Monday, December 24, 2012

Why Far Cry 3 is my Game of the Year

A heavy armored pirate steps in front of a wall, placing him out of line-of-sight of his equally heavy armored buddy.  I pop off a silenced shot from my suppressor-equipped sniper rifle, splattering his brains on the wall.  Bonus XP for a headshot goes to me, and his buddy is oblivious to what just happened.  I exhale, smirking deviously.

I'm racing down a dirt road in a jeep, speeding towards a bridge that suddenly pulls up.  It's a drawbridge, and the commandos I'm running from raise it.  I speed up and jump the gap, landing safely  on the other side, only to be accosted by mortars incoming from a nearby truck.  I jump into the back of my jeep and man the turret, riddling the offending truck with bullet holes until it explodes.  I drop back into the driver's seat and continue on my way.

I'm walking through a field of illegal drugs with a flamethrower, lighting every plant up in a brilliant haze of orange fire.  I say to myself, "This is fucking awesome!"  Two seconds later, my character yells, "This is fucking awesome!"  Great minds...

These are just three examples of the memorable moments I've had in this game, and a sampling of why this game beat out the likes of Borderlands 2, Guild Wars 2, Dishonored, Mass Effect 3, Serious Sam 3, The Walking Dead, Diablo 3, Max Payne 3, Sleeping Dogs, Black Mesa, and Mists of Pandaria for my favorite game of 2012.  More reasons to follow.

A lot of good games were released this year, and their slight problems were just as integral to their elimination from the top spot as Far Cry 3's positives.  Borderlands 2 was probably the game that came closest to winning.  Honestly, before Far Cry 3 came out, it -was- winning!  But it lost out due to a few different things.  First and foremost was the quest design.  Why the game wouldn't let you track more than one quest at a time is beyond me, really, especially when the game was clearly designed to give you 3-4 quests in the same area to knock out simultaneously.  Additionally, the graphical style, while still very cool, sort of lost its appeal to me since the release of Borderlands 1.  The cel-shaded style now seems almost bland to me.  This could simply be because of how utterly gorgeous Far Cry 3 looks. In fact, that probably is why, if I'm honest.  But can you BLAME me?  The last thing Borderlands 2 did that knocked off points for me was the addition of quests that cannot be completed without a full group of players.  Fuck you for trying to force me to play with others.

Guild Wars 2 has a lot of good things going for it, especially as an MMO.  But in the end, the story just didn't hold my interest over time.  And if I lose the story, I pretty much lose interest in the game.

Dishonored is a brilliant game that didn't make the top spot simply because I didn't have the patience to finish it yet.  It's a game that, to be played properly, must be taken slow.  At least, that's how -I- feel it should be played.  But sadly, I didn't have the patience to stick with it and finish things up.

I'm sorry to say that Mass Effect 3 lost out because of the ending.  I have a desire to play it again, especially after all the DLC has been released.  But then I think of to what end I'll be playing, and I just kind of go...meh.  Obviously the end of a game is hardly the point of playing it, but when you know how it goes, it does sway your decisions to continue.  Especially when such an end is bad.  This really isn't the game's fault at all, but my own.  I hate mortality.  I hate the fact that I, myself, am going to die.  This gets projected into everything.  So when it comes to my entertainment, I prefer my stories to end before my character's do.  Additionally -- re-grind multi-player to get the best ending?  Um, no.  As I said to Borderlands 2:  Fuck you for trying to force me to play with others.  (Edit:  Through patches and DLC, it looks like it may not be required to grind multi-player to get the best ending.)

Serious Sam 3 is my kind of game, but it's also designed to be a silly game with loads of action.  While Far Cry 3's story is hardly inspired or the work of a great novelist, it's still much stronger than anything in Serious Sam.  SS3 is more of an arcade type of shooter.  While I love those dearly, FC3's style is more appealing to me in the long run.

