In To The Heart of Darkness

by Ross Arbour

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Spoiler Alert

When you’re wading through the thickening jungles of Far Cry 2’s final mission, there’s no mistaking the campaign is approaching its grand finale.

The randomly generated weather suddenly doesn’t feel so random, as the pending storms heighten and the ferocity of the gloomy atmosphere intensifies.  The jungle thickens and amenities become scarce.

You’ve entered what the designers have called the Heart of Darkness, and the structure is fantastic.

First, there’s something you should know: Heart of Darkness is a 1902 novella written by Polish-born writer Joseph Conrad.  It speaks of the evils of imperialism during the European colonization of Africa.

Throughout Far Cry 2, factions and diamonds charge the political landscape.  Ubisoft Montreal made it all come crashing down around me at once.  The betrayals and evils that occur in the final chapter of Far Cry 2 actually allude to Conrad’s novella.

Anyone familiar with the novella will see an obvious relationship between the map region’s title and the theme of Conrad’s Heart of Darkness: as Conrad and his crew progressed deeper inland into Africa, the qualities of the human race regress. This belief lays the groundwork for the finale’s aforementioned betrayals.  As the jungle becomes denser and increasingly uninviting, you approach a person whom you believe to be the friend you developed over the course of the game, only to find a hostile and greed-infested monster of a human aiming their gun at you and opening fire.

He/She is willing to sacrifice your life for riches, like the merchants of the 19th century showed total disregard for the humanity of the indigenous people of Africa, for the spoils of rubber or ivory, as Conrad progressed inland.

There’s no teasing here, no “catch and release” fishing.  When shit is hitting the fan, you damn well know it.  The climatic nature of Far Cry 2’s ending is something I’d like to experience more often in games.  It made me stop, put down the controller, and think “Oh my God, that was simply amazing”.  Videogame endings have failed to get to me lately, so it was refreshing to play a finale crafted with such luster, to see a game concluded in a way that does the plot justice, and ties up its storylines.

Even BioShock, for all its celebrated storytelling, failed to end in a way that captivated me.

Towards the end, I was forced to eliminate the very people I put in power, one with a silenced pistol to the face, the other with a sniper rifle from across town. Both executions are followed by a thrilling escape sequence from a ceasefire zone – the significance of these actions expressed by being the only time in the game you need to pull the trigger in a designated ceasefire zone.
Then, having a previously rescue-ready buddy turn on me for diamonds… I was enthralled and unable to quit.

reubenIt was exhilarating and I don’t recall my heart rate letting up in the intensity.   In the end, we’re left to ponder the fate of the Jackal – the bastard that armed both sides, and your initial target – with a suggestive explosion followed by the affirmation that his body was never truly found.  You’re alone, and everyone has turned his or her back on what’s right.  Except for one person, the NPC you’ll likely respect most: Rueben, the journalist.

This was no accident or afterthought, either.  “Reuben was conceived in the very beginning to be the one good, honest person in a world full of horrible assholes” said a key member of Far Cry 2‘s development team, who specifically requested to have their name withheld during our chat.

Their desired effect was achieved. I felt not only obliged, but more than willing to rescue Reuben from an airfield when his safety was threatened.  I raced across the map, even in the absence of a timer, because I felt the single hope for a positive human condition in this game to be Reuben.  The sequence was exciting.
As I slipped into the camp under the cover of the African night, with an assault rifle drawn and at the ready, and proceeded silently (except for the thumping of my heart) to the hangar where the rebels were keeping him. But the sequence also left me wondering: why can’t we get to know Rueben more in the game?  My anonomous dev team member agrees, going on to say, “The only unfortunate things are that he could not be featured more prominently and that you could not engage with him in more numerous and more dynamic ways.”

It remains unexplained why this is so, but I can assume some things had to hit the cutting room floor.  I can only speculate, but does the team at Ubisoft have to focus more on bang-boom and less on chit-chat? In other words, do they have to cut down on interaction that doesn’t involve a gun to keep shallow action-mongers interested?

Does that explain why I was thrown into an obnoxious encounter every hundred feet?

This leads me to one of the game’s larger criticisms: aside from your buddies, everyone in this world wants to kill you (I heard from within the team that civilians and the degree of brutal realism afforded by a flamethrower may have been a banning issue).  And even those trusted buddies turn on you for riches, and Rueben remains the only surviving character that doesn’t have you in his sights – you’re truly alone in this dark and dangerous world.

And isn’t being alone the true essence of Far Cry?

So when I hit that no-going back point, entering the irreversible “Heart of Darkness” mission, I was ready to put on a show.  It set a precedent; it said to me “this is the big finale”.  There are no vehicles, and less weapons than I regularly had access to with the weaponry stores in the free-roaming map — it’s about stalking the jungles and surviving with minimal resources… the basics of Far Cry, as everything you’ve done draws to a close.

You’re made to survive in an atmosphere once described with contempt by Mr. Conrad.  It’s here, in this deep jungle, the Heart of Far Cry 2‘s finale, where the evil he talks about became my favorite game ending of 2008.

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