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    • Coda
      Posting these cat-cartoons-without-the-cartoon was a long journey that I don’t know if I’ll repeat soon again. A daily blog is tough … even when you have your material handed to you! But, I couldn’t have done it without the artwork … Continue reading →
    • December 31, 2011
      Father Time is riding out his last few minutes of being the temporal keeper for 2011; he sits in an easy chair with a calendar showing “Dec 31” behind him and a grandfather clock pointing to the time of 11:53. … Continue reading →
    • December 30, 2011
      A happy young lady shares a table at a tony restaurant with her cat; they both wear festive, cone-shaped party hats. The woman gaily says to the tuxedoed server, “One martini and one glass of milk.” The cat does not … Continue reading →

Rage against the machine that is Far Cry 3

Posted by joeabbott on March 8, 2014

imageLike many love stories, this little post will tell the tale of ups and downs, ebullient passion and controller-throwing frustration; it will end in an odd feeling of complete success and a what-the-huh? moment. Perhaps not all love stories involve “rage”, but this one does; this will be my story about playing a video game called Far Cry 3.

AND IT WILL CONTAIN SPOILERS. If you plan on playing Far Cry 3 or just don’t want to know certain key plot line elements, please don’t read this; I’ll understand.

Achievements

Far Cry 3 (FC3) was released in late 2012, sometime around November, and ready for the holiday rush. For whatever reason, I was able to get my hands on a copy just before Christmas for under $40. I have enough games around that I’m seldom hankering for the latest and greatest, so I usually wait for games to drop to $20 or less before I pick them up. But, I like to support the industry of which I’m part in some small way, so I like to buy games new (as opposed to from someone who has already played the game). Then again, I’m cheap enough that I can’t part with $60 as easily.

imageSo here it was, less than a month after FC3 was released, a hot game (metacritic scores for the Xbox 360 version are a 91) in a genre I love ( stealth RPG!) at a game-playing time of year: Nice! Purchasing was this title was an easy decision but I was a bit less compelled to drop everything else to actually play it.

imageAround Christmas 2012 I was in the middle of an achievement hunting blitz and seemed to have my eyes purely on the quick and easy achievements. I started FC3 before the holidays, yet I stopped playing just after the beginning of 2013, at a point in the game where I rescued the first prisoner. It was exhilarating gameplay and a nice combination of sneak and sneak and sneak and don’t forget to breathe … and then mad dash to make your escape!! Just stellar stuff!

However, RPGs are not where the fast achievement boosts are and so I put the game aside and played any number of other so-so games (I’m looking at you Disney’s Bolt and Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs). FC3 sat for a while but I picked it up again in April of that year when my nephew offered to help me complete the multi-player maps. I typically stink at MP and don’t play a lot with other gamers, but really enjoyed my tour around with him. About that time I discovered my inner Rambo and took on a decidedly “aggressive stealth” style; it looked like: sneak sneak sneak … Leeroy Jenkins Attack Mode!!!

imageI died a lot but, with my nephew’s help, ultimately completed the maps over the course of three days. But then the game sat a very long time.

Like most things that sit a long time, those that languish longest ultimately fade away. I, however, was smitten by the excellence of the gameplay. The stealth mechanics of FC3 are fantastic: the AI smart without being prescient, the variety of success criteria is nice, there are a number of mini-games, and overall it helped to teach me that, even if you look at a stronghold and see 15 guys milling about, with patience you can overcome them without a shot being fired. Yes, I traded a gun for plunging a knife through their hearts as I caught them alone, typically dragged their corpses’ into the weeds … but that’s just details.

imageI picked up FC3 two weeks ago, and for a game that I’d already taken to about halfway through the campaign, another two weeks of committed playing is a pretty long time. Some time was need to get back into the game, some was the length of content and depth of story, but most was the typical RPG mechanics that require you to do a LOT of collecting or mission completing to get enough experience to invest into the rich skill trees.

Part of that two weeks was magical, part was drudgery, part was yell-at-the-TV frustrating, and all made for a very memorable bit of gaming.

Here’s my breakdown of Achievements (on the left axis) and Gamerscore (on the right) … and the big gaps show where I was busy with other games.

image

While there was a bit of repetition in the game … often I’d use the same tactics over and over to take out different enemy bases … I really enjoyed the vast majority of my time with FC3. Which is why I feel ever so slightly bad at this next bit of carping; mostly because I go on a bit. But, all of the criticisms are sincere and, even with these gripes, remember that the game is lots of fun. That said, let’s get on with the bitchin’.

Getting my goat with button overload

sharkI mentioned a number of elements that I really liked and you can include in that the immersive environments, the variety of missions\pastimes, and the fantastic writing. But …I do have some exceptions with the game.

Let’s start with a discussion on poor controller choices.

First, which moron decided to have the X-button be both the “loot the slain enemy” button as well as the “trade weapons with the downed enemy” button? Both actions are equally applicable when you stand over a downed enemy. I can’t tell you how many times … including the crucial final battles … that I swapped my badass lead-throwing death machine for some punk machine gun, all because I did or didn’t hold the X-button long enough!

And the same goes for using the Y-button for “give me health”, “trade my current weapon with my last-used weapon”, and “put out the fire that’s cascading over my arms”. It’s just a criminal overloading of purposes for the same button.

