Sunday, January 20, 2013

Far Cry 3: Come for the Beaches, Stay for the Monkey Business



[This was an unexpected trip.  After reading some rave reviews about Ubisoft Montreal's Far Cry 3, and getting some enthusiastic recommendations from fellow gamers, I decided to give the game a try - I mean,  what else is there to play as we suffer through yet another post-Christmas lull?  Sheesh!  Anyway, I went into this game with low expectations because 1) the previous entries to the franchise never interested me in the least, and 2) the description for Far Cry 3 didn't interest me in the least.   I prefer fantastic settings as a gamer, be it alien planets like Borderland's Pandora, or a realm of medieval fantasy as in Skyrim, so the idea of traipsing around a contemporary tropical island as a 20-something spoilt brat, one who runs afoul of white slavers no less, isn't exactly on my top 10 list for game settings. 

But perhaps that is where the magic came in....



Perhaps when you spend so much time in the fantastic, it begins to seem...less than fantastic?  Perhaps it is then that the pedestrian asserts itself as the real playland?  Could be, because one of things I am finding so interesting about Far Cry 3 are the contemporary realities of human trafficking, drug running, and surviving on the fringes of the modern world.  I confess to never playing a game that was so "down in the weeds" before.  Far Cry 3 reminds me of Simone Weil's admonition that:
"Imaginary evil is romantic and varied; real evil is gloomy, monotonous, barren, boring."
Far Cry 3 is a precise example of that.  After fighting so many imaginary dragons, wizards, and evil robots in other games, I am finding the evil characters in Far Cry 3 to be shockingly real.  Vaas, one of the lead bad guys in the game, is monotonous in his rage and barren in his empathy.  In other words, he is believably scary in a way that a six-headed werewolf with cybernetic limbs is not.  This, alone, serves to elevate Far Cry 3 above other games.

(Parenthetically, could this be why a number of gamers have expressed disgust at some of the themes found in the game?  Have gamers been lulled to sleep by years of shallow and silly content?  Is Far Cry 3 a bucket of cold water on the head of gamers who have come to accept politically correct pablum as gaming's norm?)

Then again, I could be responding so positively to Far Cry 3 just because it is a darn good game.   Not only does it incorporate a bunch of clever minor touches that I have been clamoring for in a shooter for years, but the gameplay is a heady mix of GTA 4, Deus Ex: Human Revolution, Stalker, and a bit of Skyrim as well.  It is that good.  

And it deserves a bigger audience.

With that in mind, I put together the following "travelogue".  It covers my hijinks in the early days of my experience on Rook Island.  I hope it shows off the fantastic gameplay found in this underdog title.  

Enjoy!]

Day 2 (I skipped Day 1 because it was mostly campaign stuff)



Not much to do at night...just yet...so I decided to do some bounty hunting. The target was a local pirate poacher. Seeing how he was located about a mile or two away, I decided to take one of the villager's hunks of junk. Eh, at least the radio worked (it does!).


Driving at night in a jungle is NOT fun. It is easy to lose track of the road and find yourself going over a cliff or plowing into some bamboo plants! Nonetheless, I found the pirate camp.


Good thing I brought along this cool camera that automatically IDs enemies and tracks their location (it must be a Nikon). Yeah, it is a bit game-y, but I also see the necessity of it for gameplay purposes as stealthily taking down multiple enemies would be nearly impossible without it. And seeing how this type of mission requires a knife kill on a particular target...yeah, there is a good reason for it. It also encourages careful recon rather than just running and gunning, something I like.

The mission played out in an interesting fashion. During recon I learned that there were four bandits: two patrolling guards, one guard who was skinning a boar (i.e., distracted), and the target. Using a rock, I distracted the nearest guard and killed him from behind with a knife. Unfortunately, before I could loot the body, his pal came walking back my way, so I scurried off. As I hid behind a rock, I heard him exclaim "holy F&#%! " when he discovered the body!  This immediately caused the other two to start aggressively patrolling (see the Deus Ex:HR gameplay?). Well, I first took down one guard, then the target, and then the last guard - all without firing a shot. The dark IS your friend in this game.


