Tag Archives: Far Cry

Opinion – Far Cry 5’s Ending

Spoilers:  I’ll be talking about the ending for Far Cry 5 so, unsurprisingly, there will be spoilers for Far Cry 5.

 

Let’s get the verdict out of the way: the ending for Far Cry 5 isn’t very good, but it is representative of the failings that plague the game’s story.  Whether or not you saw The Collapse coming, it was possible to predict how the story would falter.

For those who haven’t beaten the game, here’s a quick summary.  The player is fighting against The Father, a religious figure who built a militant movement around an amorphous, apocalyptic scenario known as “The Collapse”.  When the player confronts and defeats The Father, nuclear bombs go off suggesting that he was right all along and lending credence to the prophetic powers he claimed to have.

Much of the criticism of the ending is lobbied against its unpredictability.  While there’s plenty of discussion about the end of the world, Far Cry 5 doesn’t provide sufficient clues to forecast the apocalypse.  I can’t agree.  The mechanics of the apocalypse are left unexplored, but its arrival is given increasing evidence when looked through the perspective of The Father’s prophesy.  I agree that we don’t see much about encroaching war (though apparently some of the radio broadcasts talk about North Korea), but we do see quite a bit to suggest that The Father may be right.  The three heralds (think cult vice presidents) all highlight how the player’s actions were foretold by The Father with Jacob Seed even highlighting how he doubted The Father’s religious connections, but believed in his prophesy.  Furthermore, the beginning even has the cultists waiting for the arrival of the supposedly unexpected police officers.  Far Cry 5 may not set up a nuclear exchange, but it does support the idea that the apocalyptic prediction could be right.

My problem with the ending is a continuation of my problem with the broader storyline.  The story often tries to shock and awe the audience with plot twists, but rarely spends the time it needs to earn the pay off.  The concept of The Bliss is the perfect example.  Rather than spend a little time developing the concept of The Bliss, it is instead an obvious dues ex machina that does whatever the plot needs at the time.  It’s supposed to create an otherworldly atmosphere, but instead feels empty and unsupported.  Another related example is the final fight where the player must defeat their allies who have all been exposed to The Bliss despite there being no sign of that exposure happening.  Instead, the fight feels like just another convenient setup.  Far Cry 5 wants these powerful and impactful moments, but doesn’t spend the time to support them.

The apocalyptic ending falls into the same pattern.  Yes, the story lends some support to the ending happening, but it never grapples with what that actually means.  A prophet who predicts the end of the world and even knows how it will happen sets up a millenarian cult movement that he knows will fail.  He knowingly creates the scenario that will bring about the end that he’s trying to stave off.  How does any of this make sense?  The ending is yet another jump where Ubisoft wants to get to the good part of the story without thinking through the path to get there, and that’s the real problem.  The game does let you know what’s coming, it just doesn’t want to figure out how to make it work.

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Review – Far Cry 5 – PC

Short version:  Far Cry 5 is a good game.  It won’t change your life…or even your view on Far Cry games, but it’s polished, fun, and generally does what it set out to do.  Got it?  Good.  Let’s start reviewing this thing.

The game begins with the player running from the Eden’s Gate cult in Montana after failing to capture its leader, The Father.  The player joins up with up three sets of resistance groups trying to overthrow the three “heralds” of The Father, collectively known as the Seed family.  This is a solid enough set up for the game, but really relies on the personalities of the Seed family to carry the story beyond a basic “kill these dudes” premise.  Fortunately, the Seeds are a well-acted bunch of zealots who both convey the necessary charisma to sell their role as cult leaders and the arrogance to incentivize their downfall.  The desire to take down the cult and their leaders is enough to carry the player through the game, but the rest of the story can’t quite keep up.

For all the quality of the cast, the basic plotline is all over the map.  Developer Ubisoft clearly had larger ambitions for Far Cry 5’s story that it couldn’t quite reach.  The story has major plot elements that are haphazardly introduced and unexplained even as they take on an increasingly large role.  This all culminates in an ending that doesn’t have the support its needs resulting in it landing flat (I’ll cover this, spoilers and all, a little later).  The saving grace of it all is that the game rarely dwells on the story.  Far Cry 5 benefits from not looking or thinking too hard about it.

The gameplay is a more polished version of the standard Ubisoft fare.  All the usual staples are here including an open world map, taking over forts, doing side quests for locals, and hunting down collectibles.  Where the game shines is how it parcels these all out in interesting chunks the mean that no element ever feels overwhelming.  Even at the start, the map feels full, not cluttered.  Furthermore, the high ratio of character driven quest to mindless side mission means that I never felt obligated to do boring tasks.  I always felt I could engage with the game on the level I felt interested in at the time.

Another strong element of the gameplay was how it feeds into the look and feel of the world.  Success in missions translates to success for the resistance movements in the countryside.  Sectors that start off as overrun with cultists as civilians flee for their lives transform into battlefields and finally transition into resistance controlled space.  It’s a nice touch that makes each mission feel like a battle in a broader war and lends impact to the player’s actions.  I wish more games did this.

