A Simple Way To Fix Far Cry 3's Dumb Story

Warning: spoilers ahead. Far Cry 3 does a lot of things right. It's fun to play, the island setting is beautiful, sneaking around is a lot of fun, gunplay is solid, and everything works well. But the story… well, the story has some issues.

As I pointed out in my review, the unevenness and general kinda dumbness of the narrative is the thing that holds Far Cry 3 back from "we'll still talk about this in five years" glory. I'm midway through my second playthrough, and the problems with the story are more apparent than ever.

It's never terrible (and at times is perfectly enjoyable), but the storytelling is often lazy, sometimes irritating, occasionally offensive, and never manages to come together into a unified vision. And the ending just flat-out stinks.

However, with a single change to the story, Ubisoft could have addressed almost every problem the game's story has. Not only that, Far Cry 3's story could have gone from "forgettable romp" to "everyone is calling this the best story of the year."

"Oh, god," you may lament, "surely you aren't going to engage in this worst sort of Monday-morning quarterbacking! Surely you aren't about to suggest your own ending while ignoring all of the development hurdles that make writing a video game so uniquely difficult?"

Yes, I'm afraid I am. Indulge me for a moment, and let's imagine what might have been.

We're going to have some big ol' Far Cry 3 spoilers in here. OK.

First, the problems. Here they are:

  • It's tonally inconsistent. Far Cry 3's tone is all over the place. We've got serious business going down, Jason's brother gets killed, there's a super-dark rape subplot, people are being subjugated, murdered, and sold into slavery. But then there's Jason's stoner friend cracking drug jokes, the out-of-place Quentin Tarantino references, the ridiculous (though awesome) pot-farm burning mission, and all manner of wacky CIA hijinks. Generally, the story's tone is all over the place.
  • The heroes are arseholes. There's an argument to be made that we're not supposed to like Jason and his motley band attractive white kids. But that's never really explored by the story… we just sort of leave them after a certain point, and they return for the ridiculous, tacked-on conclusion. They're all arseholes, including Jason. I wanted them all to die, including Jason.
  • The race stuff. Far Cry 3 handles race in some pretty problematic ways. Far too often it relies on the "Magical Negro" trope, and Jason is given tribal tattoos that allow him to "access his inner warrior" and become a badass. Particularly in sidequests, the native people of the island are portrayed as helpless simpletons who are just thrilled that this untrained white boy from California has decided to come and save them all.
  • It's not believable. There's a big difference between realistic and believable, and games generally can skip the former if they're nailing the latter. But Far Cry 3, when you step back and think about it, never feels realistic or believable. Why is this kid suddenly able to save everyone on the island? How is he any more qualified than any of Citra's many tattooed warriors? Why is everyone behaving the way they are? Why does Vaas go to such Bond Villain-like lengths to kill Jason in elaborate ways? Why are we being asked to accept that rich white Americans can be kidnapped and sold into slavery?
  • It ditches the best character. The best character in Far Cry 3 isn't Jason, nor any of his friends. It's not Citra, it's not any of the other questgivers, and it's certainly not Hoyt. The real star of Far Cry 3 is Vaas, the manic, menacing pirate overlord who so entertainingly pursues you for the first 2/3rds of the game. And yet after a certain point, you simply go and… kill him. In a dream-sequence? And he's never heard from again. What a waste!

So, those are the main problems with the story, as I see 'em. But here's the thing: The entire story could have been salvaged by a simple decision, a plot point I felt was telegraphed throughout the entire game, and which I was perplexed never came to pass:

Halfway through the game, it's revealed that you're not Jason. You never were. You're Vaas.



This could've been made to work with the existing content in a number of ways. Let's say the entire first half of the game is an elaborate hallucination brought on by, I don't know, torture and imprisonment. How about this: Vaas was a successful worker for Hoyt until his power over the island grew too strong, and he pissed Hoyt off by failing to kill an American kid who escaped him. An American named... JASON BRODY.

Hang on, hold on, OK. Back up. That image is from the handbook in the game. Let's see here. Here we've got this guy:

and this guy:

One looks like a bad mother, probably crazy enough that he could cause some damage. The other looks like a grade-A doof. I don't mean to say that the doof's story can't be interesting, but it'd be more interesting to tell us the doof is the hero, then pull the rug out from under us.