Victory!


Next morning, I get in my trusty wreck and hit the road. As I pull out of the village, I see these poor fellas stuck on the side of the road. I get out to see what the problem is but I can't doing anything because I don't have a repair kit (vehicles can be repaired in this game). While I am walking back to my car, I see a pack of wild dogs rush the two guys! One guy is pulled down and killed, while the other runs off! The dogs then come after me:


I gun them down and skin 'em (dog skins make for good equipment harnesses). It just so happens that a "rabid dog hunt" mission was offered prior to this attack, so I am not sure if this was scripted, or just a random event.


Remember killing mutant dogs in Stalker? Same thing going on here. (Speaking of Stalker: this is proving to be a very similar experience. But for the tropical setting, the game has a very strong Stalker vibe, what with a land in decay, and trying to survive in a hostile environment).

After killing the dogs, I do some exploring and see a pirate roadblock on the other side of the hill I am on:


Don't know what they were up to, or why one of them was dead on the road. As I am leaving the area, a technical shows up and unloads three pirates who proceed to fan out, catching me out in the open. A long range shootout starts and after firing a few shots, I flee into the jungle:


Interestingly, while running through the jungle, a red pirate jeep arrives on scene and almost runs me over (Is it one from that road block? Were they looking for me right along?)!


He just missed, which gave me an opportunity to gun them down instead. After that, I got back to base camp as fast as I could.

The next mission involved another hit on a pirate camp - I forget why this time. So I head out there in my hunk of junk, and decide to hoof it the last quarter mile or so just to be safe. While cutting through some foliage on the way to a nice beach, I see two goats running around. Unfortunately for them, I need some goat hides to make an improved holster so I can carry two weapons. So I shoot one dead, but the other I only wound and it runs off into the lagoon. As I run after it, I see this beauty just parked by the beach:


Love that weapon. Gonna steel this jeep it (it will come in handy, as you will soon see).

A little later I discover the pirate camp I have to infiltrate. There is only one road in and out, so I can't do that as it is guarded. So I decide to swim in from the coast:


I hope there are no sharks (there ARE sharks in this game, and they will attack)! I make it across and recon the place. Then everything goes wrong. While sneaking up on the bad guys, one of their guard dogs picks up my scent, starts barking like mad, and then hunts me down and attacks! I was forced to shoot him, which, of course, brings the guards running and results in a firefight where I gun down my target. This fails the mission because hits have to be done with a knife for tribal reasons. Now, I would prefer that the game would just let you move on from there, but it doesn't. It re-spawns you just outside the mission area so you can try again. Not too keen on this as it sort of spoils the immersion, but I suspect it might be related to these missions tying into the main story. Oh well.

Second times the charm as I avoid the dog and manage to kill everyone in an acceptable fashion.  However, I almost get myself killed as I dropped my guard while looting the area...allowing a pirate patrol jeep to pull up. I run and hurl a grenade, which handles the situation nicely as it destroys the jeep and driver. This leaves one guard, whom I kill without too much fuss:


I decide not to wait for more trouble - I have since learned that pirates, like zombies, are attracted to gunfire and come to investigate - and jump into my jeep. No luck. As I am pulling away from the scene of my crime, I see another pirate jeep heading towards the camp. Maybe they won't notice?  They did, so I floor it and a mad chase begins (I love these chases - the various vehicles handle just differently enough to make it interesting, plus they swerve and skid like in an action movie). I get some distance on my pursuers and screech to a halt at the top of a hill. I move from the driver's seat to the top MG and wait. When the pirate jeep shows up, I pull the trigger (I hear one pirate shout "holy S&*^!"):


You would think I would learn by now, but again as I am looting the dead, a second jeep pulls up from the other direction - just like zombies - and pile out. While I get in a gunfight with one pirate, the other gets into MY jeep and starts hosing down the area with the MG (love the AI! That's what I would do!)! He almost got me, too. I gun him down from behind after losing all my body armor and most of my health.

And that concludes Day 2 on Rook island.

