Backloggery Beatdown: Far Cry 3

I might have forgiven Far Cry 3 for its lazy writing if Vaas or a character of a similar background emerged the hero.

Burned out by the unsatisfying payoff that Far Cry 2 offers given the tediousness of regenerating enemy checkpoints split between two maps and my relative disdain for FPS games after Spec Ops: The Line, completing Far Cry 3 had been far from a priority. As it is customary for Ubisoft to discount their games in a tiered, half-price system where the newest is $60, the previous release is $30, the game before that is $15 and so on, I secured Far Cry 3 after the announcement of Far Cry 5 (which should be out by the time this article goes live). I am glad that I purchased it at a discount.

Out of the group full of 20-somethings, there is an (female!) engineer, potential Hollywood actress, and combat veteran. As Far Cry 3 is an M-rated, game, most who will play it will be 20 or older, and might wonder if the game rhetorically asks what they have been doing with their lives if these fictional characters are so accomplished….

For those unfamiliar with Backloggery Beatdown, these are not reviews, but a clairvoyant appraisal of gaming. SPOILERS INCOMING! 

The beginning of Far Cry 3 treats players to a montage of six trust fund babies on some sort of vacation, benefitting from the generosity of a father’s black card (Ollie’s, but the game hardly cares, so neither do I). I am unsure if the result is intentional, but the opening cinematic reeks with the kind of privilege that alienates and disgusts me. I do not have a passport, so I have never traveled outside of the United States. If I had the opportunity to travel abroad, I would so to learn about countries in Asia and Africa that are absent in American pedagogy, not to party. Ain’t nobody got time or money for that.

Vaas Montenegro’s intervention spares me further nonsense and debauchery, revealing that all of the revelry was captured on videotape. He taunts the brothers Grant and Jason, suggesting that he will extort their loved ones back home. Vaas leaves, and Grant, with the cheesy jingoistic line, “That is what they teach you in the army,” manages to knock random goon unconscious, and they almost escape, but Vaas shoots Grant in the neck as retaliation for the insult of their attempted escape. He gives Jason the opportunity to escape, and so he does, running away until he nearly drowns himself.

Dennis is more than happy to fill his role: empower random white dude to liberate people of color from their oppressor. This includes encouraging Jason to fall in love with a certain local woman who he also loves to the point of worship. Wait, what?

This is where Dennis Rogers, the game’s magical negro, is introducedindeed, though the majority of the people populating the island are Austronesian, Ubisoft wrote into the script a Libyan who first traveled to America, and now conveniently abides in the Rook Islands which are based upon the Moluccas archipelago in Indonesia. I do not immediately identify Dennis as a magical Nero; I would reach this conclusion hours into the game when comprehension of the role of the tatau (tattoo) takes effect, because there are two instances where Jason loses consciousness only to regain it while Dennis inks his arm.

Jason is told that he is worthy of the tatau, worthy of the Path of the warrior. The tribe from which Dennis represents, the Rakyat, are looking to raise a warrior strong enough to liberate the Rook Islands from an occupant  private military. Serendipitously, that warrior ends up being the player-avatar, Jason, who, is but a young adult who had never even fired a gun prior to his vacation going awry. Yet, Jason is told that he is destined to become a proverbial king of the jungle, literally hunting and killing prey of the wild and human variety to augment his tatau, granting him powers beyond his natural capabilities. After all, Jason begins the game crying like a wuss about the violence surrounding him. Because Far Cry 3 is a  bildungsroman, Dennis all but tells Jason that Citra will make a man out of you.

Yo, what happened to innocent before proven guilty, sis? Nah, this just gives the player, Jason, permission to run riot in this piece.

Dennis eventually brings Jason to Citra Talugmai, Vaas’ sister, because the displaced “boy” desires the power that will enable him to become a man. Specifically, he wants to defeat Vaas and save his friends. If the tatau was not already mystical enough on its own, Far Cry 3 amplifies its tone once Jason consumes one of Citra’s beverages which takes him on a mystical journey that ends with a quest to retrieve of a ceremonial dagger…and an eventual encounter with a throwaway character named Buck who apparently like to you-know-what boys.

Again, Jason begins the game a basic wuss, crying and carrying on about the violence and such. Oh, the horrors of a vacation ruined by the every day chaos of the real world such as drug and human trafficking and war! Despite his frailty and because the game dictates it as such, he becomes empowered and aggressive as if the tatus produce their own testosterone hormones. This arc culminates with Jason making love to Citra, who lays the groundwork for her status as a femme fatale, a tribal witch who gives Jason what he wants, which is also what she wants…besides sex: a warrior. In the final showdown with Vaas, Jason shouts that he will have his trophy, his kill. Nothing else would impress the woman of his desires more.

