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December 28, 2012

Let's (briefly) discuss Far Cry 3.

Far Cry 3 is a weird game.

I was willing to give it a pass and a polite dismissal based on its less-than-appealing E3 showing; it didn’t look like anything special besides Call of Duty in the jungle with more knife action.  But then again, almost everything this past E3 looked like some variant/bastard child of CoD and Uncharted, so I hope you’ll forgive me for being a little jaded.  Still, the fact that my brother hyped up the game to an insane degree -- i.e. saying “Far Cry 3 is gonna be so awesome” in the same tone he’d used to describe Darksiders 2, Borderlands 2 and Resident Evil 6 -- didn’t inspire much confidence.  Doubly so when he mentioned the co-op option; I started having PTSD flashbacks to RE6 and its room full of explosive Beyblades. 

So Far Cry’s been out for a while now.  What do I think of it?  Well, let's see if I can sum it up in three points.  This should be a piece of cake.



1) Ignore multiplayer.  It completely misses the point of the single-player game.

2) I like the campaign.

3) The campaign is notably flawed from the outset.

This is a game that’s incredibly easy to nitpick and chide.  Incredibly easy.  But you know what?  It’s not a deal-breaker.  Well, not yet at least.

Here’s the gist of the story.  You play as the (unfortunately-named) Jason Brody, a member of high society living it up with his equally wealthy friends on vacation.  All is well during their little island retreat…that is, until some pirates capture them and intend to use them for ransom and/or trade.  With some quick thinking on his brother Grant’s part, Jason manages to escape into the island’s depths, with no hope of returning home -- or even to safety -- and with his friends and little brother MIA.  His rescue mission is about to begin, but he’ll have to brave enemies from within as well as without if he hopes to survive.

Now, I’ll admit that I haven’t gotten very deep into the game (more on that in a minute), which is exactly why this is a brief…well, brief-ish post instead of a full-blown dissection.  But here’s the thing: it doesn’t even take an hour for the game to hamstring its story, and by extension the entire product.  Jason is in the expected fish-out-of-water situation, a well-off yet insulated athlete who’s going to have his limits tested by the island and its malcontents.  That’s fine.  As such, I expected -- and likely plenty of other gamers expected -- for him to survive on his own, and find inner strength by virtue of his solitary struggles.

Imagine my surprise, then, when he wakes up and finds himself completely taken care of by a handful of villagers living a comfortable and stable life on the island with enough fixings to live without too much complaint.  Imagine my further surprise when Dennis, someone who’s likely been on the island for a lot longer, props up Jason as some kind of supreme warrior -- and all of Dennis’ friends not only believe the same thing instantly, but resign themselves to letting Jason do all the nitty-gritty work across the island. 

My immediate question is this: why?  Why is Dennis so eager to put all of his faith in some guy who was likely near-death when they found him?  Why does he consider Jason a survivor and a warrior when the most he’s done (and the player has done by extension) is run away -- and run away thanks to his far-more-competent older brother’s help and key antagonist Vaas let him run just for kicks?  If Jason is a survivor by virtue of being able to run and whine, would that make Grant some kind of demigod?  Furthermore, why even count on Jason in the first place if he’s just been introduced to the island?  Why nominate him as the go-to-guy for missions and the lynchpin of a rebellion against the pirates when he’s clearly not as experienced as the rest of you villagers?  Even if he has innate talent and instinct, all it takes is one bullet or one botched mission to turn him into a pile of soggy meat; if he dies (and he will die, because he’s being controlled by a person with no omniscience and no way to predict when a pack of wild dogs will attack), what happens next?  You all blush and tug on your collars, and wait for the next random white boy to fall into your laps?

I guess what I’m getting at here is that instead of Jason meeting an unflinching band of supporters who pledge their loyalty to him, Jason should have met nobody.  I figured that the entire point of the game was being caught in this nightmarish situation, forced to adapt and evolve if you hoped to save your friends, protect yourself, and stab your way to a happy ending.  Doesn’t it kind of tear a wind in the game’s sails to have people infinitely more experienced and resource-laden than you help you without question?  Doesn’t it feel like a bit of a betrayal to have Jason immediately fall into this safety net after the opening sequence sets him up for the roughest time of his life?  Can you imagine what Metal Gear Solid 3 would be like if immediately after touching down in Russian territory he found a home base completely stocked with cigarettes, porn mags, and improbably buxom life coaches cheering him on?

