Just Another Day On Rook Island

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I’m watching them from the bushes. There are five of them, at least five that I can see through the lens of my camera. One on the roof, two patrolling the gate, one in the door of a shack, and the last sitting on the ground next to his dog. I correct myself: a dog. I doubt he cares enough about it to claim it as his own.

The one on the roof goes first, an arrow through his throat. Nobody sees and I doubt he’ll be missed. One patrols too closely to a hole in the fence, allowing me to slip in and bury my knife up to the hilt in his neck before pulling his own blade and sending it into the face of his nearby friend.

It’s his body, hitting the ground in a cloud of red dust, that alerts his friends. I slip around the side of the building and slit the cable on the alarm. They begin frantically searching, cursing and rooting around the camp.

I slip back into the bushes, letting them try and hunt me, savoring in the fact that they don’t know that they’re the ones being hunted. It’s not until they begin to calm down that I make my final move, ending them with two arrows sent whizzing from the shadows. I let the dog run away.

Sure, I could’ve run in the front gate and blown them all away in a hail of bullets, or rained flaming death upon them from the nearby cliffside. I even could’ve lined the front gate with C4, teased them out, and then sent them to their maker in pieces.

But where’s the fun in all that? I wanted to watch them die, to taste their fear. I wanted to know that I was the one in control.

It’s just another day on Rook Island.

Far Cry 3 isn’t unique in offering a multitude of ways to handle its combat. It’s part of a burgeoning genre of quasi-open world games that offer you the ability to approach fights from a wide range of vectors. Games like Deus Ex or Dishonored allow players to run in guns blazing or take a more tactical approach, making the most of the various vents and girders that seem to dot their settings. It’s all very methodical, each approach plotted out and telegraphed for the player. The guard is always standing underneath the vent or near the door, just close enough to grab. He might wander away, but the waiting is just another piece of the puzzle. You’re just following the steps, dancing the waltz with everybody else.

I have a hard time not seeing stealth options in games as little more than just another puzzle, something to be solved. It removes a lot of the punch when garroting guards or kidnapping nobles has the same punch as a level in The Incredible Machine, little more than putting everything in place and assuring everything goes as planned.

But on Rook Island it’s different. There are no rules there, no vents or grates, no cogs that need to be set spinning to ensure the machine runs smoothly. There’s just you, your knife, and the enemy. How you play the pieces is up to you. There’s no god-hand floating above you, guiding your choices into the “right” or “wrong” path, “paragon” or “renegade.” The jungle has no time for such antiquated systems of morality. Wait too long and a tiger will emerge unseen from the bush and latch itself to your arm. It’s kill or be killed out there.

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The first time I failed in Far Cry 3 was exhilarating. I fucked up, plain and simple, and slit the throat of a guard in plain view of three of his partners. The alarm sounded and soldiers flooded in like a red tide, sending me scurrying for cover and ending in a pitched battle that found me crawling around scavenging ammo from corpses. By the end of it I was hunched over my keyboard in tension, eyes fixed on the screen. No message popped up on the screen demanding I do it again, no prompt chastising me for failing to play the  game in the way it was intended. The camp was liberated and I was still alive. It was a victory. More importantly, I had lost myself in the game for those few minutes. The game was perfect for those few moments while I fought for survival among the tall grass.

My first flawless liberation felt much the same. I marked my targets and executed them with the precision of a tailor, darting in and out of the shadows like a crimson needle. When the final target fell, his throat spitting blood on the blade of my knife, I could feel my pulse quicken. A message popped up on my screen, informing me that I had earned an extra thousand experience for my effort, but that didn’t matter. I had tasted the blood of my foes, savored the power of being a silent assassin. For the first time, I was the predator and not the prey.

It wasn’t long before I found myself in the bushes again, more like an animal than the men whose lives I sought to end. I felt nothing. I wasn’t excited, nor was I disappointed. I was simply…cold. I had done my job, tracked my prey, and eliminated them. I had drank deep of their fear, for it was what sustained my frigid enjoyment of the game, but I wasn’t any more alive for it. Killing had become instinct.

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I didn’t feel the seething rage of Jason, nor did I need the various rewards the game was tossing at me for being an efficient killer. There were better ways to handle the situation, ones that would’ve taken less time or yielded more resources. I didn’t even loot the bodies of my foes, instead leaving them to rot in the hot island sun. This wasn’t revenge. It wasn’t even survival, as it had been at the start of the game. These men didn’t need to die.

It wasn’t even all that fun.

I had done it because it was the only thing that worked for me anymore. Like a serial killer who steps up his game, I couldn’t just end them and be done with it. I had to feel it. Carnage wasn’t enough, the childish desire to murder hookers in GTA traded for something far more sinister: the chilly precision of the killer.

There wasn’t an elaborate story arc drawing my attention to subtle shifts in my character, an either/or choice with clear ramifications. There was just me, casually hacking my opponents to pieces for the rush, an option not presented by the game but created entirely by me. I couldn’t hide behind the character any longer.

It was Far Cry 3 that showed me what I had really become: just another animal on Rook Island, doing what I was meant to do.