God, I’ve gotten a lot of posts out of Far Cry 3. I didn’t even play it for that long. I played it on PS3 due to technical difficulties on PC, so I don’t have Steam keeping track of my playtime, but it might’ve been as little as 15 hours (the console controls meant I wasn’t eager to take on many side quests).
Today’s post is about Far Cry 3’s ending. It’s really badly rushed. The entire southern island has exactly one character in it, an infiltrator of the evil mercenary company backing up the evil pirates you fought on the north island. He’s a reasonably fun character, but he doesn’t really have an arc. He just helps you infiltrate the mercenary company alongside him, set up an assassination of the big bad Hoyt, and then Hoyt plays an Uno reverse card and kills him instead. Which is then followed by Hoyt’s two bodyguards inexplicably vanishing so you can have a quick time event knife fight with him, and after that you’re dumped into a room filled with not only a dead Hoyt, but several dead guards. It’s clear that there was supposed to be more to getting you from the point when Sam (the south island’s one character) is killed to the point when you knife fight Hoyt, and they just didn’t have time and money for it, so they clumsily stitched it together with the next complete section of the game, where you rescue your little brother from being taken off the island to some unknown destination.
And the final final mission is so rushed it basically doesn’t exist. Throughout the first half of the game you’ve been saving your friends from Vaas’ pirates one by one. Riley, your little brother, was allegedly killed, so as far as you know all survivors are safe on the north island and ready to flee in a boat they’ve been repairing while you do all the protagonist-y murdering. But Jason Brody, the protagonist, decides to stay (in a cut scene, so it’s not really “you” doing it the way it’s you, the player, doing the murdering) in order to join the Rakyat warriors he’s been fighting alongside and take out Hoyt’s operation on the south island. It’s not framed like Jason just wants to finish the job, either, he’s leaving his old life in America behind to become a Rakyat.
Side note: There’s shades of mighty whitey in all this, where Jason Brody, American upper middle class failson, finds his calling, and that is to be a better Rakyat warrior than any of the natives of Rook Island who grew up in the culture. In fairness to Far Cry 3, though, I don’t really get the impression that the Rakyat are really an indigenous institution. They’ve clearly got connections to the native culture (the name “Rakyat” sure isn’t English), but they also seem like a weird and creepy cult, they’re obsessed with defeating Vaas and Hoyt, and you’re not even the only foreigner to become a prominent Rakyat – your first Rakyat ally Dennis seems to be the most prominent warrior before Jason shows up, and he’s from Liberia. It’s possible that the Rakyat are supposed to be a genuinely indigenous culture of vaguely menacing brown people, but it’s also possible that they’re supposed to be a terrorist cult formed in the wake of trauma inflicted by Hoyt’s mercenaries, one whose historical roots are, as is the case with most nationalist movements, one part aesthetic and two parts delusional.
On the one hand, “native culture who gets taken over by reactionary cult of personality in response to colonialist violence” seems like way too much nuance and depth for Ubisoft writing. On the other hand, nothing in the game oversimplifies to the point where that’s not a plausible interpretation, so the Rakyat actually are a very nuanced and interesting faction, even if I suspect that it happened by blind luck rather than deliberate story decisions.
But regardless, that’s the setup of the game going into the final mission: You make friends with the Rakyat while saving your friends on the north island, you decide to remain with the Rakyat and let your friends leave without you to head to the south island, and while on the south island you learn that your little brother Riley is actually alive and resolve to save him, much to the dismay of Citra, the Rakyat’s high priestess spiritual leader lady.
After the final mission to save Riley, you learn that the safehouse where you’d been keeping your friends has been attacked by the Rakyat, who have kidnapped your friends to bring them to Citra’s temple. She doses you up on some hallucinogens and you walk down a trippy drug road until you are confronted with the choice to either murder your friends to become king of the island or free them and go home to California. If you free them, then Citra is dismayed, Dennis (the only named Rakyat warrior, who’s been simping hard for Citra the whole game) tries to stab you, and Citra jumps in front of the knife. Dennis is dismayed at what he’s done, and you and your friends just leave. None of the other Rakyat bother to try and stop you. Jason has a line about “no more violence” while refusing to murder his friends, so I think this is supposed to be about Jason either embracing or rejecting the violence he used to save his friends.
If that’s the theme Far Cry 3 wanted to carry, though, this was a really bad way to do it. For starters, the Rakyat, who drive around with assault rifles all the time and have loomed menacingly in the background of Citra’s temple in the past, are now a total non-factor. They kidnapped your friends on Citra’s orders, and then Dennis accidentally kills Citra and apparently the rest of the Rakyat decides that’s the end of that, then, and head off to find a corner to T-pose in. This is super convenient for Jason, who’s just resolved not to do anymore violence, a resolution he would have to break with embarrassing speed if the Rakyat made any effort to oppose him.
