Open World Analysis – Far Cry 3

Far Cry 3’s Rook Island is frequently beautiful, anchored by much technical excellency. Draw distances can be impossibly long, mountains and valleys visible always, save when enveloped in some thick jungle canopy, blotting out the skies, the surrounding geographic structures. This expansiveness, when it is on full display, does bely somewhat of a failing, as the texture work for these distant objects is often abysmal, lacking in quality, damaging efforts at immersion. But ultimately, beauty predominates ugliness, the environments excelling further by certain creative flourishes, bold, vibrant colors eagerly embraced, as a lush greenness overtakes all, a subtle painterly quality arising, even as the game still clings to determined realism. Excellent lighting work is also present, the sweet interplay of light and shadow resulting in an atmospheric moodiness. Being a literal island, it follows that water is central to the location’s construction, and many beauties arise even when considering such a seemingly mundane liquid. Some water is torpid, static and uninviting; other bodies, like the various rivers which wind their way through the landmass proper, are arresting and inviting, moving along at a steady pace in their singular azure beauty, suggesting motion, a constant sense of change. The fast-moving sun shines her rays upon these water sources, only heightening their inherent graces. 

Even with expansive draw distances, beautiful lighting effects, and the deliberate embracing of color, Rook Island fast grows repetitious in structure, as very little environmental diversity is present – the locations explored at the narrative’s opening are functionally the same as those explored at its conclusion; no real surprises ever await the player, destroying excitement. This directly results in the partial destruction in the joys of exploration. While one area may be characterized by towering mountains, the next characterized by fast-flowing streams, collectively the amount of available biomes are terribly lacking. Some structures exist to break up this monotony, most notably the structures constructed by human hands, like ancient architectural works and temples which alternately rise upwards from the landscape, or permit admission into the cavernous depths of the island. Majestic in their antiquated beauty, their emergence was always greeted with excitement, doubly so when considering their relative scarcity. The bunkers are equally compelling, if less architecturally arresting, instead embracing simplicity. Oftentimes impossibly deep, they serve the role of environmental storytelling, as letters dating to World War II are often contained therein, typically held in the clutches of a long-dead skeleton, the instigator of that death never revealed, only inspiring ponderance.        

While dispersed relatively illiberally, more populated settlements are also positioned on the map, the first true environment explored being one such compound – Amanaki Village. Here, many NPC’s cluster together, moving about leisurely or engaging in discourse. Lacking in any profound depths, their existence is inconsequential, never advancing the narrative in any notable way, instead being nameless, voiceless, inserted merely for expectation or some lazy efforts to inject life into the gameworld. A shopkeeper in the settlement has a strong presence, providing Jason with the supplies needed to begin his quest for revenge in earnest, while an early companion, Willis, occupies a similarly prominent position. Domestic animals – pigs and chickens – move about tranquilly, enjoying a hard-won peace, delighting in the protective nature attached to the settlement, easily defendable when considering the quantity of rebels contained therein; some may be of a weaker sort, but alongside Jason and Willis, there are no doubt other fighters, even as they are never thrust into the spotlight. The voice acting for the characters who do speak is often poor in quality, while facial modelling often repeats itself. Human dimensions are mainly unseized, no emotional engagement arising, owing largely to the dearth of compelling attributes possessed by these villagers. Still, they are victims, and must accordingly be liberated.  

A few other settlements of similar population totals can be found in Rook Island, though they are mostly oddities, most locations comprised solely of a handful of inhabitants. Much of this humble gathering is relegated to the various safe zones dispersed on the island, which are often difficultly won, seeing the slaying of all opposition guarding the outposts. The friendly grunts who grow to people these structures after their liberation suffer from the same flaws as those possessed by the NPC’s in Amanaki Village, devoid of a name, instead being non-entities. Flaws are made evident when further regarding these outposts, marking a destruction of the organic, the efforts at conveying Rook Island as being of a living, breathing sort. Upon liberating an enemy outpost, as has been said, the opposition is expunged from the area, friendly forces seizing the location, permitting easier, less contested map traversal, while permitting also the purchasing of armaments and ammunition. This is all adequate. Problems arise with these friendly NPC’s, the pointlessness of their presence – never do the foes seek to reclaim their lost territory, which would further the living nature of the gameworld, whereas here there is only static boredom, no continued challenge from the opposition; a territory won is a territory held always, Rook Island rarely changing, rarely evolving. This unchanging nature only fuels frustration, while the freedoms rewarded after outpost acquisition further destroy joys of exploration, in that they permit greater fast travel opportunities, resulting in a much faster pace, though also disincentivizing continued exploration, the game’s great strength departed from, as over reliance inevitably occurs, even as this form of traversal is never mandatory. 

