While it’s been called “Grand Theft Auto: Africa”, Far Cry 2 only shares the most basic of traits with the Rockstar game—it’s a sprawling open world shooter with vehicles. But what sets Far Cry 2 apart is the beautiful and distinct African world it’s set in. If Grand Theft Auto vaguely resembles a movie like Goodfellas, Far Cry 2 is Blood Diamond meets Hotel Rwanda—a somewhat terrifying look into the complicated, Machiavellian world of African politics where mercenaries and arms dealers seem to rule. It’s into this anarchic world that your character is thrust, ambushed by malaria with no friends and no weapons. You must then contend and interact with various warring factions, merchants, the church, and fellow mercenaries, as you freely roam the African countryside by car, jeep, and riverboat. Sure, the bottom line of the game is the same as most of this kind—shoot or be shot—but the atmospheric Far Cry 2 is a cut above the average first-person shooter.
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This is something to consider as the U.S. prepares to bailout its hapless auto industry. Jon Garvie reviews Tom Vanderbilt’s Traffic for the TLS and highlights some of the problems with car culture that Vanderbilt elucidates. Driving allows us to travel faster than the speed of human thought while expecting us to interpret the intentions of the other people we must interact with while traveling. Unable to communicate and process what is happening fast enough, we outsource our conscientiousness to the system of signs, a textbook case of moral hazard. Our trust in the system belies the real dangers. And the signs seem to supplant our need to recognize the humanity and frailty of other drivers—it’s as though the signs do it for us and take them into account. “A line of vehicles crawling along congested roads at 20 miles per hour imitates nature. That speed is the maximum at which even Olympians can run. It is also the limit beyond which humans cannot maintain eye contact and other, vital, non-verbal forms of communication.” At higher speeds, we can no longer comprehend one another. The faster we go, the more isolated we become.
Though we experience driving as freedom (when there is no traffic, that is, to remind us of other people’s wills), driving nonetheless requires great amounts of coordination and cooperation; it’s probably one of the last things we should go into expecting to be liberated from the hassles of other people. In our car-fostered feelings of isolation, interpersonal mores no longer seem to apply and we regard it as alone time—“me time.” Meanwhile, we should feel terrified:
In order to absorb the gulf between the risk of death and the reward of a trip to the supermarket, we require elaborate coping strategies. Economists have suggested that a dagger attached to the steering wheel and pointed at the driver’s chest would represent an automobile’s “negative externalities” accurately. Instead, we have tended to buy SUVs (more likely to crash than smaller cars), with airbags and computerized gizmos which provide illusions of control. Often, while driving, we eat, text, talk, or drink as if to quell the panic which similarly dangerous situations produce.
In spite of all the danger, we cling to our cars in America and insist upon their overriding convenience, and the independence they allegedly supply. We transform them into overriding status signifiers, emblems of our autonomy. Garvie cites Margaret Thatcher’s statement that “Any man who rides a bus to work after the age of 30 can count himself a failure in life,” which I certainly experienced as truth when I lived in Arizona. If I told someone I rode the bus, they would assume I was either joking or was on some sociological do-gooder mission to see how losers live. This kind of attitude becomes a near-insuperable barrier to change. Grown-up people I knew in Tucson truly believed that it was “impossible” for them to ride the bus. Not only did they not know how it could be done, where the stops were or how to get a schedule, but it struck them as a physical impossibility—they would just as soon jump off the roof and start to fly to their destination. And I basically felt the same way. I had a car, because that is what you did as a middle-class adult. Anything else would be making a statement, and I just didn’t have the energy or the investment to be constantly making that statement as I went about my life, let alone the hours to waste on the inferior mode of transit. I wasn’t going to burn a few hours getting to and from the grocery store.
But the independence implied by the car way of life, the class privilege it seems to codify and attribute to our own pluck or inborn entitlement, is illusory, since in reality, of course, it requires a massive infrastructure to allow us to get our motors running and head out on the highway. Politics must direct public funding in that direction, presumably at the expense of more social and collective modes of transit. And this infrastructure makes possible further isolating modes of signifying class—suburbans detached homes, yards, exurbs, etc.
