Part two – elaboration on problems and potential corrections, and… maybe the future.
Recently, a friend (whom I play co-op with) took me to task on my recent Far Cry 3 “review.” While he agreed on many of my criticisms, he wanted to know why my “review” was incomplete, and why it sounded more like a rant. Initially, it was a rant, and titled as such. Yet, things change when you have an editor to please…
Many aspects in the previous article I possibly sounded overly critical about, or maybe too biased, or maybe just too obtuse and lacking clarity and elaboration. I will try to address those here, and flesh out some other ideas of what I was really getting at.
I suppose my main criticism here is (and was) the promise held out to gamers that all games push energetically, but rarely deliver. Games seem to chase after emulation of the the movie/book industry with relish, and ignore the pure potential for human experience and growth in games, by utilizing the experiences to comprehend new possibilities via choice and outcomes during a play through that are completely different from any other.
My example: If we were at all able to live a new life, and be presented with similar choices, it is entirely likely we would indeed do things different (assuming we could recall all of what we did prior.) So, rather than trap a player into the idea of a linear story like a movie/book, games have pure power they just do not utilize, and instead seemingly abdicate with much force. Whether that is laziness, human inability, or just outright stupidity, I cannot say. But what I do know is writing and showing stories about something is fine and great if you are telling a linear tale, but a life lived and experienced (what games offer) has choices that the teller does not influence.
I would go on to say that a really well crafted game story would focus on the characters, and NOT the story, and be created in such a way as to let the player tell it by experiencing it, by interacting with the crafted world. A truly advanced game would have a world which you exist within, and it goes on with or without you, like real life. Players are currently pushed down rails to their destination, and nothing can alter that; it is a tale cast in stone, which is why so many “fail” situations occur in games in the first place.
As a player, you did NOT truly fail, the developer made you fail by creating failure situations. They were so intent upon forcing you the player down a specific path, with so many artificially contrived failure situations. I might add here that it is entirely likely for games to remain this way due to propping up egos, by creating worlds that revolve around the player, a universe that revolves entirely around you, like a little baby, boring as that is.
Typical games (and not just FPS games, although they have the most guilt) have the railroad story, let’s face it: You are on a train from the moment you click ‘start’. In Far Cry 3, this is painfully obvious by an introduction of either “golden” or “blue” areas, in which things start to happen (a triggered event script) once you move into the area. There are any number of problems with this, as once triggered, you cannot leave without failing, even if by accident. As a sidebar, we all know how much fun failing is. Some people get so shamed by failure in life they do and/or achieve little because of it. ‘Shaming someone into success’ is really rather bad form, and in my opinion is completely contrary to what games are about. They are about fun and entertainment, not feeling like crap because you are not a mind reader of someone’s obscure intent.
So, while you *might* game the story by acting before entering the “golden” circle, the truth is – you shouldn’t be forced to do that if you are having trouble, or want the game to play out another way than the one that they want to beat into you. You should have the freedom to do as you will from the very outset, no matter the outcome.
What many have begun to see is a primary problem of games, not creating fully emergent worlds, which means crafted failure situations will likely be many, is creators want to keep the tension up. But again, this is artificial movie/book tension, not some event that you might actually experience that no one else ever will. FPS games in general tend to either push a player over the same map multiple times or push a player down a linear path like a rat, to get the same stale cheese. If, for example, you had infiltrating a ship as a mission, you would want multiple doors to enter and exit from, so the player could choose their path, rather than just one to enter or exit from.
Fallout 3 was a interesting example of this (in some small way) as there was much freedom to approach, choose, and go your own way. While it wasn’t strictly an FPS, it did have some grand moments. I never felt as if the story was demanding me to do one specific thing one specific way or that it was fail, fail, fail (which is where the fun really IS, right?). It still had some of the same corridor shoving faults, but they were not as punishing as Far Cry 3’s.
My friend’s experience with the Far Cry 3’s campaign had some very frustrating and disappointing moments, but he maintains I was a little harsh on the game in my review. Despite the railroading aspect, he still finds the campaign has kept him from otherwise being bored with too much free roaming and no action (as all of his outposts are conquered, and he doesn’t care as much for exploration as I do). His primary complaint was that I ended my review seeming to say, who needs a story? This was not at all my intent, but rather, something more choice filled, with multiple outcomes or possibilities After all, there are many ways to do an actual something, and if you choose only one path (and everyone else does too) what is the point of any discussion regarding said experience? What I propose is player-led stories, not story-led players. After all, if the game world really is all about your experience, how come you are trapped into someone else’s?
Contrast the free form idea to last night when my friend played Far Cry 3. There was a mission where, after a cut scene, you have to make it through a burning building and it’s timed. He died over and over and over not even getting close to the finish before the time runs out. It was extremely frustrating for him because; (his words) 1) Can’t see well in the burning fire so player takes the wrong path and time runs out. 2) Player reaches a dead end and hears “I’ll have to shoot the water pipes” and then when they do it doesn’t work unless they shoot the exact spot on the pipe. 3) Once a player fails enough to figure out the right path and shoot all the pipes, there is a door in the way and you waste time and fail at the door because no interaction comes up, so you have to shoot it to break through it. Once a player has failed enough times to figure out the right path and shoot the pipes and the door they will still fail because they didn’t do it quickly enough. Or, they will fall and die. That is a lot of frustration for one small sequence.