I also hated … and in a lifetime of acknowledging there are other opinions and other choices that are equally valid to my own … I hated that when you’d bring up the use-another-weapon option wheel with it’s 8 different selections using the Xbox 360 controller’s very poor direction pad … I hated that TIME WOULD NOT STOP!

Yes, stopping time when you bring up a selection wheel breaks RTS simulation, it breaks reality to have leisure to think a moment in the middle of a fire fight, but it’s just decency to gamers who are trying like heck to get out their shotguns to stop the tiger from attacking only to bring up a bow and arrow … no, a land mine … wait, try the pistol! Ooo … bad luck, now you’re dead.

Yeah, hated that.

Who let these idiots in?

imageTwo other throw-the-controller moments were during critical sections in which you need to protect another party member. These “escort missions” happen regularly in games but typically the AI of the person you’re escorting isn’t so broken. Both experiences in FC3  took me many trials before succeeding and, unlike other challenges, I have zero confidence that I learned something new and would be able to succeed in the mission if I did it again … both final successes feel like anomalies I took advantage of by moving on in the game.

In the first escort mission, you just have rescued a guy from certain death by firing squad: he is then going to give you documents to help your cause but, the papers are back in the village, currently under attack by the folks who were going to kill him. His tactic for getting back? Yelling, firing his gun at the enemies, and running … yes, running … across a mine field.

Your mission, whether you want it or not, is to keep him alive. Which meant shooting the now-charging enemies who are trying to do you both in while you avoid stepping on the aforementioned mines. Not trivial.

The other “escort mission” happens later in the game when a covert CIA operative stationed on the island is helping you but is currently pinned down at an airfield and you need to keep the enemies from overrunning him and the airplane. After several waves of enemies, the last push comes and the CIA guy starts to run around the area without concern for taking cover. Astonishingly, he’s inept at saving his own skin and even worse at finding a corner to hide in.

And so, over the next dozen or so re-plays due to someone dying (usually him, sometimes me), I try to make headway against the horde streaming in from the front and the few who sneak in from the back. I managed to fortunately take everyone out without my CIA friend’s help, and the game rewards me with being able to move on. *Phew*

I have no clue how that portion of the game made it through play-testing. After each CIA operative death and the long wait for the game to reload from the last checkpoint, I always imagine myself giving feedback to the game designers by envisioning them watching me as I fix them with a baleful glare; saying nothing, just staring.

Ummm … isn’t this a stealth game?

imageAnd maybe I’m left with that distinctly bad taste in my mouth because after playing a game for nearly 50 hours total in extreme stealth mode, I went into the last two missions with a single option: guns-a-blazing!

You’d enter a compound and enemies would emerge from nowhere and start to descend on your position. That exceptional balance of AI I’d mentioned earlier tipped to complete knowledge of where I was and what I was doing without me being seen.

Grr, I say.

Again, I trained for hours and hours at sneaking and the final missions were sprint-for-your-life affairs. Not a fan.

All’s well that ends well

But the biggest wha? was the ending.

You have two choices and, being no stranger to gaming, I’d saved just before the final mission so I could play through both. In the last minutes of the game you are asked to either kill your friends and stay on the island as the ultimate warrior, or leave behind all your badass fighting skills and head back to college. While I wanted to stay on the island, I wasn’t about to kill off my friends … and so I got a cut scene and ending that just felt flat.

Out of nowhere a tribal warrior who had mentored you runs up to kill you; fortunately for you, the high priestess steps between you and that deadly dagger and is slain. The screen then cuts to a scene of a knife stuck in the sand on the beach and your whining voice-over pretty much says, “I’m a monster, I’ve killed a lot of folks … but, I’m not that bad of a guy.” Ummm … not a great ending.

As much as I imagined it would leave a bad taste in my mouth, I replayed that last scene choosing the “kill your friends” option … and, the ending to that was equally strange and wholly unsatisfactory. Just hated it.

You’re essentially rewarded for “releasing your past” (i.e., killing your friends) with sex with the high priestess. Yup, would like to be more coy or say that more delicately, but it was as stark and out of place in the game as it is here in this blog. While it’s not graphic in an X-rated sense, it’s definitely rated R and the only thing odder than that was when the high priestess “releases” you by plunging a dagger into your chest! Ha! Take that! And, in this way you can die the ultimate warrior and find your path among the dead.

Ummm. Huh. OK … is this the same game I was enjoying all those hours?

Coda

So, hmmm … I had a blast with a lot of the game, it went on a lot longer than it needed to, and finished with some of the most frustrating and head-scratching moments of any game I’d played. I recommend it but not for everyone … just a lot of shooting and taking out the enemies. Lots of it. But, what great fun exploring the island and learning new skills. The overall fun of the gameplay does carry some of the more frustrating moments, but don’t look to the ending for inspiration or moments you rush out to share with or talk about with your friends.

I’m going to finish playing Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon now … it’s DLC to FC3 but it’s a very different game. Essentially they take the core FC3 game, re-skin it, and make the story a send-up of 1980’s macho movies along the line of Terminator or Rambo … think anything with Stallone or Schwarzenegger in it. I’d started a while back and will give a go at finishing it; I’ll let you know how it goes!

Once again, apologies for the length … when I get to talking gaming, I just like talking, I guess! Thanks for coming along for another gaming chat.

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