One of the virtues of playing games after the official cycle is that it allows you to speak outside of the calumny known generally as The Conversation. There’s this strange and I think flawed notion that immediately after a game comes out, people will say everything that really should be said about it, before moving on to other, heady topics. This Conversation usually involves reviews and opinions, often by people who either played the game in its totality in less than a week, and people who haven’t played the game at all. This Conversation is a spectre and part of a greater, problematic marketing system. Focusing noise around a game when it’s at its freshest serves marketers – they think that the first week of game sales is when game sales can be most impacted by the noise around it.
Players, on the other hand, consumers of media, deserve a measured consideration of the things they seek. This is to say, timely is a false goal. A good game remains good, a bad game remains bad. Let us speak of ideas of racism, deconstruction, cruelty and tragedy.
Far Cry 3, then.
Far Cry 3 is the kind of game that makes me wish ‘awesome’ hadn’t lost all its conversational weight, because there really is no word that encapsulates it so perfectly. The Crysis Engine dead-lifts the enormous island zone, and drops a player avatar possessed of firearm and machete skills into the middle of a glorious tropical jungle, full of vibrant colour, rolling, varied hills, high vantage points, ziplines and many, many things that want to kill you. The game is, and I will say this many times before the end of the review, beautiful in a way few games are, with detailed plant life, varied environmental design, wonderfully employed, vibrant colours and an engine that makes transitions between most zones silky-smooth. It is, without a whit of exaggeration, an awesome project. The terrain is sculpted and shaped in a way realistic to actual island formation; the ecology shows realistic behaviour, with predator species in fewer number and farther apart than the prey; the towns are formed realistically with landmarks nearby that help them take shape as actual towns do. I’ve worked on designing small parts of large levels in the past, and every time been awed by attention to detail that goes down to desk drawers: Far Cry 3 is this same level of attention to detail, rendered wide and beautiful.
The game that Far Cry 3 reminds me of the most isn’t any other shooter, but rather, Dwarf Fortress. A game with an enormous scope, where rather than pre-script and prepare its excitement, it creates a number of actors who behave in ways that are rational to them, creates environments in which they can move and interact, and then stands back. I guarantee you that when people talk about the things they loved the most about Far Cry 3 it wasn’t the Vaas fight (oh, yeah, spoiler, you fight Vaas), or even the grand finale, but will almost always be some story about when they unleashed a tiger on an unsuspecting patrol, or watching a man on rooftop take a swig from a bottle, slip with the gun they were using and blow the bottle into an explosive mess which set the barrels near him on fire, prompting a huge fireball, or it’ll be about the time they flipped a jeep, shifted to the gun turret and still killed their pursuers upside-down. It really is a game about things going magnificently cockeyed, balancing patient planning and the rewards that come from same against moments where everything goes wrong and you’re left trying to swap to the right weapon, injecting yourself with Aloe Vera (really?) and wondering if you can hide long enough to score a chain takedown on these assholes.
Where Far Cry 3 falls down as a game is almost Aesopian. When the game gives you a purely linear, inorganic setpiece to experience, the game is worse for it. Liberating outposts is fun and interesting and varied and unpredictable, and sometimes all the wheels come off the shopping cart and you slide along a rooftop to shotgun someone in the face before they ring the alarm and summon help. That’s fun, that’s exciting. Sometimes you’ll singlehandedly impale your way through an entire base of people, timing things literally between lines of dialogue, interrupting people’s final conversations and chaining the kills together like a grisly daisy chain, and that’s fantastic. These moments, however, are the fun you choose and create – they aren’t parts of the plot. The plot missions vary in how linear they are, but some of them are very linar indeed. Particularly, there’s a section where your weapons are taken away from you (well, except one of them) and the game has very clear views on how you proceed through this section. If you’ve played up to this point being a more madcap run-and-gun sort, or haven’t bothered to become good with LMGs in favour of other weapons, then you struggle, and since the arc of the game is around the point where you’re meant to feel like a badass, that struggle is not fun.
Thus we learn the parable of the Corvo and the Fenix: Far Cry 3 becomes weaker whenever it becomes more linear.
There are other nitpicks, of course. For all the visual detail and depth in models, shortcuts do stand out. The best example is the ropes hanging from radio towers. The towers creak and groan as you stomp around on them, but you can fire RPGs into the floor and they won’t so much as hiccup or even change in sound. The ropes you climb up aren’t round, they’re sort of oragami-folded almost-diamond, and you will see them over and over again, in a slow animation every time you climb. Now, I may be spoiled having basically marinated in Dishonored since April, but the climbing mechanics in that were very organic and fluid, and the more you explored that city the more easily you could estimate spaces you could cover. In Far Cry 3, climbing is done at specific locations, and that’s it – and these locations are signposted with the aforementioned ugly ropes.
