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Archive for the ‘Far Cry 2’ Category

Batman and Joker
“You are truly incorruptible, aren’t you? Huh? You won’t kill me out of some misplaced sense of self-righteousness. And I won’t kill you because you’re just too much fun. I think you and I are destined to do this forever.”

Batman doesn’t kill people. It’s too easy: Once he does, he wouldn’t be able to go back to never killing. He’d do it again, and again, because it’s easier to solve problems that way. And where does it stop? He kills a killer, a rapist, then a drug dealer, a robber. A corrupt cop or politician. Bruce Wayne is a dangerous man, and Batman is just a vigilante. He can only justify his own existence by not killing people.

In most games, the player doesn’t have that freedom. They trivialize life: That businessman was funding terrorists, therefore, he deserved to die. This criminal was mugging someone, therefore, you can cut him down in a fight. If it’s just pixels on the screen to him or her, mass murder is meaningless, leading to the mindless and endless body count of most games. The player sits on their computer and kills dozens, hundreds, even thousands of simulated people, without a second thought. Even games with alignment systems and complex moral choices rarely give the player the simple choice to not murder by the truckload. It’s just not exciting otherwise!

In my plays of Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory, I’ve been torn in many situations. You get a higher stealth score for avoiding a body count, but aside from that, there is no penalty on most missions for killing the bad guys. Several even have no penalty beyond score and severe chastisement from your superiors for killing civilians or allied soldiers. There are various less than lethal tools at your disposal for dealing with enemies, but often the easiest and most efficient solution to a problem is a bullet to the head. If you choose to ignore your score (and it doesn’t matter much to me), then the choice to kill or not to kill becomes one for you to decide for yourself. I like that choice — a lot.

The freedom to embrace a Batman morality to your heroism, declining to kill those you run across simply because they’re your enemy, is a freedom I crave in many games. I wanted it in Far Cry 2, and railed against the simulation boundary when it deprived me of the opportunity to play a character I could believe in. I want the freedom to play the fantasy of a badass hero who has the sense of mind not to become a heartless butcher of men — and the freedom to fall short of that ideal, to fail in its pursuit. In many games where I can’t do this, I’m shaken from the game, and lose some of my sense of immersion. Not everybody wants to enter a fantasy where the only answer to evil is to kill everyone. Sure, it’s easy to solve the problem by killing them. Batman would say it’s too easy.

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I like open world games. Some of the recent games to include open worlds include Grand Theft Auto 4, inFAMOUS, Far Cry 2, Prototype, Fallout 3, and Red Faction: Guerilla. Open world isn’t trivial on the technical end, and I remember when Sucker Punch came to DigiPen for a company day and discussed the technology they were using to load and unload pieces of the world in real time in order to keep a handle on memory usage and avoid loading screens. It takes a certain commitment to the idea of using an open world to go for it, and it carries challenges and design limitations of its own. All of the above games use local heavily designed “level” areas for quests or missions to take place in; only about half of them completely eschew the dungeon mentality by placing all of these levels in the open world landscape itself instead of in separate areas behind loading screens. These level areas exist in all of these games as buildings, sewers, villages, army bases, or other places where designers have planned certain experiences to texture and grant variety to the basic experience of running around the game world blowing stuff up.

The title of this post refers to a belief I hold fairly strongly about open world games. I believe they’re all about freedom. They’re about being able to go where you want and do what you want within the game world. Thus, if the open world game heavily restricts this freedom, it becomes a closed open world game — one where the world is out there, but you can’t truly enjoy it. In this post, I’m going to look at all six of the games I mentioned earlier, and discuss how I see the open world working, or not working, in each of them, especially as it comes to their support for player freedom.

Grand Theft Auto 4

GTA4

Starting with the latest Grand Theft Auto is appropriate for me because in my mind, GTA is the baseline for an open world game by which all these games are compared. Fundamentally, open worlds are all about freedom, and Rockstar truly understands that. Every car in the game can be stolen, every weapon can be picked up and fired. If there’s a television helicopter overhead, you can find the TV station’s helipad and steal the helicopter, then fly up to the top of a skyscraper and BASE jump off the top of it. If you want a shootout or car chase, you can spark one anywhere, anytime, and at any intensity, from a fistfight with an angry driver to firing RPGs off of buildings onto tanks in the streets below. It’s all in your control, through dynamic responses in the game world based on your actions. Death and arrest are very lightly punished because boldness and life-threatening situations are encouraged. This is a game that is truly about freedom, and it is the ultimate embodiment of this ideal in a game.

