Though this may surprise the people who read my articles, I play more than just RPGs. Surprisingly enough, the last two games I have beaten have something in common. They attempt to teach similar aesops through their stories. However, one performs this task very well. The other fails so miserably that the writing can only be called marginally better than a David Cage game. These two games are Wolfenstein: The New Order and Far Cry 3. This week, I plan to compare the two in order to help explain how one failed and the other succeeded. The reason is that I strongly feel that they were both making an attempt at the same thing. That is, they wanted to mock the kinds of protagonists we see in the shooters that are released year after year.
To that end, they have a similar tone in terms of gameplay style. Both Wolfenstein and Far Cry 3 have a very arcade-like style to the way they play. By this, I mean that they can throw many enemies at the player and feel reasonably confident that the player has the ability to take them all out. Missions, especially towards the end of the game, tend to have enemies swarm the player in waves. Typically, these enemies die very quickly, but there are a few enemy types that require more skill to take down. Furthermore, because health and ammo do not fully-regenerate, there is an element of resource management required. Players must mind either their total health and/or the number of healing items they have, on top of their body armor and the number of bullets left in their inventory. Excessive use of these resources will make future battles more difficult. Combined, these elements give off a sense of power, but require tactics in order maintain their advantage.
On top of that, both games have sections with stealth elements. In these areas, the objective is to eliminate the opposition before they have the chance to raise the alarm and call for reinforcements. Players can just charge-in guns blazing, but they are better off if they take the time to stay undetected. Various tools in their arsenal can assist them by giving them silent attack options. Minor RPG elements are also included. With them, players can develop their character's skills and physical abilities in order to perform better. They can customize their character in order to best suit their playstyle, be it stealthy assassin, commando, or somewhere in between. With this, both games offer a sense that the protagonist is slowly developing over the course of the game, yet never lacks in skill.
Even in terms of story, there are many similarities. Both games have the player go against foes that are irredeemably evil. Wolfenstein: The New Order, as one might expect, has Nazis as the primary opponent. Far Cry 3 pits the player against kidnappers, slave traders, and drug dealers. In this way, they do not focus on the effects of violence on the enemy you are fighting. Rather, the focus in more towards the protagonist and how they change as a result of being thrown into the violence, becoming an active participant in it. Wolfenstein shows how years of fighting Nazis have affected BJ Blazkowicz's mental health. Meanwhile, Far Cry 3 demonstrates Jason Brody's decent into a spiral of death and violence after being kidnapped and ransomed by Vaas and his pirate crew. Though Far Cry 3 also uses the progression system to better demonstrate the transition, both games take close looks at their player characters.
However, there are crucial differences in these stories. The compound effect of all of these differences helps to explain how one game succeeded while the other game failed. The first difference is in the likability of the protagonist and his supporting cast. In Wolfenstein: The New Order, BJ Blazkowicz is shown in a pretty positive light. Throughout the course of the game, he often goes out of his way to assist the people he fights along-side, and not just in terms of completing missions for them. He is also frequently seen talking with other US Army and Resistance fighters, helping them cope with the realities of the world they live in. For example, early in the game, a younger recruit is visibly shaken by the war with the Nazis. BJ approaches him with tips on how to calm oneself down after going through traumatic events. We are also given reason to care about the supporting cast. Each character has their own quirks, personality, and reasons for fighting the Nazis. While some occasionally slip into jerkwad territory, they always have a reason to do so. The character Fergus, to demonstrate the point, gets a little angst when he realizes that he is an old man and is not able to fight as well as he did way back when, feeling like he is holding the team back. Overall, the characters are very well written.
The same cannot be said for Far Cry 3. In that game, almost every character that is on the protagonist's side, including Jason Brody himself, is insufferable. The game opens with them holding several wild parties and imbibing massive quantities of alcohol, using their rich parents' money. Then, they complain about their love lives and other such nonsense. All of them are the exact same character, just with different faces and genders. Even when Brody changes over the course of the game, he simply becomes another flavor of jerkwad. He transforms from a stupid, rich, white boy into a stupid, rich white boy with drug-induced delusions of being some great warrior. If anything, he becomes even more irritating as the game goes on. Unlike in Wolfenstein, the cast of characters is completely unlikable, which makes it hard to care about them when they go through their ordeals and change as a result.
Another major difference is the time-table for the ordeals in each game. In Wolfenstein, BJ fights against the Nazis for decades. At the end of the game, he reaches a point where he realizes that he has been fighting Nazis for so long, over half of his lifetime, that he can no longer do anything else. As a result, he is okay with sacrificing himself to save the world from their evil. Since he cannot live in the world he helped to save, it is preferable to end it all when he is no longer required to fight. It is a distinctly dark moment, but an important one. Most video game shooter protagonists can experience much horror and return to civilization at the end of the day as if nothing happened. Wolfenstein decided to instead play their protagonist completely straight by having him struggle for decades and realize that he cannot do the same.
Far Cry 3, meanwhile, takes place over the span of at most one or two months. Because of this significantly shorter time-frame, Jason Brody's “growth” from a novice into a full-fledged fighter is much less believable. Vaas, the game's (technically) secondary antagonist, makes a remark that best underscores this point. Paraphrased: “You think that you get a couple of tattoos and a few guns and suddenly you're a 'warrior', white boy!?” Though said by a character who is certifiably insane, this statement is no less true. No matter how much training and conditioning one undergoes in a month, they cannot make such a dramatic change like that. Those fundamental changes take years. The events of Far Cry 3 would be traumatic. However, they would not just turn some nobody into a cold-blooded murderer, at least not so quickly. As a result, any commentary Far Cry 3 is attempting to make on video game protagonists feels meaningless.
Ultimately, though Far Cry 3 is obviously the more well-known and popular of the two, it fails on a much more fundamental level than Wolfenstein: The New Order. Wolfenstein is more successful at subverting its mechanics and teaching the aesop at the center of both games. Even in a general sense, Far Cry 3 is terrible in terms of its storytelling. Having said that, both games are still really fun to play. The stand-alone Blood Dragon DLC for Far Cry 3 better demonstrates this by re-contextualizing the mechanics with a story that takes itself significantly less seriously. It is so much better than I would easily recommend it over the original game. From what I can gather, the writers of Far Cry 4 also learned a lot for the failures of the previous game in the franchise. Wolfenstein is also worth taking a look at, if you can find it at a discounted price.