Now, The Walking Dead is quite the interesting little game.  When it comes to story, it's quite superior to FC3's.  And thank goodness for that, since without the story, there really wouldn't be anything to it at all.  There never was much "gaming" to be had in Telltale's adventure games.  The story of The Walking Dead moved me in ways that games haven't moved me before, and not always in a good way either!  Obviously the ending immediately comes to mind when I think of it.  The amputation scene is next, and there are several other moments I could add to the list.  But when it comes down to it, I need to have a certain amount of GAME in my games.  So while I would recommend The Walking Dead to anyone who considers themselves a gamer, I myself would always choose a game like FC3 over it.

Diablo 3 was fun for a while, but once I went through the story once, I really didn't have any incentive to keep going.  I think I've fallen out of love with ARPG's in recent years.  I mean, I played the HELL out of Torchlight.  On and on and on.  Level after level that were exactly the same only slightly different, and never-ending.  And I liked it!  Not so with D3.  One time through and that was enough for me.  Then Torchlight 2 came out, and I got bored in about 15 minutes.  So I think this particular genre of games has lost its appeal to me, for whatever reason.

Now, Max Payne 3.  Why didn't it win?  It has almost everything going for it that Far Cry 3 does:  Amazing graphics.  Solid gameplay.  Relentless action.  Great story.  Great ending.  What gives?  Well, the one thing it doesn't have is exactly the reason why it failed to win, and that is an open world.  This is a tricky statement to make, because one of my favorite games of all time if Half-Life 2, and that is also NOT open world.  What did Half-Life 2 do that Max Payne 3 did not?  This is a very subtle thing to notice, but once you know it's there it becomes obvious.  When I was playing through MP3, I always felt RUSHED.  Someone was always yelling at me to MOVE MOVE MOVE!  Or I was being timed.  Or I was being chased along "rails" and unable to stop.  Or I was on something moving along at high speed.  You always seem to be pushed forward in that game.  In contrast, with HL2 the game seems to WANT you to explore.  While it doesn't flat-out encourage it, it feels like it's doing just that.  So while HL2 is still on "rails", it feels more open.  More friendly to my type of gameplay.  It's something that Dishonored was also BRILLIANT at doing, and I give it many kudos for that.  So, while I absolutely loved MP3, it loses points for trying to rush me.  With FC3, I get this whole island to explore at my leisure, with the option of delaying the main storyline for as long as I damned well please.  And the exploring is rewarding, with secret temples and hidden relics.  There are points in the game where I felt like fucking Indiana Jones!  I love that kind of stuff.

Let's add another wrinkle to the mix, shall we?  Sleeping Dogs basically has EVERYTHING that Far Cry 3 has.  Amazing graphics.  Solid gameplay.  Relentless action.  Great story.  Great ending.  And, yes, an open world.  So, what gives here?  Why isn't it the winner?  Well, the first strike against it is that the controls handle about as well as a drunk lemur riding a cross-eyed yeti.  When I think about Sleeping Dogs, that is sadly what I remember most, and the reason why I won't play it again.  Secondary to that is my slight problem with the story.  I have a hard time feeling like a hero when I'm working for the bad guys, even if I am undercover.  So unlike FC3, or further to that point, Fallout and Skyrim, I don't feel very heroic and therefore don't have as much investment in the story.  And as we all know about me, less investment in the story equals less investment in the game.

I hesitated putting Black Mesa on the list of releases I've played this year, simply because it's not finished.  But let's be honest here:  It's a free transformation of Half-Life 1 into the Source engine.  Can I really consider that to be a "new release"?  I finally decided that yes, it does.  So where would I put it?  Well, it loses points for being a remake.  And it loses points for changing how jumping works from the original game.  Aside from that, the new visuals are stunning, the music is fantastic, and it will probably become the new definitive version of the game.  It's somewhere around fourth or fifth, I'd say.

Last but certainly not least is Mists of Pandaria.  My time playing MMOs, I have learned, is probably over.  At least, playing them to their fullest capacity, that is.  I still play WoW to this day, though lately all I've been doing is tending my farm.  It didn't win because WoW is old and is simply releasing content until enough people stop playing it, or Blizzard ends it on their own.  Do I still like it?  Absolutely.  Do I still want to play it for hours on end?  Not so much.

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