Prog Rock And Prog Games: I Want Games That Do Less

I like comparisons between videogames and music. Especially – for some reason – when it comes to Ubisoft games. But while I remain convinced that Assassin’s Creed is Michael Bolton, I’m beginning to think Ubisoft themselves are prog rock.

I’ve spent the past two weeks playing Far Cry 4 and having a marvellous time, but it is an exhausting amount of game. This is because calling it a game, singular, downplays exactly how much it contains: it has camps and fortresses to Deus Ex your way through; it has radio towers to Mirror’s Edge your way to the top of; it has hours and hours of a singleplayer campaign to miserably Call of Duty towards its grim end.

It has co-op. It has competitive multiplayer. It has a map editor. Crafting and hunting and side quests. Karma events and XP and skills.

Everything reviews previously complimented about Far Cry 3 has calcified and been repeated and expanded. As far as the quality of the series goes, this isn’t a bad tactic. Games are iterative by their nature. Incremental improvements make sense, while starting from scratch each time would risk throwing out the baby with the bathwater. Making Far Cry 4 a slight progression of Far Cry 3 guarantees that those who liked the last game – and there were many – remain satisifed.

I am satisfied. I enjoy a Neil Peart drum solo as much as the next Rush fan, but sometimes I long for something taut and to the point.

In some regards, Far Cry 4 is admirable in the way it aims to maintain boundaries between its different activities. As far as I can tell, if you don’t want to do a single outpost, you don’t need to. If you want to be able to see the map but don’t want to clamber to the top of each radio tower, you can hop in a gyrocopter and just fly to the highest level of each of them. Doing the latter allowed me to expose the entire southern part of the world in less than an hour.

But my feelings have less to do with relative quality or enjoyment of the expanse of Far Cry 4, and more to do with the psychological impact it has. Whatever activity you’re doing in its world, you’re aware of how much else is out there. While ‘prog rock’ is short for progressive, Ubisoft might be in the industry of making ‘progress games’. There’s even a button on the pause menu called Progress, ready at any moment to remind you that however much you think you might have completed, 70% of the game remains waiting, untouched. Only want to play the parts of the game you enjoy? Well, you could. But don’t you want to make progress?

I think the way the game has been received has as much to do with that psychological weight as it has with the repetition of a now familiar formula. People are made weary by the scale of it, both for the demands it seems to make of you and for the way it makes the game impersonal. Far Cry 4 is telling you everything you want to hear, with very little sense that it cares about anything but overwhelming you.

I’m certain then that people would be raving about Far Cry 4 more if Ubisoft had snipped out everything but the forts I love so much. A three-minute pop song of a game: focused, fun, a breath of fresh air. A statement of intent with clear values. It would be light and fun and frothy where Far Cry 4 is, in its dim way, demanding.

It’s tempting at this point in my argument to set up an easy dichotomy between big budget, Phil Collins-shaped Ubisoft and the rough-and-ready punk indie games scene. I’ve never quite bought that. Indie games are focused as much by necessity as by aesthetic choice.

Instead, I think there’s hints that the mainstream machine knows they need a little more lightness – even if, mainly, to retain staff and to take risks without betting the farm. Ubisoft’s UbiArt framework seems designed specifically to allow the creative people who work at their studios to make something small and personal, whether that be another beautiful Rayman platformer or a strange, touching game about World War One or an RPG by way of a children’s storybook.

Blizzard must also surely have noticed that the warm welcome Hearthstone received had at least something to do with its focus and simplicity. It’s already easy to see new CCGs as cynical, but for a company who had previously been concerned with colossus’ like World of Warcraft or multiple StarCraft games, Hearthstone initially seemed quaint. Compare it to their newly announced Overwatch, which for all the praise heaped upon it by those who played it at the recent Blizzcon, was met with a certain kind of weariness. ‘Here is another multimedia behemoth.’

I see the value in enormous, genre-sprawling games. For those who don’t have much extra income to spend on games, something that might last hundreds of hours offers literal value for money.

But I hope that more of the big publishers take the biggest risk they can; not to do more or go further, but to do less and be smaller.

This article was funded by the RPS Supporter program.

