RPS hugbuddy Will Porter is giggling beside me. ("Hugbuddy"? - Incredulous Ed.) The guilt at what I was doing was not stopping me from doing it: I am a bad bad man and Will’s laughter drove me on. While we were waiting in the Far Cry 3 multiplayer lobby, I experimentally clicked the two thumbsticks down (the game was on PC, but it’s currently only tuned for joypad) and was informed I’d levelled up, and it showed me the new weapon I now had access to. Like the other people at this press event, I’d never before had the chance to plunge into the team-focused multiplayer, but with every guilty click I was giving myself an advantage. Click. Click. Click. I looked at the other screens and no-one was pulling the same trick. This was going to be easy.
It wasn’t easy. In fact, my advantage didn’t matter, and I died as if John was my healer. Far Cry 3’s multiplayer is a class-based, team driven, with an entire social layer outwith the game that I’ll get to later, but in-game that focus means you need to co-ordinate and stick together or you won’t receive benefits of BFFs. It’s not that there’s Left 4 Dead style punishment if you go off on your own, but you have a Battle Cry, a special power that buffs those closest to you on the map, and you get rewarded for being a productive team member.
Stupid me, with my initial “I am levelled to the balls” attitude, when the first round began on Domination, a control point game mode, I left my team-mates and ran off to a different control point than the one they were heading to, face first into bullets. At least I reduced the number of bullets out there that could conceivably hurt my friends, which I count as teamwork of the highest order, but my initial foolhardiness exposed the game’s core. I sheepishly held back more and got to grips.
You kind of know Far Cry 3’s multiplayer already: it feels like a sunny Modern Warfare, with beaches, pools and temples replacing grittily muddied up urban environments. Death comes swiftly, unexpectedly, a bit frustratingly, and mostly because of corners. It’s a slower paced, but it often feels like the action is a trip between respawns. It’s a bit like every multiplayer mode in every big single-player game, really: it feels like an odd, other-world version of the full game. The team-buffs keep things degenerating into a MW style cluster, though.
Depending on the class (typical variations of sniper, heavy weapons, etc), you can boost damage, speed, or health. I’d just captured a scrap yard with three other players. I swept over the map’s points and we were losing, so had a choice of control points to attack. One was being captured and the two others were held: I boosted everyone’s speed and ran off towards the nearest one we could quickly grab. Everyone followed. I kind of got lucky: the offensive buffs work when people are aware of your intentions, like popping an uber in TF2. Later on I boosted everyone’s speed and ran at a CP. They ran off in different directions, a bit quicker than usual, and I was slaughtered. I felt /quite/ the fool.
Defensively it’s easier to pull off a fistbump moment: health boosts are welcome at any time, and sliding in (it has a slide button – wheeeeeeee!) to a control point where a coordinated enemy attack is wearing down defenders and boosting everyone to full health pulled our team together. Without the benefit of chat in the basement room we were playing in (no-one was talking, apart from Will and I. And then, we’d talk about teaming up, then one of us would get distracted), people were sticking together defending because the urgency to stop a captured control point being retaken beats supporting a CP that your team is currently capturing. With chat I could see how co-ordination would slow the pace down and keep some of the unnecessary deaths in check, but the nature of the levels really means a lot of unseen enemies will get you. Another boon of keeping in tight formation is when you do die, you can be revived. Those nearest you can hear your calls for help and anyone can revive anyone: there’s no healer in Far Cry 3’s war.
Boosting everyone, helping the dead, capturing points builds up Team Support points, which gives you virtual currency to spend on one-off special weapons. With enough you can access Team Support weapons, heavy one-shots that really mess with the other side’s progress. The best of these was Psyche Gas: it swamps the enemy team, their vision blurs and everyone looks like a demon. Friendly fire is switched off at that point, and I confess I killed a friendly, but when a demon with a gun is running towards you, you shoot first and apologise later.
The Firestorm mode takes the basics of control point and flambes it. In a bigger map, with more open areas, (though combat still felt cramped), the two teams were each given two stashes of fuel to keep safe. Each stash that’s captured starts a fire: if you capture the second stashes before the first one burns out, a radio is activated on the map. This becomes the active control point, in the midst of an ever raging fire, where the ascendant team is trying to capture it to call in a plane to dump fuel on the fire winning the map; the losers are attempting to douse it to reset the map. It’s a frenetic, embattled, everyone throwing themselves into it sort of capture zone: buffs fly freely as everyone tries to break the deadlock, but they’re still buffing quick-death, speedy respawn fights. I found it tough to break away from any assault: when I was spotted, I was dead.
The spreading fire riffs on Far Cry 3’s elements at least, but I’m still a bit miffed that there’s nothing here that feels like the open-world shooter that’s birthed it. Instead, there’s the real-world. Far Cry 3 comes with a social network of sorts. It’s a combo of friend-making, stat-tracking, weapon unlocking and trading that you can access on the PC and on your phone. The example given is a player, a little stick figure called “Redman” having “intel” to unlock, basically a mysterious package given to him while playing the game that he hopes is a shotgun. He starts the unlock process on the website, via his phone, and keeps checking in during the day. It’s unlocking too slowly for him, and he prods a friend who he introduced to the game. His friend has a speed-up token that he uses to buff the unlocking process. It’s not a shotgun, and the little man is sad. But wait, his friend already has the shotgun, and gifts it to Redman. The power of friends makes him happy.
I’m okay with games that give you scope to fiddle away from your main screen. I’d quite happily poke around my TF2 backpack on the bus, but a social network is a little incongruous that a game series that’s slowly revolving around psychopathy. Still, if there’s enough to interest you in Far Cry 3’s multiplayer, you now have an outlet to make a difference to your loadout while sat on the toilet. Me? I’ll just be doing a poo.