, the jackal, who quotes Nietzsche like a far-right teenager. I escaped a firefight in the town without bloodshed, then lost consciousness again and was rescued by one of the many militia parasites. He sent me on my first murder but I was on vacation so I got in the waiting coupe and tried to drive away. I’ve hit an invisible wall in the universe – another serious dose that brings me back to where I started. I won’t do any sightseeing until I get some medicine.
So I was trapped under a gloomy sky in awkward stealth in narrow valleys and murky ravines. Without any buffs, I’m loud and it’s done in no time. I can’t detonate a red barrel without removing a full clip. I need at least a more powerful pistol. I already have a shopping list and need diamonds so I have a lot of work to do. Between pretending my car was an “environmental hazard” and my machete, I jumped hoops and got some drug leads.
I noticed the GPS is clear now…so once I get my chloroquine or whatever, it’s time to start resting. I want those savannahs, those zebras, those deserts, those skies. Now I can get them.
My memories are of walks, landscapes and special one-off moments. Once I climbed a mountain and found a desolate village belonging to a people largely untouched by Western empires. Arriving before its design mission, it felt like I was walking around a corner in Jordan Rock and seeing Petra for the first time. At the very top of this climb, I spotted a hang glider. I soared across the blue sky, speeding past, seeing the lush landscape below and the desert beyond, animals scattered in front of me. I am a bird. It’s over in seconds, and when it’s done, it’s done. They were not marked on the map and I never found another one.
Now I’m stuck, being chased in an unattainably fast jeep by mercenaries with X-ray vision and accurate marksmanship. Anything I was driving would stop after being hit, which meant I couldn’t pass anyone. Getting around obstacles can save trouble, but it requires patience that I no longer seem to have. I am spoiled by the Rook Islands and Kerat. I play Far Cry 5 with my daughter and often stop killing cultists for the enjoyment of the movement and the view. Even with deadly wildlife, this is always an easy choice.
Laboa-Sako in the north of UAC is definitely not as attractive as the south, and after a lot of hard work, I continue to find many of the little wonders I’m looking for. But even on the edge of the desert where the metaphorical diamond is, it’s a lot like a vacation to the place you loved as a kid, but now…it’s smaller, browner, and less potential than you remember. The beaches are smaller, there are no games in the arcades, and each one is less exciting but ten times as expensive. There are still little beauties to look for, but if you’ve been to Vegas, Prestatyn seems tiny because it is.
But I see my animals and try not to let my car hit them. I saw some sunsets and some amazing views. I rain a lot and it ruins the photos, but that’s your vacation. I found my old village, but it’s full of alien monsters with mortars. I think, in this game at least, if I shoot someone in the head, they’re going to die, unlike the less thoughtful soldiers in Yara.
This is where the problem lies. This time, I was on vacation, but for someone on a safari, I spent a lot of time hacking people. Of course, this is all necessary self-defense, but I might as well use a gun. So, accepting that the rules are meant to be broken, I ground up and armed myself with an M-79 grenade launcher…
The subtext of Far Cry 2, for example, is a retelling of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, or, more accurately, Coppola’s Apocalypse Now. Assassins travel across a ravaged world in search of those most responsible for it, inevitably taking the same approach and, in doing so, contracting the same disease, literally and figuratively. Opinions are divided over whether Conrad’s masterpiece is a vicious outlaw of European colonialism or alternative racism, with smarter money for both. Spec Ops: The Line serves that concept better, but it’s still the actual theme of the Far Cry franchise, where success contrasts with discord.
In the first round, I got really good at sliding from place to place without knowing it, pitting both sides against each other. Slowly, the mercenaries started talking about me in fear. And I am a monster. I would shoot someone in the leg so his cries would attract his friends to my headshot party. It doesn’t matter because everyone is a colonial interloper from the West and has no business in UAC other than exploitation and greed.
Finally, tired of being a shadow and invincible, I swapped out my sniper rifle for a rocket launcher or two. I destroyed everything. People, buildings, vehicles, trees and grass. I shine with the light of a thousand suns. That’s when I knew it was time to go to the final stage, face the jackal…and find a warlord who started to regret his actions, just as I started to revel in my actions.
Having the M-79 again makes killing effortless. Satisfactory. I saw the barricade and tried to get around it, but I dared them to find me. “Try it,” I thought. That becomes, “I’ll teach you to mess with my shiny Jeep.” I think that makes the killing less disturbing, but it just makes it less personal and even fun. I am changing and it is changing the nature of travel. My perception of the good times has shifted like a snake.
The idea of capturing a few minutes of miraculous serenity between serious business surviving the Civil War as the antithesis of violence, corruption, and decadence…the idea worked. It makes the sky, the sun, animals, deserts and forests…all immune to violence. Killing allows me to enjoy in peace they are removing the edge of awe. I’m slaughtering mercenaries because I can’t get to the hang glider. I’m worse than the monster waiting for me at the last minute, worse than the guy who hunted him down 13 years ago.
The jackal certainly misunderstood his Nietzsche. What happens in UAC is not inevitable. The “power” in “will to power” is not Kraft – control and power – but Macht – sublimation, overcoming ego and selfishness, and feeding power to creativity. I look at my pictures. Is this what I do? Pooh. I need to shower first.