59 Comments

  1. RQH says:

    Please. I don’t get a sense of world-building or freedom from these so-called “open world” games any more. It’s oppressive the amount of cookie-cutter content they’ve stamped down to pad out what is otherwise a linear experience. And what’s worse, rather than allowing me the pleasure of wandering off the path to see what I might discover, they clutter the map with icons like a billion tiny Navis shouting “Hey! Over here! Listen!” all at once.

    Rather than trusting worldbuilding and natural curiosity to guide me toward interesting experiences, these games seem to be filled with anxiety about their open worlds. What if the player gets bored (better add more to do)? What if they don’t know where to go to find something to do (better put the icons on the map)? What if they notice that the content is repetitive (better add more types of content)?

    The end result is that I feel that the game is herding me at every turn, trying to funnel my play experience into a pre-determined style, and the world is less compelling than in a more focused experience with limited exploration (such as, say Dragon Age: Inquisition compared to Dragon Age: Origins, the latter of which still feels to me like the superior game, though I’m in early hours yet of DA:I.)

    • soulblur says:

      It is a shame you can’t turn the icons off. Like a hardcore mode with increased damage from enemies, bleeding effects, malar- wait….

      • RQH says:

        In some games, you can; in some you can’t. You can’t turn ’em off in DA:I, for example.

      • Stellar Duck says:

        Oh ho ho! I see that!

        And yes, it’s a crying shame.

        I haven’t played this latest incarnation but I’m lead to believe it’s just Far Cry 3 with a new setting. Which is sad as Far Cry 3 was pretty rubbish after a short while. God damn, but there was a lot of gamey nonsense in that one. Collect this and that and a third thing. Actually, it seems that’s the case here as well.

        Far Cry 2 was just so much better.

        • soulblur says:

          Don’t get me wrong – I really liked Far Cry 3, and I’m currently enjoying Far Cry 4. But I miss some of what Far Cry 2 brought to the table.

        • Great Cthulhu says:

          You may also want to give Blood Dragon a go. Apart from the setting it’s basically FC3, but a much smaller and tighter experience. I enjoyed it more than any other Far Cry.

          • Stellar Duck says:

            Eh, I dunno. It doesn’t really appeal to me on an aesthetic level. It looks very crass in the way I don’t really enjoy.

            Also looks to be zany for the sake of it, like Saint’s Row 3 and 4, and I’ve never really been interested in that as it’s always so forced.

            Will give it a think over though.

          • TheSplund says:

            Blood Dragon was resigned to my list of ‘must finish one day’ as, whilst a solid game, it just didn’t hold my attention like any other in the FC series (and I’ve replayed FC twice and was replaying FC2 until I got a free copy of FC4)

      • Csirke says:

        You can turn the icons off in Far Cry 4. Open the map, press “filters” (Tab by default) and turn off what you don’t want to see. I usually play without the collectibles and loot chests showing up, making exploring more fun. Also there are interface options, and most of that can be turned off too, minimap, health indicator, reticle when not using iron sights, all gone if you want. (Except the stupid button promts, for some reason.)

        There’s no bleeding or malaria, but you definitely can make the game more “hardcore”.

        • sabrage says:

          This is my favourite part of Ubisoft’s modern design philosophy, but they still always manage to leave some annoying function un-toggle-able, like Far Cry 3’s wall hacks.

      • activity_coordinator says:

        Yep. I loved Far Cry 2 on the hardest difficulty because it made me have respect for the mechanics, rather than just eventually exploiting them. Checkpoints with a crazy fast respawn would make me choose my route and my weapon loadout appropriately. Having a map that isn’t constantly on the screen was another thing that helped immersion. Not to mention a story that wasn’t hammered down my throat, but rather told with dialogue and very few cut scenes.

        I need to try out Ziggy’s mod for Far Cry 3… I’ve heard good things.

        edit: and oh god the buddy system in Far Cry 2… how I miss the buddy system. Shit hits the fan in a battle, and you get shot down. Your buddy rescues you, drags you to safety and says “There… now you can bleed out in peace. Just kidding.” And at that point you get a ‘one more try’ opportunity to keep going. So great.

      • Geebs says:

        Far Cry 2 was The Shaggs

    • Shigawire says:

      Great article! I agree with your points.. I am also a huge Rush fan btw (my #1 band)

      I have a “theory” that this tendency of UBIsoft to overwhelm the player with icons on the map, and things to do stems from an attempt to imitate the freedom of the Grand Theft Auto series. It’s clear to me that GTA was the first to do this in this manner (“Elite” from 1984 on urban or terrain setting).

