Far Cry 2′s Africa burns impermanently. The lifelike flames consume plants and buildings and men, leaving great black scars on the landscape of a nameless, war-torn nation. The rickety shacks will char, the rusted jeeps will explode, and gas pumps will erupt like volcanic vents. In the course of the game you will leave dozens of checkpoints and ersatz military bases as smoldering ruins in the wake of your bloody path. Come back after a few minutes, however, and these sites will be transformed. The grass regrows, the buildings repair, the vehicles return to working order, and the men stand as they once did, hostile, guns ready. It’s as if you were never there — and all this is fitting, because Far Cry 2 is, at its core, about futility.
Far Cry 2 casts the player as a mercenary sent to some African powder-keg to murder a conflict-stimulating arms merchant named “The Jackal”. This mission fails spectacularly within the first ten minutes of the game, and then the powder-keg ignites, leaving the main character a penniless, malaria-afflicted gunman in a country that fortunately has a great deal of demand for his talents. It’s a decrepit nation, without any apparent functioning agricultural or industrial infrastructure, and nearly all the civilians have already fled. As for the forces tearing the country apart, they occupy territories with indistinct boundaries, and lack any kind of uniform, as their armies consist almost entirely of mercenaries. Black natives hold the leadership positions in these ragtag armies, but their aides-de-camp and chief lieutenants are all white soldiers of fortune — making war for money, because this land has nothing else left worth fighting over anymore.
And yet the fighting continues. Far Cry 2 makes a half-hearted effort at embodiment, but for all that your hands can do in the game, what they will do most of the time is hold a gun. Missions are available from the two warring factions, your friends, arms dealers, a civilian underground, and mysterious voices that talk to you through cell towers. No matter who you’re fighting for, everyone will attack you — a serious concern since almost every major intersection has its own contingent of mercenary guards. Their habit of regeneration means you must kill them coming and going, because your missions are handed out in central locations, and you will traverse the fastest routes to these places repeatedly, in cars or on foot.
Off the roads, this world has its nooks and crannies, hiding scattered diamonds or traces of your elusive target. The Jackal, strangely, sat for a series of interviews with an ignored journalist. Speaking clearly, but with alacrity that reminds one of high school policy debates, the arms dealer indicts all sides of the conflict, from the warlords to the first-world nations that ineffectually police them. The Jackal is as raw and uninhibited a capitalist as Bioshock’s Andrew Ryan, more dedicated to the pursuit of the dollar than any abstract moral ideal. He sells guns to both sides, then buys them back when the cease-fire hits and sells them again somewhere else. And why not? As he points out: “[Weapons] aren’t biodegradable. Only the dead are biodegradable.”
Yet your weapons do degrade, in frustratingly short order at times. They jam, misfire, or even just explode in your hand as you pull the trigger. In Far Cry 2′s Africa, the guns are temporary, but the men are permanent. The only ones that stay dead are the ones whose names you know — Frank Bilders won’t come back if you let the morphine take him. Eventually, though, another buddy will take his place in the foreigner’s bar, asking you for favors while offering none.
Far Cry 2′s petty annoyances become apparent almost immediately, and conspire to drive the player away. Walking or driving, the player must make a long, dull trek to receive his next repetitive mission, performing murderous chores at each checkpoint along the way. With time, however, one acclimates to these discomforts as one might become inured to the oppressive heat implied by the game’s setting. The visceral combat, the Jackal’s rantings, the selfishness of nearly every person who speaks, and the sheer futility of each bloody journey across the African wilderness impart an awful momentum to the game, an irresistible force driving it towards an inescapable conclusion.
Far Cry 2 departs from formula by accepting the dark finale its every moment implies. This game stars a murderer who comes to Africa and kills almost everyone he meets, and fittingly, he dies anonymously in the jungle. Are his few good deeds enough to redeem him? Does it matter that he manages to save a few civilians here and there? You can’t know that. You are allowed no certainty but this: that the next man to drive down these roads will find the guard posts restaffed, the mercenaries rearmed, and the war continuing blindly, needlessly, mindlessly, until the guns at last biodegrade.