Unique among the games I’ll be looking at here, Grand Theft Auto is known for having multiple minigames. From taxi driving to playing arcade machines to going clothes shopping with your main character, they all fit into the game world as things your anti-hero might actually do. From a theoretical standpoint, I have trouble justifying minigames. Why put a playable arcade machine inside your game? If the player wanted to play something else, they’d just turn the game off and do that — right? But in practice, I love this about GTA, and that just means my theoretical instincts aren’t strong enough to represent what’s really going on here.

I think that it comes down to two things: Immersion and pacing. For immersion, a game in which I can dress my character up in a suit, pick up his girlfriend in a nice car I just stole, and then drop by the comedy club to watch a skit is a lot richer than one in which the only part of that with any bearing on the game is the point where I steal the nice car. For pacing, it gives you a break from the primary gameplay, which is all about rebellion and criminal enterprise. Like outfitting your characters in Rock Band, these little things in the game let you take a rest from the core gameplay, which can be exhausting when done exclusively. These minigames are all a part of Rockstar’s approach to giving the player the freedom to do whatever they want, whenever they want. The results speak for themselves.

inFAMOUS

inFAMOUS

It’s a cool concept, and one I had high hopes for, but I didn’t really like inFAMOUS that much. The game falls victim to some tragic problems, and playing this during the last summer was the seed for the idea to make this post. The idea behind inFAMOUS is that you’re a superhero, able to do whatever you want — for better or for worse. It’s got a cool story (or at least a cool twist ending), but the gameplay is inconsistent.

When it comes to delivering on the idea of freedom, inFAMOUS is half there, half elsewhere. The game grants you parkour abilities to scramble up and across buildings, which is nice and liberating, but then shuts down some of your movement abilities and has you getting constantly attacked by enemies when you venture into the wrong area, which is much more limiting. Progressing the story lets you restore powers and open up new areas for you to freely move in, but to get those enemies to stop pestering you, you have to engage in seemingly endless side quests, which feels more like work at times. Doing this clears out the enemies, but that then prevents you from having real battles in the areas you’ve cleared, since they’re now devoid of enemies. This all works in terms of the game’s internal logic, but it’s just not as fun. The world starts out as a closed open world, and only through great effort can it be opened up, and then you lose the ability to engage in some of the core gameplay in those areas.

Matters get worse in the last third of the game, where the continuously attacking enemies in uncleared areas become too tough to ignore (thus limiting your ability to run around), and in a particularly ill-advised game mechanic, high pitched beeping land mines of irritation litter the rooftops, forcing you to stop on every second building to find and manually destroy them, lest you stumble into one and lose health and momentum. Even if they didn’t hurt you, the sound alone is enough to drive you crazy. These mechanics aren’t about giving you freedom — they’re just trying to give you challenges, even at the expense of your freedom to move around and do what you want. But if they needed to close the world down to make it challenging, they shouldn’t have made an open world game in the first place.

The trouble is that inFAMOUS’s concept is perfect for an open world game emphasizing personal freedom. You’re a superhero in a city descending into anarchy and gang control. You can go where you want and do what you want. You can be good, you can be evil, it doesn’t matter, because nobody can stop you. And yet for every step the game takes in the direction of fulfilling this promise, it trips over mechanics that seem to betray it.

Prototype

Prototype

In Prototype, you play as a virally infected anti-hero infused with the power to transform your body into different shapes, and set loose in a quarantined Manhattan during a biological attack. Prototype was released about the same time as inFAMOUS and got a lot of comparisons with it because both are open world third person action games about playing a character with super powers, but fundamentally, Prototype shares much more in common with GTA than inFAMOUS — and since you’ve probably just read what I think of both games now, you’ll know that’s a good thing in my book. Where GTA emphasizes the freedom to do whatever you want, Prototype is all about power, and the resulting formula is quite similar. Like GTA, Prototype bends the rules of its game world to maximize your freedom: in GTA cops ignore speeding, running lights, and all sorts of reckless driving, while in Prototype soldiers don’t notice you even if you’re traveling at super speed and soaring between buildings. In Prototype this is done to the point of weakness, as it compromises the believability of their stealth game, but it ensures that one thing Prototype doesn’t have a problem with is keeping their open world open.

