By John Walker on December 4th, 2012 at 4:00 pm.
Yesterday I celebrated what is definitely a really fantastic game. A game that deserves celebration, a surprise treat from a series that never promised anything this involved, mad, and genre-busting. It is, overall, a very positive experience. And as I said yesterday, such experiences come at a price – when stuff is wrong, it looks very, very wrong. But in the case of Far Cry 3, this isn’t about picking up on issues that would pass in a more mediocre game – this is about really wantonly stupid mistakes, issues that defy the belief that any human being can have played the game before it was released, further evidencing the theory that this was indeed a game coded by tigers.
So as I’ve said, while the whole of this article is negative, this isn’t a statement that it’s a negative game. Why am I hammering this point home? Because I’m up at 7am to get an hour of Far Cry 3 in before I start work, despite having played it all last night and every spare moment of the weekend before it. Because I care enough about how good it is to want to highlight its shortcomings, partly in the hope that at least some of them can be patched out to stop marring this glorious thing.
What’s Wrong With Far Cry 3
The Static Characters
Yesterday I talked about the protagonist, and how while there were clearly problems, in the end I found myself liking this spoiled kid’s descent into cruel, terrified brutality. I also attempted to dismiss away the situation he was in. That’s not really fair. Because Far Cry 3, well, it’s a bit racist, isn’t it?
I said, rather flippantly, that the people of this island are the race they are, because it’s the island they’re native to. It is what it is, essentially. And that’s the case – that’s really not the issue here. It had to be set somewhere. The issue is the horribly worn tropes it so lazily kicks around when it gets there. As it is, you have the simple-folk-natives, and the immigrant white men with their mixture of South African and Australian accents. And one black guy. White people ask you to get involved in enormously elaborate machinations, ancient mysteries, and local politics. Locals ask you to help them kill endangered species, find their missing daughters, and point out when their husbands are gay. Essentially, the locals behave as if they’re helpless without you, but when you wield their tattoo-based magical powers then true greatness appears. And it’s here that the problems really kick in.
There’s a term for it. It’s “Noble Savage“. And it also falls under the remit of the “Magical Negro“. The trope is that the non-white character possesses mystical insight, magical abilities, or simply a wisdom derived from such a ‘simple life’, that can enlighten the white man. And it’s pretty icky. The premise relies on the belief that the individual’s race is in some way debilitating, something their noble/mystical abilities are able to ‘overcome’.
The further you get, the more revered your character becomes. The antagonists call you Snow White, a derisory name but one that pretty much points out that you’re the pure white American man in this land of colourful folks. And the locals begin to hear word of not only your helpful ways (which would seem fair – you’re being very helpful) but also your abilities with their customs, your wielding of their powers. You are the outsider who has come in and outdone them, shown them the true majesty of their savage abilities. They can’t fight against the pirates for themselves, but you can save them. Now, I’ve not finished the game – I am, by the map, halfway through. This might be discussed, it might be addressed, but it’s certainly already there.
So I’ve argued why I think the story of the spoilt rich white kids having their worlds fall apart is not a bad thing. But I do wonder what would have stopped the story being about a local of the island rising up against the pirate oppressors. And then at least the problematic mystical bullshit would have at least been a part of his or her culture, even if it would still have remained entirely unnecessary. Or maybe just have the island be inhabited by an indigenous race that isn’t generally pathetic.
And then there’s the rapey bit. (Oddly, this paragraph is also a spoiler.) General rule: unless your game is about rape, or willing to truly deal with the subject, maybe steer clear of rape. It’s way too big of a subject to nonchalantly include, and it’s pretty abhorrent to use it as a mere plot beat. The rape in FC3 is threatened and implied, rather than witnessed, but it’s so thrown away, used to say, “This man who did it is terrible!” rather than to explore the true horror for the repeatedly abused victim. The perpetrator happens to be one of the best written and acted characters in game – especially acted. It’s a fantastic performance. And his being a monster makes that all the more affecting. But in the end, the reveal of Jason’s victimisation is flippant, and the ludicrous mystic-trippy scene in which you QTE kill Buck is just plain offensive in the context. I think it was intended to further the brutal horror faced by these rich suburban kids, but in the end it’s an awkward, potentially upsetting misfire.
