"That guy better not come around here, or I'll fix his little red wagon!" The mercenary's threats are as hilarious as they are bad. I'd heard him shortly after I finished punching a dead shark that was hanging from a rope by the fishing huts. It was terrible and hilarious, and Far Cry would only manage to get worse. Of course, it knew that, and it reveled in it. The game went from "I'm a badass mercenary in a Hawaiian shirt, killin' dudes," to "man there are weird monsters and I don't know what's going on but that's cool, pew pew pew."
Far Cry 2 managed to be somewhat better by virtue of being entirely different. The game was built for a slightly different crowd—instead of a series of linear levels, Far Cry 2 featured two huge sandbox levels, one for each half of the game. The plot was simple: a civil war was going on, and your job was to kill the guy responsible for the violence on both sides. Except, well, he was supposed to be some sort of Colonel Kurtz anti-hero, and somehow, teaming up with him made the world a better place or something. It's been a while since I played it.
Then you have Far Cry 3.
Somewhere, in the dark and filthy recesses of the internet, roleplayers still scurry about, writing half-sane and verbose stories, with numerous and poorly-thought-out references to Alice in Wonderland, odd characterization, and feculent narrative structure. Most of them never make it anywhere, despite nearly all of them being ready to assure whoever they can that they've finished a novel and their friends tell them it's very good.
Some, miraculously, make it out. A few of them have, apparently, picked up jobs at Ubisoft, because their influence is readily apparent in Far Cry 3.
And it's awful.
Oh, what, the game? No. The game is amazing, and everyone should play it; but let's get through the painful bits first. The narrative, which is so insistent on being in your face and extreme and thought-provoking is really kinda dumb; its characters are constructed in haphazard ways, existing more to try to make a point than to be human. Some of them are interesting and fun, like Sam, a high-ranking soldier in somewhat boring villain Hoyt's personal army.
Here's a protip to every writer out there: if your audience "didn't get it," then you've failed to communicate your idea properly. Far Cry 3 can be deconstructed, but what you'll find isn't some clever subversion of the genre, it's just the game saying "man, you'd have to be crazy to live in a world where it's a good thing to kill people." And their version of crazy isn't, like, actual crazy (which, when you're subverting tropes to point out how it'd be different in the real world, you'd want to do), it's fake roleplaying online internet writing crazy.
The game's writing is little more than a series of muddled points made poorly or not at all, playing at being profound and interesting. I remember writing stores like it when I was sixteen and had just discovered Eliot for the first time—and it was terrible.
To be honest, the game works best if you don't take it or its message seriously, and you decide, quite simply, to have fun. The crazy people are there to make you think, but it's much more fulfilling to simply laugh at their quirks and weirdness than to try to put any thought into solving the Gordian Knot of pseudo-intelligence that is Far Cry 3's story.
I'm not even sure where to begin in trying to describe Far Cry 3. It's trying to criticise racist tropes in games... by being racist. It subverts the 'noble savage' and 'magical negro' tropes by simply doing the opposite; rather than showing the flaws of the tropes, it just runs to the extreme in the opposite direction. The natives aren't noble, they're sacks of shit. Dennis and Citra aren't wise, they're just insane and dumb and also Citra wants to get in your pants for some reason.
Vaas is fun because he's fun-crazy. He's like the Joker—a villain that is ahead of you at every turn, which just makes things really damn interesting. When he pops out of a truck that you thought was full of refugees, then buries you in a pile of corpses, the response is more "aww yeah, that was awesome!" than "oh no!" He's fun. He's electrifying. He's charismatic. The only thing he isn't is thought-provoking, except in the "what were the writers hoping to achieve with this character?" sort of way.
Hey, remember what I said about the game taking tropes and running the opposite way with them? Yeah, there's rape in this game, except at one point, you're the victim, and at another point, a guy rapes another guy. So they totally subverted the whole rape trope, not by, y'know, exploring what rape actually means, but by just making it happen to people you might not expect it happening to.
