It goes a little bit like this: I'm playing the sort of game in which you shoot a lot of people through someone else's eyes and it's all very exciting and then I see a building off in the distance and know I can't go there; it's just the background. In Doom and older games like it, the background would have literally been a 2D image, wrapped in a sphere around the universe of the 3D level, not unlike the set of a play or black and white film. In the lull right before/after a firefight all I can think about is wandering over there, where it's quiet.
It's very likely there will be a rock in front of you and you can't jump on that rock. Far Cry 2 lets you jump on that rock. Wandering means reaching what you can see.
The fundamental lie of the war game is the same as the war film, which is that war travels a line, that war is a story. The storyteller lies so that reality will move in lines with characters and plots and beginnings and endings, because humans compute lines more effectively than reality. In war (but not just in war) lines are dangerous; war is too big and awful to fit in a line.
Apocalypse Now doesn't spin a story. Apocalypse Now tells stories, plural. The soldiers go down the river and one crazy thing happens after another, like they're wandering through the sets of a dozen different war films, like they're guests in someone else's movies. This breaks all the rules. You can't get away without lines in novels or films. Stories are supposed to have beginnings, middles, and ends. People change and grow and overcome. They don't stay confused. They don't watch a bunch of things happen to other people. They don't wander around and suddenly die for no reason, because some lucky asshole they didn't see shot them. But in Apocalypse Now, it happens just like that.
When game critics complain about linear games, sometimes I agree, but not because games and films are different.
You can't get away without lines in games, either. There's not a beginning, middle, and an end like the movies, yet there still is a beginning, middle, and end. You start the mission, then there's some conflict, then you figure it out and kill them, and then the mission's over. Beginning, middle, end, even in Tetris, even in Grand Theft Auto, in every single game those lines are everywhere. And Far Cry 2's just like that too.
Except in Far Cry 2 a jeep comes out of nowhere and runs you off the road, full of crazy people you've never met with guns who all want you to die. The tires scream and the bullets fly but because you'e safe in the living room you have a moment to think, and because nothing happens without a reason, you start thinking about why, where the hell did they come from, what the hell do they want, what is happening within the brains of those people, mercenaries or freedom fighters or just assholes with a jeep and some guns, that makes them want to kill more than everything else in the world? They've got no reason not to kill you. So maybe that's it. The answer is locked up in their heads, whatever it is, and you'll never know because the only way this ends is with them dead or you dead.
Reasons they could have to kill you:
Need a car
I know nothing's going through their heads. They're polygons, they're AI scripts, but have some imagination. When you watch Apocalypse Now, do you think about what Marlin Brando's thinking or what that monstrosity of a man in the jungles of Vietnam is thinking? Maybe you do, but thinking about what's in the actor's head is like thinking about what was in the programer's head. It's how they made the story, not what the story is.
Apocalypse Now moves in a line, but it's a fucked up line.
In Far Cry 2 your shit falls apart. You have to kick your car to start it. Your guns jam. Your flamethrower breaks down. This doesn't need to happen, because this is a fucking video game, and in Far Cry 2 such staples of human existence such as eating and drinking are fairly well ignored. As in life, nothing in a game happens for no reason.
In this case, the reason is so that your gun will fail when you need it the most, so that when you run our of ammo in your rifle and switch to your sidearm, that piece of shit will jam too. Because in Far Cry 2 you are always fighting. There is nothing in the game but fighting and running, and because of that, everything you take you will eventually lose. You pick up a gun and throw it away when it jams. You take guns from dead people because you need more and they're dead. You take things because even at your highest point, pockets full of medicine and morphine and bullets, when they hit you with the molotov as you barrel through the checkpoint, you're going to lose it all. The only permanence is the state of uncertainty. Are you going to get away this time? Or are you running straight into another camp of them?
War is a place. We go to war, as in, war is a place you can visit. You can drive through war, or ride a boat through it. There's a war in Iraq, yet Iraq is also still somehow a place that can be visited. Baghdad is a city and people live there. In the center of Far Cry 2 is a small town with a church and bar. In Apocalypse Now they airlift in Playboy Bunnies and go surfing.