The Great Quicksave War still rages on. In fact, just calling it that is considered an act of aggression by the Checkpoint Army. But like a game of foot-to-ball on Christmas Day, Far Cry 3′s utter arsing up of saving can bring both sides together.
It’s hard to imagine how it could be this bad. A game that absolutely naturally lends itself to quicksaves (I don’t care if you don’t like them – guess what, you don’t have to use them even if they’re there) has no such thing. And as such it becomes a game that heavily relies on checkpointing. But it’s an open-world game, and so, er, needs quicksaves. The eighth-arsed solution is a system where death means being revived at the nearest safehouse or controlled radio tower. Now, that alone would have been almost fine. Frustrating when your target location is a hefty journey away from one of those, but it would have at least made a degree of sense. But what actually happens here is death means not only reviving far away, but also with an arbitrary amount of progress undone.
When this progress includes menial tasks like crafting items, it’s just a pain in the arse to have to discover what’s now undone. Let alone the tedium of having to repeatedly retrace your steps to a particularly tricky challenge. And this reaches farce once the jumbled mess of its saving conflicts with the jumbled mess of its mission areas. At one point I wanted to clear a radio tower in an area, mostly to get the minimap working. However, this tower happened to fall inside the vague area that triggered the next story mission, despite my not wanting to do it, nor engaging in it. Instead I cleared the tower, then I believe was ambushed by komodos on my way to doing something else. I came back to life at some arbitrary place, the radio tower itself now reset – despite those things supposed to be the one reliable checkpoint you have. The mission had taken over, and anything I did between then and actually reaching the location where it properly takes place was undone. Because… because? Because why? Because someone at Ubisoft hates people, and hates the thought of people having uninterrupted fun?
This is even further encumbered by some archaic leftover from the last generation of consoles, with the persisting belief that there’s a need to limit save slots. So you’re allowed one save, and one save only, and saving again overwrites the last. So any desires to archive moments of the game, to be able to return to a certain point to play again another time, are taken away. Because… because? For no damned reason. The “save” option in the menu itself is an utter farce – on the rare occasions it actually lets you use it, it doesn’t save anything at all. And there’s no need for any of it. If I want to stop playing at a certain key moment – say I have to go out, or to bed, or to work – tough. Leave it running and risk a crash, or lose the progress anyway. Because… because fuck you.
A recent study I’ve just made up showed that human beings now spend up to 12% of their waking life switching the notifications off on things. From every app on every phone, tablet and computer, to every console, alarm clock, and Twitter client, everything in the world seems to believe that we want to be constantly notified of things. STOP NOTIFYING ME OF THINGS, EVERYTHING! And especially you, Far Cry 3, you utter prick. At least damned Twitter apps have an option buried beneath seventeen chains of menus to turn the bloody things off. Far Cry 3 does not, and it WILL NOT SHUT UP.
One of the real joys of the game is the freedom. I can pursue the main storyline, or I can run over here and see what’s in this cave, and then hang-glide to that village, kill all the red-wearing bastards who live there, then go murder a blue-eared lama or something. But for reasons unexplainable by all non-tiger people, I cannot do any of this without the game SCREAMING at me that there’s still the main storyline mission to do. A pop-up text box that takes up a dramatic amount of the upper-left of the screen appears with an alarming swoosh-kaaaa noise, telling me that I should be meeting with Beard White Guy #7 now. No I shouldn’t! I should be spelunking right here, and then chasing parrots. So oh God please will you just shut up.