Oh, and then there are Jason's friends, who... honestly, aren't all that unlikable. The game tries hard to make them brofist douchebag types, and sure, you might hate them for that, but that speaks more about you than anything else. They're just people. They like clubbing. They like wearing popped collars and drinking shots and are rich enough that they can go ahead and travel the world after college like it's no big deal... but... so what?
Daisy's got the balls to start fixing a boat in order to sail off an island, and she keeps the rest of the crew together while you go hunting for everyone else. Riley's... well, you don't see much of him, but he seems pretty cool, considering something that happens to him later and his response to it. Liza's... a fairly normal person who deserves way better than Jason, considering that he gets angry at her when she suggests totally rational things like "hey, try not to get yourself killed please." Then there's that other dude, who is rich and successful and, again, seems totally normal other than being rich and successful (are we supposed to hate him for that and be happy when he gets raped by the gay guy?). Grant's a totally normal guy who breaks you out of prison and dies trying to save you. The only guy you might not like is the guy who seems perpetually stoned and mentions all of twice that his dad is wealthy.
A lot of people have commented on not liking the characters, but as far as I can tell, it's because they're rich and attractive kids from Hollywood who've never really had to struggle before in life than it is because they're actually unlikable. Far Cry 3's goal, it seems, is to make us not like them, but it does so not by making them unlikable, but by hoping the audience will associate them with a group of young adults often considered entitled and rude.
The end of the game is basically just "hey, so, do you want to kill the people you've been trying to save from the very first moment of gameplay, because the crazy lady wants to get in your pants so Jason Brody, your player character, can stay on the island where he 'belongs' to keep killing people, or do you, y'know, want to get off the island, which has been your goal since that first moment?"
Not... really much of a choice, that. I mean, the game's going to let you keep on playing after it finishes, so it's not like one choice stops you from playing the game, and the other choice lets you continue having fun... which... means... the only reason you might want to stay on the island is if you were invested in Jason's crazy. The only reason you might want to stay is if you decided to play along with the narrative, accept all the bullshit about how Jason finds killing fun, that Jason can just drop his entire life and the people he risked his life and killed for, and that Jason actually has some emotional attachment to the insane woman that raped him.
In other words, that choice at the end? It's supposed to be hard, because the game's writers seem to be assuming that the player is picking between entitled douchebags and crazy people. In reality, it's a bunch of normal people with exceptional lives who've had the misfortune to land on an island full of crazy, murderous psychopaths.
Are we just supposed to hate these characters because they're rich and had easy lives until their crash on the island? Because, to be honest, that seems silly. Here's what really happens: the game automatically assumes that we don't like them because of their wealth, so it doesn't work very hard to make sure we dislike them. On the flip side, the game's missions are all about saving them.
Basic Game Storytelling 101: we, as players, should want what the protagonist wants, since we're going to be doing what the protagonist wants. If you're writing a game about rescuing people, then you need to ensure that the player wants to rescue those people. If you don't do that, then the game falls apart—you're doing things because the objective marker says you should do them, not because you're emotionally or intellectually invested in what's happening.
Far Cry 3 doesn't work hard enough (or at all, really) to make us dislike its characters, nor does it make any efforts to encourage us to like them. As a result, we're left rescuing people more because that's what we're supposed to do than because we have any desire or motivation to do so. The game wants to have it one way, then makes bizarre efforts to have it the other, and as a result, it falls flatly in the middle.
What this means for some people, like myself, is that, without the enjoyable dialog and quirky behaviors of some of the characters, there is no redeeming value in Far Cry 3's narrative at all.
The real fun is in the gameplay.
Far Cry has great gameplay. Always has. The first game practically introduced the idea of open-world shooters, with massive levels that were perfect for long-range engagements. Far Cry 2 came along and capitalized on that, offering a massive variety of ways to carry out mission objectives, from full-on assaults, to misdirection and stealth, to a huge variety of other tactics. Every weapon was a tool that let you play the way you wanted.
Far Cry 3 comes along and... does some interesting things, some bad, and some good.
While playing Assassin's Creed 3, I was wondering where the Assassin's Creed Tower Map Reveal development team had gone, and now I know: Far Cry 3's team hijacked them and put them to work on its radio towers, which operate the same way: climb to the top, press a button, now you can see more of the map and find more things to do. Annoyingly, they've picked up on some of the Assassins Creed series' other bad habits; for instance, the game constantly reminds you what you need to be doing. The UI is bad, with constant pop ups telling you about this or that new codex entry or whatever.