It would be far better to let the player (as much as possible) play the story how they choose to and do the extra effort to create as many endings or alternate paths/outcome of the story as development resources will allow. But I suppose this is far too much to ask from (typical) game developers who are always complaining that the next game will ‘probably’ cost ten billion dollars to make, and then turning out the same basic thing as the previous game with minor adjustments all while complaining about workloads, etc.
As bad as it is, without the campaign/story at this point, most folks would likely be done with FC3 except for perhaps the ‘mini’ games of racing and weapons use contests. Sadly duplicating tropes on the backs of other FPS’s, the campaign is rife with old, tired dog-eared tropes and on-rails goals with little or no ability to use strategy other than this weapon/kill over that, and many times those weapons are forced upon you with unlimited ammo. As bad as the campaign is, the game would likely be far worse without it, simply because the free form aspect doesn’t go quite far enough in it’s promise.
The ‘washed out textures’ I spoke of were inside of buildings, and were so dull and drab they conflicted with the rest of the (external) game for me. Interiors made of concrete (etc.) were boring, and I have seen a lot of in-game concrete. Maybe it was just that; things might have had better lighting on a PC.
Disposable story. The story came off as that for me, due to any lack of connection to the main campaign story characters. It left a real impression of “afterthought, bolted on” for me. Co-op didn’t necessarily need a story, but it was such a lousy attempt at a story it felt pathetic to me, and made me wish they hadn’t bothered. There should also have been some form of scaling for co-op to allow others to partake, in lessor or greater sized matches, like Halo has done since some early versions.
My friend also demanded here more specific examples in his critique of my ‘review.’ He offered specifics of what I *might* have used, and so I offer them here, to you: “The first co-op I tried spawned me into a river basin with high, un-climbable walls so the only approach was forward. What a waste of the Far Cry maps to not allow players to choose to split up with one high ground, one low for example, rather than force a direct frontal assault approach”. Bots just seem to just ‘appear’ in great numbers and are next to impossible to defeat without four players, so – forget about options. Why not allow players to select the number of enemy or difficulty for say 2 player co-op, 3 and 4 player? Why make 2 player co-op impossible hard by setting the difficulty for 4 players only?”
Load outs: Basically, a ‘load out’ in FC3 terms is a weapon preset, along with any perks, grenades, or etc. you can earn. They do grow, but to me, it had a completely different and confusing setup that conflicted with the campaign’s feel of things. Not saving a specific load out/preset created, for example, means it doesn’t exist, so when the timer counts down, you cannot easily choose, and can be faced with whatever bone you get tossed of whatever was there prior.
Further, co-op takes away the camera function of marking an enemy for movement tracking, and only allows extremely limited weapons choices with no ability to pick up enemy weapons as you can in the main game. The load outs do get better with each success of the six missions as weapons are unlocked and unlocking the ‘Battle Cries’ which is a ‘buff’ that gives players a little more leverage, as using them strengthens your teammates. There is also healing syringes to pick up that you must use when needed on a partner within a given time limit if wounded, or they die. But I was more disturbed by the severe border/path limitations, where going outside of them created a warning, and then (if abused) the game ended within seconds, merely because I wanted a strategic advantage in what was advertised as a “ free form sandbox game.” All modern games are about immersion, and this sort of implementation destroys it for a player completely.
While the free form aspect of Far Cry 3 is not a “do all” solution, it is a step in the correct direction for the genre, like Fallout 3 was. And yet, if all every FPS has on offer other than a free roam sandbox is racing, dice tossing, knife competitions, etc., I suspect the genre will go stale quickly again.
Still, I suspect game developers like the idea of making a crappy game with a “show nothing” demo that is usually on offer. They like the idea of games that go stale quickly, but have the ability to stick us with a $60 purchase in a permanent way. By killing ‘used’ games as a market, and forcing people to keep what they have, they are in effect destroying people’s entertainment freedoms. No longer will you have the ability to pick out something else by gaining a few bucks so you can have the money for something new and different, which, in retrospect, can likely only hurt the industry that demands it. And, the market for really crappy games will solidify, because the price will never drop (nothing to cause that to happen).
Let us consider what has transpired so far:
* cannot return an opened game. (new = no refunds)
* only allowed to exchange an unopened game. (no refunds)
* no refund on digital games
So, in the future:
* cannot sell a ‘used’ game ( so, you can’t even exchange or trade it)
* all games are digital, so you are stuck no matter what.
Think for a moment about what is being said here: If you purchased something and have no right or ability to return or complain, you are basically without any rights regarding that item. So, let’s say you buy some food, get it home, and find out it is spoiled (sort of like finding out you were just bilked for a crappy game) you have no recourse but to KEEP it. So, really, about all you will have the power to do is either keep it or toss it. If you don’t like something, that translates to it being essentially garbage from the outset. On the other side, I am quite sure the industry will observe and enjoy a new found surge in piracy rate that they create.
So, the larger picture is that while game developers (in my opinion) go out of their way to create what amounts to a used game, they are now fully intent on taking the next step, and that is permanently saddling you with it.