      I am of two thoughts on this:
      On the one hand I prefer to have multiple options of achieving an objective. However, the UBIsoft games tend to have “cookie-cutter” solutions to each problem. So the “freedom” feels very much like imposed “herding” of the player. You have very specific objectives, which you can or cannot do – to fulfill some kind of “High Score” tally. I’ve never been a fan of this “100% Achievements” approach to game design. It seems almost like they are tickling our primal need to “hoard stuff” (an evolutionary relic from our hunter-gatherer past). In Assassin’s Creed f.ex., collect 20/20 feathers to unlock all parts of one little story.

      On the other hand, I also like a more focused experience, where one role-plays a character doing what he does best, with the means and weaknesses inherent to that character. Playing to your strengths and avoiding your weaknesses.

      What if there was a middle road between these two approaches? I don’t think we need less freedom however. It seems to me they’re not going far enough in delivering a truly open experience, where every event is more emergent. I think computer games have reached the point where we’re now in the “uncanny valley” of complexity. An “uncanny valley” where we have quite a lot of complexity, but it’s simply gotten to the bottom point of the valley where the complexity feels “unnatural” and not really engaging.
      I think the solution isn’t less complexity, but even more complexity. Procedurally generated behaviors. A complex system constantly generating emergent behavior and events. Take Far Cry series: Instead of guards being static and motive-less actors simply standing idly by defending their predetermined locations.. give them internal motivations based on needs. For example, lets say the next Mad Max game is in the same genre (which I suspect, being made by the developers of Just Cause). Let’s say in Mad Max, that AI group A stole fuel from AI group B. Group B now needs to go out and find fuel. Perhaps another base that they know has fuel, there needs to be intelligence gathering involved in this. Also, the flimsy nature of intelligence gathering. Perhaps they got misinformed and attacked someone who they THOUGHT had fuel, but didn’t.. you can have consequences upon consequences. A long chain of consequences. The player in the middle of all this.
      Less hand-holding and herding with icons on a mini-map. For open world games, I really think we’re in the bottom of the uncanny valley at the moment. We don’t need less complexity to get out from it. That would be a step back. Less complexity is fine for more focused games, but for open world games, it’s part and parcel of the package. We just need the right kind of complexity to climb the uncanny valley. The only way this can be approached is with more procedural programming. Procedural emergent behaviors, procedurally generated characters and motivations, procedural emergent crafting and procedural harvesting. With this approach, and a well designed game play for diplomacy/intimidation, combat and stealth.. I think we could rise to the top of the uncanny valley.

  2. soulblur says:

    Surely there’s room for both (and I imagine you agree with this). I like the sprawling world, the hunting, and most of the side activities. The forts are the most fun, yes – but to have a game composed solely of those might be like eating a Thanksgiving meal completely of stuffing. Delicious for the first 5 minutes, a dreary slog for the final 25. The other activities act as a palette cleanser. Alternatively, the forts are the highlight of an otherwise workmanlike experience – would they feel as exciting if they were the only part of it?

    • Vandelay says:

      I think that the suggestion could work. If you consider something like Far Cry 4 as an album, why not release a fort or two as singles? They could be released like a demo, albeit with a small fee of a pound or so. That doesn’t mean that Far Cry 4 doesn’t need to be released.

      And I think smaller experiences should be encouraged. Not just 4-5 hour games, but 20-30 minute games. It would encourage much experimentation and risk rather than focusing on big budget all or nothing titles.

      • Geebs says:

        20-30 minutes of Far Cry 4 would cost about the same to make as 20-30 hours.

        Also: Rush? This country produces some of the best prog rock in the world and you come to me with Canadian weenies? For shame.

        • Mr_Blastman says:

          Heretic! Burn him!

        • TheSplund says:

          You can only be from the UK as I seem to recall that almost no other country can do prog! but Rush? Weenies?

  3. melnificent says:

    Have you been there yet? No – No icon. Yes not completed – Show Icon, Yes Completed – No/greyed Icon

    Now it seem like most of these “open world” games are about defragging the map. I want to play in the world and explore. Don’t just dump the locations of everything, guide me to it ala Oblivion Compass.

    • Grygus says:

      Isn’t that how Skyrim’s map worked? You only got an icon if you had been there or someone had told you about it, right? And I seem to recall they even marked cleared places as being so… it’s been a little while, I may have made that part up. Anyway, your system seems reasonable and I think more games should do it.