Even without the dynamic change in the environment, Far Cry 5 impresses with its high mountains, gentle farmlands, and lived-in buildings.  Perhaps it’s my familiarity with the setting, but I found this iteration of the series to have the most compelling, realistic world.  Seeing a place that I knew could be real and that was so well drawn pulled me in to the struggle of its residents.  This felt like a living world and an accurate reflection of the setting it wanted to portray.

In the end, Far Cry 5 isn’t a revolutionary game.  If you didn’t like its predecessors, this one won’t change your mind.  On the other hand, if you like this type of game, or were on the fence about the genre, give Far Cry 5 a shot.  It’s a polished example of the form and worth the $60.

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Opinion – When Less is More

I’m pretty close to finishing Far Cry 5.  When I write that, I mean that I am pretty close to completing the main story and all of the side missions.  By the time I am done, Farcry 5 will have nothing scripted left to amuse me and the best part of that is, I enjoyed every minute of it.

The mantra of open world games seems to be “more is better”.  More collectibles.  More mindless missions.  Shoot 5 bears.  Retrieve 10 ingots.  Open world titles are chock full of meaningless busy work that, by some alchemy which I cannot fathom, is supposed to add up to a better game.  Far Cry 4 was a fine example of this thinking with tons of things to find, yet no real reason to do so beyond checking a box.  Even worse was Mass Effect: Andromeda which put in so many pointless quests that they obscured the meaningful ones.  Some games are not much more than one giant level with nothing but mindless crap to do.  On the other hand, Far Cry 5 seems to get that less is more.

Far Cry 5 still has collectibles and mindless quests, but it’s smarter with each.  Collectibles exist, but they’re part of single quests that don’t clutter up the map or hang over the player’s head.  Collectibles aren’t tied to a side line story or key to unlocking a super special ability.  They’re merely there for the player that wants a little direction while exploring.  The side quests fulfill a similar role.  Side quests come with a little exposition, end quickly, and aren’t much more demanding than the collectibles.  Meanwhile, the story and broader structure of the game chugs on with its own gravity.

This all works because these bits of busy work augment the main quest rather than serve as the focal point of the game.  When side quests and collectibles are a part of a broader open world with deeper activities, then the smaller quests serve as a nice break.  Players can find lighters or mow down enemies instead of save the world or figure out the next challenge.  With the pressure off being the dominant part of the experience, the little quests can serve their intended role.  When the busy work dominates, then the game itself becomes busy work.  While there are plenty of things to do, none of them are entertaining and the player often bounces from one to the next out of a sense of OCD like obligation rather than out of any feeling of fun.  Players want to clear the map rather than actually perform the activities that would result in that outcome.

And this is why I’m happy about completing Far Cry 5.  My completion isn’t a reflection of my compulsion to clear the map, but rather a demonstration of how I enjoyed the experience in its totality.  I completed the game because it was fun, and that’s how it should be.

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Opinion – Solutions for Open World Games

We’ve hit peak open world….I hope.

The open world genre is undoubtedly dominating the video game space.  From genre luminaries like Grand Theft Auto and Far Cry to lesser lights such as The Division and Watch Dogs to genre newbies like Final Fantasy and Mass Effect, developers collectively have concluded that the market wants more open world games.  There certainly is something appealing about the genre.  The ability to explore new worlds, take on a variety of challenges, and change your environment for the better are all something that open world games do very well.  Sadly, newer entries have taken their cues from the Ubisoft model which significantly degrades their long term prospects.  I’ve already written on why that model doesn’t work, so this will be on how to fix it.  We’ll start with something that should be obvious:

Every game mechanic should meet a threshold of fun

Playing games is a voluntary act.  We all pick up the controller because a game promises a good time (however we choose to define that).  We don’t play games for the prospect of large quantities of boring activities which is where most Ubisoft style games land these days.  Rather than emphasize the entertaining nature of their gameplay, many open world games promise hours of stuff to do in the hopes that the player will find something to enjoy.  Unfortunately, this approach results in shotgun blast side quests that are quick, unspecific in their aim, and often variations on the same theme.  Final Fantasy XV demonstrates this issue by having a map full of activities that rarely elevate beyond “kill this monster” or a straightforward fetch quest.  The end result is a world full of activities of which few are actually worth doing.  This is a trend we’ve seen in countless other games including Mass Effect Andromeda’s deluge of shoddy side content and Far Cry 4’s multiple variations on item collection.  Developers need to ask themselves if every major mechanic in the game (open world or not) is fun on its own.  If the action isn’t, than strip it from the game rather than rely on the myriad of other activities to pick up the slack.  Quantity doesn’t make up for quality.

Systems are your friend

One of the greatest missed opportunities in games is the chance to apply broader mechanic systems to open worlds.  Rather than try to craft each event, developers should establish worldwide systems that create gameplay opportunities.   Saint’s Row 2 provides a simple example of something that could be incredibly complex.  When the player takes territory in SR2, the player’s gang replaces the opposing gang thereby turning a once hostile territory into a friendlier place.  When the player goes on missions, the gang will support them in the territories under the player’s control.  This system isn’t particularly deep, but it creates a more strategic element to the game where the player could take certain territories before missions to ensure they had back up during the big fights.  Open world games are perfect for this kind of worldwide system where the player can have an important impact on the look and gameplay of the open world.  Rather than making maps a collection of static icons, developers ought to code dynamic systems that create gameplay by themselves and through their interaction with other systems.

