Far Cry 3 took me a long while to get into. I bought it long after release and even then it didn’t entirely click, with its ludicrous, mad playground of bizarre wildlife, open tropical island territory and huge arsenal being amusing but not terribly engaging.

It was a little too loose and lacking in focus, and its story too daft to be engaging. I’ve never been one to enjoy games which provide vast options, tending to prefer a game which specialises in a few key areas and gets them just right (Shadow of Mordor being a good recent example).

I think this comes back to character. I’m not talking about scripted character, but about the player character’s abilities, which combine to form the actual experience of the player. If a character can essentially do anything and everything perfectly – hang-glide, shoot pistols, shoot machine guns, shoot bazookas, fix radio towers, drive cars, pilot boats, hunt animals, throw grenades, set explosives, perform advanced medical procedures, etc etc – they cease to be interesting.

Much like it’s a challenge to make characters like Superman interesting due to their powers short-circuiting any kind of dramatic tension, so big open world games in which you can do ‘anything’ result in a player character who isn’t very compelling. Just as literature and movies require flawed characters in order to generate drama, so games require player characters with limited abilities in order to generate tension and engagement in those systems.

So, then I discovered the recurve bow. Far Cry 3 gets the bow just right.I’d also just finished watching season 2 of the TV series Arrow, and the dots started to connect: island setting, check. Exciting bow action, check. Fun, fast stealth, check.
I limited myself to only using the bow, and the game suddenly came into focus. I was no longer a dull Generic Action Hero; instead I was a skilled archer seeking revenge, using specialist skills and particular tactics.

Limiting yourself to a particular weapon or play style doesn’t reduce the possibility of random events in the game itself. Hence here’s me stumbling across an in-progress shootout at a gas station, and wading in with only my trusty bow:

Sliding into position and firing an arrow is infinitely more satisfying than firing a gun. Anyone can fire a gun. A bow and arrow harks back to far more interesting, far more exciting references. There’s more derring-do. It’s Robin Hood, Legolas and Green Arrow in one. It feels more classically heroic than simply shooting bullets from a machine gun.

The video above shows a fairly low-key situation with only a couple of enemies. Here’s a very different encounter involving lots of explosions as I encounter a heavily (if incompetently) guarded outpost:

The bow works whether it’s a close encounter or something on a larger scale. It’s satisfying in a way that none of the more traditional FPS weapons in Far Cry 3 are for me. I think it’s the physicality, captured really effectively via decent visuals and audio cues, and the dual systems of being able to aim and hold an arrow ready without firing.

Big, do-anything open world games have a central problem, which is that they end up feeling like theme parks, rather than legitimate places. Back in the days of GTA: Vice City this worked, because the entire story was daft and pulpy and the city was presented as literally a playground for the player character.

As the presentation of GTA and the likes of Far Cry become more realistic and convincing, the concentrated playground feel becomes increasingly incongruous. Hence why restricting your play can actually re-introduce a sense of focus and discipline to the proceedings, rather than it just being a free-for-all.

That playing Far Cry 3 with only the bow closely resembles the island scenes from Arrow is a big bonus, of course. This trailer for season 2 is spoiler-tastic for season 1 but shows off the general style of the bow action in the show:

Far Cry 3 happens to have recreated the feel of the show, entirely unintentionally. Given that a decent Arrow game will never happen, it’s the next best thing.

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