It’s time for my annual-until-I-get-sick-of-doing-it retrospective on the games I completed in the previous year. This time it’s in two parts because I like to waffle.
Far Cry 3
I’ve been curious about Far Cry 3 since playing through the fourth entry years ago on my brother’s recommendation. The tropical setting looked like a great place to spend 30 hours and I’d heard positive things about the charismatic villain, Vaas.
Far Cry 3 was a genuinely great time. The gameplay was super engaging, even coming at it some seven years after release. It’s basically a big, dumb action movie set in an inviting locale with hilarious physics and a fun array of vehicles and weapons to play with.
To my surprise, the story really grabbed me. In the beginning, protagonist Jason Brody is an entitled frat boy looking to partake in some consequence-free debauchery with his douchey friends (no doubt a commentary on how westerners treat South-East Asia like their personal playground). However, he soon discovers this lawless island has been seized by pirates and a drug-peddling militia. The pirate leader, Vaas, kidnaps his friends with the intent to extort ransom money. Jason narrowly escapes, aided by suspicious natives, and begins the insurmountable task of rescuing his friends.
Initially, Jason is driven to kill out of necessity, as it’s the only way for him to achieve his goal. However, he comes to realises he is naturally gifted at it and, over time, even develops a taste for it. When the gang eventually reunites, Jason’s friends are horrified by his disturbing new behaviour and attitude.
It’s not an especially deep story, but I loved Jason’s gradual descent into savagery. It’s a modern-day Heart of Darkness and I appreciated that the violence had thematic context. Like Vaas before him, Jason slowly surrenders his soul to the island. His transformation from selfish fratboy to ruthless killer suggests we all have an innate savagery waiting to be drawn out by the right circumstances. Pretty chilling stuff.
Star Wars Battlefront II
Even after all the controversy I was determined to go into this blind and give it a fair shake. I genuinely think EA and Activision are a cancer on the industry with their cookie-cutter game design and egregious monetisation tactics. Star Wars Battlefront II looked to exemplify these flaws with early reports suggesting it would take a whopping 40 hours of grinding to unlock iconic Star Wars characters like Darth Vader. The idea here was to incentivise players to circumvent the grind (which the developers themselves had created) by encouraging them to buy in-game credits with real-world currency. Gross!
However, following an unprecedented internet shitstorm, ‘Good Guy’ EA rolled back this absurd monetisation model to ensure no facet of the game was ‘Pay to Win’. Two years later, the game has seen a lot of dev support and has virtually turned its abysmal reputation around.
So what did I make of it? Well, it’s beautiful to look at and authentically captures the spirit of Star Wars. Seriously, the production values are super-duper impressive and would’ve made my head explode if I’d played this as a kid. Instead of building off the previous generation of Star Wars Battlefront games, this one is basically a casualified sci-fi reskin of DICE’s other large-scale shooter property, Battlefield. Not that there’s anything necessarily wrong with that.
The biggest and most-touted new addition here was the single-player campaign. This tells the supposedly canon story of a group of Empire remnants trying to rebuild following their defeat at the end of Return of the Jedi. You play as hardened Imperial commander Iden Versio and some forgettable supporting characters. Playing as the villains was an interesting twist. I enjoyed learning about Imperial culture and was particularly interested to find there is honour in their ranks. Most Imperial troops believe they are doing something noble by stamping out rebels. They genuinely believe the Empire’s reign stabilises the galaxy and brings prosperity (a similar idea was presented in The Mandalorian). It was refreshing to see they weren’t all blind megalomaniacs.
Unfortunately, our protagonists quickly learn the error of their ways when the militant new Imperial leader starts destroying loyal systems to strike fear and reinforce the Empire’s might. Iden and co. have their predictable “Wait! We were the bad guys all along!” moment of realisation and the story devolves into the usual heroism fluff. I would have preferred if the game had shown the rise of the First Order (y’know, since Episode VII couldn’t be bothered doing that). As it is, this story is fairly inconsequential.
Gameplay wise, this campaign is fucking dull as dishwater. It’s just a string of pretty-but-lifeless gallery shootouts against thoroughly brain-dead enemies. There are a few scripted set pieces that exist solely to teach you about characters’ abilities. The whole campaign is an overlong tutorial. It’s the embodiment of beige with some nice window-dressing.
The multiplayer suite is a lot better. There’s small-scale deathmatches, large-scale wars with dynamic objectives, space battles and the fan servicey Heroes vs Villains mode, where you can mess around as your favourite Star Wars badass. I find all this moderately entertaining, if a bit simple. I’d rather play Halo, which has better maps, a much more interesting weapon sandbox and a more satisfying gameplay loop, but Battlefront 2 is fun if you want to switch off most of your faculties. The gunplay feels incredibly imprecise and never really gelled for me. Same with the movement and general physics. With such large-scale battles it sometimes feels like your individual contributions don’t matter, but at least this reduces the pressure to perform well (that’s what she said!).
My least favourite thing about this game is the Star Card system. Clearly, this system was engineered to encourage real-world spending until the devs hastily rejigged it. Every character you play as, from infantry to Jedis, must be levelled up to unlock buffs and abilities. The grind to do this is painstakingly slow, but you gotta do it if you expect to get anywhere in matches. In the beginning, you’re frail and have few tactical options. This means a player who’s played the game longer and unlocked better Star Cards will curb stomp newer players, even if those newer players outplay them in raw combat. There’s just no way to compete when the enemy has double the health and outputs more damage. I hate this system as it effectively creates an artificial skillgap, with new players assuming the role of lambs to the slaughter.
I feel like I’ve already wasted too many words on this game. It generally induces apathy in me. I can’t wait until EA’s exclusivity deal with Disney ends. I can’t think of two worse companies to oversee Star Wars…