Movement across the game world in Prototype is a joy. You can simply sprint up walls, leap between buildings, and soar for great distances. It may not use parkour moves of the sort inFAMOUS and Assassin’s Creed have to suspend disbelief in their freedom to move about the world, but the greater velocity reinforces the feeling of power the game focuses on, and it works wonders. All of your character’s abilities are like that; you’re an unstoppable monster that smashes tanks with your fists and can kill a dozen people in a single sweep of your whip-like arms.

Prototype is about power, and the freedom to use that power, and unlike Sucker Punch’s work with inFAMOUS, Radical Entertainment clearly worked to ensure nothing interfered with the maximal expression of that theme. As a result, though Prototype is not as rich of a game in concept, I enjoyed it far more than its press-appointed rival. Instead of leaning back in occasional disgust, my lean back moments with Prototype were to reflect on how much of a blast it was. From top to bottom, Radical Entertainment made a game with focus, and they delivered on their concept.

Far Cry 2

Far Cry 2

Far Cry 2 is a tragic game in my book, because it has some fantastic core gameplay that is marred by only a few serious errors. Far Cry 2 is a first person shooter that casts you as a mercenary in a country in Sub-Saharan Africa being torn apart by civil war. You are stricken with malaria, diamonds are the only currency, and both sides in the war are corrupt and dangerous. The world is broken into two open maps, and the only loading screens exist at a few key plot points. The game is all about immersion and player agency. On any mission, you choose your weapons, plan your approach, and execute the attack using improvisational tactics.

I suspect the most criticized aspect of Far Cry 2 is its most direct affront on the open world: The use of respawning checkpoints full of hostile enemies everywhere you go. Traveling to missions becomes a pain in the game because you have to avoid or fight through several checkpoints to get there. That’s fine in small doses, but it becomes very repetitive in longer sittings. They’re hard to ignore if you don’t want to deal with them, there are no easy ways to stop a fight if you don’t want to engage in it (like the pay and sprays of GTA), and they magically respawn almost as soon you make it over the next hill.

The reason Far Cry 2 makes this very poor design choice is to address the problem inFAMOUS blundered into when allowing you to drive out the bad guys from the world: it keeps the map populated with challenges and enemies. The problem is that this solution is so heavy-handed that it closes down the open world, depriving the player of the freedom to move and explore. As with many of the other games here, Far Cry 2 gives incentives for exploration by scattering small rewards around the game world, but with the degree to which movement through the world is unintentionally blocked and punished in this game, it’s just not worth it.

Fallout 3

Fallout 3

Fallout 3 is the latest of Bethesda’s RPGs, set in a post-apocalyptic wasteland around Washington DC, and reviving an old and much beloved IP. Like The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion before it, it blends action and RPG elements in an open world, and also like Oblivion, it dynamically scales enemies to your level. Unlike Oblivion however, it doesn’t level up enemies in areas that you’ve already explored, so it always feels like a statically scaled game where your explorations are never into places that are over your head. It works well, and for the most part, the open world is truly open. Leveling up gives you new, tougher challenges in the unexplored wastes, while making familiar territory easier to cross.

Although Fallout 3 isn’t about freedom the way that GTA is, Bethesda’s choice to go with an open world in their RPGs is. They want to give you a world to play with, and ways you can change it. They’re also about exploration. Thus, you move slowly through the world, and have a fast travel ability to jump between places you have already explored. With the tremendous amount of side content in the vast areas of the game world, only the most committed players will actually discover and consume it all, leaving you most players with a perpetual horizon filled with new and interesting hand-crafted content to discover.

Bethesda’s biggest mistake with Fallout 3 wasn’t some mechanical inconsistency in the vision, but the decision to end the game when you concluded the story. In a game with such a rich world to explore, the story was just another quest string, and its conclusion shouldn’t have been assumed to be the end of the player’s experience.

At least as of this writing, the header image on my blog is taken from a promotional screenshot of Fallout 3.

Assassin’s Creed

Assassin's Creed

I would prefer to write this about the newly released sequel to Assassin’s Creed, but unfortunately I won’t have the opportunity to play it before it is ported to Windows in March, at the earliest, so I will have to make due with the game I have played. Assassin’s Creed is set in the third crusade, and you play as an assassin resisting the crusader incursions. The world is broken up into several pieces, but the gameplay is fairly non-linear, and each chunk of the world is relatively large, including three separate sections encompassing each of the game’s three cities, where most of the gameplay takes place. Movement through the cities is quite free, with parkour mechanics to allow you to scramble up the sides of buildings and across rooftops. Unlike GTA and Prototype, Assassin’s Creed penalizes this behavior by arousing the suspicion of the crusader guards, but this mechanic is balanced with sufficient evasive tactics and combat prowess as to not to feel punishing.

