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Out of Africa: Far Cry 3 and the longing for simpler times

Friday, 24th February 2012 14:45 GMT By Patrick Garratt

Far Cry 3 will be one of the biggest action games this year, but its push for modernism has left Far Cry 2′s vision looking more astonishing than ever. Patrick Garratt’s heart is still in Africa.

I’m so worried about this new direction because Far Cry 2 is one of the only games I ever truly identified with. I loved it. Yes, it was far from perfect, but I was spellbound till the credits rolled, totally absorbed in its unique, unwavering vision. Based on what we’ve seen so far, Far Cry 3 just looks to me like a balls-out action game.

“OK, we go. Hey sir, sorry for the delay. So you’re going to a hotel in Pala. Yeah, I know the place. It’s lucky for you. Pala has only one hotel still working.”

It’s doubtful Ubisoft Montreal could have ever created Far Cry 2 if the studio hadn’t been compelled by central Africa. In the game’s first few minutes, we’re transported so absolutely into a pseudo-real environment of lawlessness that the team’s obsession burns brighter than a bushfire.

I swat away a mosquito and leaf through my notes. I’m given photoless information on the Jackal, the man I’m here to kill, an arms trader blamed for accelerating the situation between two local militia groups from unstable peace to imminent civil war. A wide variety of mercenaries are in the area, their history ranging from experience with the USMC to paratrooping with the KLA in Kosovo to any number of private security operations. I’m ex-IRA.

My fixer seems decent. He laughs as we watch a light aircraft flee. “You won’t see any more very soon.” We’re nearly hit another jeep, its horn screeching. He shakes his fist.

“Bloody idiot. Nobody follows the rules any more.”

The only music is on the car’s radio. There’s no score, no Hollywood. I am there. Everything the driver says drags me further in. He tells me how uncontrolled fires destroyed the wealth of his brother, burning his bungalow and three cattle. We pass civilians loping to the airport, unbelieving that the “big planes” aren’t coming back. A cow blocks our path and we sit and wait until it can be bothered to move. The music vanishes from the speakers.

“This is Liberation Radio, speaking the truth for the truth seekers. And the truth is your country needs you. Beware the evil APR scourge.”

The driver throws me a sheepish look and snaps it off as we approach a checkpoint. The broadcast is a clear nod to the Rwandan genocide, in which radio stations were used by the Hutus as a key method of inciting hatred against Tutsis.

Ubi Montreal did so much homework.

The mood’s fragile. A white guy heads up the checkpoint of AKs and my man buys them off with the promise of beer. The country’s obviously turned to shit. The driver tells me not to worry as we pass burning huts, says it’s boys letting off steam. Looks more like smoke to me. The APR and AFLL are ready to go thermo and anyone with any sense is going in the opposite direction. As we pull up to the “hotel,” my malaria kicks in and the world turns black.

The UI. It burns.

Five minutes. That’s the first five minutes of Far Cry 2. I’ve omitted a great deal. It’s mesmerising in its detail as it is mature in its storytelling. Far Cry 2 was a game so far ahead of its time it’s bewildering. It’s about an African civil war, a warmongering humanitarian, a freeform environment so diligently contrived that I’m sure it just flew over the heads of most. It’s one of the only truly adult games ever made and one of my favourite games all all time.

Which is why this movie of Far Cry 3 gameplay has been giving me rough nights.

Out of Africa

You see, Far Cry 2 was a game of the period. It came out in 2008, and it was designed to be as immersive as possible. Action games were moving in that direction then. The UI is bare minimal, only appearing when you ask it to; you don’t know how much ammo you have, for example, unless you reload. The overlay doesn’t even appear when you fire. There’s no “mini-map”. When you look at the map, you look at a map. You can zoom in and out by flicking the scale, during which the map disappears and a new page is offered. You have a GPS for tracking position in vehicles. It’s like everything had to make sense, that nothing could be implausible.

