It says a lot about a game when its first reveal, at last year’s E3, features a character so singularly insane that spines could be heard tingling all around the room. It says even more that Vaas was considered the best introduction to Far Cry 3, because he’s not the most insane thing in the game.
Far Cry 3 is like an iceberg – most of it remains hidden, hinting at further depths to the game that Ubisoft wants to carefully parcel out. The company’s not being stingy, either; rather, it simply doesn’t want to overwhelm the gaming public with too much weirdness in one hit.
If Vaas was the lingering image of the game in 2011, this year it’s the bold opening to section of singleplayer campaign that was on offer at the booth – a first person cinematic of you as the campaign’s her running your hands over a young woman’s breasts. Sex in gaming is a complex and troublesome thing to address, but Ubisoft Montreal is hitting it head on. Even more complex, is that the woman is Vaas’ sister, and in the following moments we find out that protagonist Jason Brody is now the tattooed leader of a local tribe of warriors.
Far Cry 3 is going to be all about a journey right into the heart of darkness. I suspect the Spec Ops: The Line team are not the only developers to have read Joseph Conrad recently.
There’s a lot to balance in the game. It’s a first person shooter, but Ubi wants you to feel that every time you pull the trigger and kill a man, it means something. Killing isn’t easy, in other words, but at the same time the game is obviously a first person shooter, made by shooter fans for shooter fans.
Similarly, the game is set on a range of islands that you’re free to explore, in true open world style; but there’s also a very linear story to be told, with a definite destination.
All of these conflicting styles co-exist with a morally grey world, depraved acts of violence, out of this world drug trips – which is worth returning to, so stay with me – and a tale that could very well end pretty much where it started.
Vaas is the game’s villain, obviously, but Far Cry 3 isn’t about beating him – it’s about discovering what it will take to beat him. Let me bust out a Nietzsche quote to illustrate: “He who fights with monsters might take care lest he thereby become a monster. And if you gaze for long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.”
Another journo buddy of mine and I were chatting about this very thing. He believes that Far Cry 3 may well be an elaborate shell game, an interactive version of Fight Club where you discover that Vaas is not real, and that you have been the monster all along. I suggested another poetic end to the game; that by defeating Vaas, you become effectively the same as him; I can imagine the game ending with you as Brody terrorising some poor newcomer to the island, and asking them if they know what the definition of insanity is.
Of course, in making such a mature game, there are risks. It would be a hell of a trick to pull a lot of gamers through such a harrowing tale, while still making the game a good FPS. Even more troublesome is depiction of drug use; one of the main NPCs is a rather drug-addled doctor, and the rewards of many of his missions appear to be new and interesting substances. In my playthrough of one small part of the game, I found you could loot bodies for stuff, including ephedrine.
There’s a good likelihood that the game, as it currently exists, will have a hard time getting a rating in Australia. It's release is dated for September; well before any changes to game ratings will take place - if they happen at all.
If we don’t get to see Far Cry 3 as it’s intended, it will be a great shame. It’s a rather more ambitious game than a lot of people realise, and I’d be sad to see Ubisoft’s singular vision of a descent into madness become its own victim.