Thursday, December 5, 2013

Game Review: Far Cry 3: The Co-Op Campaign

I often subscribe to the "if you don't have anything nice to say..." mentality but when I sat down this Thanksgiving weekend with my friend Keegan to play coop video games for the few days of free time we both had this year (while recovering from the flu) we had no reason to suspect that we were in for anything but good times. We blew through the coop mode of the new Splinter Cell, we rocked Terrorist Hunts in a personal favorite, Rainbow 6: Vegas, and then we excitedly set up the Co Op Campaign for one of our mutually favorite games of all time, Far Cry 3. For those of you who've never played it, Far Cry 3 is an intense immersive journey of survival. It features one of the best video game villains of all time, a strong story that even Zero Punctuation gave praise to, one of the best free-roam stealth systems I've played, realistic mechanics for wildfires, terrifying and detailed wildlife, stealth-kills, and is a top-notch first person survival-shooter. Lured in by the promise of a "completely new story" and with the high expectations given to us by the main game and subsequent release of Blood Dragon we didn't expect that the co op mode could be anything but a great time.

About as deep as the plot gets
Plot: The introduction video that plays when you start the co op mode is very much in the vein of Far Cry 3, showcasing the main characters being sold out by their former employer, a ship captain known as The Captain. In short, the Captain took their money, sold the main characters to pirates, and left them high and dry. This much is learned from the video. What the Captain didn't expect the main characters to do was survive the pirate attack, get armed, team up, and cut a bloody path of carnage that would make Rambo blush. I found the introduction video to be exciting, enjoyable, and an indication of good times to come. Keegan and I seemed equally pumped and it came as a large surprise to us to find out that the video would be the most plot-intensive part of the entire game. 

Each of the six co-op missions has a plot, sort of, but the plot really doesn't seem that well thought out, executed, or relevant to the main story of "getting revenge." It sort of just felt like a bunch of pirates incidentally got between the main characters and their prey, the Captain, so the main characters decided to murder them all for laughs and go through places they didn't really need to go through to accomplish their common goal. Each of the six missions, including the last one, didn't really feel like a quest for revenge and felt more like an attempt at finding less than creative ways to murder pirates on an island. Even the last mission where you actually get a go at the Captain (who is entirely absent throughout the other missions) didn't feel fulfilling in the least, and though I won't spoil the ending for you, I'll say that I felt cheated of any true resolution. The "interesting" characters that you get to play as never get developed further than skin deep and you shouldn't expect any insight into their lives or back stories beyond what you can find on the Far Cry 3 Wiki.

As for the four main characters you play as [left to right]: 

Callum: the Scottish thug. I honestly couldn't understand anything he said except the curse words and found him useful only as comic relief. He lacked any sort of real likability and I had no idea what his personal goals were or why he was even working with the other characters. It seems like he would honestly just ditch them at first opportunity and I was surprised that he was playable after the first mission.

Leonard: the crooked cop. I found this sexist thug to be devoid of any value or interest whatsoever. He's greedy, selfish, and while he delivers one of the best lines in the game in the final act I felt no progression or motivation for him beyond "I can't wait to kill this guy and be rich," which was boring.

Mikhail: the Russian hitman. Mikhail was the most interesting character in the Co Op because he had things the other characters all seemed to lack... Relatability and a conscience. Mikhail is ex-mob with a wife and daughter who just wants to start a new life. Sadly beyond the introduction you really don't hear anything more about his life.

Tisha: the ex-soldier. On the surface, Tisha seems like she's going to be relatable like Mikhail, a soldier with a tough upbringing who left the Marines for doing the right thing in a bad situation. However, where Mikhail quietly kills his prey and seems to get no real enjoyment out of the things he has to do to get off the island Tisha seems to relish in the violence and goes from noble Marine martyr to bloodthirsty thug. I felt like this was one of the biggest areas where the creative team really dropped the ball.

Without spoiling the "story" there is also a 5th character, one you don't play as who acts as your guide to the island. I found this character to be one dimensional, stupid, slow, greedy, and entirely unhelpful. There were a few times (like when he ran me over with a truck on accident or when he decided the best course of action would be to drive straight through the enemy encampment at 5 miles per hour) that I questioned if he was really on our side and why he wasn't cut from the game entirely.

The most exciting moment in the entire game...
Is in the first mission.
"Freedom/Gameplay": For a franchise known for allowing a player to accomplish a given task a dozen different ways and allowing players to explore acres of open-world environment the coop mode can only be described as a FF XIII style hallway from which you cannot possibly avoid conflict with every enemy on the map. Keegan and I are both traditionally stealth shooters, running through the tall grass with silenced scoped rifles, pistols, and a knife and killing only as many enemies as are required to accomplish a given task, if any at all. Given the fact that you're not allowed to walk more than a few paces off the main road for cover (you lose if you get caught "leaving the map" kind of like playing Marco Polo in a narrow swimming pool), the fact that you're not allowed to leave an area until you kill every person in that area (literally), this tactic is entirely nonviable. They also reduced the effectiveness of close combat attacks, which you can normally chain in FC3 and do a number of fairly awesome things with.

