best before 01.05.2017

by Hartigan Malchop

Landscape Painting

Why, it’s fine to see you, folks, and your pal Harty hopes you’ve been keeping well. The weather has just started to turn warm around these parts, and here’s hoping things are looking bright and as swell as can be for you, no matter what season is outside your window. Here in the Malchop household, there might be some individuals who think a bit of sun is a grand excuse to go trooping about the hills and dales of the countryside hereabouts, but I’m more inclined to explore some fancy new landscapes from the safety of indoors, where there are no bears our cougars to chase you about. Folks, I’ve got some news – Hartigan Malchop is slowly moving up the console timeline!

Y’see, a marvellous thing has happened. Your pal Harty, years behind as he may be on the games scene, has suddenly skipped along a generation and has got the chance to see some of the cutting edge video-game worlds from as recent as five or six years past! Some weeks ago I was rudely awoken early in the afternoon by the sound of a car honking impatiently. I got into my dressing gown and stumbled out the front door to see what the rumpus was all about. In front of the Malchop house was a familiar dented silver car, idling and grumbling away to itself. When my peepers started to wake up a little, I recognised the car and the figure behind the wheel. It was that fine fellow, my brother-in-law Suli. You hardly ever saw Suli outside his car, and I’m not entirely sure I even saw him walking on his legs when he married my sister, Eulalia Malchop. Brother Suli is a recreational player of video games, and in fact, there is nothing he likes more after a long day of sitting behind the wheel and driving to and fro for work than to come home, sit comfortably on his couch, and play driving simulators. With a curt hello to yours truly, Brother Suli heaved a sagging box out the door onto the curb, explained that he and my sister were doing a bit of a clear-out, nodded by way of a goodbye, and sped off. When I opened the box inside, what did I find, but a good old Xbox 360! That was gentlemanly of Brother Suli, I’m sure you’ll agree.

xbox360

Both a console and a potential murder weapon.

It had just so happened that he’d upgraded to the Xbox One and had no further need of this aging console, but Suli knew if that there was one fellow who was keen as mustard for out-of-date video games, it was your pal, and his brother-in-law, Harty. This wasn’t any of your fancy-pants later generations of console, this model looks like they put it together with big clumsy hammers. There’s almost nothing aesthetically pleasing about this box – it hasn’t got any sleek lines and the fan whirrs so angrily you worry the house might get blowed down. Also, the durn thing has the single heftiest power brick I ever did see – you could club a man to death with that thing, and that’s no word of a lie. All the same, I was pleased as punch to have that gray slab squatting in my home, and Brother Suli had even been kind-spirited enough to throw in some games he wanted to clear out of the house.

Super Mario

The sort of video-game landscapes that blew Little Harty’s tiny mind.

There were a few titles in this discarded pile that I’d heard of – Skyrim, Assassin’s Creed: The One With Pirates, Three Guys GTA, but the one at the top of the pile was the first game that went into the machine, and that just happened to be Far Cry 4. ‘Course, I’ve never played any of the older Far Cries before, so I don’t know the first thing about the series, or why it ended up with that kinda forgettable moniker. This Far Cry starts with you returning to your ancestral war-torn land, the made-up Himalayan country of Kyrat. As I believe is the trend in this day and age, it’s an open world game, where you wander around the country hunting for people to shoot at. I’ve been looking forward to trying one of these here open world games, but I won’t lie to you, folks, I’m a bit uncertain about the idea, too. Even the early 3d games Little Harty played had a more or less clear sense of where you were supposed to be going. There were side paths and shortcuts and hidden rooms, but these were little curlicues and flourishes off your main path. This Malchop boy likes having some sort of narrative direction in his entertainment.

Pagan Minh

Dictator of Kyrat and talent-show judge, Pagan Min in Far Cry 4.

Naturally, Far Cry 4 kinda does have a sense of overall direction – you’re sort of fighting against the stylishly-suited Pagan Min – a local dictator who knew your parents – and the world is broken up into sections that are revealed when you clamber up radio towers about the place – which I believe is a common technique used in open world games to control where you wander. But this world feels pretty big for a fellow like myself who has mostly played 2D games where your only choice of movement is left or right. Because the land in the game is all spread out, and consists of hills and mountains and lakes and rivers, you need to drive or fly to get about most of the country, Now, I don’t know much about how this sort of sightseeing compares to other games then and since, but a lot of it sure is pretty. I guess the sheer good-lookingness is an important part of the point of this variety of game – a whole lot of design effort has gone into making a landscape for you to marvel at like a tourist.

far cry landscape

The breathtakingly beautiful landscape of Kyrat, which has a very poor public transport system.