Perhaps that movement to protect ourselves from the terror of everyday life by embracing a faux convenience happens more generally—that we try desperately to relabel alienation, anomie, angst (the three A’s of late-stage capitalism) as something more amenable, or even something we regard as positively beneficial. “It’s so awesome that I have so little human connection in my life—fewer interruptions while I am watching TV!” Convenience (generally the avoidance of hassling with others) is often the recompense for social isolation. Every moment we experience as convenient, then, is a disguised moment of terror.
Seeing how both of us were flying out the next morning, Kevin and I had no problem figuring out what to eat on Saturday night. Neither of us had ever had poutine—the classic Québécois comfort food—so it seemed almost mandatory that on our last night in town we visit Resto La Banquise, considered by many to be Montréal’s premiere purveyor of poutine.
Resto La Banquise is open 24 hours a day and serves up 25 different varieties of poutine, including an “Elvis Poutine” a “Kamikaze Poutine” and a “T-Rex Poutine”. Being that we were both first-timers, Kevin and I opted for the classic poutine, which consists of french fries topped with cheese curds and chicken velouté sauce (essentially a chicken gravy). The dish is warm, salty and simultaneously soft and crunchy. Good poutine, it’s said, is marked by the freshness of the curds, which should “squeak” when you bite into them. As you might imagine, poutine is a favorite late night snack in Quebec, so its not surprising that Resto La Banquise tends to be packed well into the wee hours of the morning.
Johnny Depp is in (supposedly). So is his own personal Goth guru Tim Burton (reportedly). If we are to believe trade tattletales like Variety and The Hollywood Reporter, the provocative pairing, currently working on a big screen adaptation of Alice in Wonderland (the former as the Mad Hatter, the latter as filmmaker), will follow up such spectacle with a re-vamp of Dan Curtis’ seminal horror soap opera, Dark Shadows. That’s right, Depp is lined up to bring tortured romantic and resident neckbiter Barnabas Collins to Twilight tweaked fan girls (and boys) everywhere. And given their exemplary track record - Edward Scissorhands, Ed Wood, Sweeney Todd, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - expectations have a right to be high.
Yet, oddly enough, Shadows is not a solo gig. Sure, Barnabas resurrected the series when creator Curtis’ House of the Seven Gables goof was tanking in the ratings, and he’s an integral component to its lasting legacy and success. But without an accomplished cast around him, actors who can understand the dynamic that drove Shadows to classic cult status, the whole thing could turn out rancid. We’re not talking retro here - we don’t want to recreate the original players. But Curtis knew how to play to his company’s strengths, and if Burton is smart, he’ll do something similar with the cinematic version. Anyway, with Depp out of the way, here are our picks for the rest of the troubled Collins clan and their merry band of employees, enemies, and hangers-on:
Say what you will about Sony, it is nothing less than a major technical achievement that they created when they put out the PlayStation 2. I, along with millions of others, bought that thing in 2001. It’s almost 2009, and here we are, looking at a release week in which a game for the PlayStation 2 towers over everything else on the list of releases.
Granted, it’s a slow release week. Also granted, the game we’re talking about is a niche title for a devoted, but comparatively small audience. Still, there are few games that I’ve waited for with such anticipation this year as I have waited for Persona 4. Having played and enjoyed the third installment in the franchise, particularly with the FES add-ons that came with it, Persona 4 has looked like a shoe-in for game-of-the-year consideration since it was announced to be coming to American audiences in December. I’m happy to have already had the pleasure of reading some positive reviews of the game, so I’m anticipating a fantastic, engrossing time sink much like the last game. If you’re not playing Persona 4 this week, I hope you don’t consider yourself an RPG fan.
Dungeon Maker II
As for the rest of the release list…did I mention that it’s a slow release week? I did? Um, good. Well, the DS has a couple of…well, they’re games, I know that. Slingo Quest sounds fun, right? I mean, it combines gambling and adventure gaming! How can you go wrong with that? The PC and PS3 are a bit late to a couple of parties, with Prince of Persia and Sonic Unleashed respectively, and the Wii will be getting the Neopets Puzzle Adventure, which as I mentioned when it game to the DS version of the game is surprisingly good.
Oh! And the PSP actually has something coming out this week! Dungeon Maker II: The Hidden War may not actually convince anyone that the PSP’s not dying, but it’s something, right?
A trailer for Persona 4, along with the full release list, is after the jump. Give it a look, and tell us all about your adventures with the Persona series in the comments, won’t you?