Far Cry 3 Review
Grand Theft Auto III may have quite possibly ruined games forever. Dropping players into a completely open city, free to complete story missions as they wish or cause as much destruction to the world as they can; mention of its substantial influence in the years proceeding its 2003 release has become simply an obvious understatement, for its legacy continues to shine through in even the most recent of games. Open-world concept games are meant to offer the player as much freedom as possible while also retaining a focused overall experience, and the GTA series has certainly established the modern blueprint for liberating settings.
But things have certainly changed as the series has progressed. With the evolving generations of consoles allowing for more in-depth realisation of world-building and numerous copycats attempting to cash in on forging their own brand of unrestricted chaos, the open-world genre has found itself growing stale in concept — if simultaneously prettier and of a much grander scale.
Recent GTA outings feature a more prominent focus on storytelling as to more complexly associate level design with a broader scope in narrative. This however consequently sacrifices the balance between player interaction and character intrigue; causing a rift between the two areas, delivering a duo of almost-separate experiences. The simplicity in characterization of GTA III’s silent protagonist gave a template for players to unleash their chaotic energy through, allowing justification for the massive damage they were free to expose upon Liberty City and its digital inhabitants.
This developer trend of creating ‘bigger worlds’ in open world games also accounts for modern issues with pacing. Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed series has become notorious for giving the player an abundance of side tasks to complete — towers to climb, enemies to assassinate, items to collect, treasures to discover, ships to sail, etc. — and while offering a certain amount of content is important in evaluating a suitable price point, the experience becomes bogged down by a litany of what constantly resembles something along the lines of forced entertainment. Forcing the player to climb towers to discover more missions detracts from any notion of exploration.
Other open world concept games like Fallout and Dark Souls are a joy to endlessly explore because of how unpredictable each new area you stumble upon will turn out to be. With Assassin’s Creed, the first priority is in reaching a viewpoint, undervaluing the lusciously-detailed settings by focusing entirely on such a simple and monotonous objective. And by detracting from the explorative experience, the freedom granted to the player becomes that of an illusion, deceiving them into believing they can act however they please, only to turn them back around and continue them on the intended journey. What fun is discovering a location that’s already been scoured by the developers themselves? How liberating can an experience feel when it has been meticulously constructed to push the player down a direct path?
These are the issues which plague Far Cry 3, the third entry in a series which has nearly become a first-person shooter version of Assassin’s Creed, at least in regards to level design. The same methods of progression exist: climbing towers uncovers portions of the in-game map and unlocks new missions — most involving merciless widespread murder, tedious collectathons, or extended written dialogue sequences between characters. The game also immediately sets the player within a world completely available to explore, but again limits the explorative experience by systematically maintaining each item of discovery as a collectible rather than a thrilling or significant encounter. There are no surprises when raiding enemy campsites for loot and ammo, as each ‘secret’ is prominently displayed on the map.
And yet Far Cry 3 endures as a far more profound experience than any Assassin’s Creed title. Despite its limitations, rather than contradict its formulaic pacing by promising absolute freedom to the player, the game’s ultimate philosophy revolves around the constant struggle for survival when a living being is placed out of their element. Our protagonist Jason Brody is no longer on vacation when he and his friends are kidnapped by a ruthless psychopath and his army of mindless murderous followers. His escape promptly teaches him the tenets of ‘kill or be killed’ in a barbarous, foreign environment; and throughout the game, his code of ethics gradually flips on its head as he begins to discover just how fun, inventive, and tactical killing can be.
Call it the ultimate meta concept in a post-Half-Life 2 industry: Far Cry 3 is ultimately a commentary on man’s natural obsession with violence as a direct effect of desensitization through overconsumption. With each level gained, each weapon unlocked, each new area to devastate, Jason Brody (let alone the player themselves) attains a deeper appreciation for their further-reaching abilities to kill, symbolized by the tattoos dressing Brody’s arm upon attaining new, inventive survivalistic abilities. When survival becomes a constant necessity, we revel in the murderous appetite which begins to consume our societal morality; our native human intentions are unveiled from behind the illusory veneer forged by modern society.