The same can’t be said of what we’ve seen Far Cry 3 so far. That video shows a first-person shooter, first and foremost, with ziplines, overlays, enemy direction indicators and a permanent map. It’s like the team doubled-back on itself.

In Far Cry 2, for instance, when you approached a door a glowing hand appeared. It’s an effect designed to let you know you can do something without being intrusive to your state of immersion. In Far Cry 3, we have, “Hold X to interact,” and, “A to climb.”

And then there are the missions and characters. Far Cry 3 appears to be set on some kind of middle ground between The Island of Doctor Moreau and Lost. There’s the psychopath we saw in the E3 reveal last year, who apparently wants to kill everyone for fun, and the new gameplay trailer shows us a mad doctor with bowls of deadly pills that packs you off on a magic mushroom hunt. You end up tripping your bollocks off in a luminous cave.

Far Cry 2. Just look at it, for God’s sake.

The Far Cry 2 characters were real. They could have been real. They’re military men after rough diamonds. These people exist.

The music, too, is at odds with the past. Far Cry 2 had a dynamic backdrop of African drums which alerted you to danger and added to the ambience. Far Cry 3 has a thumping rock track adrenalizing your sliding moves and take-downs, because you’re in a frickin’ action game, bucko. Here wehave set pieces, like a crumbling wall dropping you into a subterranean pool, or a bomb scuppering a ship to leave you with a linear escape mission, Uncharted 2-style.

Far Cry 2 didn’t even have an aiming reticle.

I’m so worried about this new direction because Far Cry 2 is one of the only games I ever truly identified with. I loved it. Yes, it was far from perfect. We all know the checkpoint repetition could be wearing, and the pylon missions were all the same. We all know that. But I was spellbound till the credits rolled, absorbed in its unique, unwavering vision. Based on what we’ve seen so far, Far Cry 3 just looks to me like a balls-out action game.

Maybe that’s what people want. Maybe it was the market, not the team, that did the u-turn. Maybe Far Cry 3 will be a game of its period, as was its predecessor. I personally can’t wait to play it. I’ll finish it without coming up for air. But will it drown me? I hope so. I doubt it. My heart’s still in Africa.

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33 Comments

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  1. StolenGlory

    I enjoyed Far Cry 2 a fair bit; what I *didn’t* enjoy about it however was the respawning enemy checkpoints. There was no real sense of leaving scorched earth behind you when you destroyed one of them.

    Absolutely loved the setting mind you.

    #1 2 years ago
  2. DSB

    Argh, you’re killing me Pat.

    The opening of Far Cry 2 was great, and the environment and characters appealed to the rougher side of African reality, but kinda like the gameplay, it never really got further than the superficial.

    I’m really not impressed by a game that takes African civil wars, some of the most mindlessly violent and criminal anywhere in the world, and turns it into a game that’s mostly about helping either totally deranged side by going camp to camp and killing everyone.

    It’s not so much the moral aspect, just the fact that it isn’t nuanced in any way. You’re looking at brutal South African mercenaries, those exist. You’re looking at corrupt African supremacists, those exist, but there’s no nuance in any of the people you meet.

    It just bounces off me as much as the gameplay did. It felt like so much copy paste, just taking down people in explosions of blood left and right as if they were zombies. For me it provided the opposite of immersion, I pretty much wanted to be as far from that game as possible.

    #2 2 years ago
  3. Patrick Garratt

    The checkpoint thing is the big minus. I think that was the bit they just couldn’t work out, how to have an openworld action game set in scrubland where you could clear the world of action. I’m still not quite sure how it could have worked, really.

    I started playing it again last night. The firefights are just amazing.

    /little cry

    #3 2 years ago
  4. Johnny Cullen

    Seven simple words: I hate Far Cry 2 a lot.

    #4 2 years ago
  5. Patrick Garratt

    @2 – That’s really interesting to me. You’re right, completely, but I was just so compelled by what it wanted to be, and how far it was willing to go to be it, that I got properly suckered.

