In contrast to Far Cry 2, which was incomprehensible and incoherent, Far Cry 3 got a strong writing with a neat dubbing and an actor play that gave us some cult quotes. This game that is considered as exemplary in many ways (by me).
The intro alone draws the player in three minutes and half into a Far Cry 3 condensed, through an aesthetic of rupture, a canvas of paradigmatic references to the player’s inner culture, and an implied meta discourse that tells the player in what game he is.
This article has few spoilers (no).
Here’s the scenario of the opening that I wrote down if it can help for the commentary.
Disclaimer : I wrote it afterwards. Theorically, a scenarist doesn’t have to be that precise on so many indications, the director is the one who have to chose the cut and actor’s play. For Far Cry 3, Vaas is played by Michael Mando, and probably the scenario was less directive on paper. However, when there is no director or actor, there must be a lot of details so the downstream works have all the necessary information for the realization.
Grant: Uh, to my brother Riley for getting his pilot’s license! Where the hell is that motherfucker?
Fade in, day out : exotic beach, exotic music, Jason’s friends except Riley. Everyone raise their glass and toast.
Oliver: To my father’s black card and my black card! Whooo!
Quick montage showing portraits of characters with their face: Grant, Riley, Liza, Oliver, Daisy, Keith.
Keith: God! I haven’t done sambuca since I was twety years old!
Holiday montage on the music of Paper Plane by M.I.A.
I won’t write down each plan, that would be tiedous.
End of the music. Crickets. Far cries.
Vaas (off, talks fast, strong accent): You boy think you’re crazy, hu ?
Traveling back, dramatic music, video player, smartphone. Night out. The hand holding the phone makes the screen snake. Bamboo cage, guard, another cage.
Vaas (off): Huh? Jumping out of airplanes, (whispering) flying like birds?
The hand pulls out the cage. Vaas appears, amused, his face enlightened by the cold light of the phone.
Vaas: Fuck, that is crazy.
Vaas: I like this phone.
To Jason, looking at the camera.
Vaas: This is a nice fucking phone.
He puts the phone in his pocket and look at two ID cards.
Vaas: So, what do we have here? Grant (whistling while the camera looks to Grant) and Jason from California, huh? Hu? Well, I hope your mama and your papa really really love you, because you two white boys look very expensive. And that’s good because I like expensive things.
Grant mumbles something. Music intensifies.
Vaas: I’m sorry, what did you say? what did you say? (shouts) Did you want me to slice you open like I did your friend? Shut the fuck up, okay? I’m the one with the fucking dick! (hostile, without shouting) Look at me. Look me in the fucking eye. (shouts) Hey! You fuck! Look me in the eye! (no shouting) You’re my bitch. I rule this fucking kingdom. Shut the fuck up. Or you die.
Vaas looks at the camera and get closer.
Vaas: What is it, Jason? Jason, what is it? Why aren’t you laughing now like you did up there? What, is this not fun anymore? Have I failed to entertain you? You see, the thing is, up there, you thought you had a chance way up in the fucking skies you though you had your finger on the pussy trigger. But hermano, down here, down here? (picks up sand and let it rain down) You hit the ground. (laughter) It’s okay. I’m gonna chill. I’m gonna relax because you, moi (whistling) and your tough guy brother, we are going to have a lot of fun together while we wait for the money.
A silhouette appears in the forest.
Hoyt (strong accent): Vaas. Stop scaring the hostages. I need you to take care of the rejects.
Vaas (getting up): I just hope that you two pieces of fucks are more entertaining than your friends. Ta-ta! Bye-bye! (He tries to catch the guard’s dick.) Gets you every fucking time man.
Follows the first death, and the beginning of the tutorial, where Jason the little white boy will have to learn how to kill to survive. By the way, I realize the english version of this opening is way clearer that the french version, that I studied first, in every aspects I will light up in this article. You can count everything I will say here as double!
The structure of the sequence is pretty obvious : from a gang of young rich guys partying in an exotic island for the graduation of the little brother Riley, we come to sequestration, threats, incoherent tirades, murder. This scene is even commented by Vaas, and could be summarized with this one sentence : "you hit the ground".