    • phuzz says:

      According to Steam I’ve spent more time in Just Cause 2 than anything else. I’ve played through to 95%+ completion three times. There’s something about the OCD activity of ticking off all those little objectives that somehow really entertains me.
      It’s probably not healthy, but some of us enjoy this defragging.

    • Mr_Blastman says:

      Go back and play Morrowind again using the Morrowind Overhaul mod. There’s little that is better.

  4. Premium User Badge

    Wisq says:

    I feel like part of the problem is that gamers frequently react so badly when features are removed between sequels in a franchise. You want to add more stuff to make each game new and fresh, yet it’s hard to predict what features (if any) are safely removable without invoking their ire. Hence the rampant sequelitis feature creep we end up with, where every Hitman or Assassin has an even more overwhelming tool list than the previous, or where every Far Cryer has a larger laundry list of things to do.

    However, I’m not really of the same opinion re: it feeling oppressively large. I’m perfectly okay with walking away from a game with massive checklists unfinished. 100% completion is, to me, something for the schoolkids to do, the ones who (like my former schoolkid self) had a lot of free time, yet would only get a few games a year and each one needed to last a long time.

    What actually bothers me far more is when I enjoy a game world so much that I want to stay in it more, yet I’ve run out of things to do. I have to either start over (bleh repetition), make up my own entertainment (limited and artificial), or stop playing. As such, I feel like it’s a positive thing that there’s always more to do, so long as I know what’s available and yet it’s not shoving my incompleteness in my face.

    • jrodman says:

      As a counterpoint, I’ve learned to relish game experiences where I finish what there is to do while still feeling really interested in the experience. “Wanting more” can be a blessing.

    • Dilapinated says:

      I think Batman and AssCreed suffer from this problem the most. Every game has to have everything (or at least the bits people don’t remember with distaste, like the FC2-3 jump) the others did, but MORE. So prequels or radical jumps in time/location are really awkward storywise.

  5. cpt_freakout says:

    “For those who don’t have much extra income to spend on games, something that might last hundreds of hours offers literal value for money.”

    However, at the price that these AAA games regularly go you can grab at least a couple of indies or even several oldies (there’s always stuff you missed ‘back in the day’) that might cover or even surpass those ‘time investments’. Best of all, they will probably run without any problems on any computer you got, so there’s no need to even think about further expenses on upgrading. I think that these massive genre-mixing projects are among other things, a reaction to this market, as a presentation of a ‘supermarket’ kind of competition against smaller stores; no need to make a stop at the butcher’s and the veggie stand, just come to one place where we got it all.

    I also think that’s also different from how they express a certain anxiety about 100% completion. We’ve always had that stuff in games (get all the stars/keys/characters?) but I think all of that was thought as simply bonus, in the barest sense of the word. Now, all that stuff is not extra, but integral to the way the games are designed, and I don’t know if that’s why this new way of making games equates ‘finishing’ the game with ‘getting all the stuff’, while before, it was enough to finish the main story/get through all the levels. The rest was just for kicks, while with games like FC 3 and 4, among others, that rest feels like something necessary. Achievements were the first wave of this kind of thinking: people used to improvise and do crazy things with their games to share the fun with others, and now you have a description of exactly what “crazy thing” you have to do to get recognition not from someone else but from the game itself. All in all, it’s a very interesting development, I think.

  6. DrollRemark says:

    This isn’t really related, so apologies, but have you lovely folks at RPS considered putting a ‘teaser’ page on Supporter posts when they’re first published, rather than a 404 error? Say, just the first paragraph(ish) and then a overlaid prompt to subscribe.

    I think this would not only allow you to advertise the benefits of subscribing, but from a selfish point of view, it would remind me when I’ve forgotten to log in, and also allow you to bring back my beloved “next/previous article” links. :)

  7. eggy toast says:

    Sorry, is it considered normal to like Rush, in the UK?

    • Josh W says:

      What you say about rush, is what you say about society.

      • spacedyemeerkat says:

        Seems you want to be in the limelight with comments like that.

  8. eggy toast says:

    Also until Ubisoft progresses beyond making me have a second client installed for a game I bought on Steam I’m not really into buying their games

    • montorsi says:

      So go buy it in Uplay. Or are we clutching our pearls at the very idea of using another client? Don’t fret, it won’t hurt too much. I’ll be here with the smelling salts.