This is supposed to be the culmination of an arc of Jason getting steadily more violent during his time on the island, but the ending jumps ahead several steps. The violence you’ve conducted so far has been purely in defense of first yourself, later your friends and family, and finally your allies the Rakyat. You’re committing violence to protect steadily more distant connections, but at no point is anything you do particularly morally questionable. At no point do you choose violence instead of some other, more morally defensible option. There is the time you decide not to leave with your friends on that boat (they stick around after that, but it doesn’t seem like it’s because they’re waiting for you to change your mind, more like the finishing touches on the boat conveniently last for the entire second half of the game), but you’re staying behind to kill the leader of the mercenaries menacing the Rook Islands.
It’s heavily suggested that Jason is doing this to avenge his two dead brothers (one of whom turns out to be alive still), but he’s never confronted with a choice between helping the Rakyat or committing yet more violence on the mercenaries, so Jason never actually has to commit to vengeance over the equally valid motivation of helping his allies liberate their homeland from a brutal military occupation. The closest thing to an act of unjustified violence Jason ever commits is when he has to torture Riley to maintain his cover as a mercenary, and he did that with a gun to his head. Sam has to talk Jason down from breaking Riley out immediately. This is an unsettling scene, but it doesn’t suggest that Jason is going mad from the carnage.
See, there’s a difference here that I don’t think the game understands between having the ability to choose between violence and other means of resolution and becoming so consumed by violence that you lose the ability to solve problems in other ways. The game seems to think that the only two possible states are “I don’t have the heart to hurt my little brother, even if it’s necessary to keep him safe in the long run” and “I don’t have the discipline and compassion to not hurt my little brother,” and therefore Jason being compelled to torture Riley automatically means he’s on the brink of killing all his friends in a fit of psychedelic rage. But Jason is very clearly depicted as not beating Riley out of savage anger, but out of absolute necessity (and the game dialogue is really clear that it is absolute necessity, not convenience, that pushes Jason to choose this option), because a psychopath is watching and will kill them both if he figures out who Jason really is.
I think the ending of rejecting violence is potentially really compelling, but the way the game presents it as “push the red button to be a homicidal psychopath for no reason” drops the ball on it. Anyone who got that ending on their first try is either an edgy thirteen year old or they did it out of curiosity, because it’s easy to see where the paragon ending is going to go. The solution I’m going to propose here would take extra time and budget because it involves an additional level and two more ending cut scenes than the original game got, and it’s questionable whether making the middle weaker for the sake of an ending that only like 30% of your players see is a good idea, but just to demonstrate how the idea could be done better:
When you get back to the safehouse, it’s actively under attack from the Rakyat, led by Dennis, and your friends are still there. The Rakyat are trying to make off with them, but you free them one after another. The last captive is Liza, your girlfriend, who has been abducted by Dennis. The chase leads out to some point where Dennis can see he’s not going to get away, so he shoots Liza in the gut. She drops to the ground and you can interact with her or run past her to chase Dennis. If you chase after Dennis, you skip straight to attacking the Rakyat temple, which we’ll get to later. If you stop and talk to Liza, she tells you to leave the island, Jason promises to avenge her, and she stresses that no, she wants him to leave right now. Jason promises they’ll leave together, but Liza dies in his arms, because you don’t come back from a point-blank gunshot wound to the stomach. If you chase after Dennis after this, you again go to the Rakyat temple assault. You can instead return to your friends at the boat with Liza’s body to leave the island. The game can give objective markers for both to make it clear there’s a choice to be made here (this has never been the case before, so it’s important to signpost it strongly), and we can handle the retrieval of the body by having Jason exit the dying conversation on the side of the body closer to Dennis, so if he turns around to pursue Dennis, he’ll leave Liza’s body behind. If he heads back towards the boat, the player will cross over the body, and Jason will pick it up (with an actual animation) automatically.
You speed off in the boat with your surviving friends, not in a cut scene, but with the player actually driving the boat. The Rakyat shoot impotently from the shore, and dialogue from Jason’s friends says stuff like “thank god, I think we’re out of range, we’re home free!” to make it really clear that at this point everyone is safe and you can just leave. One of the objective markers on your map points to the edge of the map. Jason muses that with him, Vaas, and Hoyt all gone, Dennis is going to become king of the island by default, even if Citra never gives him the intimate coronation he’s been simping for. Jason’s friends fall deathly silent – no one wants to tell their violently enraged friend to just keep speeding away to safety. Nobody else was privvy to Liza’s conversation with Jason, nobody else knows that her dying wish was for him to abandon revenge and escape the island, so nobody is going to tell Jason he can’t go back for vengeance. Liza’s connection to the group is through Jason – she’s his girlfriend, that’s why she was on the trip. Telling him to swallow his loss for everyone else’s safety is not exactly an easy sell, and Jason has gotten very dangerous.