Assassin’s Creed’s open world is about the freedom to go where you want and do what you want, but that doesn’t extend to the point of making every part of the area easily traversable. For example, one of the cities has a large castle that is largely restricted, and while you can still access it, it takes a mixture of stealth, agility, and combat prowess to get through in one piece. This doesn’t limit the world’s openness, however; it simply gives additional activities for you to engage in. It’s not difficult to get to the point where you can access this.

The flexibility of the world in Assassin’s Creed feels like the flexibility that Far Cry 2 aimed to have, but missed at. You have an open world that frowns upon your character and is actively suspicious and hostile toward you. It transmits the sense of constant danger without actually preventing the player from navigating through the world, or discouraging them from exploring. Assassin’s Creed wasn’t a perfect game, but it was a good game, and their environment and movement trough the environment was one of its great strengths. Assassin’s Creed 2 is supposed to have brought the rest of the game to the level of these aspects. I look forward to seeing that in action.

Red Faction: Guerrilla

Red Faction: Guerrilla

Where inFAMOUS and Far Cry 2 are otherwise strong games that suffer from a couple of boneheaded design choices, Red Faction: Guerrilla is a potentially mediocre game uplifted by inspired design choices. Being set on Mars, the game isn’t as resonant as some of these others, and its combat isn’t more viscerally satisfying the other games of its release period, especially Prototype, which may have been the game that really dampened its sales. But Red Faction: Guerrilla had one really strong core feature going for it, and that’s the ability to blow up buildings more satisfyingly and spectacularly than in any other game out there. Volition knew this was their competitive advantage, and they exploited it.

The theme of Red Faction: Guerrilla is destruction. Your open world freedom is essentially your freedom to pick what to destroy, when to destroy it, and how exactly you’re going to level it. The game is a third person shooter, yes — but you can’t win an extended shootout. Too many enemies, too many vehicles. You have to plan an attack, strike fast, do a lot of damage, and then retreat when the enemy starts to show up in force. Each part of this is fun. Every mechanic in Red Faction seems to be designed to support, encourage, or otherwise feed back into this core gameplay loop, save for a few side missions that help with pacing and variety.

You can move freely around most of the world in Red Faction: Guerrilla without harassment from the evil EDF forces you’re fighting, with the exception of a handful of restricted areas. This is crucial, as it enables you to plan your attacks freely. The openness of Red Faction: Guerrilla isn’t a matter of finesse, but simply their decision to not screw up by acting contrary to the interests of their core gameplay. Their game was about making surprise guerrilla strikes against defended targets and blowing up buildings, and harassing the player during transit would simply have interfered with that, the way it did for Far Cry 2.

What else?

That’s a lot of games, but it’s certainly not all of the open world games that have come out recently. There are other games, including older games, that would be interesting to look at. I’m interested in hearing from you, having read this:

What other open world games do you think have suffered from restricting the player’s freedom too much, or discouraging exploration of the open world?

Which ones avoid this pitfall?

And of the games I have talked about, do you think that I’ve misjudged some of them?

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The first time I played Far Cry 2, I thought, “What a shame. This could have been a great game. But I just don’t like it very much.” After an hour or two of play — and a real effort to enjoy it — I put the game down, never to play again.

Thanks to a combination of the Far Cry 2 permadeath experiment and the blog of the game’s Creative Director, Clint Hocking, that would change. The better part of a year later, I started the game again, picked a new character, and this time, I played to completion. And I liked it. Visually, it’s amazing. There is no problem there. Mechanically, it’s fantastic. I do think those checkpoints on the roads are a serious mistake, and should have been removed or at least set to respawn only after 24 hours or more, but aside from that, the game was a lot of fun, and I hold tremendous respect for it. So why did I almost miss out on this gem?

One basic reason. Because I was so incredibly alienated from my own avatar. In a game that strived so much for immersion, this was absolutely devastating.

If the plot advances in a video game because my character does something stupid, immoral, or unjustified, I find myself disgusted and divorced from any investment I had in the character. I wrote about this problem with Prototype not long ago. Far Cry 2 has the same problem Prototype does in this regard, but it’s another order more severe. This is partially because Far Cry 2 is far more immersive, but it’s also because the alienating moments are more frequent and severe. I want to explain exactly what about Far Cry 2 was so alienating to me, but it will involve spoilers if you haven’t played the game, so be warned.