      • eggy toast says:

        Launcher nested inside a launcher is asinine. If they want to sell it on Uplay, that’s fine, but if I’m buying a copy that’s already tied to a Steam client, then that should be enough. If it’s not, then don’t list it on Steam.

        • AXAXAXAS MLO II: MLO HARDER says:

          It’s listed on Steam while being clearly labeled that it uses a different launcher. They let you buy it on a platform you like for your convenience, and you complain!

    • phuzz says:

      Well they’ve solved that problem in the UK by removing the game from Steam, silver linings and all that.

  9. Danda says:

    Hey, WHAT? I love prog rock!!!!

    But yes, we get the point. Alex Hutchinson brought feature creep and dullness into Assassin’s Creed III and now, unsurprisingly, we get another “exact same formula, but lots of content!” extravaganza.

    By the way, I just noticed this:

    link to twitter.com
    link to twitter.com

    Is there any creative lead from Far Cry 3 with a “@clickifyouwill” or similar Twitter handle?

    • KenTWOu says:

      What? We get another “exact same formula, but lots of content!” extravaganza? The same formula? On the opposite, there were lots of concerns about Alex Hutchinson will ruin Far Cry formula, because AC3 was dull and story based and sometimes completely unsystemic. Instead they improved almost everything in the open world systems and even did non-linear campaign in FC4.

    • Casimir's Blake says:

      The OP is merely perpetuating the “anti-prog” manifesto of most so-called high-brow journalism. It’s still fashionable to bash prog, to which my response would be to shove King Crimson – Red (the whole album) down Graham’s ears.

      I will agree, though, that Ubisoft fill their games with near-meaningless side quests and tasks that feel like busywork and add little to the experience. The only games they’ve put out recently that didn’t suffer this were the last couple of Rayman games, though there was one other the name of which escapes me…

  10. Yachmenev says:

    Great article. Had similiar thought when I was looking at playthrough of just a small part of Far Cry 4 the other day. AAA Games really are trying too much now, with the result that you can either just deal with one game of them at a time, or end up with a whole pile of barely played games. I like choices in games, but Ubisoft and similiar publishers seem to have mastered the craft of going beyond that and make games that feels like chores.

    I’m playing Dragon Age: Inquisition right now, and while I enjoy it, it’s so massive that it would just waste of money to look at more open world games while i’m still playing it.

    More developers should look at games like XCOM, a game that’s big enough. You don’t need to be able to go everywhere, touch everything, talk to everyone, and have 40 different collect missions going on at the same time.

    I agree that Far Cry 4 would have been awesome you could get just smaller sandbox version of it, without any story missions bullshit. Just smaller well designed map, with lot’s of replayability.

    • Horg says:

      ”More developers should look at games like XCOM, a game that’s big enough.”

      Is it big enough? Perception of the scope of any title will always be relative to the individual users tastes. Personally, I thought vanilla XCOM was fun, but quite limited and often infuriatingly so. Enemy Within improved things somewhat, but it wasn’t until Long War came around that I really got hooked by the title. Long war makes XEW look uninspired by comparison, and I keep hoping they expand further.

      There is no right or wrong when it comes to minimalism vs complexity as both approaches to design feed different markets. Long War is superb in that it expands an existing frame work with tactical depth and campaign options that all feel relevant. It is both expansive and focused, proving that you can have both if the design team has clear goals and a solid base to work from.

      When we look at modern AAA releases, no one can deny that feature bloat is becoming a problem. I think part of the blame for that can be attributed to a shift of focus towards graphics quality and the ”movie experience” (linear, mo-cap choreographed, fully voiced campaign). Developers spend more and more time making games immersive, beautiful places to explore, then more often than not fail to fill these spaces with interesting activities. Perhaps it’s a problem with the way game design is being taught, or perhaps publishers will one day realise games are pretty enough and we’re all bloody sick of fetch quests. Either way, I think it’s possible to have an expansive and engaging game, if the design team have good ideas and enough development time to focus on mechanics.

      • Yachmenev says:

        I would argue that the game is big enough. There are definitely things I could see being improve, but I want more complexity to be added without it padding the gamelength. When Long War is described with things like these…..
        “*An extended campaign requiring far more missions to complete
        *Tactical missions that allow up to twelve XCom soldiers per mission with the right upgrades”

        …..then I think it goes the wrong way a bit. More things are not always the best way to improve games.

