Why Far Cry 3 Fails As Meta-Commentary

 

Games are also so vast and complicated that it’s hard to keep the tone consistent. For all its later hyperbole, Far Cry 3′s opening sequence plays things straight, with a stealthy escape through a pirate camp that ends with the death of the protagonist’s brother. This is a moment of real pathos, and it’s no wonder that the game’s subsequent attempts at satire fell on deaf ears. A scene which plumbs the psychological ramifications of torture is followed by a high-explosive romp through a fuel depot, in the company of wisecracking mercenary with a bad German accent. The game simply can’t decide what it is trying to be. An exploitation piece? An allegory about Millenial culture? A critique of the “Hero’s Journey,” as portrayed in video games?

Things get particularly bad whenever the writer’s high-minded approach conflicts with the financial exigencies of the game industry. When protagonist Jason Brody receives magical tribal tattoos as the result of leveling up, it’s a clever bit of parody. But when Ubisoft asks customers to spend virtual currency on “Exclusive Tattoos for Multiplayer,” the joke’s not on video games. It’s on us.

Far Cry 3′s writer and publisher are attempting to have their cake and eat it too, enticing potential customers with big, dumb fun, while ensuring the conscientious minority that this is all deconstruction. Ubisoft pockets $60 from people who like the look of island witch doctor Citra’s picture-perfect C-cups, while the game’s writer wiggles his eyebrows and says things like “Why do games treat females this way? Why is there a princess in a castle? Citra doesn’t need to be saved, it’s all Jason’s idea!”

When it comes down to it, Yohalem’s meta-commentary on video games — which are often sophomoric, gratuitously violent, culturally insensitive — is itself a sophomoric, gratuitously violent, culturally insensitive video game. If players miss the point, they’re left with a game that they are A) offended by, or B) not offended by, which means that they’re accepting the game’s many tasteless excesses as permissible. Even if you do get the point, you still have to slog through 25 hours of dreck, with the added frustration of knowing that the game’s creators made it this bad on purpose. According to Yohalem, Far Cry 3 is a satire of the “Mighty Whitey” trope best known from Dances With Wolves and Avatar, in which a white interloper uses mystical power that only he can access to save indigenous people. But is 25 hours of Mighty Whitey created by people who think it’s stupid any more fun to experience than 25 hours of Mighty Whitey created by people who think it’s cool?

If he still wants to deconstruct video games, Yohalem might have more success with a title made on a smaller-scale. Big budgets and big open worlds lead to confusion and compromise. And if he wants people to solve his riddles, he should write better ones. Even after reading all its writer’s exhaustive post-release explanations, Far Cry 3 still feels a little too much like “what’s in my pocket?”

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8 Comments on Why Far Cry 3 Fails As Meta-Commentary

Christopher S.

On December 19, 2012 at 4:22 pm

“These interviews offer the writer an opportunity to defend his game’s controversial story, criticized in many reviews (including mine).”

Uhn… I don’t think the word MANY reviews is accurate…
Metacritic:
http://www.metacritic.com/game/xbox-360/far-cry-3

90/100 is not a bad thing… Actually is pretty good.

Mark Burnham

On December 19, 2012 at 4:40 pm

@Christopher S.
You’d think if a game’s story was heavily criticized it wouldn’t have a 90/100 on Metacritic, but that’s what happened. For example, the Polygon review referenced in the Penny Arcade article above called the game’s story “exploitative and pointless,” and they gave it a 9.

Everyone has their own way of calibrating a game’s value, so some attribute more or less weight to the story’s failures–but that does seem to have been a common theme.

That is likely what prompted the game’s writer to respond to these criticisms via interviews.

Christopher S.

On December 19, 2012 at 5:01 pm

@Mark Burnham

Most of the reviews i saw didn’t talk about the Story much, and, when they touch the subject, they let know they liked a lot, just when a caracther dies it kinds of go down, but go back up. I played myself, and the story was good.

Anyways, I think a game that have a 90/100 shouldn’t be there if the story was THAT bad… As the critic is about the balance of everything else, in this case a 90/100 kind of let everyone know that the story sucks, but the rest is perfect. And is not the case.

