It’s fair to say that my love for Far Cry 2 is well recorded. I take every chance I can to revisit it in streams, write about it in articles, and even delve into it more deeply in conference talks. Which is why, when people ask me why I fell in love with Far Cry 2, it’s easy to answer: It felt like it came from another world.
When it released in 2008, Far Cry 2 offered such a unique, different take on the first person shooter than the (then recently) ascendent model that Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare did. Though it still offered a familiar power fantasy--guy with gun gets over his head--it did so in ways that, to use a phrase from Cameron Kunzelman, “altered the conditions of that fantasy.”
By now, you probably already know how the rest of this conversation goes, right? I bring up the guns jamming, the malaria, the feeling of powerlessness and player-hostility, the Nietzsche quotes, the systemically driven anecdotes that the folks at Idle Thumbs succinctly summed up as “grenades rolling down hills.” If you love Far Cry 2 you’re probably nodding along to all of that. Yet time and again, the response I hear from non-fans is that most of those things are actually pains for them, and on paper I get it. But in action… none of it bothers me, and I’ve never quite been able to put a finger on why that is, besides vague allusions to subjective taste.
Now, thanks to a video entitled “Far Cry 2 details vs Far Cry 5” from YouTube user Crowbcat, I can get a little bit closer to understanding my own enjoyment of the game. Without saying a word, Crowbcat spends 20 minutes walking the viewer through literally dozens of little details that exist in Far Cry 2 but not in Far Cry 5.
Taken alone, none of these details seem that big: Is it that important that you can shoot through walls in Far Cry 2 but not in 5? Or that there’s a more frightening, first person drowning animation? Or that the grass gets totally flattened by roaming jeeps? Or that the fire propagation is less predictable as it spreads, and more thorough in its damage to nearby flora? Or that the clouds move in more realistic ways, breaking the sun’s light just so?
This sort of point-by-point argument for why Thing A is better than Thing B has always rubbed me the wrong way, especially when I’m a fan of Thing A. After all, any argument like this is going to be reductive, and Crowbcat even notes this in the description, writing “FC5 has its own attention to details that FC2 doesn't have, this comparison doesn't mean FC5 has nothing to show.” But because Crowbcat never speaks in the video, Far Cry 2 is able speak for itself, and as the details piled up, one after the other, I found myself aching to play Far Cry 2 again.
It builds to two high peaks, for me. The first comes early, just three-and-a-half minutes in. After being shot in the leg, an enemy falls to the ground, then struggles back up to a limping gait, dragging himself through the waving grass towards cover. They finally rest their back against a nearby rock, covered by the drifting shadow of a nearby tree. The ambient chirping and buzzing of insects and birds rises to crescendo in the absence of combat. Crowbcat approaches. Three gunshots.
Nothing ever felt like that for me in Far Cry 5, and I could never point to one specific reason why. What this video does is explain that there isn’t one reason, it’s about how all of these details come together in Far Cry 2. Each of those individual elements is one color in the systemic palette, a way that the developers were able to communicate something like a cinematographer's style or a novelist’s voice. There are even ways that aren’t explicitly compared in Crowbcat’s editing, but which still are noticeable here, like the rapid-fire, anxiety-inducing way that every character in Far Cry 2 speaks.
If there’s a through line in this video, it’s an unspoken argument that risk is real in Far Cry 2, for the player, their companions, and their enemies. Cover is only safe until it isn’t. Healing looks painful, and in the case of drowning, death looks even worse. Outside of its cynical endings, Far Cry 5 can’t conceive of this sort of risk or finality. Your guns will never break. Fire will not take leaves from the branches of its trees. AI companions, once earned, are yours forever. The way it communicates this risk of finality is part of what makes Far Cry 2 so powerful (and what made Ben Abraham’s “Permanent Death” such a great exploration of the game).
The second peak in “Far Cry 2 details vs Far Cry 5” is, of course, at the end. After demonstrating how, in Far Cry 5, the player can endlessly revive their AI-controlled “Guns for Hire,” Crowbcat jumps back to Far Cry 2 one last time. Xianyong Bai, Crowbcat’s in-game AI “buddy,” falls to one knee and gasps for breath. Then, one after another, Crowbcat shows the possible outcomes.
Maybe you have enough medical syrettes on you to bring Xianyong back. Or, maybe the damage is too severe for a boost of adrenaline to get him back onto his feet. Or, if you used up your healing items on yourself during the encounter, you might not have what you need to help him at all, and when you kneel down to help him, he will instead beg you to put him out of his misery. He slowly places his hand on the barrel of your pistol. A gunshot, and the video finally fades to to black.