Anyway. Back to making stuff up. The particulars of this aren't really that important; there are a handful of ways that the twist could be made to work. Here's one: Hoyt had Vaas tortured and imprisoned, where Vaas relived his downfall through the imagined eyes of his nemesis, recreating Jason's exploits and greatly exaggerating his prowess. As it turns out, Jason just sort of got lucky and evaded Vaas -- but in Vaas' twisted mind, Jason was granted magical powers by Vaas' sister Citra and became an all-powerful Rambo. How else could he have eluded Vaas for so long?

At the point in the story when Jason kills Vaas, instead of dying, Vaas re-awakens and it's revealed that Vaas actually killed Jason, and you take control of Vaas. You break out of Hoyt's prison and spend the remainder of the game taking down Hoyt and conquering the island. Maybe there's a sequence where you kill Jason's friends. Sweet.

Not only would this be one of the boldest, most talked-about narrative twists of the last few years, it would solve so many of the problems listed above. We wouldn't have to swallow the idea that an untrained twentysomething rando could take down an entire army. The disdain shown to the islanders would make more sense, given that we're seeing everything through Vaas' eyes.

The tonal inconsistencies would be turned on their heads, and it'd match with the kinda cheesy, pop-dark vibe of the game. The moment we assumed the role of a gleeful villain, it would be much easier to shoot, burn, and pillage our way through the Rook Islands. The white saviour thing from the first half would dissolve into irony. The arsehole main characters would all get killed, thank god, and our vendetta against Hoyt would feel less abrupt. And best of all, the game would really feel like it was about something: About insanity and dominance, about taking what you want and using it to take more.

The more I think about it, the more I'm surprised Far Cry 3 didn't go this route. Even the menu and loading screens play with the idea of duality: Fading, Rorschach-like inkblots of Vaas and Jason blend into one another. The "characters" screen of the game's handbook shows Vaas standing behind Jason, with a gun pointed at his head. Even the cover of the game prominently features Vaas, with Jason (or someone?) buried up to his nose in sand.

I don't know about you, but if I saw that cover and knew nothing about the game, I'd guess it was about the guy in the red tanktop.

Every time the two characters meet, there's this weird tension, like we're not being told the whole story. How is Jason surviving all this, again? Why is Vaas talking about the definition of insanity, and how that means doing things over, and over, and over? As Vaas lectures Jason about family, love and madness; as Jason wanders through hallucinations and sees Vaas at every corner, every Fight Club alarm in my brain went off. Surely I am this guy, right?

But nope. Apparently Vaas is just some jerk who sort of dies in a dream sequence.

Putting my pie-in-the-sky imaginary endings aside for a minute, my broader point is that many games, even good ones like Far Cry 3, could be taking more risks and telling more interesting stories. Games like Red Dead Redemption and this year's flawed but ambitious Spec Ops: The Line have toyed with similar ideas, and I hope to see more big-budget games taking on similar notions in the future. Considering the high level of across-the-board talent responsible for Far Cry 3, it doesn't seem out of line to have hoped for more.

"The whole game is about subverting video game cliches," Far Cry 3 lead writer Jeffery Yohalem told me when I spoke with him back at E3 . "It's a psychological adventure. We're definitely trying to question what a game is, and I think that's what Far Cry 2 did as well, where they tried to explore the limits of video games. And our game is about video games to a huge degree, and about what you expect from video games, and how we change things up."

When I heard "change things up" and "subverting video game cliches," I was expecting something truly surprising. What I got were some well-written characters, a couple of quality drug trips, a helicopter minigun sequence lifted from Apocalypse Now and a final moral choice that made no sense.

Oh, well. At least the game is super fun.


    I think most peoples issue(s) with this game is the fact that it not so subtly holds up a mirror to the player and most people just don't like what they see.

      I was thinking about that too,
      But since most gamers aren't douchebags, no ;P
      I myself can't feel a connection to the main characters in the game, since douchebaggery isn't my style

    to be honest, from the first trailers, I kinda guessed that Jason was Vaas in a sort of Fight Club way. & I was a bit disappointed that I was wrong.
    I think it would've been a good twist to have. It certainly would've made Jason more interesting.

    Should we all send cupcakes to Ubisoft now & demand a new ending? (no. no we shouldnt. save it for far cry 4.)