When you select a character in Far Cry 2, you’re tasked with choosing from one of various totally immoral characters that I could not identify with at all. Being unable to identify with these people was a strike against my immersion when playing as one of them. Still, I readily accepted the backstory that I was there to assassinate a notorious arms dealer, and I could understand why such a hard-bitten killer like myself would be the one chosen for this task.

The introduction grabbed me, and I was incensed (in character) that The Jackal found me and my orders when I was incapacitated with malaria. This was probably supposed to make me like him, but instead of liking the guy, I just thought “Bad idea, letting me go. He’ll get what’s coming to him.” When fighting broke out in the city, I grabbed a couple guns, jumped through the back window into an alley, and fled town. Unfortunately, I collapsed, still sick with malaria, and was captured by one of the two factions and forced to work. Oddly enough, the guy was mad because he imagined that I’d shot a bunch of his boys back in town during my escape, even though I didn’t fire a shot. Once this tutorial mission string was over, I went into town and did a mission for the underground, for much-needed malaria medicine.

Initially, when I met the journalist in Mike’s Bar, I started to form a plan. “Aha, this guy has interviewed The Jackal. Maybe if I work with him, I’ll be able to get closer to finding my target.” This relatively sane strategy was not within the range of creative thought available to my thuggish avatar, however.

According to my journal, the only way to get to The Jackal was through acting as a hired killer for the bloodthirsty factions. So, I figured, I’d take sides with the UFLL. I would do so reluctantly, of course; I knew nothing about these factions, but at least the UFLL had propaganda superiority and thus were likely to have greater popular support. Plus, the APR boss seemed a bit slimy. My strategy was that I would fight with them until they trusted me enough to give me information I could use in my mission.

Alas, this back-up plan was boxed when my avatar decided that was not within his temperament. Rather than follow my own idea of an at least partially sane strategy, I was degraded to acting as a complete mercenary, forced to play both sides when missions on one side dried up, befriend self-centered psychopaths who kept encouraging me to be even more murderous, and generally kill people left and right for blood diamonds.

By this point, I’d given up on playing Far Cry 2 with my first attempt. I just couldn’t get invested in a game that was about being a stupid psychopath thug. I mean, I’d played GTA III: San Andreas and GTA IV, and those had similar problems, but at least I could follow the reasoning of those characters. CJ and Nico were missing a few brain cells and had a severe deficiency in their respect for human life, but they had personal systems of morality and ethics, that while not my own, could at least be made sense of. In fact, those Grand Theft Auto games told compelling stories about people sinking deep into criminal behavior due to a combination of poor judgment and poor circumstances. These games had take-aways; I’ve written an academic essay defending GTA III: San Andreas to a ethnic studies professor.

But in Far Cry 2, I was playing a brute chosen from a lineup of nasties, and I appeared to have no moral fiber whatsoever. My character wasn’t acting out of personal indigence or a sense of vengeance, I wasn’t defending my cousin or sister or family or gang, I didn’t even need to do these things to eat — in Far Cry 2, I was playing a soulless butcher whose only motivation appeared to be his next blood diamond. Rockstar makes their leads human and sympathetic, even in the most controversial games; but Far Cry 2 seemingly didn’t even try.

I play games for escapism, for entertainment. Being made to feel like such a monster doesn’t fall under this category; it isn’t my idea of a good time; this moral tone for the game is so thoroughly alienating that I actually stopped playing. And I missed how much Far Cry 2 did right, because I was slammed to the floor under the extent to which it did this one thing so incredibly wrong.

Eventually, I did come back. I came back to the game because I read about all the things Far Cry 2 did right. I wanted to experience these things, to analyze them, to enjoy them, to embrace the fun in the game. I managed all these things, but unfortunately, the problems didn’t stop there.

So. Moving on in the game, I came to a point where the only mission left was a task from the APR to assassinate the leader of the UFLL in this part of the country. I normally wouldn’t touch this mission with a ten-foot pole, especially as I didn’t like the APR boss nearly as much as I liked the UFLL boss, but my thick-skulled avatar thought it was a good idea, so who am I to override such a plot-advancing decision? I figured I wouldn’t kill him quickly; I’d walk in and wait for him to give me a counter-offer. I did this exactly. The UFLL boss figured out I was there to kill him, had his hands in the air, cursed the APR boss, and did nothing to try to save his life except stand there and then, some five or ten awkward seconds later, decide to pull a submachine gun on me and shoot me. Which got him killed. And at that, I was betrayed by the APR and left for dead while doing a mission I wouldn’t have accepted in the first place. At least the game let me try to defend a church of innocents instead of trying to save those psychos at Mike’s Bar; as I imagined my silent protagonist telling the Catholic priest, I’m not a good person, I’m just a very bad person who fears for his soul.