No, it won’t shut up. It will never shut up. It won’t shut up while you’re actually doing the mission it’s reminding you to do. Despite being in an elaborate cave network only accessible by following the quest, in the middle of taking out guards and making your way down the slope, it’ll appear telling you, “Take out the guards and go down the slope.” OH GOOD GRIEF I KNOW I’M DOING IT SHUT UP SHUT UP SHUT UP.
You have to play the game to understand how teeth-destroyingly frustrating it is, this fucking text box that obsessively stalks you, incessantly screaming at you to stop having fun and do the mission even if you’ve stopped having fun and are doing the mission… it’s evil. It’s a force of evil. And the serious issue here is that it demonstrates something very concerning – they absolutely cannot have sat down anyone from outside the dev team to play the game before finalising it. Because any non-tiger species would have turned around and said to them, “If you don’t make this godforsaken text box stop appearing, I’m going to hunt every one of you down and put you in a zoo.” It smacks of extreme arrogance, of failing to playtest properly, or of just hating humanity.
This is another example of a failure to have real humans play the game ahead of release. Because absolutely anyone who’s sat down with the game for more than an hour will say, “Why the billowing hellballs isn’t there a shortcut key for crafting?” Even the console porting isn’t a justification for this – not least because everything else about the port is so close to perfect – because on a controller you’d still want a button dedicated just to bringing up this screen.
Even when you’ve the menus up, they’re a bemusing confusion. Huge and muddled, navigating them desperately needs a scroll wheel, but astonishingly this only works on some of them. Completely at random, it just doesn’t do anything on the menus you use most frequently, while happily scrolls down a list of the pointless statuettes you’ve picked up. Nothing works as you might expect. Selecting the main button for the section you’re in doesn’t go back to the top – instead it just does nothing. You have to click the tiny “back” button on the bottom right of the screen. Selling non-junk items in shop menus requires laboriously clicking on each over and over, rather than group-selecting a bunch. There’s no mouse rationale at all, throughout, and no internal consistency. It’s ridiculous, and it’s a real stumbling block in enjoyment of a game you’re going to be spending dozens of hours playing.
In every sense. This is another perennial gaming issue, but it’s one that is far more stark and obtuse in Far Cry 3. There are about ten different barks for the pirates. I wish I were exaggerating. I have heard them decry the heat and wish for death, suggest giving up the island because they dislike it so much, mention that a prostitute has given them the clap, and talk about how it hurts when they wee. A lot. So many times. And that’s as nothing compared to how many times the same omnipresent local has informed me about the importance of doing notice board missions. When your game is this enormous, and you know the player is going to encounter the same situations so many times, record a hundred, five hundred different lines. Have it so the chances of hearing the same line twice are remote. Why not? Serious, every developer except for Valve – why not? It’s more money, but you’re already spewing that through your nostrils, so just keep the actors in the recording booths a little longer. It makes the difference between a believable world, and an arcade game.
And that goes for the actual barks, too. Perhaps I have rubbish ears, but I’m fairly sure dogs sound the same as dingoes in every detail, while snakes and komodo dragons are entirely indistinguishable. A lot more effort could have been put in all round here, and it would have made a distinct difference. It’s an area games seem hellbent on putting too little effort into, and it becomes a real bruise on Far Cry 3.
Again, there are many other things to lament. Not least “leaving mission area” nonsense in an open world game. How about you let me leave the mission and come back to it – you’re so damned insistent on my only having one save that it shouldn’t be a problem for you to remember where I got to. And why? Why limit the mission area? What are the consequences of my stepping over this imaginary line? It’s gone so far away from the tedium of the current generation of manshooters, so why does this ghost of their wretchedness still haunt it? Oh, poker – in poker the blinds go up, Ubi – it’s what stops heads up being as madly stupid as it is in your otherwise oddly decent poker games. And what the heck is up with the skinning? Leaving an animal with all its skin on, and taking an amorphous fleshy mound of its insides, is not skinning. It’s weird, and it makes no sense, and how did no one at Ubisoft Montreal mention this? Unless that’s what tigers thinking skinning is – it really is the only sensible explanation.