Far Cry 3 teeters between having a strong message and absurdity. In this same room where Vaas is trying to get Liza to cooperate, a soldier interrupts, saying that Josh “raped” a building as he raided it. Um, poor choice of words there.

Throughout Far Cry 3, Jason’s voice actor struggles to make him sound convincing, like a man rather than a teenager; emotional unsteadiness surfaces rather than a menace. Despite the persistent incongruence of this adventure, a combination of concoctions, spells, and good ‘ol fashioned feminine accouterments sends Jason in a frenzy such that he is invulnerable to Vaas stabbing him in the chest, and later, Hoyt’s trap where Jason goes on a killing rampage in a daze (theories concerning the role of hallucinations or the descent into madness, or the Heart of Darkness, can be found elsewhere). For the sake of emphasis, Cintra is exociticized, and Jason desires not only power, but also her, in an explicitly imperialistic narrative. Conventionally, the hero gets the girl, and the warrior gets his victory as the action hero motif dictates. Vaas dies like Magua in Last of the Mohicans. Over one hundred-plus years since the novels of Joseph Conrad and James Fenimore Cooper, writers are still making these Orientalist mistakes. 

Vaas calls out Jason’s attempt to integrate into Rakyat culture. This is also known as the mighty whitey trope.

Hoyt Volkers appears in the intro sequence with Vaas, but it will be hours before gamers discover his role in the game. As things would turn out, the Privateers are funded through Hoyt. In other words, Vaas, in all of his Joker-like scheming and comic lunacy is merely the muscle, and Hoyt is the mind and money. Another reminder: six rich, young, white folks take a Spring Break-like trip halfway across the world, only to find themselves entrapped within a surreptitious slave and drug operation, and one of them emerges as a white savior (see also “mighty whitey” above) a conqueror who shuts down his would-be American girlfriend for the only indigenous woman in the game who has a name. Meanwhile, local residents such as Dennis, or actual indigenous people such as Vaas, the only such male who has a name, are written as too inadequate to save themselves.

This is a cringe-worthy narrative and I am left to wonder if, among the Far Cry 3 development team, there was even one person who took a humanities course on representation, diversity, or anything concerning postcolonialism. I found Far Cry 2 passable because it concerns a generic plot for generic cannon fodder in the form of a mercenary’s paradise. Far Cry 3 pushes even further into the direction of countries outside of the Occident, serving as mere playgrounds for western amusement.

Is this supposed to be a fourth-wall breaking question? If so, Far Cry 3 does not perform the adequate work to make me take its themes seriously, since the content is only heavily implied, and Jason’s friends are either already dead or relatively unscathed.

Now, it is not that I would prefer Ubisoft to select some other possibly boring setting for the game to take place. On the contrary, I likely would have celebrated a game that did not deploy an array of deplorable tropes. Perhaps the developer could have empowered Vaas to overthrow Hoyt and some other charismatic underling; many have credited Vaas as being a compelling villain, but so little is done with his internal conflict of “choosing” between family and…whatever it is that Hoyt offers that he needs and goes unmentioned, the most meaningful difference between the two is that Vaas benefits from more screen time.

Like clockwork, it was only a matter of time before someone like called the Rakyat savages.

Hoyt’s lack of dejection at the loss of his lieutenant undermines Vaas’s significance. Instead, Far Cry 3 leaves me to believe that he is yet another expendable native who is incidentally charismatic. We are not given an adequate reason as to why Vaas toils as a subordinate rather than attempting a coup of his own. On the on the other hand, the game’s hero, Jason, earns Hoyt’s trust, albeit temporarily, by suppressing a potential coup being planned by some randoms. Had Vaas upheld his birthright as the leader of the Rakyat rather than vacillate between a tragic victim and sadist villain, or had Citra succeed in her revolt without a mighty whitey/saviorbonus points for the Vaas’s portrayal in a redemptive roleI might have heralded Far Cry 3 among the greatest games. There are numerous ways Ubisoft could have rolled the story, and they choose…this.

The non-choice.