It just feels like the game is out to break its verisimilitude as quickly and as thoroughly as possible.  It’s the kind of thing that leaves me with a bad taste in my mouth, and dramatically-lowered expectations for the rest of the game.  Now again, I haven’t gotten far enough to pass any sort of damning judgment, so things could get a lot better well before they take a turn for the worse.  Of course, thanks to the E3 showing I’m reminded of the fact that Jason apparently gets to have a virtually-nude native put the lime in his coconuts.  Why, exactly?  Who knows?  Evidently the writers didn’t either…besides the obvious reason.
  
With all that said, though, I still like the game.  I like it a lot, actually.  Without knowing the figures and funds related to its development, it’s hard to say whether or not it’s a (reviled) triple-A game…though the fact that Ubisoft was behind it suggests that it is.  But even if it is, I’d contend it’s something triple-A games should aspire to do with their resources.  This game is better than RE6, better than Borderlands 2, better than Halo 4, better than Assassin’s Creed 3 -- hell, it’s probably one of the best triple-A games made this generation.  And I can think of at least two reasons why.

The first one came as a surprise to me -- maybe even as a delayed reaction.  And it’s because of it that I have faith in the story, and can even bring myself to forgive its missteps.  I won’t spoil what happens (even though it’s pretty early in the game), but Jason manages to meet up with someone important to him after a rough mission.  And you know what he does?  He’s supportive, he’s reassuring, he’s uncertain of himself…but most of all, he actually starts crying.  It took my brain a few minutes to process it, but when I left the area and started on my way I was like, “Holy fucking shit, did Jason just show emotion?”  Yes he did -- and in retrospect he’s been doing it since the outset.  While you don’t get to see his face thanks to the first-person perspective, that didn’t stop me from genuinely believing Jason was distraught and uncertain in his future; even if there are a bunch of locals upholding him as the chosen one, he doesn’t believe it for a second.  He’s scared of what’ll happen.  Scared that he might not make it out alive.  Scared about his friends’ safety.  It’s simple, expected stuff, but much-appreciated…which twists the knife when you realize just how many times this element has been missing in games this generation.  A response to a situation besides angst, rage, sarcasm, or nothing?  We’ve got ourselves a qualifier for Game of the Year, people!

Honestly, though, I wouldn’t mind seeing it on some GOTY lists -- and certainly wouldn’t mind if it got top honors.  It’s because of my second reason, and likewise why I haven’t gotten that far in the story: the gameplay’s pretty fantastic.  It’s not revolutionary by any means, but it’s more than a few steps above satisfactory.  You have the opportunity to go at your own pace, and handle situations according to your game plan.  You want to run and gun your way to victory?  Have at it.  But Far Cry 3 offers (and in my opinion, recommends and rewards) the stealthy approach.  There are trees and brush everywhere for you to use as you traverse wide-open areas -- perfect for gaining a vantage point against pirates.  You can scan the area and mark targets with your camera, and then move about stealthily to dispatch them.  It requires a level of planning and strategy -- and the occasional bit of quick-thinking -- that’s more satisfying than the entirety of Halo 4’s campaign.  Your gun is always an option, but in my opinion you’re not experiencing the game to its fullest if you don’t lure an enemy into attack range with a well-tossed rock, then swoop in for the kill as he turns his back and starts trotting off.

But the combat alone isn’t what makes the game fantastic.  It’s just this sense, this ability to say “KTHNX BAI” to the campaign and go sauntering off on your own.  Like Skyrim and Just Cause 2 before it, this game is -- as I explained to my brother -- “the kind of game where you just kind of ignore the story and do whatever.”  Make no mistake, I am compelled to keep playing the game and see what happens story-wise, but I’m MORE compelled to just screw around on the island.  There are herbs to gather!  Hills and mountains to traverse!  Caves to spelunk in!  Animals to hunt and harvest!  Animals to run away from!  Animals to hope don’t spot you, even though you hear some horrific noise and rustling bushes!  Pirates to duck away from as they drive across the roads!  Lakes and oceans to swim in, and pray that alligators and sharks don’t munch on you!  Ziplines to zip down!  Radio towers to climb and activate!  Outposts to capture!  Sunrises and sunsets to watch!  Random skirmishes to aid in (or avoid)!  Rocks and plateaus to try and scale, but you can’t because there’s a slight slope to them so you end up sliding back down each time you jump because screw physics!

