Some Constructive Feedback For Far-Cry 2
I’ve talked in the past about non-linear games, and the ways they often fail to live up to their own promise. Instead of an incomplete and indirect approach to a whole object of some kind, they deliver a fairly conventional and linear story, but cut up and rearranged in a few different ways. This problem comes up again in Far-Cry 2, or the several hours that I have so far played of it. The game has a number of strengths, both in the story and art direction, and in the mechanics (see this video), but fails to build them up enough to support the open world gameplay.
The game opens Half-Life style in a ride-along in the back of a cab. A well written bit of narration by the driver brings you up to speed on the local situation, and you are free to gawp at the water buffalo blocking the road, if that’s your thing. There’s a lovely subtlety to the whole intro - lots of guns, but no shooting. Evidence and hints of chaos and destruction, but no explosions or screams or anything like that. You see a convoy of armed troops, burning reckage, a hostile checkpoint. But none of it is about you and seemingly none of it is for your benefit.
This is a very smart way to open the game. The soldiers you see clearly are part of something bigger than you - even when the shooting starts, you are simply a bystander, a stranger and therefore suspect. The premise of the game seems to be that you are a mercenary in a hostile environment, with no support, money, friends - and you have malaria. You are also resourceful though, and employable in a warzone, so you have the opportunity to make ends meet or perhaps something more than that. This is an interesting opportunity for non-linear gameplay.
Why? Because the story being told is not of an Israeli mercenary fighting towards victory while making lasting friendships and falling in love or whatever. The story is the character, the situation, and the place. You can tell the story of those three in a hundred different ways, and it will be the same story, in a non-linear sense. What I mean to say is: no matter what the character, or even their actions, are (within a certain range), the situation, place, character, etc. will still be communicated and expressed to the player. It isn’t the progression from lowly soldier to master assassin that is being told - because it could equally be that of the lowly soldier who becomes a loyal grunt before dying of malaria. And, in a non-linear sense, they would be telling the same story.
This is the power of non-linearity. You are conveying something bigger than any of its properties or events, and this allows a great deal of freedom to the player, while still having an artistic intent and content that you deliver. Unfortunately, Far-Cry 2 falls short of this quite quickly, as do very many sandbox games out there.
After the initial introduction, the mechanics of the game become quite clear. There are almost no people except enemy soldiers - their faction doesn’t matter. Nearly every structure is a safe-house or a guard post, the world is empty and meaningless without the quests, and the game immediately begins pushing you to complete them. And the quests are basically unconnected minigames. If you have to assassinate someone, they do not exist before or after the quest is completed. There is no mysterious armed compound that seems more trouble than its worth - until you are told to infiltrate it and kill someone.
All this robs the game of presenting a sense of place and existence beyond that of a game meant to entertain. There’s still plenty to enjoy - as there is in a great number of games - but it gives in to the traditional game structure too easily, and thus becomes much more interchangable with any other set of objectives. In essence, playing the game becomes about beating the game, rather than about surviving in a world that feels and acts real.
Anyway, I hope they take all this on board when they make Far Cry 3.