Far Cry 3 is secretly a horror game, and you’re the monster
The film The Beach is about a naïve 20-something who discovers an island upon which there lives two groups of people. One group is a drug cartel, violent and ruthless. The other is what seems to be a peaceful commune that lives in paradise. The film explores the differences, and similarities, between the two groups, and how that changes the film's protagonist. I spoke with Far Cry 3's lead game designer, Jamie Keen at PAX Prime and asked him to give some insight into the game. There may be some parallels between the island of the film and the island of the game.
We have met the enemy, and it's that guy
Keen told the Penny Arcade Report that Far Cry 3 is aiming much higher with its storytelling than the “kill-kill bang-bang” trailers and prolific use of “fuck” might have you think. “You've got this massive body count, and then you've got this guy Vaas, and then it's kind of like, how different is the character from him? How does the player feel about what's going on?” Keen said. “It's holding up a little bit of a mirror, making people think when they see that stuff.” This argument sounds familiar. Bioshock is every bit as memorable for the line “Would you kindly?” as it is for its game play. You never questioned Atlas because you were a gamer – you were used to doing what you're told. The game explored how the real-world video game industry has conditioned players to kill, and to follow orders to do so with very little thought. The more recent Spec Ops: The Line also explored these themes. The game may be dealing with the character of Jason and his exploration of the game's environments, but it's important not to take anything for granted. “You've been getting embroiled in some pretty nasty situations, you've been doing some fairly horrible things to people, how's that affected you?” Keen asked. “How has that affected Jason both in terms of him as a character and you as a gamer?”Keen told the Penny Arcade Report a major design philosophy of Far Cry 3 has been the marriage of narrative and game play. Look at the skill tree system: As you play and gain XP, you'll be able to turn those points into perks, such as faster reloads, decreased weapon recoil, or better scavenging results. The trees are named after animals: The Heron, The Shark, and The Spider. Each time you choose a perk from the skill tree, your arm gains tattoos. The more Jason follows “the path of the warrior,” the more tribal he becomes. The more the island leaves its mark. “At the start of the game, you're really going to feel like you don't know what's going on. You really are lost in the jungle. We want that feeling of 'Oh my god, this is really overpowering.' We want you to be afraid,” Keen said. “By the end of it, you've learned the way of the Rakyat, you've learned the path of the warrior, and you're a very dangerous person.” “Just like Vaas,” he said. The way Far Cry 3 plays out is unsettling. Every time I leveled up, Jason's tattoo grew. It's like watching the spread of a rash, but it happens every time you complete what you would think of as a “good” thing. Every time you collect a hidden item, every time you level up, the tattoo spreads like an infection. As I played through the open world demo at PAX Prime, there were several instances where wild animals crossed my path. A pack of wild dogs stared at me from just over the crest of a nearby hill. “Shoot them,” the attendant told me. “I don't want to,” I told her. These dogs hadn't done anything to me, so there was no reason to kill them. I kept my eyes on the beasts, but I never pulled the trigger. Eventually, I was far enough away to turn my back. I felt proud.
That's me in the spotlight
The story of Far Cry 3 isn't the only overhaul Keen's team has been working on. Keen said that while most of what's been shown thus far has been the more linear story missions, the world of Far Cry 3 is an open one, with plenty to explore and collect. “I don't think people necessarily understood where we were going with it,” he told me. “We obviously want to give you tutorials, introduce you to certain systems, things like radio towers, things like outposts, a little bit of the story, and then we pretty much are like, 'It's up to you. Here's the next story mission, here's the world, take your pick.'” The world is full of interesting things, be they side missions, collectibles, scenery, or enemy encounters. Something always seems to be happening, and at times that can border on the ridiculous. “I was watching a girl play, and she was getting attacked by these buffalo, which can be a really hairy situation. They're just beating her, beating her, beating her, and I'm thinking, 'She's gonna die,'” Keen said. “Suddenly there's this orange and black flash and this tiger just nailed this buffalo right in front of her. It was just amazing.” I noticed below me two wild dogs chasing a boar. The boar darted back and forth, eventually startling a deer from its hiding spot. The deer ran from the boar while the boar ran from the dogs, until they all entered a clearing where three pirates stood, gathered around a Jeep. The dogs attacked the pirates, and I used the distraction as an opportunity to steal the Jeep and make a getaway, but not before I killed the pirates. I could have just escaped. Why act like a killer? I'd done this a thousand times in other games, why did I feel conflicted now? I thought back to the tattoo on Jason's arm. I wondered if he was feeling as conflicted as I was. In The Beach, the protagonist is shocked by his own capacity for violence and it snaps him back to reality. The idea of violence as pollution that physically marks people is a well-worn trope, but Far Cry 3 seems to be handling it expertly.