    It didn’t feel exploitative to me, but rather they really were trying to portray was that situation would be like. It is superficial, definitely, but I’d like to think that was more a result of “game” than any kind of willingness to be gratuitous.

    #5 2 years ago
  6. LOLshock94

    Far cry 3 is basicly rage, its just some people are to blind to see it.

    #6 2 years ago
  7. Optimaximal

    Would you be have been so concerned were Ubisoft not simply using the Far Cry name for its brand identity rather than offering up a consistent experience?

    To me, it jarrs as bad as Irational’s use of the BioShock name for Infinity.

    #7 2 years ago
  8. freedoms_stain

    Aside from what DSB said, random malaria attacks in the middle of a gun fight has got to rank high in the fucking shitty gameplay mechanic hierarchy.

    Even if they put in some sort of malaria gauge and you had to obtain enough pills to keep above the symptom point and could control when you popped the pills, that would’ve been a gameplay mechanic. What they had was bullshit.

    #8 2 years ago
  9. HeavyD-Love

    I loved the original Far Cry. Absolutely loved it.

    I hated Far Cry 2. Absolutely hated it.

    I love the direction they’re going for Far Cry 3. Absolutely love it.

    #9 2 years ago
  10. DSB

    I guess I just felt like it needed some kind of moral balance. I was in highschool with a kid who fled the Rwandan genocide, and I guess I just feel like turning a problem like that into entertainment, and not going very far to really cover it, is too much.

    Really I guess the morals do bother me, as much as I hate to admit it. You’re going after a guy who’s selling weapons to both sides and fuelling the conflict, but you’re going after him by helping both sides slaughter eachother. How does that make you any better than the Jackal?

    By playing, you’re actually undermining your own objective. You’re really not helping anyone. Even when you’re actually helping civilians, it’s to score yourself some drugs.

    It would’ve felt a lot better if you had been contracted through an entrenched UN Peacekeeping base.

    It’s just very consistently negative. A few of the playable characters are basically pulp fiction terrorists. In Jagged Alliance the same may apply, but they’re being used for good, and even the madman who murdered his whole family is offset by humor.

    http://jaggedalliance.wikia.com/wiki/%22Unusually_Ruthless%22_Reuban

    #10 2 years ago
  11. YoungZer0

    I really liked the art-direction of the game. Really, the world felt fantastic. It was exactly what i needed after watching Blood Diamond, which served as a huge inspiration for the game. The characters were interesting, but as DSB already mentioned; it didn’t go anywhere.

    I liked how it started (Even though i never ever want to see that introduction again), i liked the fast-talking Jackal, the state of the country is pretty clear right away.

    But one deep look at Far Cry 2 and it’s pretty clear that Ubisoft had no plan where to go gameplay-wise.

    Malaria has no reason but force you to play even more of the same side-missions. 8 Characters to choose from, yet no difference, why not just let you play the one guy on the cover? The Buddysystem has no purpose when – in the end – they all die, either through the hand of the enemies, or through yours.

    It’s a civil war, but people only shoot at you. It’s not even clear who’s who. The map is fantastic, but there is no reason for exploration, yes you can hunt for diamonds or golden ak’s, but that’s about it.

    And let’s not even talk about how many hits enemies could take, how fast your weapon would start jamming or how many miles you had to drive to your objective.

    #11 2 years ago
  12. El_MUERkO

    Far Cry 2 was my biggest disappointment in gaming because it came so close to greatness only to have it snatched away by some incredibly poor design choices.

    I never had much hope that Far Cry 3 would fix the problems of Far Cry 2, largely because no one ever acknowledged they were problems in the first place.

    I’ve ranted about FC2 enough, I wont go over it again, it makes me sad.

    #12 2 years ago
  13. YoungZer0

    @10: Did you finish Far Cry 2? Because i swear that’s exactly what the Jackal said at the end, that he and you were as much part of the problem as the two sides.

    #13 2 years ago
  14. DSB

    @13 Nope, haven’t finished it. I made it to the second big city and did a few missions there.

