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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.

Far Cry 3 and the Mechanics of Insanity

February 16, 2012 7 comments

So the gaming web is abuzz this week, due to a flurry of new info about the prime contender for this year’s ‘Most Ridiculous Name’ award, Far Cry 3. (Seriously guys, why aren’t we talking about this name? I realise you need brand continuity and all, but Far Cry barely made sense the first time, and it certainly isn’t the kind of evocative name (like Doom) that you want maximum mileage from. Also, this new release has no relationship to any of the other games, so the time was right for a new moniker. Just saying.)

A lot of the attention is on the leaked-but-then-officially-released trailer which turned up this morning, looking gorgeous. It doesn’t show any actual gameplay, but what we’ve previously seen from E3 is more than enough to dispel any fears of a Dead Island-esque mismatch between marketing and gameplay reality. Concerningly similar to Dead Island though is the utter douche-bagginess of the central characters – one can only hope this protagonist is of the silent variety. Fortunately, the worst offender seems like he won’t be playing a role in the game beyond ‘corpse no. 1’.

Aside from the trailer, some gameplay information also surfaced this week, revealing that ‘insanity’ is a running theme, and that the decaying mental health of the player character will have an impact on various sections. Not much to go on yet, but my first guess is that this is in the same vein as the ‘malaria’ mechanic introduced in Far Cry 2, although hopefully this evolution comes with greater depth and impact.

Far Cry 3

These are not the eyes of a man in full possession of his faculties

For those unfamiliar, the player contracts malaria at the beginning of Far Cry 2, and must ostensibly be constantly aware of their state of health, as well as the number of malaria pills they currently have. Periodic dizzy spells can be put to rest by popping a pill, but should you run out of those, you’re in big trouble. Naturally, you can’t just get those anywhere, so you’ll need to do favours for various NPCs. Thats the theory. In reality, you keep a vague count of how many times you utilise your meds, and are periodically forced to embark on tiresome, cooker cutter fetch quests in order to earn more before returning to the part of the game you were actually enjoying. It wasn’t the best implementation of an idea I’ve ever seen, but it did at least indicate that Ubisoft were interested in adding an extra layer to the gameplay beyond the standard ‘go here, shoot that, claim reward’ sequence that makes up the rest of the game.

Thats why I’m pleased to hear about the insanity idea in FC3, as it could offer some interesting character depth, or at least a reason to feel something for the main character beyond annoyance at his haircut. Additionally/alternatively, it could provide gameplay depth, and add an element of risk the player would need to manage – one that can’t be overcome by adding ever-bigger machine guns to your arsenal. It represents the desire by the developers to tinker with the standard elements, and create something more engaging as a result. Its been done before – Amnesia: The Dark Descent had a really interesting take on the insanity mechanic that prevented the player from overusing their primary advantage (hiding in darkness), and created that extra layer of risk which made the game tense and challenging. It actually forced you to think about and change the way you approached the game, rather than just forcing you through an iteration of the same ‘side quest’ for every couple of hours of gameplay.

Lets hope Far Cry 3 is putting more thought into their use of it than they did in FC2 – if it turns out I can manage my mental state with pills, and I can only get those by doing a favour for some helpful NPC every hour or so, it will be a massive opportunity squandered. I’m also taking bets on how long into the game I have to play before a dream sequence characterising my descent into madness makes an appearance.

Looking forward to more details on this one.

Also, ‘Mechanics of Insanity’ is a great name for a band. You’re welcome, world.

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