Life continued in this vein. I was promptly forced to take a mission trying to aggravate and prolong the conflict by starting a battle in the middle of the capital city; not that I actually wanted to do such a horrible thing. The one doctor left in the entire country praised me as a good person for warning him about what I had just did, even though my warning came about two seconds before he was about to find out for himself. I was certain he was missing a few brain cogs when he made that judgment, especially since he knew full well this was my fault in the first place. Not that I was complaining; I needed to be in his good graces to get my malaria medicine, which remained one of the only motivations about my character that I actually understood.

Eventually, I had the opportunity to make peace between the factions, and my best buddy among the psychopaths that I called my friends here in this country advised me to betray the mission, steal a mess of diamonds from the factions, and use them to bribe a pilot and escape the country with the others. I was a bit confused here; if all we needed was a mess of diamonds to get out, then what about that hundred diamonds I had kicking about not so long ago? Why couldn’t we get out then? I am one hundred percent certain that was enough rough diamonds to get us all out on that plane. But whatever; the diamonds were a macguffin, and I had to concede that. Though characters in the game lectured me that the peace would only bring more rape and pillage of the civilian population, I decided that they were doing plenty enough rape and pillage already, and shutting down the bloodbath aspect of the situation could only be an improvement.

I didn’t even have the opportunity to walk into this betrayal willingly though; the choice was taken away from me by a cut scene when I picked up the diamonds, and I ended up in prison, where my buddy lectured my silent protagonist about not keeping to what he promised to do. Silent being the key word here. Well, since my character apparently promised his buddy to get the diamonds to them, and my journal says quite surely that I intended to go with his plan, I concede that this was what my character wanted. But, because my character is silent, he was summarily unable to profess innocence and explain that he was ambushed in a cut scene, even after demonstrating good faith by busting this guy out of prison.

And when, in time, the opportunity finally came up to put a bullet in the head of The Jackal, the one that I took my entire motivation in the game to be to kill, the game inexplicably took away my weapons, similar to when I’ve been searched at the door of a faction office. My only option was to have a chat with the guy and make a deal, betraying my allies and killing them as they tried to escape the country when I would just as soon have shot the guy I was dealing with and taken off with them. I mean, what was my character even thinking, trying to work with this madman on some grand exodus? Has he gone as far off the deep end as the guy he’s trying to assassinate? Maybe the guy’s had a change of heart, but screw that, and besides, my malaria was so bad at this point that I was afraid I could die if I didn’t leave this hell-hole and get some real medical treatment! What a grand absurdity that the very end of the game is the moment when my character decides to start acting with moral conviction, only for that to be the one moment when I finally want him to just solve his problems with a bullet and leave, because I want him to do what he came to do.

What kills me most about this ending to the game is that they could have easily implemented my chosen ending without compromising gameplay. This is literally the bleeding end of the game. Shooting The Jackal and using the diamonds to leave with the other mercenaries wouldn’t cheat the player out of any but maybe ten or twenty minutes of gameplay. So why couldn’t I do that?

While the term “role-playing game” normally refers to a specific genre, almost all modern games with any kind of preset narrative have some form of role-playing implicit in the play of the game. The fact that this happens is important to consider when making games, especially when making games with an imposed narrative, because what the player character does in the story can either reinforce the player’s sense of identity with their avatar, or jar them out of the game. If the player doesn’t like their own character, they will have trouble liking the game. Rockstar gets it: they may make a game like Bully or GTA, but they are careful to make the protagonist sympathetic and likable, with clear and understandable motivations. You can’t just be someone inexplicably messed up and murderous, not if you want a broad audience anyway. Games with black and white morality scales regularly see the majority of players going for the heroic side. And even movies require likable protagonists. Ignore this at your peril.

Of Far Cry 2, in the end, I liked it. There was a lot to like in that game, once I managed to tolerate my dislike of my own character. But I have to wonder; did the developers think about this kind of thing when they came up with the story? Was it something they even considered? Am I simply not the target audience for the game? Or were they going for a deeper, more cinematic and moving effect, that merely misfired or went over my head?

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