Far Cry 3 – the real Assassin’s Creed sequel

ImageRecently, I’ve been playing a lot of Far Cry 3. Considering it’s a much feted GOTY candidate I took my time, I know. Still, playing through Rook Islands, there are quite a few things that stick out. Sweatshop kids don’t deserve sympathy because making wallets is easy, tigers definitely aren’t on the verge of extinction (and good riddance if they are) and Far Cry 3 is the Assassin’s Creed sequel we really wanted.

“Woah! Far (cry) out man! Say whaaaa?!” you might say, but hear me out.

Assassin’s Creed III was a bust. Yes it got decent-ish reviews and attempted  a couple of different things (no Italian slang this time around, no sirree) but it’s hardly a great sequel. As Assassin’s Creed II is to a giant free-running leap, Assassin’s Creed III is to a skip, a trip and an unfortunate soiling.

Like many other people, I assumed we’d eventually see Assassin’s Creed’s be-hoodied protagonist, Desmond Miles, surpass his be-hooded ancestors and break out of the animus’ confines into the land of the living, breathing, less-accented world. This isn’t to negate the thrill of beautifully realised historical environments – something Assassin’s Creed III thrives at – as those can exist in the inevitable spinoffs we’ll be subjected to. No, this is about wrapping up Desmond’s personal narrative.

Rather than stick to the mechanics of mind-numbing hand-to-hand combat and the effortless seduction of the odd “bella donna”,  the story of Assassin’s Creed might have pitched Desmond running for his life in the wake of AC: Revelations, bringing down the Templar organisation from the outside, waging a desperate guerrilla battle.

Assassin’s Creed III could have delivered an almost paradigmic shift for the franchise, holding to the series’ key principles but carving its own path in the process so as to bring us some kind of closure to the franchise’s main narrative strand. Besides, Assassin’s Creed: Liberation has demonstrated there is an appetite to expand beyond the increasingly restrictive concept of only retracing the path of Desmond’s ancestors.

Anyway there was no closure on offer, and neither is there from Far Cry 3, but the difference is that Far Cry 3 felt like an authoritative step for Ubisoft’s premier stab ’em up, just a few tweaks away from breathing life into what has become an increasingly risk-averse franchise.

Obviously there are some fairly obvious cosmetic similarities that help my case. For instance, Far Cry 3 sees your initially non-descript protagonist, Jason Brody, climbing radio towers in order to make a portion of the map visible. Complete this bit of vertical parkour and there’s even a 360 degree camera swivel to demonstrate your newly permitted perspective. So far, so similar.

Add to this Far Cry’s version of Eagle Vision which allows the tagging and tracking of targets even when they’re behind other structures, a familiar-feeling hang glider, and the – whisper it – inclusion of the Abstergo logo and talk of Pieces of Eden, courtesy of a Lost Expedition challenge, and Far Cry 3‘s little things take you back to Italian adventures of yore.

Really though, it’s more than that. Far Cry 3‘s position as the real AC sequel  goes deeper than these little cosmetic flourishes and instead serves as a pervasive current throughout the experience.

The plight of Jason Brody is very much that of an (extremely athletic) everyman. He’s a figure fighting an overwhelming system obsessed with keeping a kind of perilous order; he’s gradually finding his way in an unfamiliar landscape seemingly not from his time; he’s chalking up a number of dead enemy lieutenants along the way as well as countless henchmen, and forming various beneficial alliances with key local players.

Just like previous games featuring Ezio e amici, players are treated to the plight of a man often forced to move in isolation, led by the actions and orders of the characters around him. Admittedly many games feature this kind of setup but Far Cry 3 really wants to hammer home the depth of those around Brody. As has been noted, it’s like Ubisoft want to boast about the quality of their villains; in death we’re treated to a final one-on-one with vanquished foes, hearing a few final sweet nothings and giving us a proper goodbye of some resonance. Know what other game did that? Bioshock Assassin’s Creed.

Though the reference to the Pieces of Eden is brief, and likely serves as little more than confirmation that the two games exist within the same Ubiverse, it feels completely natural to find the familiar logo sprayed on an old laboratory’s wall. Yes there may be no old armour to unearth or an historical conspiracy to solve, but that’s because Far Cry 3 is an attempt at a more intimate game. You’re here to save your friends and family, to enact vengeance for what has happened to them. Like Assassin’s Creed II, your raison d’être is set in motion by the short-sighted behaviour of others.

Of course Far Cry 3 is a fine sequel to Far Cry 2 in its own right. Yet aside from a few gameplay mechanics which remind you that yes this is a Far Cry game, it exists as its own entity. AC3 doesn’t come close to this, so in the shadow of its predecessors that it daren’t upset the apple cart for fear of unsettling a hidden assassin within.

Admittedly it’s not the case that adding a coat of animus-coloured paint and changing the name “Jason” to “Desmond” is going to convince anyone that you’re playing the real Assassin’s Creed III. There is still a lack of any bustling metropolises (the shanty village of Badtown is not just poorly named, it’s also incredibly dull and lifeless), free-running, and whores to hire which, let’s be honest, is the real sticking point for fans of the franchise – and I’d count myself in that bracket.

No, Far Cry 3 isn’t a perfect sequel, but at least it feels like a real sequel. Rather than the annual holiday specials we’ve been fed in the past couple of years, Ubisoft had the chance to make something innovative of the Assassin’s Creed franchise. Instead Desmond’s trip to the colonies was another exercise in doing the same thing over and over again.

Did I ever tell you what the definition of insanity is?

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