Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Down The Rabbit Hole

Review: Far Cry 3 - How insane are we talking about here?

Hotly anticipated and with promise of experiences like nothing else before; Is this Far Cry a mystic island filled with adventures or just a whole lot of bush whacking?

Game play –
The running and gunning feels smooth with a good weight behind the character’s action and movement. A good deal of attention has been paid to giving the player a sense of major-Rambo-bad-ass-ery by creating a fluid system that allows stringing together a range of deadly skills to dispatch those pesky pirates.

Much of this game requires traversing a variety of different and hazardous terrains which, for the most part, are a joy to vault, dive, climb or slide through. However there is the odd bit of coding that somehow turns the face of all mountains into ice skating rinks; requiring trial and error until you find that tiny bit of dodgy texture that allows you jump upwards and onwards.

The “What’s” and “How’s” of Jason Brody’s actions come from the “symbiotic” minutiae of his tattoo; the skill tree mcguffin of all contemporary action-adventure games.  Anything you do, be it story line or peripheral distraction, all add towards your experience points which you then use to purchase skills from your tree. There are three different branches representing different abilities and passive augmentations: The Shark: assault take downs and healing, The Spider: stealth and survival, The Stork: long range take-downs and mobility.

(Source Destructoid)
Taking some time out from the story line to build Jason’s abilities is a must to fully appreciate the deadly killer-instinct that lies within, but it also helps to open up your options when it comes to continuing the story and infiltrating out-posts throughout Rook Island.

Progression through Far Cry 3 relies on two factors. 

Firstly, in order to uncover more of the map you are tasked with powering up radio towers dotted around Rook Island. Doing this requires you to find one, navigate a fiddly vertical climb (a mini-puzzle of sorts), reach the top and flip a switch. After you have restored power you are rewarded with free weaponry, experience, animal locations, site locations, and access to more of your map.

Secondly, in order to gain access to fast travel you must liberate outposts across Rook Island. This requires either finesse and patience or a whole load of ammunition and fire power.

If you go down the stealth route you’ll find yourself seeking a vantage point to scope the terrain below like a hawk and find access into the outpost. It’s important you aren’t caught with your pants down as you attempt a silent assassination so mark the position of enemies - and fiendishly slay the occupants (or alternatively pop the lock on the caged animal and watch the chaos ensue). To help you with this tactic it is advisable to either shoot or disable the alarm posts, preventing the current inhabitants from calling back up.

If, on the other hand, you prefer to blow shit up, then make sure you are fully stocked with enough health and endurance syringes to take on a small army – because as soon as that alarm is hit it’s a 5 star police rating.

To the games detriment I found that once I had done the necessary amounts of liberating and powering up of radio towers, there was very little left in the game for me to come back to after completion. The enemies spawn from every outpost, so as you liberate each one you are cutting down the number of confrontations, and by the end there is really nothing left to shoot. With nothing to shoot you don’t use ammo, and you don’t need money. Additionally once you have upgraded Jason to his bad-ass-est, the once necessary wanted and hunting challenges became mundane simplistic.

Style, Story and Presentation -
You play the part of Jason Brody, a white frat boy with plenty of “wasted potential”. A spur of the moment sky diving decision puts you and your white middle class group of socialites captured by the charismatic, yet undoubtedly ‘insane’ Vaas. You must discover the ‘insane’ and deadly warrior within to fight the powers that be on Rook Island and to save your friends from certain death/slavery/sex trafficking/torture.

Committing to the story’s journey will take you: to the peaks of mountains, the bowels of a tanker, the depths of the ocean, the dilapidated ruins of the lost Chinese dynasties, and the many ramshackle-d towns across the face of Rook Island. All of these locations do a phenomenal job of giving Rook Island an air of mysticism and beauty.

It’s clear that painstaking detail had been put into developing the correct topography to create spectacular vistas that feel as though the islands could actually exist somewhere in our own world.

In my 30+ hours of playing Far Cry 3, ne’er did I see a structure, outcrop, waterfall or cave that looked funky or implausible. Quite frankly it’s a gorgeous looking game, but it’s not without its rough edges. Unimportant NPC’s possessed jaws that would flap too much or not at all when speaking. Draw distance is limited and noticeable when scoped in, whilst textures pop and lag on occasion. Ultimately these are signs of the consoles’ age, and the scope and ambition of the game pushing an old dog hard.

A key element to Far Cry 3’s over all texture is its artwork and presentation. Many statements are made through the game alluding to the islands tribal heritage, and besides the hidden relics of architecture, there isn't much else to go on. A (large) majority of the tribal nature comes down to stereotypical Maori accents, and uninspiring “tribal” tattoos. They capture a feel but nothing more.

Similarly the music does a good attempt at building tension where needed, but the decision to use dub-step over more rustic sounds and instruments raises an eyebrow. You could view this choice as trying to distinguish the mounting frenetic chaos on the island as Jason sabotages the system, and the evolving madness of your characters actions. Or you could view it as a reflection of the constant shoe-horning of dub-step into anything possible as of 2011, despite the obvious fact that it is dreadful.

Also in play is the use of natural psychedelics, introduced to you by the good Dr. Earnhardt, that provide some of the more varied moments through the game. 