    Completely agree about Vaas being the best character in the game. Just killed him in my first playthrough and havent gone back since. I was extremely dissappointed with the waythey handled taking on Vaas , I wasnt even sure it actually happened, especially after just taking a knife to the chest? Shame, Vaas was simply superb on screen, wish he was around longer.

      Couldn't agree more. I actually started a thread on the Steam & Ubisoft forums in regards to the topic. I felt his death was handled in a rather poor and misleading manner. I didn't return to the game for well over a week after his demise. Was hoping for some mind bending Fight Club-esque duality twist, especially when Vaas comments, "I am you... and you are me..."

      100% behind you on the Vass issue. Many of the other problems I think are covered by gameplay issues outside the story line like the problem of getting A.I.s to not blow your cover every other second when your trying to stealthily switch off the alarm system in an enemy camp.

      But when Vaas was killed I spent the next hour expecting him to show up alive. I think it's partly because they'de already had several hallucination sequences involving him but mostly because I didn't expect the games best character and biggest baddie to be killed by a "Mash SPACE to stab" quick-time event. As their main marketing man didn't the writers feel he warranted something more? What happened to having a good old boss battle? Potentialy fuelled by more freaky cave fungus. I'm still playing the game but It felt like it peaked about 2 seconds before I stepped through that door.

        Snipe the alarm box with a silenced rifle while crouched up on a hill. Works every time.

    Please please read! Put a lot of time into typing this out! :D

    While I completely respect Kirk's view and experience I disagree that his idea for the story would work. Something like that requires a lot of careful storytelling that is often hard to pull off and then someone has to blatantly explain the twist and it's awful. Also, the beauty of Vaas is that his presence is short and unpredictable. Fleeting. If you become Vaas, you know exactly what is on your mind and what you're going to do. And thus Vaas' appeal goes the way of... Well, Vaas.

    No, what it needed was not a twist as such, but careful development of character and the insanity theme.
    The duality Kirk spoke of is definitely present, and I felt it as well. But what needed to happen was Brody unknowingly following in Vaas' footsteps to insanity. They touched it, but appropriately for such a hot issue, only momentarily.
    This would entail:
    - more trippy sequences marking insanity progression milestones, with the cause becoming more ambiguous each time. Is it drugs or mental illness?
    - more dialogue with friends about his bloodthirst. His friends would be important because they represent his anchor in reality. The more distant they are emotionally, the further his insanity has manifested.
    - progressively changing behaviour and unlocked abilities that glorify and encourage Brody's bloodlust.
    - a real climax and resolution, where you don't choose, but definitely kill your friends. This severs the final connection, and Brody has an exit monologue which is dripping in Vaas's mannerisms. They then show the time progression of the island, and Brody starts to use the Rakyat in the same ways Vaas and Hoyt used pirates and privateers. Cyclic themes. Woo.

    BAM. Problems solved. Brody evolves from his first world annoying white boy persona. His friends get killed. His ability is explained through the sense that he is so much like Vaas mentally and that is the kind of personality that the island nurtures into a hardened killer and leader.
    To make this work, Vaas is not Citra's brother (that never added anything anyway), but a newcomer that was moulded the same way that Brody is. That way, your own narrative has more depth in that it gives an insight into the game's best character.

    Also, it'd be good if Vaas flees to Hoyt's island as well as Brody and overthrows Hoyt so that he remains the main villain and also demonstrates his instability even further.

    This does a lot more than a simple twist because:
    Twist = oh wow I didn't see that coming! Crazy. Now to wait for the surprise to fade as I finish the game.
    Insanity theme = wow that was an overall good story. And the main climax being at the end means a lasting impression.

    So yeah. That's my two cents!

      Don't know if I would really like that storyline.

      Also I talked to Jason's friends like once, when he said that killing people felt good. It felt like the most lame moment in the game, and from then on I opted to avoid contact as much as possible :).

        Yeah I agree, it was lame. But that's because it was completely inconsistent and out of nowhere. So it felt labored and stupid. What I described would have been what they were aiming for, but they didn't develop it anywhere near enough. If given the right context, it's exactly what the game would've needed.