    It just seemed pretty obvious :P

    #14 2 years ago
  15. YoungZer0

    @14: http://youtu.be/v89XVVEEVH4 It’s all very confusing.

    #15 2 years ago
  16. Patrick Garratt

    @14/15 – There’s a twist at the end, DSB. The Jackal’s not what you think.

    #16 2 years ago
  17. DSB

    Fair enough if they set it straight at the end, but the problem is I don’t feel like taking it far enough to get there.

    Even if it’s “only” 10 hours of senseless acts for terrible people, that’s pretty much enough.

    #17 2 years ago
  18. Patrick Garratt

    It’s a lot longer than that, for sure. About 30, I think.

    #18 2 years ago
  19. absolutezero

    I cleared the game to completion, trusty Deagle, Sniper Rifle and Flamethrower all the way through.

    I adored it, it could enrage me at alot of time but I just loved what it was attempting. I loved carving my own little stories from its wonderful world.

    From nicking a jeep and running over Zebra to heart in mouth sneaking through a scrubland thats on fire by my own hand. So many little details that made it shine amoungst turds, the self fixing that actually takes time and good balance between regeneration and health kits. Everything feels grubby and dirty from your interactions with the other mercs which always leads to them dying one way or another to the actual arms you see out in the World covered in dirt.

    Its grounded so much that the meta ideas it brings forward can be a little lost, alot of what Clint Hocking was attempting just had’nt been done before. And now its gone, I don’t think anyone will be trying to do anything like Far Cry 2 again for quite awhile.

    #19 2 years ago
  20. Patrick Garratt

    One of the things I like most about it is how strongly it polarizes opinion. As per this thread.

    @19 – Agree with all of that. The last sentence made me do an actual sad face.

    #20 2 years ago
  21. reask

    FUUk it Pat you make me want this game.
    I played fc1 and just couldn’t get in to it.

    #21 2 years ago
  22. fearmonkey

    Far Cry 2 was a very pretty game, and I was very excited to play it.
    Once I sat down and did so, I lost interest within a few days or so.
    I liked the original Far Cry better, but even that I never finished it.
    I played the Xbox/360 versions too and felt the same.

    It isn’t a bad game, I guess its just not my cup of tea. I love open world games, but couldn’t get into it.

    I’m glad though that Pat and others enjoy it so much, as I look forward to trying Far Cry 3. Lots of games of different types and styles out there for everyone, as it should be.

    #22 2 years ago
  23. TrueMenace

    I was pumped for FC2 for the 360. They really hyped the game in their dev trailers showcasing the variety in the gunfights. However, one thing ruined the entire game. It was the endless vehicle fights from point A-B. Like ridicuously annoying. Just that made me stop playing.

    Also, the online multiplayer was entirely tacked on besides making your own maps. W/o a dedicated community willing to play the MP, why put so much effort into allowing us to create maps that no one will play? Oh you want to make an amusement park ride for us? Well, good for you. I want to play MP.

    I definitely way for the reviews to hit the net before hyping up this game. I urge you all to do the same. Ubisoft FC dev’s are ridiculous. FC2 was horrid. Worst. SP. Ever. So many gamebreaking GAMEPLAY mechanics are dumb!!! Nice way to ruin a game.

    Oh look, go from here to here, kk, will do…(2min later)…gets chased by 2 cars with guns so I have deal with these kids till I get to the next “area” rinse+repeat.

    #23 2 years ago
  24. Demiath

    I love Far Cry 2 precisely because of those controversial design choices (respawning checkpoints, relentlessly hostile world, interchangeable factions, challenging emergent gameplay etc.) which put off a lot of people.