        XCOM did loose some things from the orginal, but I do like a lot of the streamlining it did, and I think open world games like Far Cry are games that are in need of streamlining more, where the content is reduced to fewer but more worthwhile things.

        I would like to see a Dragon Age Inquisition style RPG being done like that.

        *Instead of running around and looking for rooms, menus and character in the homebase, give an overview of the base like in XCOM and let the user access the content through menus.
        *Instead large open areas that needs to be traversed, focus incidents and combats in smaller areas and make those areas varied.
        *Instead of a playtime of 70h+ for a playthrough, make it somewhere around 20-30h and make them even more replayable.
        Etc.

  11. Eight Rooks says:

    I still do not agree with your previous Assassin’s Creed article, though as a fervent Ubi apologist I suppose I wouldn’t. Unity is pretty much one of my favourite games this year, either way. You heard.

    But I have no problem with a call for brevity, lightness of touch, whatever. You can beat ICO in a couple of hours if you skip all the cutscenes and you know what you’re doing, and it has very limited scope for traditional “replay value”. I still consider it one of the best games ever made. Hell, I’d still pay full RRP for something else like it, never mind downloadable pricing. By all means, bring on the small but perfectly formed games as well as the bloated heavyweights – no argument from me there.

  12. Wulfram says:

    Does focused have to mean small? I like games that know to focus on their core gameplay, but that doesn’t have to mean they don’t last a good time

    Short games seem kind of a waste of all the work done making the engine and mechanics and assets.

  13. Charlie Cleveland says:

    Beautifully articulated, Graham.

  14. try2bcool69 says:

    I think you’re all crazy if you don’t absolutely love how jam-packed this game is with things to interact with. Volume is the reason I haven’t enjoyed a GTA game since Vice City. They went with these huge worlds with barely anything outside the story missions that’s worth doing.
    Far Cry 4 is amazing in the amount of random, chaotic interaction going on, you just never know what is going to pop up and change your plans. Not to mention the game comes with a level editor, and there are already tons of user-made outposts to conquer, which I think we can all agree with, is the most fun thing to do in this series.
    I actually spent 40 hours playing FC3 (for the first time) and then started right into FC4, these games are incredible, I haven’t played anything with this much enthusiasm since Fallout 3 maybe.

    PS Far Cry 2 sucks. IMHO.
    PS2 Best Console Evah. FACT.

    • KenTWOu says:

      But that’s not the point of this article. Far Cry 4 is one of the greatest open world games thanks to its emergent gameplay and co-op. But the way FC4 (and other Ubisoft open world games) handles your progress: these icons on the mini map, progress bars, ‘complete 10 missions out of 32’, ‘liberate 13 outposts out of 24’, ’10 bell towers out of 17’… these things seriously harm overall experience: sense of presence, world exploration, narrative surprises. And Ubi did that because they don’t know a better way to explain to the player that valuable content is still there. But they want to explain it, because they super afraid of the player will miss something, won’t get enough out of their highly budgeted $60 worthy AAA title. And that sucks.

  15. Josh W says:

    The most immediate impression this gives me is that I want a mod to turn the map icons off. So much exploration is weakened by trying to tell you how much you are not seeing. I absolutely loved it, when playing one of the old zelda games, when a bit of the map screen that looked like a background detail suddenly turned out to have extra levels in it. It pushed back against the limits I’d come to expect for that game world and provided a little more.

    If I can have my freeform co-op stealth game with animals and grenades, as well as various surprising events, then I’ll be happy with it. ‘Cause, in practice, I’m nowhere near planning to get this game, because various simpler more focused games happen to be focusing on things I’m interested in, and have a distinctive voice of their own, rather than making this game’s more incremental steps and more generic background.

    It’s also just a little too theme park, when what I want is a playground or a toy. Which is a less easy to argue statement which nevertheless comes into it. If a friend of mine gets this, I will play it with them very happily, but I’ll be inclined to treat it as something less eventful.

    • Csirke says:

      Far Cry 3 has mods that turn map icons, or even the whole minimap, off. I played it like that :) In Far Cry 4, there are built in options for these.