      I like this plot better

      I don't think you've watched Fight Club, have you? (http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/fight_club/)? You may find that Kirk's idea makes more sense after you've seen it.
      I'd even invite you to go further and watch a Japanese animated series called "Black Lagoon" (http://www.madman.com.au/actions/series.do?method=home&videogramId=11819).
      Your enthusiastically outlined version sounds like Harry Potter following in the footsteps of Voldermort, or Cloud aspiring to become Sepiroth in Final Fantasy VII - but does that really suit the themes & characters of Far Cry 3?

      My idea? Ubisoft create a sequel / add-on where we finally play Vaas coming back from the dead to become king of the jungle - against a backdrop of Chinese & US agents fighting a clandestine war for oil exploration rights. Good ending #1: Vaas wins the hot Chinese dragon lady agent, Good ending #2: Vaas wins the hot American California girl agent, Bioware ending #3: Vaas wins the grizzly Russian bear agent.

      I actually like this idea and suspect they definetly considered it given the way the story heads towards the end. It would have been far more impactful to choose this route but I suspect also more controversial and risky. I still love the game but the story does hold it back somewhat. Also the voice acting (particularly the natives) was horrific. Can't wait until FC4.

      I agree, I like your idea better. The Jason is Vaas idea IS cool, but it HAS been done. Your version would provide something really interesting. Unfortunately for us, the video game industry is an immature medium for an immature audience. People don't want to be the bad guy, they want to be the hero. Always.

    I think Vaas was quite a suprise. I think it was really about an actor pulling out a show-stealing performance. I did find the quicktime scenes (like the 2 fight scenes) to be quite annoying and the weakest part of the game.

      That said, would you rather a drawn out boss fight where he is invulnerable until you hit a special trigger 3 separate times to take him down, like almost every other boss fight? As far as I am concerned, anything that shakes up that archaic Glados in Portal boss fight mechanic is awesome. These are just men, flesh and bone, a knife fight would be all it takes.

    I don't think it was ever meant to be believable, hence the idea that the island makes people insane. You could attribute Jason's new found abilities to murder people also due to insanity.

    But completely agree with the Vaas thing, he was a great character and for him to disappear so suddenly was a pretty big WTF moment.

    In addition.... SAM FTW.

    that would be the greatest thing ever if that happened, I mean it just sounds awesome, I mean as you said Vaas seems like a much better main character than Jason.

    i truly hated killing both bosses in this game
    i mean you have no chance of escape then suddenly you go into a dream and kill them? wtf?

    Unfortunately, Vass was originally conceived as a minor character. Ubisoft thought "Shit! People love this guy!" They quickly hyped the character up, leading on peoples expectations of what the story was going to be.
    Fun gameplay, beautiful graphics - Shitty overall story. The tattoo stuff is over the top too. But thats probably because i hate tattoos.

    Last edited 13/12/12 5:50 pm

    I had a feeling that what Kirk just explained was in development but "upper management" intervened. But I agree with bigguss. Makes more sense

    Ubisoft probably made the player character a rich white kid because they felt they needed him to be as identifiable to the audience as possible. I would have prefered the player character be a native islander who had returned to the island after a long absence, or something. Brody just felt tacked on and out of place, and his whiny voice constantly broke the immersion for me.

    Either that or have a whole 'Dexter'thing going on where you've killed Vaas early on and he keeps reappearing, antagonising you as you slip slowly into madness... it's revealed later that your first fight ended fatally, he was actually your very first kill maybe. Hence you spinning out of control and finding it suddenly very easy to kill in the game? You repeatedly see him, taunting you, mocking you, antagonising even seeming to attack you? I dunno, just something *more*... there was mountains of potential there.

    Very much agree with the Vaas thing, especially how you kill him. It was poorly executed. That whole Fight Club notion did cross my mind part way through the game, especially during that horrible tripping out sequence leading up to your encounter with him. Having something boil down to a series of quicktime events just seems wrong. I would argue that it's akin to the out of place boss fights in DX Human Revolution which we all know it was heavily criticised for. Far Cry 3 just wasn't as good of a game for me as it was for many others purely cuz the story kinda crap.

