This is the week where everyone you know is going to be telling you how awesome Far Cry 3 is. Had I been writing this when I started playing the game, I probably would’ve been one those people, but a week afterward, it’s slipped precariously in my esteem. The first few hours feel amazing, but after completing the storyline, I have a few quibbles that probably knocked it off my game of the year shortlist entirely. Here are a few of them, with no real storyline spoilers, just some comments on mechanics that might come into play later in the game.
The game is, if nothing else, very pretty.
It Made Me Feel Like A Baby: I get that complaining about a game’s difficulty level is kinda passé, but even so, Far Cry 3 is a pretty easy game, even on the hardest difficulty setting. Enemies don’t really do that much damage to you, body armor is very cheap, you can talent yourself to get free healing by repairing broken bones (although this does take longer than using a syringe), and you can make super-syringes that not only fully heal you but give you extra health on top of that. Plus, the signature weapons you can unlock (pretty early in the game) are ridiculously powerful: the Ripper LMG can mow down dozens of enemies from a hundred meters away without needing to be reloaded. Not everything has to be Dark Souls, but this is a game that could’ve used an extra difficulty level on top of the three that are provided.
That’s all kind of acceptible, except for the part where the designers apparently decided to assume that no one playing FC3 has ever played an open-world game or FPS before, and designed the UI with that assumption in mind. I’ll grant them that most games have constant waypoint markers telling you where to go, although I wish that I could turn it off here if I felt like exploring. Slightly more egregious are the enemy awareness indicators that show precisely where an enemy is and whether or not he’s aware of you. These are fine for a game that encourages you to be stealthy, but it feels suspiciously like something that would ordinarily be activated with a cheat code, and makes it easy to tell where enemies are even when they’re completely out of your sight, which is not a way to make your game feel challenging. One could also complain about the enemy-tagging that effectively turns you into Superman, but that at least can be disabled in the menu.
INTERACT WITH THE DOOR. THE DOOR THAT I’VE CLEARLY MARKED AS A WAYPOINT. IT’S RIGHT THERE IN FRONT OF YOU. GO OVER AND PRESS THE BUTTON. DO IT NOW. PRESS W TO MOVE FORWARD. HERE, LET ME TELL YOU WHAT TO DO AGAIN. THIS MESSAGE WILL REPEAT EVERY FIVE SECONDS.
Most annoyingly, though, the game shuttles you from storyline mission to storyline mission without a gap in between those missions: as soon as you’re done with mission 3, you automatically get pointed towards mission 4, and so on. The game pops up a notice every two minutes saying what you need to do next to proceed in the story. Literally every 120 seconds. Want to explore the island a bit? Too bad, you’re gonna get nagged to go talk to Citra a hundred times in a row. Interested in hunting down some animals? Well, you could do that, or you could get your ass to Badtown, as the game will constantly remind you.
This is a design decision that is simply bad, and one that’s difficult to understand. I understand that games have to be accessible to gamers of all skill levels, but does anyone really not know what a yellow exclamation point on a map means at this point? Did Ubisoft think that I would just forget that there was a main storyline to the game, never check the map for quests, and wander around for hours before quitting in disgust? It’s a “feature” that is not only unnecessary, but somewhat insulting as well. (On that note, I was escaping from a collapsing cavern about ten hours into the game, when a UI note popped up reminding me which button enabled me to sprint. Ten hours in, and the game somehow assumed that I had been walking everywhere.)
Enemies approach under cover of darkness. Too bad I can spot them from a mile away thanks to my psychic abilities.
I’m sure that many players will be able to shrug this off, but things like this annoy me quite a bit. I couldn’t even finish the first Splinter Cell game, for instance, because it had an objective bar that would pop up every time you paused Fisher’s movement for all of three seconds. “Oh, did you forget that you were supposed to move forward and kill a dude? Let me remind you of that. Oh, you stopped. Are you confused? You’re supposed to move forward and kill that dude. Oh, you stopped again. Did you need me to remind you what you were supposed to do? Here you go. And again. And again. And again.”
Needless to say, I have peculiar problems with UIs that insist on incorporating elements that flash or pop-up, especially when you can’t disable them. (Do the LEGO games really need to flash “CONNECT CONTROLLER” at you in the corner of the screen, endlessly, if you’re playing by yourself?) Designing a default UI for a game is a challenging affair, but I take issue with UIs that display too much information rather than too little, and Far Cry 3 seems to be a particularly bad example of this trend.