If the game was less breathtakingly gorgeous, I’d find these things less jarring. When you show me a beautifully rendered crocodile snout while it tries to bite my leg off, I am going to notice when you use a square brick instead of a round one. It’s not like this will seriously hurt your enjoyment, but when a game prides itself on its visual spectacle, when so much of it is so brilliantly done, the few flecks of dirt stand out. They can’t help it. Would I prefer less gloriously-rendered sharks in exchange for round rope? I don’t really think that’s the choice I’d make, but I hope somewhere there’s a single graphic artist haunted by the thought ‘I thought nobody would notice.’
All of this cake-decoration skirts around the purpose of my Game Pile reviews, which are primarily to make sure I stay in good practice at making up vulgar metaphors for videogames, but secondarily to work with the metric of Should I get this game? asked to a hypothetical self. Usually, the answer is ‘yes,’ and I just have to find the way to properly identify that person and help them realise it. If you like the idea of an organic fuck-around sandbox without structure, where you don’t trip over sidequests and secondary details and where everything important-looking has to have a specifically coded quest encounter to justify its existence, then you will really like Far Cry 3, because taking all of the narrative and framing elements out, it executes on its ideas magnificently well, and does everything for mood and atmosphere that Limbo did while also providing a fun, explicable game experience with it. On the other hand, it is huge and it is long – when I killed the first major boss and began the second half of the game I found I’d only clocked forty four hours on the game without really pushing the limits of what I wanted to do. I really was just lost in the game, running around and shooting people and having fun avoiding cassowarries.
The boss battles in Far Cry 3 are interesting, and I mean that literally; I found myself interested by how they worked. In each case they’re flawed – one boss fight in particular should have never happened because the second I picked up the key I’d have blown the boss’ face off with a shotgun, not waited for him to sneak up behind me and begin the obligatory double cross – but they are well put together. While some boss fights can serve as excellent tests of all the skills you’ve built up so far, the nature of the normal gameplay of Far Cry 3 is nonlinear. You can go face each boss with your starter gun and machete, with no particularly expected skills or abilities – they can’t test you on the skills you used to get there, because they don’t know what you’ve done. What this means is that the ‘boss’ fights aren’t boss fights as much as they are plot bottlenecks, places the plot has to pass through, and therefore, the mechanics need to test the character little, but the player as much as they can. The solution is chained quicktime events – with changing buttons and unpredictably positioned pieces. I like this, and it doesn’t have the normal problem of quicktime events, where they appear out of nowhere as a one-time event. In the wild, whenever any animal clinches with you, you’re thrown into a quick-time event and have to struggle for your life. Note that if you screw these up, with the animals, you just die – komodo dragons tearing at your flesh will do that. The boss fights therefore build on a mechanic you do see elsewhere, and a skill you will refine.
It’s a better game than Far Cry or Far Cry 2, by a wide margin, but its real nearest competitor is New Vegas, a game with an equally huge scope and similar use of limitations to keep you, the protaganist, from easily escaping. Remember that the narrative of Far Cry 3 is ultimately a tragedy – though how well-handled comes down to your personal tastes. Fallout 3 on the other hand is a grim-em-up, the kind of game that unironically tries to insert a reference to the Dunwich horror while clearly having never read the fucking story, and which kills off both Liam Neeson and you as its way to resolve the plot. New Vegas lets you create an objectivist paradise in the Wasteland which I’m pretty certain is a bad ending. Far Cry 3 on the other hand is brighter, prettier, has more variety of things to do, lovely voice acting and its central conflict boils around killing people who are utter bastards.
There’s more to talk about in Far Cry 3, but those things are to be spoken of later, in more depth, and more freedom to speak of spoilers.
Buy it if:
- It’s dipped down into the 12-15 dollar range; this game is only a year old and it’s still better than even more recent games.
- You enjoyed wide-open games with a lot of room to explore like Grand Theft Auto V and Fallout: New Vegas.
- You like the idea of mixing up stealth kills and blunt-force gunplay.
Avoid it if:
- You’re sensitive to sexual assault, the harming of women, or killing animals.
- You’re bothered by patriarchal structures/insults.
- Your computer is a bit older.
The final problem with Far Cry 3 is its smaller sibling game, Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon. I haven’t played FC3:BD, but in summary it’s half the price, cuts a lot of inessential things and lets you start the game with most of the fun toys. Whether or not the game benefits from this or not will remain to be seen. Or, to use the appropriate meme: To Be Continued…