      Actually, i think the way you kill him is one of the most brilliant story parts of the game. Sure, QTE's are annoying, but if you follow my theory that Jason actually does turn out to be Vaas all along, but Vaas is just too crazy to even realize it anymore, than you'll see a ton of crazy symbolism in that fight that indicates proof of my theory. For one, there's the whole constant shift between Jason and Vaas, a theme that's perpetuated throughout the game, but it comes in full force during this fight. Second, Citra wanted to have an incestual baby with Vaas in order to create the "perfect warriot," which just may have been the case when you thought you were Jason having sex with her, but were actually Vaas instead. Also, there's the fact that it makes zero sense that Jason would even be able to kill Vaas after getting stabbed in the chest with a knife. I think the whole fight is just Jason tripping out on DMT (the chemical you secrete when you die), and that once the fight ends, Jason is actually the one who dies, not Vaas, and that's why Vaas opens his eyes at the end. It's not just to trip you out; Vaas literally is waking up from his delusional distortion of perceiving the world through Jason's eyes and has finally become himself again (at least physically). Unfortunately for Vaas, though he one the physical fight with Jason, he lost the mental one and he's completely assumed his identity of Jason Brody and no longer realizes he's even Vaas anymore. There'd be no one to confirm or deny this, because the whole game is from just one perspective, and a crazy person would never become self-aware enough to realize they're view on reality is completely incorrect. It's like Fight Club, but without Edward Norton's character ever finding out that Tyler Durden was just him all along. Instead, he just keeps on living the delusional lie. If I'm right here, I think this could be one of the greatest stories, not just for video games but in general, ever told lol. Also, sorry for all the text haha...

    I just had a crazy thought. What if this game doesn't just have the story this writer is pleading for, but actually has an even more tripped out version of it. Just bear with me on this as absurd as it may sound, but what if you DO become Vaas after this scene, but you're still so fucked up in the head that you have fully doned the persona of Jason Brody so that as far as your concerned from your own perspective you still are him, but to the rest of reality you're actually Vaas. It would have an extremely deep message of insanity and even a sort of Zen reference to the forces of Yin & Yang to some degree (Jason is Yin & Vaas is Yang, or vice versa). After all, in reality when it comes to true insanity, the only reality & sense of self you'll ever experience is your own personal sense reality & sense of self, and it would be impossible to verify the credibility of this view, because it's impossible to take the view of another person or of a perspective completely objective and independent to the nature of reality. Crazy mindfuck if I do happen to be right here. If not, just pretend I'm right and I swear it'll make for a far more twisted and interesting narrative (at least IMHO lol).

    I didn't know the tattoos were supposed to unlock Jason's "inner powers", I thought they just represented his abilities growing. Why Jason can become a badass in five minutes while everyone else is stuck in a rut? Meh. It's a game. Let's just let it slide, it's all in favour of making the game fun.

    I do agree with a lot of you on vaas I didn't even want to kill him every time you come across him it was hilarious and it kept the game interesting however what it truly lacked was a lot of closure especially at the end where everyone was left unsatisfied.
    Lets take a look at it
    Liza Snow I think she was a good character she's apparently his girlfriend but during all this not a hug a kiss a I love you even at the end very I satisfying like
    You dissed her now u choose to save her cause I couldn't just slit her throat I chose to stay with her I mean them lol
    (Her) what happens to them now did he even go with them what's going on with that now what happens to the island I don't want a vaas story I wan a story where ur looking for vaas and he is just to badass to die I mean he died so stupidly I was really disappointed and the death of Hoyt it was meh.. Alright they had alot of loose ends they could have easily fixed no dream time cutscenes could have been a badass counter when it came to taking out Hoyt it's one of stories they want you to think about but it just fails because it only makes u upset because it ended to fast

    I somehow both like and don't like this version of the plot (that Jason is Vaas). I'd take it this way - if you kill your friends at the end then you took the you-are-Vaas branch of the storyline. If you saved your friends, and Dennis finally accidentally kills Citra, then you are still Jason.
    I still somehow like being Jason, and not Vaas, but I do like this story version, too. :)

    Last edited 21/01/13 1:19 am

    I disagree and this is why. Okay, so you start off the game trapped in a camp with your brother and you find out that all of your friends have been taken, and some dick named Vaas shoots your brother right in front of you, and the player, who isn't very emotionally attached at this point still feels a little sad for Jason, right? But halfway through the game, when you ARE emotionally attached, you just get killed and all of your friends are killed too and from now on you just play as Vaas, the man who kidnapped you and your friends and shot your brother and countless other people, for the rest of the game? I don't think that they wanted this to be an "evil wins in the end game".

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