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Textured storytelling in an FPS – a genuine opportunity

March 30, 2012 2 comments

Last night’s post spruiking the qualities of bittersweet endings had me thinking on Far Cry 3, and what a great position Ubisoft are in to showcase true change (advancing the storytelling chops of games in the process) in its protagonist over the course of the game. In this context, I mean personal growth, not just the expansion of his arsenal from ‘adequate’ to ‘Bond villain-esque’.

The initial trailer does a great job of establishing a reasonably realistic, gritty tone for the game – we have a contemporary ‘ordinary’ young tourist trapped by circumstance and his own obnoxious behaviour, forced to experience and later commit horrible atrocities to stay alive. In addition to charging around a tropical island machete-ing everything that moves and expending a small war’s worth of ammunition, a more recent trailer suggests he’ll also do more than his share of psychotropic narcotic ingesting along the way – a combination which should (you would imagine) provide optimal conditions to explore the horrors of desperate violence and their devastating transformative effects on a person learning to cope with this kind of massacre-or-be-massacred scenario.

Far Cry 3

Not pictured - a totally mundane, everyday experience.

Of course, great though the first two games were, they have established a precedent of zero dimensional protagonists who regard the development of character facets with the same disdain they regard road and gun safety laws. The series has always been more about exploratory action and compelling combat than storytelling and character, but there have been plenty of recent titles proving the two aren’t mutually exclusive (Deus Ex: Human Revolution, Arkham Asylum/City, Mass Effect), so we can hope.

There’s a real opportunity here to move away from the well trodden FPS trope that a character, now matter how civilian or sensitive at the outset can machine-gun all their troubles away, instantaneously transforming into a Rambo facsimile without even the courtesy to the player of a tortured soliloquy about lost innocence. I suspect I’ll be disappointed, but it seems like there’s room behind all the action for a textured* story, and a challenging finale – if we take Ubisoft’s proposed realism at face value, doesn’t that limit our suspension of disbelief as far as the outcomes are concerned?

Far Cry 3

A soliloquy pose if ever I've seen one.

Now, in my mind, he’s either a superhero from the outset or he isn’t (unless it turns out there’s a lot of conveniently mutating radioactive ooze lying around the island). Why bother establishing the characters as normal people in the marketing (I’m not going to say ‘relatable’ here, but I assume thats what they were going for) if its going to be meaningless in the context of the game’s plot? It wouldn’t exactly be in keeping with the series’ established style to borrow mechanics from I Am Alive’s fascinating take on combat encounters by non-skilled combatants, but in my opinion there’s room to take inspiration to flesh out Far Cry’s trademark gung-ho action with a few subtleties.

Ultimately, a tonal mismatch between the character and the mechanics is a smaller piece of the puzzle – from what I’ve seen so far, this is a story opportunity that won’t benefit from being shoehorned into the ‘all’s well that ends well’ category. I’m very much hoping Ubisoft feel the same way.

*Cheers to Dara for the term – it perfectly sums up what these last two posts have been trying to articulate my support for.

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