Day 3


Ready for some more tropical highjinks? Turns out day 3 was more interesting than the previous day!

First, I got attacked by a shark. Ouch.  Funny story: I was returning from a night mission when some pirates started chasing me as I drove my hunk of junk. It being dark and all, I got lost and found myself racing along some beach, dodging incoming fire the whole way. I don't recall how, but I wound up driving right off the beach and into the ocean.  The engine died and the car just floated there. Having no choice that I could see, I left the car and started swimming to shore, staying underwater as much as possible to give the pirates the slip (I could hear them shouting on the beach). As I was swimming, this shark comes out of nowhere and grabbed my arm and shaked it a bit, then swam off. Needless to say, I swam as fast as I could after that!  The shark came back twice more, biting me on my legs, but never holding on for long. Tired and bitten, I finally dragged myself from the ocean. In this photo, you can see the shark swimming off in the distance:


Bastard! Just wait for me to get my first spear gun!

Next morning, I take on one of the central campaign missions which takes place across a stretch of water...yeah, I am NOT swimming this time.  Gonna need a bigger boat:


That'll do.


I really enjoyed helming this thing. Like with cars, boats have a good, distinctive feeling to them. This one handled as you would expect a larger craft to handle. I am also amazed at all the little details on these things, from the swinging bits of rope, to the creak of the hull. If the land portion of FC3 reminds me of Stalker, the sea portion reminds me of Silent Hunter. The water effects are beautiful, too. If I closed my eyes, I'd bet I could have even smelled the salt water and felt the warm sun on my skin.

I won't go into the details of the mission because it is a central plot point, but I will post this picture:


That fire started when I threw a grenade. Something exploded and started a raging fire that spread up the hill! The fire burns out quickly, but it is still cool to see dynamic flames like that.

Afterwards, I was doing some general exploring to get a feel for the non-campaign material. During my travels I heard some gunfire in the distance. I ran over there and saw a skirmish taking place between the pirates and my fellow Rakyat rebels. Not sure of the details as the fight was largely over when I got there, but as I left, I found an overturned pirate technical in a small valley (I think this was a pre-placed map event, but not 100% sure). It was guarded by one pirate. Out of curiosity, I sneaked down there and knife the guy. After poking around a bit, I found a dark cave right out of Skyrim. Heading inside, I found some WWII relics!


[Minor spoiler] Turns out that this was a cave used by the imperial Japanese during WWII. Next to a mummified corpse I found a poignant letter home from a Japanese soldier. The letter was also chilling because he described how his unit was going a little bit mad each day due to the foreboding jungle of Rook island. That doesn't bode well for me.

Later on, I found myself exploring a different part of the island when the sky got gloomy, and a thunderstorm broke out:


As you know, I love dynamic weather in a game; it is such a powerful mood setter. This is one of the reasons why I love Stalker, too. Shame more game devs don't take full advantage of the elements. Regardless, I am overjoyed to see FC3 does!

While I waited out the storm at a small collection of shacks (again, that Stalker vibe), I spied two pirates marching captives down the nearby road at gunpoint! Well, I couldn't let that happen on my watch! Time to be a hero! Just as I started my attack from behind, Mutt and Jeff here almost ruin the whole plan:


That's right: a wild pig being chased by a rabid dog.  The two weaved their way in and out of the slaver column, making me chuckle. The pirates didn't have much to laugh about soon after, though:


Slaver bastards. I enjoyed taking them down - which plays right into the game's theme of creeping blood-lust and madness. Interestingly, when I killed the tail-end charlie pirate, the lead pirate tried to execute his prisoner.  I killed the pirate before he could.

Later on, I got my first big game kill...kinda:


This is actually a re-do. While I was walking up a road, yet another pirate patrol came motoring up. I wasn't looking for a fight so I headed into the jungle...and stumbled into this bad boy. He spotted me and attacked. I got off a bunch of rounds from my assault rifle, but it didn't even slow him down. Next thing I know he is on my arm. The game has an interesting mechanic when it comes to animal attacks: sometimes, like with the shark attack, it all happens automatically. Other times, you have to fight back by pressing a key (which I believe is randomized from attack to attack, something that keeps an element of unpredictability to surviving these attacks). The tiger let go of my arm initially, but then attacked again and pinned me to the ground. Even though I try to fight him off, I lost and was killed.