While the outposts are uncontested, unchanging, other efforts at crafting an organic gameworld are present. Much of these attempts center around the various animal populations to be found on the island. Frequent are their appearances, frequent are their menace, as they emerge spontaneously and at random while exploring, their emergence oftentimes being very unexpected. The island, though, is possessive of both predator and prey, the latter often of a docile sort, though both classes of animal are central to the core gameplay loop, their skinning resulting in crafting materials to upgrade Jason’s various equipment. Their appearances and disappearances do paint a picture of changing, evolving gameworld, even as the vast majority of other systems indicate distinct, all-consuming hollowness. But failings exist even here. The positioning of these animals seems completely arbitrary. Each animal species is clustered around a particular point of the map, though expectations are promptly shattered; one who would expect mountainous terrain to be peopled by yaks or similarly hearty animals, protected from the cold present in higher elevations, though this is rarely the case, yaks strangely populating valleys and dense jungles, indicating a certain laziness or ample designer oversight, a lacking of logic. Still, the unpredictable nature of these creatures – many hostile, some docile – heightens the joys of exploration, even as the stronger, more predatory animals can be frustrating to fight, abounding in unfair strength. But their existence gradually grows trivializes – once every object has been crafted, no incentive for their deliberate hunting is ever preserved; they morph into annoyances. 

Rook Island, being ambitious in scope and large in size, is difficult to navigate on foot, owing greatly towards Jason’s limited sprint duration, this necessitating the usage of various vehicles, at least until ample fast travel points have been unlocked. These moments of tranquil exploration are excellent, as a durable dune-buggy is employed, or more conventional cars are also piloted, a commanding sense of speed conveyed by engrossing motion blur. This compelling nature is made especially notable when considering the bombastic nature of the campaign proper, while it should be further appreciated given the frequent emergence of hostile animal species, who promptly disrupt that tranquility. Here, in basic exploration (be it on foot or by vehicle) the organic is again eagerly sought. While navigating the island, various spontaneous occurrences break out, like running across a fellow Rakyat soldier, his vehicle in considerable disrepair, rendering him totally helpless should opposition arise. Jason, accordingly, can assist the fellow, restoring his companion’s survivability and morale. Other illustrations of the organic are to be found, as with the brutal gunfights constantly waged between the Rakyat and Vaas’s pirates, suggesting their struggle as occurring always, in all locations of the island. While these particular occurrences are never elaborate – the quantity of opposition here rarely exceeds three or four – something inherently exciting is attached to their destruction, given the sense of commanding urgency; should Jason not react in time, death, needless death, is sure to follow. Here, surprisingly, are evocations of emotion, a certain impactfulness arising when viewing their struggle. But this impactfulness is promptly undercut by the lack of variety in these encounters, repetition abounding, destroying the enjoyability of the encounters and their potential resonance. Whatever are the failings attached to their dearth of diversity, these scenarios do convey a sense of commanding and constant evolution, compensating for the failures present in other designs. 

Rook Island’s construction – the manner in which it is revealed – does embrace the cliched. Much map revelation is achieved through the ascension of various radio towers, existing in considerable quantity and penetrating all areas of the gameworld, north and south. Their ascent fast grows a necessity, as that act defogs the map, opening up opportunities for clearer exploration, while also revealing the positioning of flora and fauna, alongside other, more minor excursions and secondary content. The precise nature of ascension rarely changes, alterations made on a very minute level – the radio towers’ construction is of a formulaic sort. Verticality overall is lacking in Rook Island, so the inclusion of these structures, often possessive of considerable height, results in joy and exhilaration, permitting an undisturbed view of Rook Island in all its beauty and creative majesty, while subtle effects heighten the sense of immersion and the exhilarating nature accompanying such elevations, as wind blows about violently, and the structure overall subtly yet noticeably sways to and fro. From above, the mountains seem not so massive, while the miniscule nature of the various architectural structures is also made manifest, permitting a different environmental perception. Mobility options, meanwhile, are very lacking, only predetermined objects scalable – this lack of verticality in design is a major failing, as verticality can serve empowering roles. The oversight, then, is very notable, much of the island grounded, even as a parachute / wingsuit combination is made available.   

Whatever are its failings, Rook Island displays a masterful balance of technical genius with creative whimsicality, transforming a map which is mostly conventional into something truly special, remarkable, exploration constantly rewarding, especially in the early game. The inhabitants of the environment may be complete non-entities, possessive of no personality, contributing nothing to the narrative, but their presence, no matter how slight is their involvement, creates a sense of urgency, which is promptly undercut by the game’s open-ended nature, the emphasis placed upon superfluous, uninvolved secondary content. Overall, the game is inconsistent, full of life one moment, completely hollow the next, this vacillation resulting in unevenness, highs punctuated by lows. Still, the game greatly excels during the longer, protracted spans of tranquil exploration, Rook Island’s beauty on full display, as it is driven through rapidly, or merely admired from above, Jason standing atop one of those fast-swaying radio towers, all the vistas laid bare before him. While repetitive at its core, the game does show a passionate, beating heart, sufficient content present to stave off total disaster, if only just. The environments are too similar, the far north the same as the far south, encouraging fast travel as the initial awe wears off, as navigation becomes more and more tedious rather than consistently enjoyable. Given the game’s sprawling nature, one playthrough lasting in excess of forty hours, overall the game is filled with bloat, excitement and engagement gradually yet always on the wane – the game suffers greatly by dent of its position in the open-world genre; crossing and recrossing the same paths, engaging in the same activities manifold times with rarely any changes, hunting the same animals, picking the same flowers, fighting the same foes, exploring the same caverns and bunkers – these inevitably result in unsatisfying boredom. But even as the activities are the same, the environments also similar, the core joys of gameplay, of exploration, carry the title, even as Rook Island is not particularly novel or original in construction.

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