      Far Cry 3 could be had for extremely cheap quite often recently (less than 3 pounds cheap), so if that’s your main problem, I can wholeheartedly recommend getting it and playing it with mods :)

  16. lomaxgnome says:

    I think what was beautiful about Blood Dragon (other than the setting) was that it condensed everything about Far Cry 3 down into a 6-8 hour experience. Hopefully they’ll do something similar with Far Cry 4, whether it is Blood Dragon 2 or something similar.

  17. PopeRatzo says:

    I prefer to look at it like Saints Row 4 is Wagner’s Parsifal, and indie games are like the guy in the subway with an acoustic guitar and fedora playing Jim Croce songs. Sometimes he plays Jim Croce songs well, but they’re still Jim Croce songs.

    Thank you, my time is limited. I like big fast games. I don’t have time for half-fast games.

    I want games that do more. For $60 (plus DLC) they need to do MUCH more. I know it’s stylish to find those little vanity projects that tickle a hipsters sense of superiority, but seriously game devs, give people their money’s worth. Don’t skimp because you’re lazy.

    You know who wants games that do less? Wannabe game devs. Because THEY want to do less.

    • AXAXAXAS MLO II: MLO HARDER says:

      Nah, that’s bullshit. Indie devs are people in the subway playing whatever they want. Sometimes it’s a Jim Croce song, sometimes it’s an incredibly off-tune Beatles song, sometimes it’s a guy dresses like Elvis dancing to Brazilian funk, and sometimes it’s a strange, completely different thing you had never heard before and will now discover you love. Unlike the people in the subway, you won’t know until you’ve paid.

      I’m not a wannabe game dev but I do want games to do less. I’d much rather play a game that does one thing well than a game that does a lot of things poorly. I’ve played a lot of the latter, sure, but none of them are the games I keep coming back to. There are songs you hear all the time in the radio for a month and then they’re gone forever, and then there are the ones that end up in the Best Hits album thirty years later.

      • Halk says:

        The argument is not “game that does one thing well vs game that does a lot of things poorly”, is “game that does one thing well vs game that does a lot of things well”. Far Cry 4 is the latter, I think. If the game lacked focus this could be an argument worth sustaining, but it does not. The game being so big is only a problem for people that get duped by percentages into doing things they don’t have fun doing.

        In short, “Only want to play the parts of the game you enjoy? Well, you could. But don’t you want to make progress?” No, I only want to play the parts of the game I enjoy, and that’s what I do.

        • kotekzot says:

          That would be a convincing argument if not doing certain activities didn’t leave you crippled in the wold of FC4. Hunting is the single most important activity, because if you don’t hunt you’re going to be stuck with a single weapon slot and little ammo and other equipment, but foregoing other activities can leave you at a disadvantage as well.

  18. ZPG Lazarus says:

    I think Battlefield 4’s a prime example of this.

    A series that, back in the yonder years of BF1942 and Battlefield 2, had a mere 21 weapons spread across seven classes, Battlefield 4 has 160. Thousands of weapon unlocks with 20+ unlockable weapon mods. Hundreds of dog tags. 30 maps and 14 different game modes.

    Choice is great, but it all feels so…mediocre. Dozens of decent maps but no great ones. A hundred guns you’ll use once and never touch again. Game modes popular the week they come out and abandoned a week later.

    And the point is…what’s the point of bloat? Do more maps or guns, no matter how forgettable, make a better game? Why should DICE feel any obligation to be creative when its a given your game will sell millions and the franchise is practically unsinkable?

    That’s the reason I’m leery about the new Star Wars: Battlefront. Simple games before that DICE will probably stuff with 10+ game modes, 20 forgettable maps, and orange-colored Stormtrooper camo.

  19. mathead says:

    Funny line of thought; specially for someone who, like myself, has been a game and a music journalist at the same time. I never had the idea of cross-comparing the two but it definitely makes sense. I don’t think that, from now on, I’ll ever play a game without thinking about what band or genre I’d associate it with.

  20. davorschwarz says:

    Ok – i normally don’t post any comments but i just have to this time:

    THERE IS NOTHING WRONG with FC4 it is a perfect mix of what you can do and how you can do it
    It’s how you play it – and this time you can play it however you want.

    If you don’t like hunting and climbing towers – well frigin don’t than beecause you don’t have to – stop complaining about it people – you don’t have to tick every point on the map same as you don’t do every shit in your normal life – it’s called CHOICE and this time ubisoft nailed it.