That being the case, the game can also be quite fun regardless of how formulaic its objectives appear. Methodically coordinating the most effective way to infiltrate an enemy campsite makes for a stimulating experience, as well as a rewarding one given the unlockables which accompany a successful seizure. Most story missions feature unique environments to progress through despite their linearity, with some of the standouts involving hallucinatory dream sequences and frantic escape scenes.
Exploring tombs for hidden treasures often presents surprises and intuitive gameplay circumstances; hang-gliding and driving seem natural and offer a quicker mode of travel around the daunting setting; levelling up awards the player with a litany of new maneuvers and tactics to exploit; crafting primarily seems tacked on, but is comfortably-functional and fundamentally imperative to the explorative options granted to the player; gunplay feels erratic and requires precision to master, making this a far more complicated shooter than most other recent titles. Overall, the mechanics of Far Cry 3 may be founded upon derivation and monotony, but are perfected within the game’s contexts of their comparative functions to both storytelling and worldbuilding. Each element is purposeful in developing the player character and the exotic locations comprising the wild setting.
Now, while its philosophy is refreshing amidst a myriad of releases opting to instead condemn the embellishment of violence, its narrative pacing unfortunately falls flat. Its argument is made apparent very early on through its plotline, and only offers further tedious evidence supporting the claim throughout. After completing a third of the missions, it was already abundantly clear how warped the protagonist’s mind would become by game’s end, and I personally felt discouraged by the repetition promised by the standard foundation of gameplay and level development.
Too many missions revolve around driving to an area and killing a multitude of faceless bad guys; and having to trudge to every tower location in effort to uncover the map becomes a laboring chore, regardless of how unique the developers attempt to make every experience feel (ie. some feature a litany of enemies, others are more complicated to ascend). This issue equates to the lessening of player freedom reminiscent in the Assassin’s Creed series, and comes off as laborious instead of an enjoyable task fit to engaging the player in any significant way.
Yet regardless of these familiarities, Far Cry 3 manages to feel the most liberating experience Ubisoft has created. It’s the contrast in philosophy which fuels this sentiment; Assassin’s Creed revels in its historical background, contradictorily wanting to offer the player a world open to travel and affect as they wish while simultaneously crafting a focused narrative befit with straightforward objectives to complete. Watch Dogs presents similar problems, with its pacing issues stemming from a lack of balance between gameplay functionality and narrative progression — the faux-Chicago setting offers a multitude of hacking mechanics to exploit, yet is limited by the very technological systems which so fuel its otherwise liberating sequences.
Far Cry 3 promotes its freedoms through its limitations, arguing that survivalist tendencies often evolve into an endorsement of inventive violence. Go hog and blow up a pack of hogs with a bazooka; then you can harvest their skins to fashion bigger wallets to carry money in, but who’s looking for an excuse? Not Jason Brody, not the player, and that’s entirely the point. Far Cry 3 understands how desensitized modern society has become to violence in media, and instead of denouncing the culture, it allows the player to revel in it.
That is, as long as they understand the implications of their lack of remorse, as well as the consequences of senselessness in harsh environments which merit tactical thought. But this only enhances the game’s conceptual sophistication; without purpose, the aspirations for survival would prove for naught, and Far Cry 3 would suffer as simply another murder simulator. Here, the gameplay is trivial enough to merit accuracy and reward patience — often with easier or more inventive methods to maim the island’s jungle inhabitants.
This is the philosophy which fueled the original 3D GTA installment. Sure Far Cry 3 may too often push the player forward in a direction intended by the developers; but it does so with a purpose, and an enlightening one at that. Perhaps the game’s greatest lesson is that without a number of distinct tasks to complete in order to attain a certain level of free-thinking decision-making, well we’d all just be going around blowing up hogs just for the sake of it. And really, what fun is ultimate freedom if you aren’t striving to achieve a goal?