    That being said, this article seems to be overstating the case regarding comparisons of FC2′s gameplay with what we’ve seen of FC3 so far. It’s not so much that these two games will be more similar to each other than Patrick Garratt thinks (for all we know they might very well not be). It’s more that the functional difference (even when so-called “immersion” is what’s being subjectively measured here) between a massive unnaturally glowing door and a “press X now” cue is not that great. And however you slice it, 2008 is not actually a very long time ago and even the specific genre of open world action games hasn’t changed dramatically since then. The kind of language used in this article might have been appropriate if the subject matter was, say, Syndicate-1993 versus Syndicate-2012, but in the context of two such comparatively near-contemporaneous releases as FC2 and FC3 the strong adjectives seem a bit extreme to say the least.

    Even so, if FC3 is more linear than FC2 than, yes, we clearly have lost something 4 years ago. Button prompts, rock music soundtracks and a decidedly traditional UI isn’t what ultimately determines whether that is the case or not, of course, but it would be a shame indeed if Garratt’s (not unreasonable) basic assumption turns out to be well-founded.

    #24 2 years ago
  25. kiyoe

    100% agree. Re-installing fc2 again.. thank you.. this weekend is gone..

    #25 2 years ago
  26. DSB

    If you want to talk about losing something, looking at Far Cry 2 seems pretty wide of the mark to me.

    Far Cry was a superior game in my opinion, and pretty much the only one where Crytek managed to mix their tech fetishism with actual gameplay.

    The AI was smart, the levels were smart, it was pretty open, but you still went from A to B without fucking around too much.

    For me that was a game to really get lost in and wrap your head around. Far Cry 2 is a base shooting gallery, placed in a grid of jungle and swamp corridors intermingled with deserts and assholes of every color.

    It has merit, Africa is woefully underexposed in games, but to me Far Cry 2 wasn’t the game that was going to inspire people to go there.

    Far Cry is the game I installed after looking at the last Far Cry 3 footage.

    #26 2 years ago
  27. Dima-Ivanovich

    Okay, I just had to register and say: thanks for writing this :D
    I always thought I was the odd duck thinking this was a great and unique game. Yes it’s flawed, but the atmosphere, setting, the whole gritty, unforgiving feel was so great.
    I recall moments of being lost in the jungle, low on health and supplies and running to safety. Then, hiding somewhere in the bushes and hearing voices, barely surviving another gun fight and making it off with a stolen jeep. Spotting enemies in the far distance and planning a route around them, making it to a safe house in the dark and the pouring rain. The way the look of the environment changed with the position of the sun, the old school sounds of the modem when you order weapons.
    I could go on for ages, but in short: it was raw, mature, harsh and it felt so damn rewarding when you did something right.

    #27 2 years ago
  28. reask

    @ 27
    This is what makes vg247 special imo.
    You took the time out to comment on a game you loved.
    classic.

    Gamers site for gamers.

    #28 2 years ago
  29. triggerhappy

    @ 28 +1 :D When im describing this website to someone i always call it a community. There definitely is something more personal on here than Joystiq and the likes.

    #29 2 years ago
  30. Aimless

    FarCry 2 and Idle Thumbs are indelibly linked in my mind.

    It’s a game that I have a lot of respect for. It has some pretty fundamental problems, but I really appreciate the conviction behind its design decisions; it’s a lot like Demon’s/Dark Souls in that respect. It’s also interesting how adaptive it is to the player, a process which is perhaps too transparent: you wouldn’t really realise your experience differed to others without talking things through with them.

    FarCry 2 is a really rewarding experience but it’s also a prohibitive one. It’s certainly not for everyone, although I think the current gaming climate has led to people who might have enjoyed it throwing in the towel early: games are so deferential to the player these days, so pre-occupied with making you feel like a “bad ass”, whilst FC2 grants you a lot of actual responsibility and agency so long as you play within its rules. Obviously not every game should look to emulate that approach, but such diversity is incredibly value for the industry as a whole.

    As an aside, I recommend turning the music off in the options. No disrespect to whomever wrote it, not having it on just ups the atmosphere; it brings the environmental ambience to the fore.

