By tenaciousdave 1 Comments
Far Cry 3’s story tells the tale of two factions at war on a tropical island and one mans involvement therein. A story of an island at war with itself over reasons that are roughly defined and not at all important that has its ups and downs but ultimately falls flat. I can’t help but feel that there was a similar war going on at Ubisoft during its creation. A lot of the story telling seemed to hint at something more. A hidden subversive plot that would eventually play out in some cryptic manner seemed to lay coiled just under the surface waiting to hop out but eventually got lost in the later parts of the narrative. But that is just me postulating a context that may have never existed and for every misstep in the story, character development and internal history there is a vast array of gameplay mechanics to fight down the vitriol that would build in my throat like a well-timed antacid.
The writer managed to make a protagonist that I disliked more than the villain. Jason Brody is a silver spoon in mouth “Black Card” carrying douche-bag that rises above his pampered lifestyle through the means of a disparaging cultural stereotype of the quaint savage variety. While I am sure the creators meant no malice in their depiction of the natives of the island it still stings when these antiquated tropes are flung around so readily. When a solitary young white male can do more than an entire tribe of people has in an ongoing war in just a few days you can’t help but see a little racism there. It feels cheap and unfinished and smacks of something that was either just tossed out there or meant for something more. A faux mystical plot of a path to power through tribalism that could have been ripped out of a teenager’s hyper-sexualized dreams of supremacy.
Now Vaas, the opening antagonist, is exquisitely crafted and incredibly well voiced by Michael Mando. Vaas feels like a perfectly measured exaggeration of a happy masochist that can be mentally unsettling and Mando seemingly held nothing back with a performance that wouldn’t have been out of place in a well-made movie. In fact Vaas as a whole is more fleshed out than most of the “good guys”. It's unfortunate that Vaas exits the story half way through as he seemed like the character they spent the most care with. It's pretty clear that Ubisoft knew this because they used him as the face of the game for most of the PR build up. The ultimate villan that replaces Vaas is way less intriguing and acts like a caricature of Tony Montana. And his role comes off as pointless and resolves too quickly to matter anyway.
Playing the game is far more enjoyable than its plot would lead you on to believe and is a great reason to wade through the broken bits. The combined might of all the systems overlapping one another is something to be experienced. There is something magical about laying out a set of plans for how you intend to take on a situation and seeing it fall apart because of an unaccounted variable then having to improvise your way to survival. It leads to some great emergent stories that are far more interesting than the ready made one created by Ubisoft.
There are a variety of tasks available to you on the island but most of them consist of "go there and kill all the dudes". Which is okay because that core mechanic is great. There is a nice weight to the guns and they sound great. The opposing force is not the smartest and they rarely try to outflank you or anything but you are usually out numbered enough to have a challenge and I had plenty of close calls in the early game. The combat is fast paced and there is a dynamic cover system that works quite well. The combat was fun enough that I actually indulged in the multiplayer, which is something I almost never do.
There are activities that don't require any shooting and they have their highs and lows just like the story. Climbing radio towers to reveal the map and hunting relics are both quite fun but there is also a grab bag of generic fetch quests that are ultimately unnecessary and uninteresting. Hunting animals for crafting materials is fun and has a quick turn around for the effort, which is good, as it is required to upgrade various aspects of your character.
There are also three skill trees to climb with the experience points you earn from doing things around the island. While most of the skills you unlock are useful there are some that seem almost useless, as the opportunities to use them are pretty slim. There are some cool takedown skills that are fun to pull off and net you a ton of bonus experience points when executed and they just look really awesome.
So much care has gone into the gameplay components of Far Cry 3 that it’s really hard to hold the misguided story against it. If the same kind of care had been given to both parts we would have had something truly great. As it is, we have a game with that’s amazing to play but is chained to a ten-ton boulder of a story and that’s a real drag.
MAJOR STORY SPOILERS BEYOND THIS POINT
By the time I finished writing this review the game’s lead writer, Jeffrey Yohalem, weighed in on the large amount of criticism about the story in a Penny Arcade Report article. His argument that people aren’t looking hard enough seems a bit silly. While I feel his heart was in the right place with how he wanted to create the story the execution left a lot to be desired. And his ultimate punch line is just as poorly executed.
The story can end in one of two ways. You can either leave the island with your friends or you can murder your friends and stay with Citra, the female leader of the tribal warriors. His ultimate joke is that if you stay with Citra she has you impregnate her, to make the ultimate warrior, and then she murders you and whispers “You win.” to the player. He says this is to show that Citra was never a damsel in distress and that you were being used. But apparently she still needed that rich white boy sperm to make a better warrior?
Yohalem says this was all to show the extreme of Jason Brody’s idea of what he was doing. But even with all this spelled out for me I don’t see the correlations he is trying to make. It all seems childish to me. But thankfully the rest of the game is still a blast to play.