Friday, 24 October 2008

Far Cry 2: Wrongs and Rights

**SPOILER ALERT: These are mostly gameplay-related spoilers, but if you are trying to steer clear of anything and everything to do with the game before it comes out then perhaps you should stop reading now.**

Like just about every videogame in history, Far Cry 2 does some things well, and some things not so well. Lets get the wrong things out of the way first.

Okay, so FC2 has some of the same ‘open world’ problems shared by GTA, Oblivion and STALKER. While browsing an internet forum, I encountered a great and humorous way to sum it up (colourful language warning!). User ‘cpd’ said:

think gta but apartheid africa. plus fucking malaria FUCK OFF FUCKING PILLS

oh and the fact that EVERY c*** wants to shoot you. EVERY SINGLE JEEP will immediately swerve into your path to shoot the living fuck out of you. get out, kill them, repair jeep, drive 100m up the road, repeat.

So it can be kind of repetitive, and frustratingly so – but I’m kind of okay with some of that. I recognize a lot of people probably won’t be, but it kind of ties into the sense of space and physicality that I'll mention later on. I am, however, a guy who has played and nearly completed Oblivion with mods to disable fast-traveling (i.e. played the whole game on horse or foot), so maybe that rules me out. FC2 is at least as large as Oblivion, so getting around can at points become a large part of the game. While there are plenty of cars and utes lying around, the problem comes with transitions to fighting – you either have to get out of your car which takes precious time, or swap to a turret if you vehicle has one leaving you stationary and exposed. Perhaps this issue will be solved later on with the addition of someone riding shotgun, I will admit to only being about 8% of the way through (after nearly 6 hours I might add).

And the good!

The ‘buddy system’ is awesome. Specifically, the fact that if you die and you have a live buddy rested and waiting, they will immediately rush to your side, in a bid to save your life. They’ll pick you up, shoot most of the nearby enemies for you, and give you some breathing room to patch yourself up. It really does solve one of the biggest and most fundamental problems with player death – lets face it, reloading from a save game isn’t exactly all that fun. So it makes sense to do away with it if you can. John Walker from Rock, Paper, Shotgun (who I quoted in my last blog post) wrote back in September about the issue. He said,

I want a high profile, big budget, mainstream action game in which the player character is invincible. I believe that the next truly great game will be the one that does this.[1]

Far Cry 2 doesn’t make you invincible, but the number of times I have accidentally ‘died’ and have just begun to reach for the quick-load button only to fall into the arms or my buddy’s saving embrace, are many.

The other thing that Far Cry 2 does extremely well (and this is the one that I think everyone will or should be talking about soon) is give you a sense of embodiment within the world. As Steven Gaynor (Fullbright) pointed out over Twitter, ‘An FPS that visualizes your hand turning doorknobs? I think I'm in love.’[2] The comparison I couldn’t help but keep making was to Bioshock which often took control of the player and their hands to perform actions, usually in its on-the-rails cutscenes. In Far Cry 2, your hands are always doing this something and they really feel (to me at least) like they are my hands. Add to this the fact that when you need to you can see your body and legs (mostly in other on-rails sections) and you can start to see the building blocks of a really interesting system for representing the player in a virtual world.

In Far Cry 2 you never change to third person, ever – and this is a really good thing! Unfold your map and you will hold in your hands a map of the African country you're stranded in, represented as just another thing in your hands. Like a gun, but for information and orientation. When driving you can open up the map and hold it in one hand, and the net effect is similar to what you would do if performing a similar action in the real world. Your eyes flit back and forth between map and windscreen, balancing path finding with map-reading. No game has ever done that to me before. Also, getting in and out of a vehicle takes time, and while I decried it earlier as being frustrating in combat, it actually further adds to a sense of embodiment. It feels like I am a real human being with a body that takes a real amount of time to move, not some super ninja that flits around at the slightest twitch of a mouse.

In conclusion, it's too early to tell if Far Cry 2 is the ‘game changer’ that I hoped it would be in my previous post. However, even if it's not, it’s certainly another great step in the right direction, in this author’s humble opinion.

Post Script: Jim Rossignol, lover of all games open and exploratory, has posted his own initial thoughts on the game on Rock, Paper, Shotgun. He's pretty much spot on with everything except the Alt+Tab thing - mine works fine.




Clint said...

Glad you like the game Ben. It's nice to hear the real enthusiasm in your post and it's great to have people not only point out the flaws (of which there are several) but also put the flaws in context and give a sense of the cost-benefit.

With things like the avatar-player link we were trying to forge, having the player feel a powerful physcial presence, it sounds like we got it mostly right (for you) even at the cost of animations to get in/out of vehicles or whatever.

Hope you continue to enjoy it for dozens of more hours.

Ben Abraham said...

Hey Clint!

Thanks for stopping by. I hope you're not too dispirited by some of the criticism the game is getting. Like I think I said in a comment on your blog, the real impact FC2 will have probably won't be seen until the dust clears.

Thanks again. I am indeed looking forward to playing it for many, many more hours to come. =)