The player can choose to speed away regardless, and Jason will conclude his out-loud thoughts on Dennis by saying that Dennis and Citra are lucky he only has one boat and needs to get his friends to safety, lucky that Liza asked him to leave the island, and that segues into the lines we get in the game about how, despite all the things he did on the Rook Islands, there’s still humanity left in him and so on.
If the player directs Jason towards the other objective marker, back towards the island for revenge, Riley asks if this is a good idea, and another friend (I’m thinking Keith, who also has good reasons to be especially murderous, although admittedly that whole plot was stupidly edgy, but fixing that bit isn’t the point of this post) asserts that if Jason wants to return to the island for revenge, then his friends have his back. Some Rakyat confront them at the beach, you kill them, and Jason’s friends arm themselves while Jason tells them to hold the boat while he attacks the temple.
Whether they get here by ignoring Liza’s dying wish on the spot, directing the boat here after bringing her body back, or ignoring her completely while she died, the player is now at the Rakyat temple assault. During the temple assault, the player is locked in by some collapsing tunnel from an RPG or falling through a crumbling floor into a cellar or something. No turning back, in order to keep the number of endings to a minimum, because Jason’s friends are going to fall under attack and then get overrun during the final boss fight with the Rakyat, Dennis, and Citra, and we don’t want to have to make separate endings for if Jason turns back when some but not all of his friends have died.
Jason kills Dennis, but his friends are completely overrun by that point. Citra tells him to take his place as the Rakyat king now that all his connections to his past life are severed. He can accept, in which case Citra tells him he has to kill the Rakyat who killed his friends, who have now returned to the temple to protect Citra. No one can know Jason did not choose to reject his friends of his own volition, that other Rakyat killed them for him.
I add this part in, because the “choose Citra” ending from the original game involves Citra stabbing Jason to death because he’s served his purpose (impregnating Citra with the blood of the most powerful warrior to fight with the Rakyat). It’s not totally clear why she wants Jason dead, but there’s two obvious explanations, the first being that a son’s loyalty to his mother tends to be much stronger than a man’s loyalty to his wife, especially a man who only entered the relationship under traumatic circumstances, and the second being that Jason isn’t ethnically Rakyat so was never suited to be a real king, just to pass his genes onto one. Either way, Citra’s backstab in the ending as it is comes across as the devs wagging their finger at the player for choosing the wrong ending. If you signal very strongly that her apathy to human life extends not just to people she views as enemies or outsiders but to people who are very much in her tribe, then the player can hardly complain when they become the victims of her unhinged power-mongering.
Before or after Citra gives her final command, the player can instead choose to kill her. You still have to mow through some final Rakyat (Citra’s command is whispered, so if the player twigs that she’s untrustworthy and kills her after she tells him to kill the Rakyat, those Rakyat still attack him for killing their high priestess). After the fight, Jason stumbles out into the jungle, bleeding and badly wounded, staggering for some dramatically appropriate amount of time before he collapses. The camera zooms out from the back of his head and into the sky, Jason slowly disappearing beneath the foliage, consumed by the jungle, as the credits roll.
Now, instead of Jason getting to the end of a triple- if not quadruple-digit bodycount all in pursuit of perfectly justified war goals and then deciding “no more violence!” and the universe just instantly accommodates with remaining enemies conveniently getting themselves out of the way without Jason getting his hands dirty, we instead present the player with a choice: Get revenge for your murdered girlfriend, or honor her dying wish to just leave.
The game as it is tries to use the psychedelic rage hallucination at the end to reframe Liza’s expressions of concern over Jason’s descent as angry and unreasonable demands. In their original context and delivery, they weren’t, they were sincere expressions of concern from someone who is very understanding of Jason’s trauma at losing his older (and seemingly also his younger) brother and who quickly agrees to accommodate Jason when he says he needs to grieve on his own. I think this is totally intentional – the angry, demanding version of Liza’s lines are completely different in delivery from the originals, and are caused by a hallucinogen delivered by someone who wants you to pick the evil ending. The problem is that it just doesn’t work. It’s too easy to remember the original delivery of the lines, so far from encouraging me to dislike Liza and maybe do a violence on her, the clumsiness of the manipulation just draws attention to how good a person Liza is (especially since the events of the Rook Islands haven’t exactly been a cakewalk for her, either – there’s no sign she ever suffered serious physical harm, but Vaas still kidnapped her and then tried to burn her alive).
I like my ending better (I mean, obviously I would, but my point here is that there’s a specific reason) because instead of trying to make you dislike Liza despite the fact that she’s done nothing wrong and in fact has behaved very compassionately towards you, specifically, it confronts you with a choice between avenging her death or honoring her dying wish.