To address the endings, I have noticed that the majority of Far Cry 3 walkthroughs and Let’s Plays select the incorrect ending. This is the ending where Jason chooses to free his friends rather than the “ultimate reward.” When he removes Liza from her sacrificial perch, Dennis considers this blasphemy, an affront to his goddess Citra, and a betrayal of his own power fantasy as he lives vicariously through Jason’s exploits. In an act of sheer buffoonery, ineptitude, and dare I say impotence, Dennis attempts to stab Jason, but he ends up mortally wounding Citra instead, who steps in the way. According to Far Cry 3, the magical negro is so incompetent that left to his own devices, he would destroy himself; as the white savior chooses to abandon the natives, they despair. But given that Jason’s quest once entailed integrating himself with the Rakyat, he laments his inability to fully abandon their ways, commenting on being tortured with rage and anger. We are told that he is unsure if he will be able to control his desire [to kill]. If the game had been trying not to evoke the savage trope, then this would qualify as an epic fail.

Imagine being friend-zoned so hard that you’re just glad that another guy is with the woman you love.

During my playthrough, I choose Citra over my “friends.” There are two reasons for this. An innate problem problem with a game like Far Cry 3 is that its protagonist assumes the position of a tabula rasa, giving players no choice but to assume the role of a generic displaced white male in a savage land that must be tamed (sorry ladies, but you will have no choice but to have sex with Citra at least once). For a modus operandi, he feels compelled to rescue cast of characters with common names like Riley, Grant, Daisy, Ollie and Liza, rather than get the [blank!] off the island at the first opportunity, and leave the rest to authorities.

For every person of any ethnicity with a common name like Eric, Anthony, Emily, or Jessica, I also know a Deiondre, Marquita, Marisol, or Diego. Therefore, Far Cry 3 would have had to do more with the provided characters for me to care about them besides how they evoke the fear of the other. By the time I had to choose whether or not to slit Liza’s throat, I hardly knew her, hardly cared about her as she was, to me, nothing but a pile of polygons. I did, however, knoweth Citra (that is a KJV joke for those still reading).

I ended the game caring about these folks as much as I began the game. Not. At. All.

Secondly, the entire narrative thrust of Far Cry 3 concerns what I have already said: warrior mastery. Because he believes his brothers Grant and Riley to be dead, Jason assembles what he believes to be all that is left of his friends, Daisy, Liza, and Ollie. He could have fled the island with his friends, but alas! He has unfinished business with Hoyt. By this point, the tone of the game had long shifted from going through the motions of the Path to execute a rescue mission, toward irreconcilable vengeance. One could make the argument that Jason is under the influence of the tatau, drugs (the first hallucination takes place when he is searching for mushrooms for Daisy’s wounds), or Citra’s enchantments. I argue that Jason is looking to reap what he has sown.

In the west, women with shaven heads and dreadlocks are hipsters. Around the rest of the world, this is a normal hairstyle.

Of course, I recognize two problems with this ending. Clicking the option to execute Liza (and friends off-screen) is designed to give gamers pause. This is an intentional design choice; I vaguely remember a CODEC conversation in a Metal Gear Solid game concerning up-close kills, and how they can impact a person’s sanity differently than killing with a weapon at range. However, Far Cry 3 fails to offer weighty commentaries of the sort, so I hardly differentiate this (final) ceremonial kill as distinguished from the body count that I had accumulated along the way. This scene is a hamfisted, unearned way of eliciting remorse. Therefore, I choose “an act of savagery” over the contrasting, “civil” option. Because Far Cry 3 is a video game, we have the luxury of taking both roads to see which is best, and I surmise that even though Citra claims that if he does not finish the Path, all will be undone, Jason returning to the “civil” world poses a greater danger, as the epilogue of the “save friends” ending warns.

The second problem with choosing Citra, of course, is that Jason dies. The result is at first shocking, because it feels like a betrayal. At the same time however, she tells Jason, “Rest, warrior. You have won.” She does not refer to him by name; he is only a warrior. The Jason introduced at the beginning of the game had already suffered a death of a spiritual kind through the hallucinations, the tatu, the Path. Who remains is a different person entirely. Besides, the alternative to a final death is to suffer with the agony belayed by the atrocities that he has committed to reach the end of his journey. In this ending, the player can separate themselves from the first-person avatar so that he can be lain to rest in peace.

Maurice Pogue

Since picking up an NES controller in 1985 at the age of 2, Maurice and video games have been inseparable. While most children aspired to be lawyers, doctors, or engineers (at the behest of their parents), he aspired to write for publications such as EGM, PC Gamer, PC Accelerator, and Edge. After achieving ABD status in English at MSU, Maurice left academia and dedicated his writing to his lifelong passion. He is currently the Video Game Editor at Geeks Under Grace.

Leave a Reply