What I’m getting at here is that you don’t even have to touch the main story to get a wealth of content -- content you can handle and sift through at your own pace.  Everything you could possibly want is there without being strung along by a half-baked epic plot, or the hypnotic allure of loot with a .0001% chance of actually being useful.  You want story?  Here you go.  You want an island to explore?  Sure, have at it.  You want to approach combat your way?  You’re the boss; go ahead and boss me around.  And I’ll even give you an apple fritter for your troubles.

Now, there is a very real possibility that all this can go wrong.  I’m worried that the further in you get with the game, the less options you’ll have (my brother’s playthrough saw stealth as a non-option as he ended up burned, forced into buildings, or taking part in a highly-original turret sequence).  But for what it’s worth, I like Far Cry 3.  And I’m more inclined to play it again than plenty of other games.

And that’ll just about do it for now…so let’s do some more nitpicking!

--What is up with the music in this game?  All these techno-beats are trying to create tension, but they just end up failing at best and silly at worst.  And what’s the cue for the music?  I’m just walking around and suddenly it’s all DUUM DUUM DUUM DUUM WAAAAAA-WUP-WUP-WAAAAAA-WUP-WUP!

--Driving anything is a pain in the ass.  The first-person perspective is NOT conducive to rolling around in an ATV (which is anything but), especially with as much rugged terrain and obstacles in the way as the island offers.  Also, I’m preeeeeetty sure the controls are not very good.  Then again, it’s been a while since I’ve played a racing game besides Mario Kart Wii

--Fast travel?  Screw that noise!  I’m here to explore the island, not warp around as soon as I’ve seen the sights once!  I appreciate the offer, game, but no thank you.  I got legs.  I’m gonna use ‘em.

--Sure does take a while to get upgrades…oh well.  Guess I’m earning them, at least.

Okay, THAT will do it for now.  See you guys around.

8 comments:

  1. That's a part of being a critic: loving something and then taking it apart.

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  2. True enough, but it makes it a LOT harder to enjoy things sometimes. As much as I'd like to subscribe to the "turn your brain off" mentality, it's something that I just can't bring myself to do.


    Unless I'm asleep. But that's the only exception, because I'm asleep. And not watching anything.

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  3. That Random Game BloggerDecember 29, 2012 at 11:24 AM

    I've actually never played any game in the series, don't know why

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  4. I haven't either. I had a friend who did (and apparently enjoyed it, though), but from what I've gathered from reviews Far Cry 3 fixes the problems of its predecessors and adds a definitive protagonist. Though in my case, it takes a lot more persuasive elements from shooters to warrant any more than a glance.


    If nothing else, this game is -- as YouTube advertisements suggest -- "like Skyrim with guns." To some extent, at least. So if you liked Skyrim, you'll probably like this game.

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  5. Yep, even Angry Joe called it "Skyrim with guns". (Even listed it as his second favorite game of the year.)

    Admittedly, I'm still not ready to check out this bandwagon. Maybe I'm just still baffled at how Skyrim is STILL $60 in most places [even in used condition!] I'd like for the price to drop drastically, universe, since I have other hobbies to invest in. Oh well. :/

    At least you're enjoying the game. And you gave some good comments on its strengths and flaws. Unlike some people who blindly praise it and provide little substance.



    btw, happy new year!

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  6. "And you gave some good comments on its strengths and flaws. Unlike some people who blindly praise it and provide little substance."


    I'd like to think that anyone who gives a game a 10/10 rating is doing more harm than good to the reputation of a game. But even beyond that, in recent years I've started to suspect that I'm more discerning than a lot of video game reviewers. I wouldn't call them unobservant or stupid, but there are things that I (and lots of other gamers) can and have noticed that reviewers can't bring up thanks to spoilers and such. But I like to get in deep with my games -- and because of it, I can target their strong and weak points pretty easily.


    Anyway, Far Cry 3 (and similarly, Skyrim) are pretty good games. Not perfect, but still plenty enjoyable. But that aside, here's to a new year. Thanks for dropping by.

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  7. That Random Game BloggerJanuary 5, 2013 at 9:31 AM

    I also never played Skyrim :P

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  8. Then I'll give you everything you need to know about the game in three points:

    1) You can completely ignore the main story and walk to the far corners of the game in search of stronger magic, braving the frozen landscape and fighting zombie walruses.

    2) You can encounter dragons entirely at random -- and you can fight and beat them if you have the skill and guts.

    3) FUS RO DAH!

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0yv4BFfWoro

    ReplyDelete