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Nonsense, Filler, or Both: The Far Cry 3 Stories

January 25, 2013

I AM THE GOD OF HELLFIRE AND I BRING YOU... very lovingly simulated fire. I am a benevolent god, in many ways.

The story of how Far Cry 3 came to exist is a delightfully jumbled one. First, Crytek made Far Cry, starting that studio off on an amusingly ongoing run of games with disappointingly unimaginative puns in their name. Crytek’s next game, Crysis, would be published by EA, whilst Ubisoft, publishers of the original Far Cry, developed Far Cry 2 internally. Despite being a spiritual sequel and a direct sequel respectively, neither Crysis nor Far Cry 2 bore any tangible relation to the first Far Cry. Far Cry 2, under the stern gaze of director Clint Hocking, was a splendidly jarring and off-putting game that was well-received critically, hated by many people, adored by other, better people, and featured the single most annoying enemy in the history of shooters in the form of the second map’s mortar-firing TOOL OF THE DEVIL who would die painfully in lovingly-simulated fire if I could just find him. Then, Clint Hocking left for Lucasarts then Valve, Assassin’s Creed became a worryingly ubiquitous megafranchise for Ubisoft, and now here we are with Far Cry 3, which is unrelated to all of the aforementioned games.

Phew.

The story Far Cry 3 itself wants to tell is also jumbled, although less delightfully and more frustratingly and incompetently. Ostensibly telling the tale of booze-then-power-drunk holidaying idiot Jason Brody, it purports to be a bitingly clever satire of the modern first-person shooter, with its jingo and excesses and ultraviolence and haircuts, but its effectiveness is dubious-at-best, and the general feeling of “this didn’t work very well at all, really, did it?” it leaves you with is only exacerbated by the mad, lunatic rantings of its writer. Even ignoring how much it suffered for coming on the heels of the superior trope-questioning tale of Spec Ops: The Line, FC3’s attempts at second-guessing the genre and the player’s expectations are lazy and cack-handed, and often undermined by the game itself.

But perhaps the most simple story I’m left with after playing Far Cry 3 is a tragedy: a tragedy of an FPS that is brilliant at being an FPS, but dementedly incapable of focusing on being an FPS.

"I can't see beyond that big stone effigy over there." "Of course you can', that's the statue of limitations." "hnggh"

Which is a crying shame, because the shooting is superb. The movement too. You might need a quantum physicist, state funding, and maybe four years of research to explain quite how its possible for a story to collapse in on itself so quickly and forcefully as Far Cry’s, but five minutes spent frolicking in the jungle should be enough to convince anyone that FC3 is just a joy to control. Compare even the basics of movement to any other recent first-person game, outside of Dishonored, and you see the difference: where most games see you inhumanly gliding down steep hills, FC3 sends you tumbling and kicking up dust; where waist-high fences and rocks are considered impenetrable obstacles, here you mantle and leap without a second thought. Aiming down your gun’s sights will pop you over or around cover. It’s all immediately intuitive, and more importantly, fun. Running about and shooting and jumping and being dumb on a beautiful island is exactly as fun as that sounds. Any 2013 FPS that falls short of the physicality provided by FC3 (and Dishonored, natch) is in for a kicking.

But but but but but but but. BUT.

Far Cry 3 doesn’t care about any of that for very long, because minigames. Minigames and collectibles and crafting. Noting that Far Cry 2’s laser-focus on immersing the player in the oppressive unpleasantness of war-riddled Africa fell slightly apart on account of the player’s only interaction with the world being the destruction of men’s lives, this time, Ubisoft have swung back about a continent too far in the other direction. Now, it falls upon the player to introduce the notion of “wallets” and “backpacks” to an island awash with guns, jeeps and hang-gliders.

Thus, the crafting system is born, and we are all victims of its bloody, ceaseless (until you’ve crafted everything useful, at least) afterbirth. Feel like it might be useful to perhaps carry more than 12 bullets at a time? Better get out there and murder a half-dozen tapirs so you can make a slightly larger ammo pack, then. (This isn’t to say that the tracking and slaughtering of wild animals is without its jollies – just that maybe they shouldn’t have tied meaningful progression in the game to a basic, soon-tiresome, and silly-looking skinning mechanic. It reveals itself as an especially disastrous system when it inevitably gives rise to a situation where you have a half-empty backpack but remain comically unable to pick up more money because your wallet is too small. Eurgh.)

It’s also important for Jason to play poker, participate in shooting and knife-throwing challenges, races, and of course the stupidly spell-breaking “Trials of the Rakyat” – a number of special rocks which, when activated, trigger an arbitrary survival mission with waves of enemies and infinite ammo and hnngh there are leader boards because this is what we do in open-world games no matter what, I guess. (I mean, granted, you can ignore all of these for the most part – and I did with an almost religious fervour – but it all speaks to a wider problem within the game. To quote the great Idle Thumbs’ summation, the game lacks restraint. But we’ll get to that.) More palatable are the Wanted Dead missions, tasking you with slicing up an enemy commander with your machete, preferably although not necessarily stealthily, or the radio tower missions, where you do your best Lara Croft impression all the way up a series of dilapidated radio masts to fill in the blank areas on your big stupid map.

So this is what it sounds like when dubstep Far Cry something something

Which brings me to the big stupid map, and I guess the UI in general. It’s hideous and awful. Far Cry 2’s map was among its greatest triumphs – a paper map you had to pull out of your pocket and look down at even while you were driving. A tiny, trivial detail in the designers’ meeting room, but a huge step towards keeping the player “in” the game’s fiction, not just because it felt more authentic, but because it didn’t pull the player out to a menu screen to look at it. Now, save for a next-to-useless mini-map obscuring 48% of the lower left quarter of the screen, looking at the map pulls you right out to one of FC3’s many remarkably tedious menu screens. A big, cold, digital map, festooned with icons representing every little modicum of interactivity within the game. A collectible letter here, a relic there, and four hundred mini-games forever awaiting completion. Go enormously away, and take the hateful inventory screen with you. (Luckily, a patch made it possible for PC players to remove many of the most egregious HUD elements and infernal pop-ups, but what’s left is still vexingly ugly and unnecessary.)

A more keenly edited game would have shipped with the story missions (which are sometimes fun, mostly serviceable, and tedious at worst, but unlikely to be excised in any event), the camp liberations (which are thrilling and joyful, because they focus on the planning and the movement and the combat, surprise surprise) and maybe the radio tower missions because the platforming is surprisingly robust and you can jump off the top and use your wingsuit to steer yourself collapsingly into those trees over there and fall in a heap and feel alive for once. And that’s it – strip all the rest of it out because it’s nonsense, filler, or both.

A more keenly designed game would have built on Far Cry 2’s strengths, rather than apologising profusely for its weaknesses, and probably wouldn’t have ended up feeling like a first-person Assassin’s Creed game, with its mini-maps and icons and collectibles and gradual loss of focus and identity, set on Just Cause 2’s Panau.

A more keenly written blog post would have been about 400 words shorter and arrived a month earlier. Blast.

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