Often these scenes are on rail set pieces that limit the actions of the player in place of a more visual roller-coaster  nevertheless they produce some genuine jaw dropping moments. In my opinion they present an interesting dichotomy between the conflicting ideals of Jason’s expanding awareness and sense of self, against the downwards spiral of corruption from the direct influences of Rook Island. Although the style is unique to Far Cry 3, it undeniably takes influence from earlier titles like Batman Arkham Asylum.

Far Cry 3 isn’t shy about its influences and regularly alludes to literature and pop culture: Louis Carrols’ “Through the Looking Glass” punctuates Jason’s dance with madness; lines of dialog from Kill Bill Vol.1 are used, cleverly, to add satire as well as horrible levels of foreshadowing. There are shout out to its contemporaries such as “Bioshock” and “Modern Warfare”, plus further film nods such as “Aliens” and “Dog Soldiers”. The list goes on and it’s a refreshing injection of meta-fiction that endears the player to Jason’s character.

One of the greatest achievements of Far Cry 3 is the delightfully scary supporting cast that are organically introduced throughout the story, and never over stay their welcome. Each new story driving character is a shade of crazy, unstable and unpredictable, and blurs the line of friend and foe; it’s impossible not to be engrossed by their presence in the game.

The crowning performance, however, goes to Vass (Michael Mando). Vaas is presented as your direct antagonist when kills your eldest brother and attempts to eliminate your repeatedly as you quickly become a thorn in his side. Every close encounter you have with him is masochistic joy, and I found myself wanting to see more of his psychotic face as the story continued.

The only downside is that Vaas is woefully underutilised and I wish his removal from the story was scripted much later. Never the less Vaas gives a memorable performance, stealing the spotlight of the game.

Multiplayer –
Far Cry 3 does a lot of things really well, as I discussed earlier: it has your meta references to pop culture, nods to the internet, a nice helping of self awareness to its genre, and how often we are expected to view our violent actions as necessary within the framework of the FPS gaming world. So it’s quite refreshing to see all these aspects used well. On the other hand it’s for these same reasons Far Cry 3 fails at multiplayer.

Multiplayer comes with your standard online modes: Team death match and Domination, which I found deplorable and woefully empty. There is a significant lack of energy and frenetic chaos that we've become so accustomed to thanks to the likes of, dare I say it, Modern Warfare.

They have thrown in some more game specific modes called ‘Firestorm’ and ‘Transmission’ (a take on KoH) but because I wasn't gripped to the format of multiplayer, I quickly dismissed these extra modes. Overall it’s nothing new or particularly enticing for hardcore online fans and you can tell it’s been built for a safe form factor – essentially a ‘tacked on’ function. 

If you've played any of the Modern Warfare instalments you’ll find a lot of similar ground here regarding load outs and perks; but dressed with the Far Cry paint.

Also included is a ‘Co-op Multiplayer’ with a running narrative following the destructive stories of 4 new characters. Essentially set 6 months prior to the arrival of Jason and his wet blanket Argonauts, this band of misfits are working on a boat...and something happens where they get doubled crossed by the Captain over money. Iron sight shenanigans ensue to recover what was rightfully theirs.
It’s not deep and it in no way requires your full attention to play through it. The story is just there to conveniently piece together the mass amounts of shooting between cut scenes. You choose pre-made load outs or your own carefully crafted ones, jump in and shoot waves of enemies until the game prompts you to the next objective.

Obviously this is not a game you buy for its multiplayer, which goes without saying and I'm sure there is enough here to keep people entertained. But essentially it is a by product of the 21st Century, reflective of the current gaming climate and attitudes from developers that persistently think a game needs multiplayer. 

The soul saving grace of multiplayer is the colourful cast which features the most true to life Scottish accents ever committed to a video game.

Layman's Terms -
Far Cry 3 is a strong game with some solid concepts, robust gameplay mechanics, and colourful characters that do well to keep you engaged throughout your time on Rook Island. Visually appealing and bordering on lush jungle porn, taking time to explore the island will yield treasures and pleasures alike. Though the game can suffer from technical faults and console limitations it’s never enough to break its immersive triumphs.

If you've not yet ventured to this island, it’s high time you thought about taking that leap. Just don’t do it for the multiplayer.

Wandering comments:
  • Hand gliders are strangely temperamental - having been ejected unexpectedly several times and plummeted to my death.
  • Save the Tapirs! – those pig-elephants are cute (serious note: don’t get too attached, you will have to kill everything).
  • Beware of Cassowaries – they’re more dangerous than a jungle tiger…well not really.
  • Hunt incessantly, craft regularly - There is a need to build your character both in regards to his skills and ability to stock ammunition or weapons to defend himself.
  • Don’t be afraid to explore – Rook Island has been created with some wonderful spots, it’s incredibly easy to stray from the beaten path, and you should!
  • Ode to the boss fight – some great and very much unexpected big fights that really come out of the side lines, paying respects to those old school, end of level big bosses.
  • It’s the small things that count – there list of *Warning* ‘fridge brilliance’ moments and ‘shout outs’ to pop-culture is long and varied.

By Rod-the-Pod, 21-Jan-2013

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