In the olden days, there was a kind of movement in real-world tourism that sort of reflected this, when people would go to what seemed like exotic locations in pursuit of the picturesque – of nature scenes and grand old buildings that gave you a thrill just to look at ’em. Now, your pal Harty has a bit of a difficulty when it comes to the real-world picturesque – sure, he can get a brief moment of enjoyment from looking at a stunning landscape for a minute or so, but then what? Is it fine to just look, or does a landscape need a bit more substance, a bit more meaning to be more than a postcard-picture?

Unlike most folks, I can’t be gawking for hours at beautiful parks or painterly skies. Like in games, I need more than just a pretty cliff-face to keep me interested. And a lot of the landscape in Far Cry didn’t always keep me interested. It’s stunning to look at, but not always that much fun to actually be in. I’ve mentioned before about how much I was tickled by how Borderlands 2 encouraged plum-silly free-flowing movement by letting you jump from buildings without any harm. Far Cry 4, on the other hand, is less forgiving of the clumsy, and since the game involves a lot of scrabbling around mountains, I spent a lot of time falling off cliffs to my death. To be honest, oftentimes the open world was just a pain in my poor posterior – a drag that slowed me down on my way to my next mission.

In many ways, this sort of thing reminds me of the skiing vacations little Harty used to have with the Malchop clan way back when. “Skiing!” I hear you sputter, “Harty, old pal, skiing is swiftness and glamour in a pure and shining landscape, one human being sliding effortlessly with frictionless grace over the surface of nature!” Ah, folks, but that’s downhill skiing! For reasons I have never fully understood, the Malchop family was only interested in cross-country skiing. Have you ever been cross-country skiing? It’s not so much gliding delightfully across the surface of a landscape as it is a darn struggle against it. Little Harty’s trips to the snow were mostly ones of weary legs and being suffocatingly hot and painfully frozen at the same time. It’s difficulty to see the beauty around you when that beauty is mostly a chore and an impediment. It’s one thing for a view to be beautiful, but, take it from me, that beauty can be ruined if you don’t get any enjoyment when travelling through that pretty picture.

bond skiing

Why did you lie to me, James Bond? Skiing is nothing like this.

Now, I don’t want to be completely down on Far Cry. That’s not what we are about here at Best Before Games. Y’all ought to know that there was one aspect of the landscape in Far Cry 4 that I liked just travelling on through: the lakes and waterways. Diving beneath the water and swimming along through the dappled colours, the sounds of the soldiers trying to kill you fading off into the distance – I found that whole experience kinda relaxing and fun. Also, whenever I’d fail to sneak up to a base and knock everybody off silently (which was almost every time), once the alarm was raised and the understandably irate men with guns would start shooting at me, my favourite tactic (although I ain’t sure it counts as a tactic) was to go jump into the nearest lake to swim underwater away from the whizzing bullets. Y’see, the waterscape was not just purty, but it became a useful part of my preferred way of playing the game, something that wasn’t as true as the monotonous process of walking and climbing from one point to another, or driving down the roads with the occasional break of being shot at or smashing into a tree.

As I played for longer, I took a fancy to some other parts of that there good-looking countryside. As y’all know, your pal Harty isn’t exactly top man at the trigger when everyone is out to get me, and likes to shoot at things from far away, where it’s hard for him to get shot back. This meant a lot of exploring hill tops and shrubberies so you can snipe from a cowardly distance. One really neat practical use of the landscape is also the fact that Far Cry 4 gets you to hunt animals and then chop ’em up to upgrade your equipment and abilities. I admit I was a little squeamish at the start of the game about killin’ the more harmless critters wandering about, but since you can only find whatever hides you need next in certain patches of terrain, I got to enjoying wandering around to track down a rhino or a tiger to make myself a nice new ammobag or somesuch. I guess, like the swimming, the hunting had a rewarding and practical impact on how I played the game.

It’s possible that since your pal Harty isn’t that great at appreciating the picturesque of the real world, maybe I just ain’t cut out to appreciate all the hard work that goes into making a digital landscape. I reckon that there must be more work in every scrap of these game-worlds than a poor fool like myself, who can’t even plan a window-box garden, could possibly imagine. But standing there and just admiring the big old worlds of these kind of games sure seems to be part of what the designers are trying to offer, so I guess I’m going to have to do my durndest to find a game landscape I can really admire.


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