Saturday, March 02, 2013

Can you believe Ubisoft failed to hire me as a games writer?

 Who could ever want to kill these guys?

I applied for a writer job a couple of years back with Ubisoft. Of course, with my complete lack of game writing experience, references, connections, or any verifiable talent, I didn't even get an interview. But in a way, having just completed Far Cry 3, I can't help but feel the joke is on them.

Yes, yes, we've all read the endless criticism of Far Cry 3 for being racist, tropey and full of poorly drawn characters. We might even have read the bullshit excuses that the writer pulled out of his ass, claiming that his writing was deliberately shoddy because he was "subverting video game cliches." Subverting how? Does revelling in cliche after cliche somehow make it new and exciting? I mean, this guy even claims that half of the stuff that was going on in the game was in Jason's mind. Yeah, I must have missed that. Failed to land that one, mate.

He describes Jason as an "unreliable narrator." Which would be fine, except that we see everything through Jason's eyes, and there is no indication that anything that anything that is happening on the screen is, well, not happening. If there was, it would raise a few questions - for instance, how can something that is not real have real consequences? Didn't I die every time I tried to wingsuit into that cliff cave outside Gaztown to get that relic? If it was all made up, then why did I die? Where was the threat from my enemies? It negates the whole experience. This is a videogame, not The Catcher in the Rye.

I started out the game enjoying bushwhacking my way through the jungle, haphazardly slaying pirates. I didn't even mind Dennis and his Bagger Vance act so much. I thought the friends were a bunch of douchebags - hell, even Jason was a douchebag - and having read a couple of spoilers about the ending, quite frankly couldn't wait to murder them all.

Just fuck off.

But then I met Citra. Sweet Jesus, Jason must be riddled with hepatitis now. I would hazard I have never met a more annoying character in any videogame. And the writer apparently wishes us to believe she is deliberately annoying? Now I just feel like he's fucking with me for the sake of it. That was when the game went downhill.

There were plotlines that I enjoyed, only to find them cruelly dashed. The letters found on the dead Japanese soldiers - provided you didn't stop to ask how the hell can Jason read Japanese - were intriguing, but you collect them only to find the last four documents, which would surely have revealed all, have been erased by yet another douchebag with nonsense about a grenade-toting monkey. Yes, writer, I see what you are doing here. You are subverting our expectations, but why do it when this ultimately leaves us unfulfilled? Why did I bother collecting all those items? It sure as shit wasn't so you can rub how smart and postmodern you are in our faces.

And the Chinese captain and the glowing knife. OK! You've drawn me in now, except it doesn't come to anything except a knife fight with a rapist, despite the fact that this plotline CONFIRMS THE EXISTENCE OF GENUINE CHINESE MAGIC. And what consequence does it have? None at all.

In fact, the only two likable characters in the game were Buck and Vaas. One is a rapist hitman and the other is a psychotic killer. And I stabbed both of them to death. At least, I stabbed Buck to death for sure. As for Vaas, since it happened in some messed up dream sequence I can't even say I did. Yes! Yes, the writer crows! I subverted you! I'm subversive! I made goodies so awful you actually prefer the baddies! Yeah, well, but since both of the non-irritating characters are dead about 60% through the game, you still have 40% of it to go, with only some unbearable pricks for company. One is a German who somehow was also in the U.S. Marines and yells BLITZKRIEG! as he goes into battle. That's some lazy shit right there.

This isn't at all to belittle how much fun the game is, because I would be lying if I said that I didn't have an immensely good time machete-ing people then killing their friends with their own sidearms. I truly had some excellent gaming experience, including a massive, 40 man gunfight that resulted from a simple traffic accident, and that time I cleared a base by SETTING THE ENTIRE JUNGLE ON FIRE! PRAISE BE TO THE RED GOD! Apart from the tacked on side missions which they just should have skipped ("Hey, there are three artifacts that have been lost for 1000 years! They're all within 100 yards of here and marked on this map! Can you go collect them for me? No, there are no threats between here and there. I'm just too lazy to do it myself.") it was, up until the novelty wore off in the third act, a very enjoyable game, that is when you weren't doing 'story' missions.

I'm an intelligent guy, OK. I read. I have a literature degree that is largely useless EXCEPT for deconstructing narratives like this. I'm pretty much the target audience for smart video games. And I am telling you now, if I don't objectively see the genius of Far Cry 3's plot, then it's not because I'm too dumb to understand it, as the writer argues, it's because the genius just isn't there. Would I have done it differently? Probably. I wouldn't have fallen into the first-year creative writing student trap of turning a simple narrative in a limited medium into a self-parodying, too-meta-for-its-own-good fuckupalypse. The whole thing left me fealing teased and kind of insulted.

But I paid $50 for it, so I had to play it to the end, even though that last knife fight with Hoyt was hard, and had no checkpoints in it, meaning I had to listen to the same SHIT DIALOGUE AGAIN AND AGAIN EVERY TIME I DIED.

At the end of the day, the oppressive awfulness of Citra filled me with such foul temper, I leapt at the chance to leave the island. Dennis stabbed her and she died cheesily proclaiming her love for me, while I screamed at her to shut up and die so I could go to bed. So yes, I chose the douchebag friends. Because, when the final curtain came down, they were the characters I identified with most. Abused and persecuted, they just wanted the ordeal to be over. And in the end, so did I.