White Gold: island hopping and bunny hopping

, | Game diaries

Fade in to Youtube video of Far Cry 2. A custom Far Cry 2 map with red fuel barrels strategically placed in underbrush under a tree line. The End by The Doors and jeep engines are the only sounds. After a minute the player launches a grenade, a giant fireball fills the screen, engulfing the trees in flames.

This is the end, beautiful friend
This is the end, my only friend, the end
Of our elaborate plans, the end
Of everything that stands, the end
No safety or surprise, the end
I’ll never look into your eyes, again

Dissolve to:

December. Shit. Far Cry 3’s not coming out ’till December. Every time I buy an open world FPS game I think it’ll actually be good. When I was playing Far Cry 2 after finishing the original it was worse. I’d keep expecting it to get better and there’d be nothing. When I was playing, all I could think of was getting back into the jungle. I’ve been here for three months now, waiting for the next new release, getting fatter. Every minute I spend in front of this monitor I get stupider. And every minute the AI squats in the bush he gets cheaper and lamer.

Everyone gets everything he wants. I wanted a sandbox FPS set in the tropics, and for my sins they gave me one. It was no accident I got to be the caretaker of the villain at the end of White Gold’s memory, any more than being back in fictional third world country was an accident. There is no way to tell his story without telling my own. And if his story is really a confession, then so is mine.

After the jump, I stop talking like Martin Sheen in Apocalypse Now

Some games can’t possibly live up to their promise. Take Just Cause, or it’s solid but overrated sequel, Just Cause 2: The Search for Rico’s Gold. As the game opens with Rico in free fall, an Indonesian paradise spread out below him, your mind conjures up an awesome spy adventure. Rico doing the vertical and horizontal tango with babelicious femme fatales, stalking and assassinating government officials, snooping around for intel, and in general just blowing shit up (if they had destructible buildings in part 2, they would have at least gotten that part down pat). When I saw a Youtube promo for White Gold: War in Paradise (known in the Motherland as Xenus II: Белое золото), I knew I had to play it. Like Just Cause I knew it would almost certainly be mediocre. But for those first few blissful moments of playing I could still dream. Perhaps the fact that it wasn’t on sale in the US gave it a forbidden fruit appeal, like a fan-patched JRPG.

When I read that White Gold was on sale as digital download at Gamersgate, I leapt for my wallet. After installation, I clicked on the exe and got the Windows “bwaaaammmmp” sound and a dialog box with a red X. While I would never utter profanity upon learning that a game I just payed $30 for doesn’t work, I was a little bummed that I couldn’t play White Gold. I decided to keep my spirits up by pretending my whole ordeal was an ARG, and I was a master hacker character like in the movies, looking for clues on how to decipher this mysterious program. The less-than-reputable deal Gamersgate gave me on White Gold was in keeping with the whole seedy atmosphere of the game anyways. My $30 probably went to a front for the Russian Mafia, and I’m now responsible for financing human trafficking and arms smuggling.

I found another executable on the internet that worked, but then later found that the sound would cut off because the download I got lacked over a gig of audio files. There was also a developer patch and an unofficial translation, but I decided to roll with the wacky English and version 1.00. After getting the audio files from a third party, it’s just a simple matter of installing Ubuntu as a Virtual Machine, launching a Botnet swarm attack, gaining root access to a CIA database, recompiling the source tree, and you’re finally able to play White Gold (if you want to play White Gold, Beamdog is probably your best bet). This is going to be a pretty ballsy undertaking. Just like how the protagonist is going into a warzone with no backup, I’m going into this game with no wiki, no console cheats, no developer support, and no fan community to help me. Just one spotty walkthrough.

Okay, time to assassinate and overthrow some third world governments no one cares about. The intro movie is starting, it’s set in a strip club, some rapper is snorting cocaine, then found dead on the crapper. Wait, what? Some suit approaches the hero in his room, saying the company’s about to go bankrupt because its artists are snuffing it after using some deadly cocaine that’s indistinguishable from everything else on the street. What the hell, I’m not a covert operative? I’m just the muscle for a record label? Well, it does make sense, the record labels don’t take too kindly to folks who damage their revenue stream. Just ask Steve Jobs. Oh that’s right, you can’t. ‘Cause he’s dead.

