We caught a dose of Far Cry 3 at E3. But what were the side effects?
Beyond being a FPS, Far Cry 2 didn’t really have anything to do with Far Cry at all. Where the first game was lush islands, the second was arid central African scrub. Where the first game was lonely, the second had AI companions, conversations, and expensive Jeeps. Where the first had giant unkillable mutants with rocket launcher arms, the second had... wildebeest. Where the first developer was Crytek, the second was one of Ubisoft’s monolithic internal studios. Plotwise, the first game was Moreau, the second is Heart of Darkness. So what is 3?
The only things in common to the first two were the themes of survival, open area combat, and a love of blue skies. From early reports, Far Cry 3 seemed like a more conscious effort to tie the two titles back together. However, when we got the game demonstrated to us at E3 by level designer Andrea Zannini, he was keen to point out that “For Far Cry 3, we look at 1 & 2 in terms of their foundations and we built upon it terms of the game structure... But... (in terms of narrative)... if 1 was here and 2 was here... we wanted to go way off the map. There’s no real essential tie-in.” So structurally and mechanically we’re told they’re similar, but the stories are not going to link up.
The demo we got followed this video (all demos were done on PC, incidentally), though done slightly differently.
With those without access to moving picture technology; you play Jason Brody (not like giving him a name makes him any less of an unknown), who’s been stranded on a Pacific island with his girlfriend. In your short time there, says Zannini “you’ve peeled back the layers of the onion; you’ve found that it’s very beautiful but also... lawless, savage and human life has no value.” Then, oh, no! Your princess is kidnapped! Cue Brody chasing Bowser to the castle.
As you can see from the trailer, Ubisoft has focused on the characters for this game, in this clip the decidedly bonkers Vaas, a murderous French gang-leader. Vaas is very much ‘12 eggs short of a dozen’ crazy in the unsubtle way that movie villains are bonkers, not simply on pills for his nerves. However, when I bring up how clichéd this is, citing Apocalypse Now, Zannini explains that he’s just one character:
“We wanted to do something different and not just character archetype A, B, C; we really wanted to think how someone would be if they lived in a place like this; if this was their environment and they didn’t want to leave. You and I going to a place like that for vacation would be like ‘omigod, beautiful’ then you see that this is their playground. Everyone’s a little insane, with their own motives, and you get to meet them and at first you’re “I like what they’re saying, I could align myself with them.” It’s not here’s a CRAZY, insane guy, it’s the guy down the street you just walk past and you don’t know it until you start to talk to them. You see a little bit more of the character come through - you think this is not a normal person, there’s something twitchy, off, some wiring not correct.”
So, will the AI companions from the previous title be returning? “There’ll be a slew of characters you encounter on the island, you’ll get to meet them, do missions with them, then they’ll unravel and it’s all part of one giant story that I’m not allowed to talk about.” I’m not sure if I hope it involves rocket-launcher mutants or not.
The only other notable thing about the demo is the world; it’s definitely lush, a return to the beach paradise of the first title, and there’s hints that it’s more explorable than you’d expect; we’re told that you can explore the Zero hanging in the undergrowth, cave mouths on the side of the trail, ruins and so forth... however, it’s highly unlikely these will result in anything more than alternate routes to the next narrative bottleneck, despite the designer’s protestations to the contrary. Zanini explains, “The environment is big for us, y’know, for beauty, but also for gameplay” as demonstrated when Brody, having escaped from a watery grave, uses a waterfall for cover to nobble a gang member, or when he dives into a river to confuse the pursuing natives.
There’s so little that was original in the combat section that I’m just going to skip over it. I mean, it’s just a standard open-world FPS. Nothing about the AI, weapons, movement is new or interesting. There are several different ways that we’re shown you can get to the inevitably-crashing chopper - gung-ho guns blazing, stealthy close combat or sniping from the clifftop (“Far Cry and sniper rifle, they’re in bed together”, says Zannini) followed by a zipline to the shore - but that’s also expected.
Far Cry 2 was hugely divisive - oddly boring, frame-breaking and limited, despite its huge flammable world, twisty plot and AI pals. Zannini emphasises that their key question in Far Cry 3 is “How can we immerse players in our world, give them the agency to play how they want and make it accessible?” There were certainly a lot of underwater sections, but somehow I don’t think that’s the immersion he’s talking about. Ubisoft are definitely returning to something closer to the original Far Cry here - but also closer to a very standard-looking FPS. Far Cry deserves something better than that.