Last month, I posted a preview of Far Cry 3 that covered what I half-jokingly called the game's "split personalities." It was a subject that I found really interesting: the way this game is trying to find harmony between seemingly contradictory game design ideas to establish a unique experience. One thing I didn't mention in that preview, however, was that seeing Far Cry 3 for the first time landed that game right near the top of my list of most anticipated games of 2012. It's a game I'm very much looking forward to…despite the abundance of questions I still have about it. Here's what I've been asking myself about Far Cry 3 ever since that chilly afternoon in Montreal when I watched a virtual backpacker go to town on an armed militia:
Is Jason Brody really an everyman? Does it even matter?
Ubisoft wants us to believe that Jason Brody, the game's backpacker-turned-hero, is just a normal guy caught in a nasty situation. They're very keen to stress that he's someone we can all relate to, not some Navy SEAL or SAS operative. But look at footage of Jason planting a throwing knife in an enemy's head from 10 feet away, and you can't help but think that this guy is an awfully quick learner. It makes me wonder whether Jason's everyman status is a genuine part of the gameplay experience or just a dash of backstory that ends at the opening cinematic. I'd love it if Far Cry 3 let us play through the learning process of someone unfamiliar with firearms or advanced survival techniques, but I'm not so sure that will end up being the case.
At the same time, though, how much does that really matter in the end? I certainly couldn't relate to Gordon Freeman's Ph.D. in theoretical physics from MIT, or the BioShock guy's, umm, whatever it is the BioShock guy was. Being able to relate to the main character is nice, but it's certainly not the only path to a great game.
How has the new blood affected Far Cry 3?
Ubisoft Montreal is a massive studio with the luxury of moving big chunks of staff from one project to another. A lot of the talent working on Far Cry 3 came over to the project after work wrapped up on Splinter Cell: Conviction and the various Assassin's Creed games. That's why the makeup of the Far Cry 3 team intrigues me. I'm curious how much influence will be carried over from those projects. Splinter Cell's stealth mechanics and Assassin's Creed's fluid controls are a few pie-in-the-sky potentials, but more likely those influences will show up in relatively subtle ways. It's going to be interesting to see how this turns out.
If everyone on this island is crazy, is there an anchor to reality?
One of the interesting hooks about the setting of Far Cry 3 is the island's maddening effect on its inhabitants. Everyone there is just a little bit off, and even Jason looks like he's not immune to the occasional descent into madness. You kind of get the sense that no one can be trusted, and everything you see has to be taken with a hefty grain of salt. But if that's the case, is there any sort of anchor we can latch onto to maintain our sense of what's real and what's not? Our own little totem from Inception? After all, there's a fine line between a good plot twist and just stringing players along, so hopefully Far Cry 3 gives us a way to put all that craziness into perspective.
Does the multiplayer stand a chance?
There's a long list of great first-person shooters saddled with throwaway multiplayer modes that are clearly tacked on as a back-of-the-box selling point. In fact, that's probably most first-person shooters these days. And then there are games like Far Cry 2 that offer a really well-made, feature-rich multiplayer component (even the console versions had a map editor!) in addition to an already great single-player campaign. Yet for as good as the multiplayer was in Far Cry 2, you'd be hard pressed to argue that it ever really took off in a meaningful way. Why? Well, go to GameStop and look at everyone picking up copies of Call of Duty, Battlefield, or Halo. There's your audience of online shooter fans.
If there's one thing Skyrim showed us last year, it's that the market for single-player games is far from dead. And while Skyrim and Far Cry 3 are different genres, they do share some similarities in their massive open-world landscapes. Far Cry 3's multiplayer could very well end up being great--but does it even need multiplayer to succeed?
How long will the novelty of exploration last?
When it comes to the thrill of exploration, every open-world game has its own distinct shelf life. Twenty-five hours into Grand Theft Auto IV, I was still driving myself to each mission instead of fast-traveling via taxicab because that game's version of New York City was so richly detailed that it was simply a pleasure to traverse its streets and alleyways. But not all open-world games maintain the novelty for so long. With most sandbox games, you eventually hit that point where there are no secrets left to discover or hidden details waiting to be found--you've seen it all during the first half of the game, and you spend the second half fast-traveling at every opportunity. Or in the case of Far Cry 2, the world offers much to see and explore, but it makes the act of driving around such a hostile endeavor (thanks, militia checkpoints!) that you wind up fast-traveling even though you don't really want to. At least that was the case for me.
I have no doubt that Far Cry 3's lush and beautiful tropical island will be a pleasure to explore at first. But how long will that last? It's impossible to predict the level of tedium that sets in with these sorts of games until you've spent five or 10 hours engrossed in their worlds. Here's hoping this game gives you reasons to get off the beaten path whether you're in the first act or nearing the final mission.
Far Cry 3 is due out on September 4. Click here for more coverage.'