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Choosing Between Bad and Worse

Rob Kunzig | 25 Jul 2011 10:00
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In contrast, gunfights in Far Cry 2 feel like short, brutal poems. There are only so many ways to wipe out a militia checkpoint; whether you come from the east with a sniper rifle or from the west with a shotgun, it's going to end in gore. With no political or moral context to tidy up the screaming - and there's a lot of screaming, especially when somebody starts a brushfire - the mayhem rises in stark relief, shifting from thrilling to unsettling. Far Cry 2 loves rubbing your face in the horror.

Whether you come from the east with a sniper rifle or from the west with a shotgun, it's going to end in gore.

In a land where the guns have been sold and re-sold several times over decades, it's fitting that combat should come stripped of options. According to The Jackal, choice is a first-world luxury. Applying it to Africa is ludicrous. When asked by a journalist why he sells guns instead of humanitarian wares, like radios or car parts, the arms dealer turns the question around: gun manufactures in America are unionized, right? Protected jobs, full salaries with benefits? That kid assembling an FM handset in a Bangladeshi sweat shop - does he get a union salary? Is that fair, ethical or sane?

"You start thinking about morality," he says, "that's insane."

The journalist asks The Jackal why he doesn't choose sides, designate a good and destroy the evil. Again, bad idea: If he only armed one of the two factions, The Jackal says, he'd lose half his business, and more civilians would die in the swift and gruesome endgame. Better for business to keep both sides in d├ętente.

Players can try to pick sides, but Far Cry 2 forces them to take missions from both factions. It hardly matters; no matter what you choose, you can count on dabbling in war crimes. Wrinkle your nose at the assassination, and you'll only be forced to blow up a stockpile of anti-malarial medication.

Trying to play as a do-gooder is useless and self-defeating. You can spend hours ferrying passports with exit visas to refugees in hiding, but you'll never get them out of the country without completing the morally hideous main quest. The road to freedom, it turns out, is paved and paid for with atrocities.

Paradoxically, it's hard to feel any sense of moral outrage in Far Cry 2. Militia thugs don't wave flags or spout manifestos. The odd propaganda poster blends in with the rest of the graffiti. Killing a soldier doesn't mean choosing an ethos or a particular gameplay path; it only means progressing to the next gunfight. Even if the player could choose, what would be their criteria?

Players are free to roam the land by foot, jeep or fan boat, but the ability to choose how you travel is irrelevant if you can't choose why. The missions only get bleaker, and the freedom of movement quickly becomes a mockery of your lack of choice. Take the road. Take the river. Marvel at kilometers of savannah basking in the African sunset, and take your time: All roads end in armed checkpoints, and in this country, there's no such thing as friendly territory. Even the cease-fire zones are only a shot away from tipping into mayhem.

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