I propose a linear commentary, in two parts, just as the scene suggests. This is a long post for and Internet blog so feel free to pick what really interests you right now.
From a teen movie to Apocalypse Now in 3 minutes and 30 seconds
Tropical animals, blue sky, azure sea, extreme sports, clubs… And a certain number of gameplay extracts. You just bought the game, and there you have a trailer, an advertising, something idealized and that sounds wrong while being aggressive with its sound effects, garish colors, and frenzied editing. Holidays on the beach, or brainwashing in a movie theater ?
Jason, landlubber argonaut
Note the portrait of Jason, one of the few moments we can see his face. This is a particularly well-thunk character for different reasons. As he must carry the story, so the transformation he will have to suffer - because of this scene - Jason will have to get from a teen movie hero to a war movie one. Just like a silent character such as Link or John 117, almost not having a face makes him malleable. The player can project more easily his feelings on him. When Jason says : "I’ve never killed anyone" or "I’m invincible", this voice comes from the inside, so the empathy is very efficient. Besides, Jason is named as the explorer, and can do extreme sports, just as a Point Break character: the perfect breeding ground for a Rambo.
Jason, even if he’s the main character of an FPS, has a voice and a personality, such as a way of moving that makes us think less about the golf cart of a D00M or a Halo than the pukator of a Hardcore Henry. Jason carries the camera in the way that horror movies do since Cloverfield, such as Rec, where the cameraman is a character. Then, the teen movie teaser we are watching have some horror movie and disaster movie factors. But in an FPS, the player has to be able te defend himself. Teen movie, horror movie, disaster movie, then war movie : Vaas isn’t even there yet, and the game is drawing out the player’s inner culture to ring discomfort and stimulate aggressiveness.
That teen movie smells good napalm
During the video, a cute reference to Titanic, with Jason on the top of a wreck, sound like an omen to the player that knows what game he is playing: the hero will reign in the sinking "kingdom" of Vaas. We can hear gunshots and cash registers, in reference to the famous kalashnikov scene in Lord of War: in this game, you kill for money - and we know those characters are wealthy because they toast to their black card. A quick fight in a bar makes us think about that last Jackie Chan we watched, and a middle finger fuck from a young girl, that could looks cute in a way, looks a bit disturbing in this holidayish ambiance considering girls are still a symbol of innocence in out collective unconscious.
To all this, we can add that the first sentence of the whole game sets, in some ways in medias res, the main stake of the story : « my brother Riley(…)! Where the hell is that motherfucker? » Riley will bring a huge reference to Apocalypse Now with him at the end of the game.
Vaas provides a merciless answer to our question: you think you live in a movie. You’re dreaming. Your life is an advertising. He shows the montage to us. He brings us back to reality. Sequence plan, discreet, dramatic music, almost no other extradiegetic effect. The tone is set right away : Far Cry 3 is reality. The sweet cinematographic dream ends, and there comes Vaas, who is scary for deeper, more obscure reasons and thus, hard to control.
The revenge of the lower-class
What’s the first thing Vaas do? He compliments you about your phone, with a mocking air, and then steals it from you, looking you right in the eyes. Then he infantilizes you, treats you as a "white boy", rich and privileged. He wants your money.
Vaas is childish, unpredictable, hostile, alternates shouting with whispering, illustrating his way of ambushing you in the jungle like a tiger (to master the dramatic effects, the developers were cautious about keeping threatening characters out of the gameplay apart from the QTE and cutscenes ; they are thus invincible until the scenario let you kill them. This procedure is pretty cheap, but yeah, it works.) After the robbery, he is threatens you with death, his whistlings remind bullets and bombs, and harass you sexually. Vaas is a dom, he « has the dick », he will get fun with you, he will « slice you open ». He even tries to catch the guard’s dick. His clothes let us see his body more than the other character one’s, except for Buck, who will reveal himself as a rapist, a tormentor and maybe even a cannibal. A quick Freudian reading of the storyline would be enough to read an extended metaphor of the quest for virility.
