I really honestly can’t say I’m all that excited by the new Far Cry 3 from what I’m seeing in the trailers. Hallucinatory drugs, weird cel-shaded graphics, and a seriously annoying villain who is trying to do his best impression of insane with the constant inane chatter. It better be proper open-world open, and not just “fake” open-world hemmed in by a strictly linear narrative. In fact, Far Cry 3 really looks like it is trying to do its best impression of Uncharted or something.
I absolutely adored Far Cry 2 however, and I wrote about it lovingly on my old blog. In fact, I loved the game so much I had a bit of a retrospective which included some ideas that I thought Ubisoft could explore for their next outing, which I see fit for bringing back here in light of the upcoming game’s release. In fact, from what I’m seeing from the trailers, the whole tribal villagers thing might actually be one of my predictions coming true.
I’ve heard this one at least a dozen times; the way you can almost “feel” the sweltering heat as you scream across the African desert in a 4×4, or how the towns are positively buzzing with tension and alive with people.
What people? What atmosphere? What heat? Sure the graphics can make it feel like you’re really in some savanna, or a lush jungle, but as far as civilization is concerned, Far Cry 2 is too lacking in populace. The only time you ever see non-hostile NPCs is at the very beginning, as you are driven towards the town. You see women and children and random dudes but they seem to be going in the opposite direction to you. The driver informs you everyone is trying to leave the country. This means all the villages are either devoid of life or filled with angry people with guns.
So to make Far Cry 2 more immersive, instead of having all the people disappear, they should’ve made the towns more vibrant with communities that don’t try to shoot you on sight: have people going about their daily business, from selling and buying things at a market, kids playing in the dusty streets, women going about their housekeeping chores, etc.
The player is already in constant danger traveling between places, with jeeps chasing your ass, and outposts that spray bullets at your car every time you pass. Having non-hostile communities not only gives the player an opportunity for respite, it also contrasts the violence with the peaceful, cultural aspects the country has to offer.
Even if your interaction with non-hostile NPCs is minimal, i.e. have them there for show even if you can’t talk to them shows that you are not alone in this big, bad world full of big, bad people.
In Far Cry 2, you pick up buddies at an expat bar (which, as discussed above, is too empty to be fun) and have them help you out in two ways – they give an alternative plan of action for missions, or help rescue you if you go down in a fight. Outside of this, they have nothing interesting about them, and reveal only piecemeals of personal histories.
Such static programming may mean the player quickly understands the function of the buddies in the game, but I’d like to have seen something more dynamic. Didn’t Half-Life 2: Episode 2 come out exactly one year before Far Cry 2?
Why mention that awesome game from Valve? you ask.
Simple. HL2: Episode 2 had an interesting gimmick in that Alyx, one of the main characters to the Half-Life story and your best buddy, follows you around for most of the game; dispatching enemies and sitting in the car beside you. It made the world less lonely as she talked to you, and reacted to the world along with you. Far Cry 2 needed to do that.
For much of the latter game, you are driving across very pretty landscapes, but it’s all so very lonely. Having someone sit beside you – perhaps telling you about their lives before you arrived, or help fend off all those irritating jeeps chasing you, would make the game a lot more fun and the buddies all that more meaningful in your game existence.
Plus, when the shocking twist comes at the end, I think it would be a whole lot more profound.
All this talk about more affecting companions leads me to my next big point. Characters in Far Cry 2 are poorly written. Perhaps Ubisoft’s concern is that in order to focus on the main point of the game, which is to shoot stuff, and do it fast, they need to cut back on lengthy talky bits and deep characterization.
But heck, go all out to make the best immersive game you can, I say. Which means all the bosses, and their assistants that you get your missions from should be made more well-rounded. Right now, they could very well be replaced by cardboard cut-outs with robotic voices, and we could care less.
Bring out more of their paranoia at the other faction, some underlying emotions, anxieties, motives for acting the way they do. Give us more and more of the characters. Now, they just speak too fast and not at all about anything other than “go-here-do-that”. Even the buddies could do with a little more depth, although I have to praise the visual design of all the characters, they are each individually quite interesting.
The Jackal I must add though, is a well written character. Of course, he is the most prominent character for the plot, and the catalyst for everything that happens around you in the game world.
I played Uncharted 2 recently, and the story is just so compelling and a rollicking good time as an adventure. That’s what Far Cry 2 should’ve done. Made an adventure story set in Africa. It may be a little cliched, but at least it is at once familiar to audiences but also fresh, in terms of it not being done to death yet in the gaming world.
This is definitely a very strong personal opinion but I believe we should be given better reasons to blowing things up, or assassinating this person or raiding that outpost. Give me a strong enough motive to want to fight these people badly.
In the game, we are just blunt tools acting on the whims of these faction lords, fighting their pointless proxy wars so that we can earn diamonds to buy the next big gun. I don’t really care if I’ve racked up a body count, or leveled an entire village. But my point is, I should care. I even sometimes forget the main reason why I’m in Africa which is to find and kill the Jackal.
I have no doubt that the writers at Ubisoft are good enough to maintain the game’s high degree of freedom and choice whilst having a focused story. Granted, Far Cry 2’s ultimate design is in that it is not shackled by a story so that players can create their own as they play, but after awhile, even sandbox without meaning or focus can grow tiresome.
And if the writers at Ubisoft want ideas for what kind of story to make, I have a possible plot opening:
You come to Africa to find and kill the Jackal, but after being struck down by malaria, you are saved and nursed back to health by a small village community. You come to live with and befriend these simple people, until the factions come through and ravage the peaceful village.
Therein lies your motive to fight: to save the lives of your friends, or even take revenge on those war-mongering fools. Or not at all, and go work for the factions instead. Boom! Cue epic music. Ubisoft can reach me via email to discuss story rights.