...Reload.  Next time I am prepared. I forced myself to go down the same path again, but this time with my shotgun instead of my assault rifle. It was close, but three blasts from my shotty won the day...and a nice tiger pelt for me.  BTW: that obviously isn't my shotgun in the pic, but it is my assault rifle. Notice the custom paint job? I had some extra money to burn.

My last mission of the day involved taking back an outpost from the pirates. This is an important game mechanic because outposts control territory, which serves to lessen pirate attacks, provide new spawning points, new missions, new supplies, etc. Taking my first outpost involved a stealthy boat approach (a Zodiac-like craft this time), and learning to use my new stealth attack: knifing a guy from behind and then dragging the body into concealment. This was the first time I encountered a sniper - which provided me with a new toy:


You can see my compadres entering the camp after I liberated it (with a sniper shot to the last pirate's head). I look forward to seeing the night life.

Day 4

I can't go into too much detail regarding day 4 as I was largely involved with resolving a major campaign plot point, so I do not want to spoil anything for you.  But there were a few interesting things that happened.

The day started with me leaving one of the outpost spawning points.  As I was getting my stuff together, I heard gunfire from nearby.  Out of curiosity I go take a look and see two pirates and a rebel in some sort of Mexican standoff (can I say that, Mr. Walker?  Or is it racist?  I just want to get the rules straight on what is and isn't racist these days):


One rebel had used his vehicle as cover and was firing on two pirates at the far end of the bridge (I saw two pirate vehicles as well, so I guess they arrived separately).  It was time to help out my buds again!  I pulled out my sniper rifle and started taking shots at the pirates.  Unfortunately, the range being so far, I only angered them.  One pirate got into his jeep and sped towards my position, while the other hoofed it across the bridge...only to be gunned down by my Rakyat pal.  The pirate in the jeep actually made it to my position and tried to run me over!  Fortunately, I jumped out of the way at the last instant and gunned him down.  Meanwhile, more pirates arrived at the far end of the bridge and rush the soul defender, killing him.  As they ran across, I sniped one, but two more make it to cover on the nearside of the bridge.  I eventually sniped one more (it was a cool shot - I could see the bullet clip a banana plant leaf before striking the pirate!), and gun down the other at close range.

Heck of a way to start the day.

Afterwards, needing a vehicle, I went down to the bridge to steal one of theirs...I mean, they no longer needed it anyways!



I preferred the pirate jeep at the end, but it was wedged in there and unable to move.  So I took my (now deceased) compadre's jeep.

Later that day, I found myself cruising around a new portion of the island in a different jeep that had a heavy DSWK mounted upon it (silly pirates didn't know at who they were pointing that thing!  Now it's mine....):



Glad I had it too, because I eventually came across two pirate technicals blocking the road.   Time to teach them a lesson in heavy weaponry:


I have to say that I love the dynamic destruction in this game.  You can literally shoot apart vehicles in this game, as well as get some suitably spectacular explosions for your trouble!

I have to skip the remainder of the day as it involved me completing a central story quest (it was one of the most unique quests I have ever experience in a game!).  However, there was one incident that I found intriguing:

There was a particularly difficult portion of the quest that required me to restart it five times to finally beat the mission.  To say I was miffed would be an understatement (albeit, I like the fact that not every mission is a push-over.  Not only that, but it also showed me that there are at least five approaches to solving every mission!).  So, when I finally completed the mission and still had a pirate scumsucker taking potshots at me...well, I was not in a good mood.  I could have just left him alone and moved on, but that is NOT the Rook Island way:


Yeah, I went out of my way to burn the sucker alive with my flamethrower.  Nasty business. 

It is interesting that the game begins with you being a lily-livered frat boy, and eventually progresses to the point where you are ready, willing, and able to turn a fellow human being into a torch.

The horror...the horror...of Far Cry 3.

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