Monday, March 4, 2013

the compelling character development of Jason Brody in Far Cry 3 and how it could be a little better

I finished Far Cry 3 yesterday and was surprised at how much I enjoyed the game. Firstly, it did all the basics right. The story is compelling. You believe in the main character's motivation to get his kidnapped friends (girlfriend and brother included) back from the pirates that took them. The voice acting is top notch along with the graphics and believability of the characters, in particular the weed toking psychopath Vaas. You love to hate that bastard.

It was well paced like all good open-world games. Side missions and hunting (like red Dead) mix up the gameplay and main story. It’s challenging and always different—a lot of the time there’s hundreds of ways to solve a certain problem. And doing so is a hell of a lot of fun. Stealth takedown are just as satisfying as mowing down a group of attackers. The variety in weapons and incentive to upgrade them and yourself pushes the player to liberate every outpost and activate each radio tower. You feel invested in the liberation of the island in which you’ve been marooned. It works well on an emotional level, which is what makes for good storytelling.

There’s even a shift in tension as you move from the first island to the second. That was smart for pacing and variety. It also echoed Read Dead’s America/Mexico shift, but hell, if it works in fiction, it should work in games.

The power of Far Cry 3 lies in the transformation of Jason Brody, the main character. You feel him developing into a vigilante—a savage person who he never thought he would be. In parts of the game, you go through physical transformations like the addition of a slowly developing tattoo sleeve on your left arm as you upgrade. Every new tattoo represents a new ability. One of your fingers gets cut off at the end and you see it over and over in the last 40 or so minutes of the game. That type of physical change is compelling. As a player, it helps you feel the psychological changes Jason is going through.

What I would have loved to see, and this would have really drove it home for players, is mirrors in the game. This would have been a very small detail, but a powerful one. As Jason was changing, I was always wondering what he looked like from day to day. Dude goes through some horrifying shit. Imagine if there were mirrors in the game placed randomly in shacks and huts, maybe a few that are large enough to really check yourself out in. As the game progresses, you get more haggard and tired looking. Maybe a slash on your forehead from a previous cut screen develops into a prominent scar. Say your beard grows and you have the option to shave, but the shave in ever as close as when you first got to the island. Face tattoo? Let’s not go there.

In a crazy game developing world, I’d see the ability to lean into the mirror (click X to interact with mirror) to check out the bags under your eyes, to pull your lower lip down and see if your teeth are a little yellow after living in the jungle for weeks. That’s high talk, I know, but with all the psychedelia embedded in the narrative, it would be a fitting detail. Any person who has taken mushrooms or acid can relate to being transfixed by a mirror.  

Point being, the player would be compelled to see how they are changing. It would have been easy character development that the player interacts with, not just through cut scenes. This would have made the emotional connection to Brody more powerful. The more the player cares, the more they'd check themselves out in the mirrors throughout the world. Playing to the player's egos creates a new layer of emotional attachment. In a game that is stressing character development so hard, this functionality would be completely worth it. 

But I shouldn’t be complaining. The game is fantastic on so many levels. I can’t wait to reset all the rebel pirate outposts and replay them again. Brave, Ubisoft!

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