You start each level by selecting one of four basic layouts: Silent, Assault, Close-Assault, and Sniper, and beyond the ability to pick up the weapons of dead enemies (mostly AKs or weapons from other layouts), you're entirely unable to evolve or adapt your loadout. This is particularly bothersome when you encounter the armored bad guys who can take 3 sniper rifle shots to the head, 4 frag grenades, an unlimited supply of normal gunfire to anywhere but the head, and are all but immune to rocket launchers (which earn the "most useless" award for FC3 Coop) and are immune to futile close combat attacks. None of the guns except for the sniper rifle come with a scope either, and only two classes can use grenades. 
There are basically 4 enemy types: Gunners, molitov throwers, snipers, and men armed with machetes. They recycle the same few models throughout, throw dozens of each at you for each of the 6 levels with an occasional dog or armored heavy gunner/flamethrower, and that describes every enemy in the co op... All of them... No joke... While the mechanics of the game were mostly fluid, matching FC3, the removal of character evolution, stealth, scopes, and multiple ways to accomplish a task were infuriating. The worst moment for us was when we were told to "sneak through a base", we snuck through the base without being spotted, and then were told we needed to kill everyone in the base to proceed through the secret tunnel because Callum just felt like killing everyone. This is the sort of BS the game throws at you.

The joke here is that there are no animals in the Co Op,
so this scene isn't a part of the game...
Feel: The FC3 Coop is clunky and extremely awkward. By mission 4, the only reason we were still playing was so we could see if there was any sort of triumph felt in finally killing the Captain, whom the main characters talked about but whom we never saw. The missions felt like they weren't all that well thought through as the general idea for each mission was "sneak" into this area by killing everyone on the way there, push a button that operates something noisy, and defend the spot for a few minutes while the noisy thing happens. Of course there was the occasional mission of "pick up this object that suddenly causes enemies to spawn all around you and bring it across the map by walking down the middle of the road." Between the drudge of shoot-em-up missions were moments of relief akin to mini-games where you and your friends compete to see who can shoot more people with a sniper rifle, who can drive a jet ski better, or who can drive a jeep better. They felt awkward but were preferable over playing through another shoot-em-up mission that would have filled the space.

The FC3 Coop was incredibly glitchy
Even though we only played through it once, here's an example of what we had to endure to complete it:
The enemy spawning was abysmal and I'd often watch enemies appear feet in front of me, just in time to murder me with a 1 hit kill machete to the face.
After each checkpoint, our guns wouldn't reload.
The guns often glitched and vanished from thin air, making it look like we were only holding a barrel.
The textures and lighting as we went indoors and outdoors would often clash, get confused, and reverse on us, giving us a dark cave suddenly lit with brighter than day lighting.
The truck we had to escort often would drive too slow, too fast (at one point running me over), or just stopped altogether, forcing us to restart the mission.
Enemies we'd kill would often continue talking or shooting guns during the closing cinemas to each mission, so we couldn't hear the scarce dialogue of the main characters.
A key zip-line ceased to be for my character, forcing me to fall 30 feet to my death on jagged rocks from which I could not be rescued. We had to use the zipline on the right after restarting from the checkpoint, which was about 10 minutes of gameplay back.

Art: This is actually the area I have much praise for the FC3 coop. While it's a glitch hallway style shooter it had some really solid visual character design. The main team felt unique visually, and while they lacked depth they looked cool and had good voice acting. For the most part the visuals in game matched the quality of FC 3, which is great, though for some reason the water seemed to be visually lacking during one of the mini games (perhaps just another glitch?). The music was unmemorable for the most part which I feel is a negative in a game that linear, and the audio design failed in that the world didn't feel truly like it was a part of the outdoors. There was also no visual or audio cue when you killed someone unless it was a Kill-Assist, which made progression frustrating... Correction, there is an audio cue, but it's often muffled by, and seems like it's part of the games soundtrack.

Closing Thoughts: They took out stealth, exploration, wildlife, wildfire, wind, close combat, the bow, arrows, scopes, and the plot. Shy of the name and tropical setting it didn't really feel very much like a Far Cry game at all. It was unenjoyable to play, unfilling to complete, and more glitchy than I thought to expect from such a large franchise. While it started off a great concept with an intriguing introduction video I can't recommend this game to anyone except truly hardcore fans of coop shooters devoid of plot or completionist fanatics of the Far Cry franchise.

Disclaimer: I understand that it's a huge undertaking to make a video game. I understand that I don't have any of the talents required to make a video game like Far Cry 3. I understand that rough timelines, budget cuts, and general corporate griminess can lead to a great idea turning into something less than stellar. I mean no disrespect towards the makers of this game with my review, nor do I hold any of them responsible for the problems I have with it as it very well could have been the product of corporate resource mismanagement, clashing ideas at the highest level (even a stellar team can't make conflicting ideas from their bosses into something good), or some other unknowable constrictions placed on the creative team.


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