    #30 2 years ago
  31. IL DUCE

    Great article Pat…I agree 100%, really not looking forward to Far Cry 3 any longer…Far Cry 2 was so much more based in reality and was full of exploration, you could just go around looking for diamonds forever…also the gritty realism was amazing with weapon degradation…

    Unfortunately, companies take the pulse of the industry essentially by looking at how well Call of Duty is doing, and that is completely wrong…CoD does what it does well, but copying it does not get you anywhere, didn’t we already learn that with Homefront? I think Ubi and other companies forget is what makes a game truly great is it being a unique experience that can’t be compared with other games…

    #31 2 years ago
  32. taj1994

    I know this is over 9 months old, but I just have to say this:

    “Far Cry 2 didn’t even have an aiming reticle.”

    Yes it did. I was just playing it a couple days ago (before I picked up Far Cry 3). There might be an option to turn it off (not sure… Never actually looked for it), but if there is, the reticule is turned on by default

    #32 2 years ago
  33. 13r@d

    I signed-up for this site just so I could post a comment on this thread… 18 months after the story was written. That’s how much I love Far Cry 2.

    @Patrick Garratt; I saw your more recent story on Far Cry 3, but I couldn’t quite tell… For you, personally, which do you feel is the better game? Far Cry 2 or Far Cry 3? :)

    I live with 2 other single, adult males… we have 2 50-inch TVs in our living room. Recently, we have been playing Far Cry 2 and Far Cry 3 side-by-side (FC2 on Xbox360, FC3 on Playstation 3). I, like the author of this article, find Far Cry 2 to be one of my favorite games of all time. I have been asking myself again and again, “Which is better? Far Cry 2 or Far Cry 3?”

    I have come to this conclusion; Far Cry 2 forever changed my perception of what a FPS should be; so it is my favorite of the two (and probably any FPS ever). Like the original GoldenEye on n64, it will probably never be topped for nestalgia reasons. Mainly, those outlined in article above: “[FC2] was designed to be as immersive as possible.

    CONCLUSION:

    Ubisoft has created 3 AMAZING games; Far Cry, Far Cry 2 and Far Cry 3. All have similarities but are vastly different. Fans of these games can probably agree on the following key elements to creating a great Far Cry game (in case Far Cry 4 happens… and someone from Ubisoft happens to read this :P):

    - Push the graphics!(textures, lighting, view distance, etc): All 3 games have been awe-inspiring during their release.
    - Give us Sandbox “Style”!: Once I started playing the FC games, my tolerance for poor stories in a strictly-linear FPS went out-the-door (ie, any Call of Duty single player…). Although these 3 games may each lack story-telling elements in their own way, the sandbox element allows the player to write their own story as they approach each objective. Not to mention- who doesn’t love spending an hour looking for [diamonds/relics]?
    - GUNS!: The collection of weapons in these 3 games is exciting and diverse. In FC2 and FC3, the options to upgrade/improve weapons is a lot of fun. I don’t think you can go wrong improving on these options.
    - VEHICLES!: These maps are huge, after all. Maybe see some garages/upgrades for vehicles in the future?!

    The easiest way to reach gamers like myself and Patrick Garratt…
    …is to give us a “REALISM” mode in your games.

    I don’t just mean “Hard”. I am always disappointed when I put a FPS on the hardest setting and there is a target reticle. After FC2, my expectations of a “Hard” (or ideally, “Realism”) mode are even higher. To win over ALL fans of FC, FC2 and FC3, all Ubisoft needs is an option for “Realism” mode that could remove features that make the game less immersing for the hardcore. Some features that should be removed in this mode:

    - HUD (heads-up display; things on screen when playing an not viewing a menu) target reticle, ammo and health (although, it is nice to have this info when needed… reloading; loosing life, etc)
    - HUD stealth indicators/pointing-out enemies/seeing enemies through walls/visiually taging enemies
    - All HUD tips or button prompts (as long as mechanics are intuitive)
    - HUD maps, compasses
    - All “fast travel” options

    #33 11 months ago