Patches

On December 19, 2012 at 5:59 pm

Funny, but I wasn’t offended the slightest by Far Cry 3…

Probably, because the game let me assume very quickly that every major players on this island are somewhat insane, and at different levels… Some are scary, like Vass, Buck or Hoyt… Some are more comical like your German ally or the ‘Monkey see, Monkey Boom’ guy…
As for Citra and Dennis, they may seem normal at first, but in the end, their true insane nature was revealed to me, especially if you choose the ‘Side with Citra’ ending… It was just a more subtle and insidious insanity than other… Dennis obsession for Citra (hinted at the very beginning, in the village… Drunken because of Citra starting ‘loving you’ instead of him…) and Citra probably thinking herself as an half-Goddess of sort, probably powerful enough to throw herself in front of Dennis knife and survive?…

Citra is a princess in a castle?… Nope, I saw a leader (or a ‘Goddess’) that tried to keep a low profile because she was outgunned… She helped and let the ‘Warrior’ do his job (it’s a game after all, it’s obvious you need to do all the work…) …

Mighty Whitey?… Why not? Sometimes it take an outsider to see a problem with a new perspective…
Maybe this tribe is so caste-like that nobody on the inside can step up and be a hero… We don’t know enough about this tribe, we’ve praracuted there only recently… After all, we don’t know anything of this tribe traditions or ways of life, even while playing the game. Only the small tale of their island creation told by Citra and that they’re fond of liquid drugs…

As for the Writer, he obviously (and utterly) failed to make me understand and appreciate his so called Meta-ommentary…

The Defenestrator

On December 19, 2012 at 11:41 pm

We’re still not at a point where reviewers treat the developers’ success or failure with a story as equal to it’s success/failure as a game. (See also: Mass Effect 3.) Personally, I’d like to see more reviews that treat the story as an integral part of the game but that’s hard to do when so many games still just use the story as cheap window dressing around the gameplay.

Ebalosus

On December 20, 2012 at 5:01 am

I believe this is what tvtropes labels a “Parody Retcon” (look it up).

Riddle me this: did they (the developers) explicitly state before the game’s release that it would be a meta commentary, or a straight game?

Louis

On December 20, 2012 at 5:23 am

The problem is simple – games magazines and review sites don’t hire people who know anything about writing. They hire industry fanboys and yes-men. The ONLY complaints you’ll ever see to do with the story is in its length, or if the characters aren’t PC enough for their limited sensibilities, or some other nonsense. You never see ANYONE analysing the stories as a piece of writing, which is why OPM continues to call Heavy Rain “mature storytelling” when it couldn’t be any further from that, and still can’t grasp the core reasons why people hated the ending to Mass Effect 3. They’re not alone in their insular ignorance.

Hire someone who understands storytelling and doesn’t get distracted by pretty lighting and incidental music, and you get more informed opinions.

Inquiring

On April 8, 2013 at 8:26 am

Far Cry 3′s story screamed “We saw Spec-Ops: The Line, and it’s story and deconstruction of attitudes in modern shooters was brilliant! We need to do that!”

Except where Spec Ops was subtle —perhaps too subtle because the white phosphorous scene is focused too much on as being cheap manipulation and so people miss the other messages spread throughout and just focus on that— Far Cry 3 is blatantly in your face the entire time.

Throughout the story Jason’s actions make sense as someone who wants to: A.) Save his friends, and B.) Get revenge for the death of his brothers. If it was not for the game blatantly telling you (with some rather inept dialogue) that Jason is supposedly enjoying things rather too much, you would never know given the majority of dialogue in the game. No, really, you would never know, because even up to the very end much of Jason’s personal commentary actually does not indicate he is enjoying himself, instead it is very focused on saving his friends or vengeance, and the “mad on the power fantasy” bits feels like it was forced in to add “depth” to the story.

Hell, even that cringe worthy “look at how subversive and topical we are being about violence and power fantasies in video games we have made this!” bit right before you get to choose the ending where Jason’s hallucination of his girlfriend actually says/shouts, “I AM DELETING THEM, JASON!” in regards to the tattoos that are giving you power. That was almost Kojima levels of hamhandidness.

Even the end dialogue of the return to civilization dialogue did not fit the tones of madness or power fantasy, instead it fit a more Lord of the Flies or Heart of Darkness, “I have seen and done some s**t” vibe.

The game has entire sections that feel like they were added in at a later point, well after the script had been written and the game largely finished, to fit a new theme of madness, power fantasy, and commentary on gaming, and these sections feel unnecessary and ineffective.