It was the Summer Steam Sale a while back, that glorified gamified gaming shopping experience we all know and cringe at. Often I find myself rendered helpless against the pressure of GAME! SALE! GAMESALE! BUYBUYBUY! during the seasonal sales, and this was no exception. Bonus feature from the last several is a new gamification-of-purchasing, so we can all bask in achievements for our consumerism.
I simultaneously adore and loathe the sales, but they aren’t really what I want to talk about. Rather, I’d like to talk about a game I bought during the sale, Far Cry 3.
If you liked Far Cry 3, then this whole post can be summed up as “I really wish I hadn’t bought Far Cry 3” and you are free to stop reading now.
I can’t just leave it at that, not while there’s all measure of viscera to be pawed over while I unravel the depths of my contempt.
FC3 had been billed by friends as “excellent,” focussing on the emergent gameplay possibilities in an open world that has tigers. Tigers that maul people. People like you, or more hilariously your enemies when lured carefully.
It’s very pretty, and in a lot of ways I wish that Skyrim looked as good as Far Cry 3. The world feels more lush and detailed, carrying a sense of reality that none of the Elder Scrolls games have ever managed to capture.
Every time you play, Ubisoft reminds you just how much they hate gamers with their blazingly incompetent “U-Play” service. More disgustingly is how U-Play is infecting games on the Xbox 360, showing just how little anyone cares about end-user experience when valuable data is on the line.
Aside from the emergent properties, the rest of the gameplay is of the typical “go over there, shoot some dudes, now go over here and shoot some other dudes” variety. Nothing special or different or interesting, but it should hang together with a good story. Right?
Gameplay-wise? Story-wise? Well..
I’ve been here before, and here is boring.
Much that I have to say boils down to “I have already bought this game, several times, and it was better last time.” Same mechanics, gameplay and tropes, just with a new skin and shinier graphics. There’s nothing innovative or new here; it’s a big island sandbox-y sort of game (Just Cause 2), with trying to skulk around enemy strongholds in order to rescue Important Emotional Bond (Female Variety). Intersperse with dull rail-shooting segments and none of the ludicriousness of Just Cause 2 or Saints Row 3 and what you’re left with is the gaming equivalent of soggy bread.
Much is made of how the player is supposed to use stealth-em-up tactics in order to take out enemy bases, but without the polish such gameplay mechanics require, ignoring everything from Thief through Dishonoured. Where Just Cause 2 lets me fly a helicopter into a giant military installation and rain death upon the mooks, in Far Cry 3 I cower behind a shipping container and wonder why I’m bothering.
Heaven forfend trying the long game, either. Sniping someone alerts every mook in the area, and they all immediately know exactly where I am, despite any cover I might have.
It’s amazingly same-y, but not in the fun way of X-Com, where your growing skill is matched by their growing capability. It’s same-y in the way of, hurray, another base to shoot up, or hurray, another animal to kill, or hurray, another damsel to rescue. Even the joy of emergent tiger gameplay is lost, as the hitpoints and numbers of mooks generally make short work of my claw-sporting friends.
Straight-White-Cis Male Power Fantasies aren’t my thing
This all boils down to being, at least on the surface, a power fantasy for mans wishing to be Manly Mens in the Modern Age. The author reportedly1 spoke extensively on this being a critique of the power fantasy/shooter genre, but it doesn’t play like a critique; rather, the trope is played completely straight, leaving us with Standard Rich White Dudekid on vacation Rising To The Challange, showing a bunch of natives how to be better at shooting. Shoot some dudes, rinse, repeat.
I’m not satisfied or really engaged with the world. It’s not fun to go into an area and be told to one-up everyone who’s being oppressed. Just Cause 2′s entire point is that you’re destabilising the region. It’s camp, it’s a bit “rah rah Murka” but my goals are not saving people; I’m an active antagonist.
Even the open-world aspect is ruinously underdone; it’s a big map with absolutely nothing interesting in it. Skyrim had endless things going on; Just Cause 2 has towns and commuters and random bits all over the place.
Well, had, before my helicopter and I had some fun.
I end up looking at the icon for Far Cry 3 and asking “Do I want to play this?” before I mutter “nah” and go do something interesting.
As I posted above, the game is supposed to be this grand commentary on the Manly Mans shooter genre. I’ve reached the area where I’m supposed to go see Citra because I’m not “strong enough” to face Vaas. How that works I have no idea; Vaas is (like everyone else) a poorly armoured soft squishy human.
I know this is a trope. I know it’s a trope, that I’m supposed to “level up” in my power fantasy and “become strong.” I just can’t care about it. I want this to be like Spec Ops: The Line, where for so long the nonsensicality of shooting at US troops WHILE BEING A US TROOPER looks like it will be resolved just around the next scene.
It’s Yet Another Plot Token. Spec Ops: The Line used the tropes to tell an amazing story, worked within the genre to do so. Far Cry 3 is so caught up in feeling like it’s smarmy that it forgets to be engaging, fails to even be the sum of its parts.
Worse still is that it’s so blindingly obvious that the player is being used that it all becomes worse. ManlyMans comes in, shakes up the status quo, and existing power factions use that shaking up to have a go at each other. But of course we needed ManlyMans to even show up and be White and Manly so that he could have his sudden-yet-inevitable-betrayal scene.
Instead of a game, we’re left with a “product” that exists solely to check boxes on a marketer’s list, with the added soulessness that comes from “meta-narrative on gaming” being on that list.
Just don’t bother.