    In FC4 finally you can onscreen icons mini map map icons etc on and off and play it however you like.

    If you wanted FC4 to be just about Clearing out fortresses why don’t you play it that way.
    Open map legend turn off filters for everything but vehicles and fortresses and there you go.

    If you just want to hunt animals not bother about anything else do that – that sub-branch of games activities even has its own upgrade stage where you get to hunt rare animals later in the game.

    If the game is too frigin easy for you on hard – why not CHOOSE to challenge yourself – let me see you scream its to easy trying to clear fortresses just with a knife/throwing knife combo.

    I personally challenged myself to only disable alarms by hand not destroying them from a far and now FC4 is the best stealth game i have ever played.

    Yes we don’t have cool FC2 map (and its beyond me why no other game has yet implemented that system and FC refuses to to do it again but…) this is what i did – im on pc so i screengrabed map whole + interesting parts + zoomed in with different filters on and off – and arranged them on my ipad – than i just turn off minimap in game.

    There you go total immersion and an unprecedented multitasking
    as i’m plotting my way through my new ipad map – zig-zagging to try and evade stupid eagles – and pricking my ears at any sign of purring growling and howling – ocasionaly glancing at the road in case there is a dust cloud approaching.

    So minimap off
    all on screen help off
    reticle off
    auto tagging off
    and i have only used camera and syringes 1 time when it was required for the mission.

    There you go
    perfect game
    stop complaining

  21. Shigawire says:

    Great article! I agree with your points.. I am also a huge Rush fan btw (my #1 band)

    I have a “theory” that this tendency of UBIsoft to overwhelm the player with icons on the map, and things to do stems from an attempt to imitate the freedom of the Grand Theft Auto series. It’s clear to me that GTA was the first to do this in this manner (“Elite” from 1984 on urban or terrain setting).

    I am of two thoughts on this:
    On the one hand I prefer to have multiple options of achieving an objective. However, the UBIsoft games tend to have “cookie-cutter” solutions to each problem. So the “freedom” feels very much like imposed “herding” of the player. You have very specific objectives, which you can or cannot do – to fulfill some kind of “High Score” tally. I’ve never been a fan of this “100% Achievements” approach to game design. It seems almost like they are tickling our primal need to “hoard stuff” (an evolutionary relic from our hunter-gatherer past). In Assassin’s Creed f.ex., collect 20/20 feathers to unlock all parts of one little story.

    On the other hand, I also like a more focused experience, where one role-plays a character doing what he does best, with the means and weaknesses inherent to that character. Playing to your strengths and avoiding your weaknesses.

    What if there was a middle road between these two approaches? I don’t think we need less freedom however. It seems to me they’re not going far enough in delivering a truly open experience, where every event is more emergent. I think computer games have reached the point where we’re now in the “uncanny valley” of complexity. An “uncanny valley” where we have quite a lot of complexity, but it’s simply gotten to the bottom point of the valley where the complexity feels “unnatural” and not really engaging.
    I think the solution isn’t less complexity, but even more complexity. Procedurally generated behaviors. A complex system constantly generating emergent behavior and events. Take Far Cry series: Instead of guards being static and motive-less actors simply standing idly by defending their predetermined locations.. give them internal motivations based on needs. For example, lets say the next Mad Max game is in the same genre (which I suspect, being made by the developers of Just Cause). Let’s say in Mad Max, that AI group A stole fuel from AI group B. Group B now needs to go out and find fuel. Perhaps another base that they know has fuel, there needs to be intelligence gathering involved in this. Also, the flimsy nature of intelligence gathering. Perhaps they got misinformed and attacked someone who they THOUGHT had fuel, but didn’t.. you can have consequences upon consequences. A long chain of consequences. The player in the middle of all this.
    Less hand-holding and herding with icons on a mini-map. For open world games, I really think we’re in the bottom of the uncanny valley at the moment. We don’t need less complexity to get out from it. That would be a step back. Less complexity is fine for more focused games, but for open world games, it’s part and parcel of the package. We just need the right kind of complexity to climb the uncanny valley. The only way this can be approached is with more procedural programming. Procedural emergent behaviors, procedurally generated characters and motivations, procedural emergent crafting and procedural harvesting. With this approach, and a well designed game play for diplomacy/intimidation, combat and stealth.. I think we could rise to the top of the uncanny valley.