Well, seeing as I now have a designer forum with which to dump my armchair 'yet-to-complete-a-game-and-have-no-idea-how-hard-it-is' opinions on various other game designers work, I thought I might as well share. This post mainly refers to PC gaming, so when I mention games/gaming, try to eliminate consoles from the argument...although some of this stuff also applies to some console titles, which are mostly PC game ports anyway.
My biggest gripe with FarCry....is that it's not a game.
It's about as frivolous as a first date - it's stressful, tense, nerve-wrecking, and if you stuff it up - all the good work is lost, and you have to start all over again.
Okay, so games aren't always a 'frivolous' activity, but a certain sense of 'fun' should always be ascribed with any gaming experience. The enjoyment of the process and the experience would have to be foremost on my list of things I like associate with gaming.
Now, before I go on further, I've been doing alot of research into the sociology of sport lately, and it appears to me that we are starting to mimick (in games) some of the great pitfalls of modern sports and competitive athletics. You'll see the link as I explain further.
There are two significant types of sporting model. 'Power and performance' being one of them, and 'pleasure and participation' being the other (J. J. Coakley 1998). The 'power and performance' model of sport (and sportspeople) is rather self explanatory. The focus of these sports is that performance is the ultimate form of sport, that winning and setting records is the means for which people (within the sports arena) are evaluated.
Using this ground, all the seeds of what ruins modern sports are planted. Athletes, 'over-conform' to an ethos that dictates sacrifices are to be made for the game, distinction is what defines a successful athlete, and 'no limits are to be placed in the pursuit of possibilities' (J. J. Coakley). From here we can see athletes taking drugs, using aggressive behaviour on field and off the field, bending the rules of play, using 'fouls' and illegal forms contact to alter the outcome of the match etc etc.
You might think I've gone loco now, but bear with me.
For me personally, the only way I could get any enjoyment out of FarCry, is if I achieved the next checkpoint, if I could get some form of 'triumph'. The process of getting there was terrible...I'm no guru of modern FPS, my days of being 'midfield' are long gone. On 'easy' mode, I tried 30-40 times unsuccessfully to get to the next checkpoint in the demo off of the PC Gamer CD.
The process of playing the game wasn't inherently fun, I would attempt to snipe, relocate, hide, flat out attack, flank, double-back, divert, strategise etc etc...to absolutely no avail. All these things are not simple fun, it's hard and challenging. The complete focus of the demo was on how much success you had at getting through this research facility.
This so clearly mimicks the process through which alot of modern sports are 'fun'. The ability to achieve goals and objectives and to beat the AI opponents (or multiplay buddies) is what gives the sense of satisfaction, accomplishment and fulfilment.
Now, having said all this. Am I saying that this sort of 'power and performance' model of gaming is an altogether bad thing? Not entirely. Much the same way that sports aren't entirely bad. But the fact of the matter is, it is getting harder and harder for the average joe to pick up a game, play solo, with buddies or on the internet and have 'fun'.
What is bad, is that how the 'ethos' of the over-conforming athlete is leaking into gaming arenas such as LANs that are becoming decreasingly 'social' and more competitive all the time. Prizes are awarded regularly at large LANs and it is all too common to see new attendees at a LAN who are simply looking befuddled trying to keep up with their team-mates while everyone is firing on all four cylinders...
How often is it to hear 'I own joo bitch' at a LAN? While some people may find it acceptable lan-speak, others may not be so comfortable with such aggressive language (even if intended as part of the game and hence 'disconnected' from reality). Much like watching football players get into a bingle, some people don't bat an eye-lid, some people cheer, others think it's a pathetic display of aggressive (and often mistakenly labelled as 'masculine') behaviour. It is an exmaple of how the ethos of being a gamer is aligning itself with the ethos of being a jock...and over-conformity to this ethos is causing friction at the real-world social level of gaming.
Battlefield 1942 is another example of a 'game' that uses the combat simulator ethic. It is a successful game in spite of this because it has an element of fun with regards to vehicles, parachuting, diversity of play etc and it is not overly commited to the reality of combat. It too suffers from over emphasis on run'n'gunning ability and familiarity with FPSs of modern times (laying prone, crawling, using cover etc), but just the process of playing it can be fun.
FarCry, as far as I can tell, is no game. It's quite a plain combat simulator. To pick up and play the game for twenty minutes or so may not even result in any accomplishment, nor any fun. There is no association of their being pleasure in just 'playing the game'. The only way to experience any form of pleasure is through the gratification of completing some goal.
It's biggest downfall is that it's too commited to reality, and the reality of jungle combat has never been 'fun'. NO one joins the army for 'fun', for something to do with some mates on the weekend, like kicking a football around playing marks up or something.
In a way, this is why FarCry ends up being so sports-like in it's method of appeasing the audience. It can't come up with something 'fun' to do in the army or in the reality of combat, it can only come up with methods of giving the player some form of 'distinction' to make the player feel good.
Overall, it's not necessarily a bad design, it's a design choice and clearly it has it's market. But there are many games mimicking this kind of 'game design ethic'. This ethic being such that we are trying to approximate as close as possible, realistic combat. Is this ethic a good one, should games be simluations if thats what the current market is paying for, or is there more to the gaming (mostly pc gaming) market? However, if we want to broaden games beyond simply using objective based means for entertainment, then we better start doing some thinking about what games really are, and how we can make games more social within a more 'pleasure and participation' focus.
Anyway, what do other people think about this? I'm not being overly clear at the moment because it's difficulat to explain, but I feel like sharing, so sucked in.