I assumed I’d be playing an ex-Spetznaz badass because the developer is Ukrainian, but actually I’m some guy called Saul Myers. “You’re supposed to be an expert in Latin American operations,” says the record label rep in dodgy English. ‘At last, Myers thinks, those beginning Espanol courses at the community college have finally paid off.’ More bad English and non-sequitors follow, and I’m off to Colombia or someplace. I thought it was supposed to be the Carribean? Whatever. Clarity is not a strong point of White Gold. For example, the record label guys is all, “I thought you might be hesitant to take the job, so I brought this,” before showing a blurry close-up of a dead guy. Myers just goes “Oh hell” in a bad British accent. Is the photo supposed to be a dead friend? I have no idea. Myers’ tone of voice sounds as if he just dropped his tea biscuit. There’s a B movie vibe to the whole affair.

One decent rail gunning sequence later, Myers’ ride has been trashed by a mysterious paramilitary group in black boats and choppers. He and the fishing boat skipper wash up on Espada, and then it’s off to rescue your second radio support guy, then find old Diego and pay for a ride to your original destination. The first support pal, Jamison, a hirsute heavy-set guy in a cowboy hat, yammers away from the start with unsolicited advice. He and Myers worked together on the Katy Perry sex tape job. When Myers showed that bimbo the tape, she practically begged them to renew her contract with the label. That was a great job, Myers even made her give him a titty…uh anyways, from what I gather the second radio support guy will argue with Jamison. They’re like the angel and devil on Myers’ shoulders, with one suggesting helping the government, while another suggests doing jobs for the guerrillas. The guerrillas are referred to as FARC at times. Where the hell is this supposed to be again? Oh wait, the country is called Covumbia on the map. There’s no canned tutorial sequence, but you get optional tooltip pop-ups, and the beginning area seems designed to acclimate you to the game.

White Gold is a throwback to a simpler time, when grenades didn’t have their own key binding, when you could carry an arsenal as long as you met the absurd inventory restriction (up to 60 kg. of weight in this case), when you had to use health kits because there was no health regen. The game penalizes you for not stopping and firing from iron sights mode with single shots, while hostiles run around you in a semicircle, blazing away with their rifles on full auto. When said rifles start jamming the instant you pick them up, right after their dead owners were firing non-stop seconds ago. Actually, that last item is more like Far Cry 2. And like Far Cry 2, the jamming is completely obviated by acquiring your own weapon.

Anyways, the gameplay feels somewhat 2000ish, the Deus Ex-System Shock 2-Overambitious FPS era. There’s even a leveling system. You pick one Fallout style perk upon leveling up. Unfortunately, a lot of the perks aren’t superpowers so much as crap you would usually take for granted. You have to buy a perk to get iron sights mode or to keep your vision from blurring when reloading. The “throw grenades farther” perk might be better described as “don’t throw grenades like a girl”. I do have one innate superpower: like older FPSes, hitting the jump key repeatedly makes you bunny hop across the map much faster than you can run.

Some truly super perks do give you the ability to breathe longer and swim faster, which helps during a surprisingly good sub-quest. A diver is trapped in a grotto, and it’s up to you to bring him a spare tank. Oh no, that tank’s not for you, silly. You just hold your breath and haul ass down there (it’s an unusable quest item, go figure). It’s moments like these that White Gold shows some actual promise, and you realize the game is only half-terrible. There’s no sharks or kraken to battle on the way down, but the grotto and ocean look great, and it’s fun to indulge your inner Jacques Costeau. That’s another thing White Gold has in common with the Far Cry series: sometimes it feels more like a virtual nature documentary than an actual game.

Up next: because there was no Far Cry 3 two years ago

Sapper Gopher is a software developer who works mostly in Java. Appropriately enough, he was in Tahiti last month.