Please stop forgetting about the story

Given the considerable energy that goes into creating enormous environments, players ought not be surprised at the sacrifices developers make in other aspects of the game.  Story often suffers as the developers must devote limited resources to creating a story wholly within the open world environment.  Whereas other style games can move character’s through new cities, different continents, and even other planets, many open world games must focus on a single place.  The evolution of the Saint’s Row series shows how this works in practice.  While the early games focused on small time street thugs trying to carve out territory in a major city, SR3 & 4 envisioned the eponymous Saints with global aspirations.  Given the limited nature of open world environments, the stories of SR3&4 had to both justify a) why the Saints had to take over yet another city and b) why everything important seemed to happen within the confines of that city.  The end result was a hackneyed plot about space aliens destroying Earth who then put the Saints in a city simulation for, you know, reasons.  I’ve focused on the environment, but characters, narrative arc, and every other aspect of the narrative declines as soon as the developer utters the words “open world”.  By refocusing on making great stories, developers could create an interesting new direction for the genre.

If the open world fad is anything like its predecessors, we can expect it to fade as it collapses under the weight of over indulgence and its lack of innovation.  If open world games decline to the point of just a few tent poles, then developers will have missed out on an opportunity to do some incredibly interesting things with the genre.  These games should not have a future if they continue to mirror the Ubisoft industrial mold, but could create a whole new generation of fans if they’re willing to try something new.

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Opinion – Problems with the game factory

I’ve referred to Ubisoft games in the past, but never really explained it.  That ends today.

Ubisoft, the developer behind Assassin’s Creed, Watch Dogs, The Division, and Far Cry, is known for its open world games.  They often have expansive maps, numerous activities plucked from a limit set of mini games, and collectible items sprinkled over the map.  The success of the above series shows how this approach can be quite appealing, but also has serious downsides.  For all the money of its made, Ubisoft is now seeing the weakness of their model.  It can be fixed, but it means going outside of their development comfort zone.

The Ubisoft model has some good things going for it.  The biggest two are the tons of content and (from the developer’s prospective) the quick turnaround on game development.  The sheer amount of content in an Ubisoft game allows the player to flit between activities ensuring that no one activity wears out its welcome and that the player can pick the parts of the game they enjoy.  Even better, many of these activities grant bonuses that improve the player’s abilities meaning that the content builds on itself as the player plays.  The standardized formula also allows Ubisoft to turn large games out in relatively little time.  With the exception of the new maps, most of the content is relatively easy to design and implement allowing for AAA games with only a year or so of turnaround.  Rather than wait three or four years for the next iteration of a blockbuster title, fans can experience one on a regular basis while the developer enjoys the financial benefits.

That is where the strengths end and much of the blame lies on the quick turnaround.  While the “map + mini games + weak story = success” template allows Ubisoft to churn out games quickly, it restricts what Ubisoft can do with the game elements.  The mini games are a perfect example of this.  The map of an Ubisoft game is littered with icons denoting diversions for the player.  Sadly, most of these games are undeveloped fractions of the larger game.  After playing a few rounds, the value of most side quests is in their rewards, not their gameplay.  At its worst, mini games reach Skinner Box levels of compulsion where the player isn’t having fun, but rather is receiving just enough of a reward to keep playing.   Ubisoft has had years and numerous games to fix this, but can’t due to the shortened development cycle.  Developing genuine side quests with fun characters, new gameplay, and a decent narrative ark takes time and coordination that a limited timeline with set pieces can’t allow.  To fit into the model, mini games must be unobtrusive and require little from the other elements to cut down on the amount of editing it would take to ensure each element fits together.  As a result, most of the diversions are small, repetitive, and self-contained until you get to the reward.

The mini games at least “benefit” from the compulsion to get just a little more.  Storyline, the often neglected aspect of these games, falls almost completely by the wayside.  The heavy investment in a map and gameplay style limit what each story can do.  Most game locations are, by necessity, in the game map because additional locations would take more time.  Stories can only ever happen in a few alternative locations limiting the scope and narrative to just those places.  The repetitive gameplay causes even more damage.  In a perfect world, gameplay would follow from story allowing the developer to create gameplay that reflects the larger narrative.  In reality, the writers get invited to the party too late.  In a game like this, the writers never get a chance to tweak anything.  They almost always write a story that matches the limited gameplay with the knowledge that they can do nothing new or interesting without requiring additional resources they won’t get.  With the locations and gameplay so restricted, it shouldn’t be a surprise that most Ubisoft game stories are garbage.

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen this before.  EA’s Need for Speed series followed a similar trajectory until the customer base grew bored and moved on to greener pastures.  Later developers took EA’s model and built the Burnout series which saw a new round of success.  If Ubisoft is willing to let its series breath, give them more time to develop, and dabble in new ideas, than the next success in the open world genre need not come from the outside.  With a little bravery, Ubisoft can leverage its existing talent to be the developer that takes these games to a new level.

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