Additionally, they've added an XP system to the game, which pulls back from the fantastic simulation elements of the first game and arguably harms the experience, yanking the player out of the moment and continually reminding them that they're playing a game. Seeing XP pop-ups in a first-person shooter is a bit like seeing the equipment used to film a movie during the movie, or maybe a picture of your own brain. It works, and it makes you feel like you're making progress, and that's fun, but it also cheapens and jars the experience.
But then there's the really good additions.
Everyone likes to talk about the game's hunting systems, and with good reason: hunting animals is fun. You've got to actually think about where they are and how to approach them, because they don't act the same way that people do. Some of them, like tigers, will actually hunt you, which means that traversing the world isn't quite as easy as it was in Far Cry 2. Even better, hunting animals allows you to make stuff with the game's new crafting system, allowing you to carry more ammo, cash, and items for your inventory. The crafting system also lets you make potions; they're not all useful, but being able to craft first-aid syrettes and x-ray hunting vision is pretty nice.
Combined, the world's ecology combined with the game's hunting/crafting/inventory systems creates a much more vibrant world experience; unfortunately, the game makes it a bit too easy to obtain upgrades in relatively short order, meaning that any fun you might have with the systems ends a bit too quickly.
The game also has a weapon modification system; instead of having weapons that decay, encouraging players to search for new ones and enhancing the feeling of survival, Far Cry 3 lets you make your weapons significantly more powerful. Again, like the crafting system, it's a bit too easy to find upgrades and max your weapons out in short order. However, the weapons are nice, in both handling, visuals, sound, and power, turning each combat experience into sensuous glee.
While I may have problems with XP popups every time you kill an enemy, I greatly enjoy unlocking new abilities within the game's system; when you combine the absolute lethality of the fully upgraded weapons and the ability to, say, shoot people from a zipline (because, oh yes, Far Cry 3 has ziplines), or sneak up behind people and chain a series of violent machete kills, the sensation is wondrous. Far Cry 3's gameplay is a wondrously dizzying mix of violence and beauty.
Then there's the way that Far Cry 3 handles the camera. Of every first person experience I've ever played, Far Cry 3 has one of the best first person cameras I've ever encountered. When dropping down from a high ledge, the camera subtly rotates downward, inexorably. Opening doors, driving cars, stabbing dudes from behind—it all feels natural. When leaping off a waterfall and plunging into the water below, you plunge into the water, lose control for a few seconds as the camera reorients itself. If you've done it from the right height, you'll actually manage to dive into the water, rather than simply jump in feet first.
All these amazing details bring a sense of immersion to the world that would be nigh-perfect if the game wasn't so insistent on being gamey. The constant user interface popups and XP rewards that dominate the screen push back against the experience; in trying to address complaints about Far Cry 2, Ubisoft has removed much of what made it an interesting game as well. As a result, Far Cry 3 is both a better and worse game than Far Cry 2, as well as an experience entirely at odds with itself.
(Writing this makes me want to go replay Far Cry 2 and explain why, despite all the flaws, it's one of the best games of the generation)
A narrative that tells you not to like people clashes with gameplay that encourages you to rescue them. Gameplay that's suited in so many ways for an immersive experience shoots itself in the foot because it consistently tries to remind the players that it's all a game, through popups and leveling. If Far Cry 3 really is all about insanity, then I'd have to say that it's a game about multiple personality disorder: it's a patchwork game with different personalities thrown in, some great, some not so great.
It may seem strange when I say that Far Cry 3 is one of the best games I've played so far this year, but it's also the truth. The writing is some of the worst I've encountered, even though some of the characters are enjoyable. The core shooter gameplay and the vibrant world work together to establish an absolutely compelling experience.
You should play Far Cry 3. It's a great open world shooter, like the other games in the series, even if, in many ways, it's nothing like them.
Also, Uplay is a really terrible service, and the sooner Ubisoft drops it, the better. Steamworks for life.