Vaas is of an unidentifiable ethnic origin, but you can tell he is not white. Mulatto, half-breed, he wakes up the Lovecraftian anguish of these unknown peoples venerating Cthulhu and other occult powers. He is an alien, ignores to the reassuring concept of race, but is racist himself in some extent, with the well-known "anti-white racism".
As if that was not enough, Vaas is also a dangerous leftist: makeup, punk hair, red color code, rangers, he even speaks Cuban, he is no longer faithful to his people but only to the highest bidder, and he holds you as a hostage, you, the rich little rich white boy who has not asked for anything, in order to take your money.
Do you get it? Vaas wakes up your fear of the gangsta and the punk who drove you to vote Republican.
This isn’t an ideological question. The game makes you a little whitey, vulnerable and innocent, draining those sociocultural codes from your unconscious, that you absorbed either you wanted it or not. Your mission, as a player, will be to show to Vaas that you are not that beautiful little snowflake, but an alter ego. Simultaneously with this intimate fear, Vaas imposes on you a metafictional face-to-face.
The priviledged interlocutor
Finally, a simple, direct reference gives to Vaas a clear diegetic role: "Why aren’t you laughing now like you did up there? What, is this not fun anymore? Have I failed to entertain you?" Vaas is here to keep you entertained. Why so serious, Jason? Vaas is the Joker. The challenger, the rebel that will force the hero to act and put things back in order. He is an alter ego of the player such as the Joker is the alter ego of Batman: he is what the hero could be, the deforming mirror that reveals the possibility to fall into the dark side. The storyline insists heavily on that point, making it one of the main stakes, and justifying the almost psychopathologic gameplay that makes the game so orgasmic.
Nota bene: the topos of the Joker existed before Batman - I’m thinking about Lancelot, the failed version of Arthur, or Panurge, as sophistic and evil as Pantagruel is philosophical and good. But, the Joker - everybody know him. And the Joker is the right person to interrogate the fictional process in itself.
As a Joker of Jason, Vaas shows a smug trailer, and then promises you that you will "have a lot of fun" with him, which, well, is true, on a metafictional sense. (I can’t speak about Vaas being a Joker without speaking about a later part of the game, which also shows you the fact that, in this opening, there is pretty much all the game already.) His wondering about insanity, which he personifies such as the scar on his head suggests (almost the same one as Dennis, Jason’s mentor, what a coincidence!), doesn’t only makes him threatening because he is crazy or represents the possibility for Jason to go crazy too ("You’re crazy, J! - I learned from the best!" did you catch it?), but because, even if he keeps killing Jason, Jason always come back, and Vaas doesn’t understand how. That's explainable in the intradiegetic storyline of course, but it can have a metafictional sense too. Still not Undertale but we’re getting there.
Thus, Vaas is disturbing because we subodore he subodore being a fictionnal character, and when he looks Jason, he looks at player. When he dies, he whispers, in an allusive way, "We got fucked, Jason".
In conclusion, what makes this opening sequence so great ?
Far Cry 3 opening, in a very short time, stacks an incredible amount of cultural references from the player’s environment that will build a whole scenery - not on screen, but directly in the player’s mind, all this even before Vaas is here.
The aesthetic of the rupture then is endorsed by Vaas during a sequence plan that catches you off. Vaas offers a performance made of tone breaking and continues to build a subtle feeling of violence way before the first gunshot. The first death, that follows that opening, have a huge impact because of this cautious setting. Then, violence will only grow.
Jason, as a character, is made as a whole for the most direct emotional transfer between the game and the player.
Finally, the opening concentrates all this in the Vaas’ figure, who carries the whole threat, so you could believe he is the jungle himself. He absorbs absolutely everything, including Jason whose mission is to escape from the island : he shows the only occurrence of your face on the phone, and then puts it in his pocket. Done: you’re in his cage, physically and spiritually, just like he was a voodoo warlock. The worst thing is, Vaas isn’t even the boss, such as the opening suggests.
Density, originality, structure, set up, symbolics, everything is in the right place to give you a very intense set up, a discourse that explains that this will be a great game and, the game, still to come.