An Open World That Feels Peculiarly Empty: Not every open world can be GTA or Just Cause 2, but after you beat the main storyline of Far Cry 3, there’s little reason to boot the game up again, at least in my experience. I think the designers here overreacted a bit to the criticism of Far Cry 2’s respawning checkpoints: they’ve replaced them with outposts that are easily avoidable, but which, when conquered, completely eliminate all enemy presence and patrols from the surrounding area. Since you’re encouraged to take over these outposts to unlock new quests and collectibles, you’ll probably wind up conquering all of them as you play the game. The consequence of that is that there are basically no enemies at all for you to shoot after you get done with the main storyline. You can drive around unmolested all you like, secure in the fact that there won’t be any bullets coming your way.
This is a baffling problem for a shooter to have. Can you name another FPS that has allowed you to effectively remove all enemies from the game? Technically, there are always animals to be hunted, but doing so serves little point when you’re done with the crafting (which, by the way, you can complete as soon as you’re allowed to freely roam the north island). You can pick a fight with your Rakyat friends, but they’ll prove to be little challenge, and doing so doesn’t make much storyline sense. And there may be isolated pockets of enemies in storyline areas that you already cleared out, but I rarely found more than one or two of these guys, and I had to really look for them. Imagine playing around in the world of Saints Row, but take away every cop and rival gang member from the streets. “Oh boy, I can run over and shoot pedestrians…forever.”
Uninspired Side Quests: Even if you don’t mind exploring the scenery, the collection of side missions that are available to you are peculiarly unimaginative, especially given the kind of world that Ubisoft has created. I mean, aren’t we all kinda tired of the old “drive this vehicle through a bunch of checkpoints!” side mission by now? The assassination and hunting missions are lazily designed at best, as they’re just normal gameplay with weapon restrictions placed on you. (And besides, most of the Wanted: Dead missions can relatively easily be accomplished by sniping everyone but the targets and then sneaking up on the commanders.) I understand that the game is more serious than Saints Row, and it’d be weird to have something like Insurance Fraud in Far Cry 3, but a little bit of inspiration would’ve helped here.
The interaction between predators and enemies seems like it would’ve made for a good mini-game. But what do I know?
More to the point, there are a lot of systems in the game that seem like they wouldn’t been fun to include in a minigame setup, but aren’t. Why not make a game where I drop grenades on targets while hang gliding? Or use my wingsuit for some kind of Pilotwings-esque aerial maneuvering minigame? Or make me to destroy a convoy with mines and rockets? (This was always fun in Far Cry 2.) Or ask me to snipe the drivers of speeding cars, forcing as many of them to flip over as I could manage within a time limit? Or set fire to fields with a flaregun to shepherd predators into enemy camps and watch them all get eaten? Or make me man a car’s turret while an AI player drove me through enemy checkpoints?
Instead, we’re left with a bunch of minigames that are effectively, again, just normal gameplay with some extra restrictions placed on the player. And, well…Texas Hold ‘Em. This is a lineup of optional activities that would’ve felt pretty standard in 2005; at the end of a console generation that has seen many excellent open-world games, Far Cry 3 doesn’t nearly match its competition in this arena.
In The End: This is a game that I was immensely impressed by in its first few hours, but left me nonplussed by the time I reached the end of its single-player game. (Note that I’m not commenting on the multiplayer or co-op, mostly because those game modes don’t really attract me in open-world games.) I’ll sometimes load up Saints Row 3 or Just Cause 2, just to fool around with them, but there’s little in the mechanics or optional games (or world) of Far Cry 3 that make me want to keep it installed, let alone play it after having made it through the story. It’s not all bad, of course: the shooting mechanics are great, the game itself is beautiful, and the storyline is mostly good for the 15-20 hours or so that it’ll take you to get through it.
It’s ultimately a frustrating title, though, because it feels like someone who celebrates before the end of the race: it was so close to being great, but the designers instead made some lazy choices and wound up underachieving. Maybe the mod community can eliminate some of these problems, but FC3 feels like a rental more than a purchase in its shipping form.