Connect with us
Far Cry 3 Far Cry 3

Games

What Makes ‘Far Cry 3’s Vaas Such a Compelling Character?

Published

on

Please note, this article includes spoilers for Far Cry 3’s story and main characters

Few characters in modern gaming have embedded themselves in the minds of players quite so deeply as Vaas Montenegro.

Though technically not Far Cry 3’s primary antagonist, it’s his unsettling visage that players see staring back at them on the game’s box art – not protagonist Jason Brody or big bad Hoyt Volker. The pre-launch marketing campaign was dominated by Rook Island’s unhinged yet undeniably charismatic pirate leader, complete with a series of short sketches featuring Superbad actor Christopher Mintz-Plasse.

Pinning down exactly why Vaas is so engaging, however, isn’t as simple as pointing to his ‘definition of insanity’ monologue or any of his other most quotable moments. While the aforementioned scene certainly makes for compelling viewing, his true quality emerges over the course of the entire game, as we come to learn that his fundamentally unstable temperament, manifested in frequent incidents of shocking brutality and capriciousness, mask a well-rounded and, at times, genuinely sympathetic character.

Portraying mental illness accurately in popular media isn’t an easy task, especially where psychopathy is concerned. All too often, in their efforts to make an unpredictable, insidious character that frightens, repels, or unsettles the audience with their erratic behaviour, filmmakers and game designers stray into the territory of caricature. Producing the kind of stereotypically aggressive lunatics whose actions suggest extreme violence is a natural consequence of psychological trauma; an inaccurate and unhelpful view of the raft of mental illnesses that effect such a vast percentage of the world’s population.

Yet individuals whose violent tendencies arise as a direct result of a psychological disorder, or, in the case of medically diagnosed psychopaths, the ability to deactivate their ‘empathy switch’ at will, do exist, and have formed the basis of some of cinema and gaming’s most memorable characters: take Hannibal Lecter, for example, or Grand Theft Auto V’s Trevor Philips. Though it’s extremely rare for someone with a mental illness to act in this way, I hasten to add, and those who do struggle with mental illness are actually far more likely to be the victims, not the perpetrators of, violent crime.

Anyway, the trick to creating this kind of psychopathic character is to portray a complete individual, instead of focusing on this single aspect of their personality, balancing instances of chilling brutality with at least a few brief moments of something more relatable: internal conflict, joy, indecision, remorse, humor, etc. And Ubisoft managed to do just that with Vaas.

Yes, he is capable of sudden violence and shocking cruelty. In fact, one of the main reasons why he’s such a compelling character is this very unpredictability; not so much for the acts themselves, but because it keeps the player guessing as to how Jason’s next encounter with Vaas will play out. I mean, at the very start of the game, in the space of a few minutes, we see him: rail maniacally at Jason and Grant Brody; ruthlessly execute four other hostages whose families are too poor to pay for their release; murder Grant in cold blood as he and Jason attempt to escape the compound; and hunt Jason through the surrounding jungle, seemingly deciding on a whim to give him a head start and thus a sporting chance at survival.

But, to return to the point at hand, while violence is certainly a fundamental part of his character, he exhibits moments of clarity and vulnerability too.

His famous ‘definition of insanity’ soliloquy, for instance, paraphrased in his own inimitable style, shows a clear understanding of the words. He’s not simply parroting a famous aphorism he once heard from a superior intellect. Moreover, the fact that he killed the man who taught him the saying, believing he was trying to “bullshit” Vaas only to realize the truth contained in these words, suggests he is a thoughtful, introspective person, capable of reasoning and clear thinking. The regret he expresses to Jason for this particular murder, shortly before dropping him off a cliff with a cinder block tied around his ankles, admittedly, implies he’s aware of his condition. But like so many suffering from mental health issues, recognizing the problem and coping with or treating it, especially without the help of trained professionals, are two very different things.

Indeed, as we progress through the game and learn more about his sister (Citra), Hoyt, and the political and social climate of the Rook Islands as a whole, it becomes increasingly clear that Vaas is severely ill, rather than someone who’s fundamentally evil or consciously sadistic. And, eventually, we discover who and what it was that first precipitated and later exacerbated his condition.

The two main culprits are unquestionably Citra and Hoyt, as I alluded to above, however, it’s difficult to say which has had a greater negative impact on Vaas. His drug addiction, facilitated by the introduction of narcotics to the island some years prior by Hoyt, has undoubtedly aggravated his illness. While it wasn’t until Hoyt arrived that Vaas started participating in human trafficking, drug running, slavery, and calculated murder; exposing him to violence on a far wider scale than ever before and further eroding his ability to empathize with others as a direct consequence.

And yet, it’s not as if Vaas was a stranger to murder prior to working for Hoyt, or that his psychological problems began with their first encounter. It’s clear from events on screen and via various references throughout the story that Citra, though the younger of the two siblings, has been a tremendously bad influence on Vaas over the years.

We’re told the first murder he committed was on the orders of his sister, for instance – who herself exhibits an unhealthy, even dangerous fixation on Rakyat mythology. Although the exact details are never discussed, it’s telling that the first person he killed wasn’t of his own volition; a sudden, irrepressible urge, formulated in his troubled mind, to lash out at another human being. It was to please his beloved sister who, as we learn during the scene in which he attempts to burn Jason and Liza alive, was at one time the most important person in the world to Vaas, with his affection for her bordering on obsession.

That and the events at the climax of the story – when (SPOILERS) with his friends tied up and utterly defenceless, Citra asks Jason to choose, quite literally, between cutting all ties with his former life and remaining with her on the Islands or returning home with his loved ones – reveal her substantial powers of manipulation and influence on the men around her.

Jason’s only known her for a brief time, yet even so, he seriously considers (EVEN MORE SPOILERS) murdering his friends to prove his devotion to Citra. So we can safely assume the effect of this prolonged psychological abuse on Vaas, over a period of years, would have been far greater. Perhaps, then, we can view his drug addiction as a form of self-medication; an attempt to forget the memories of the horrendous deeds he’s committed to Citra’s name, the pressures of life in the warrior society she so fervently cultivates, and, worst of all, the knowledge that she cares more about re-establishing the ancient traditions/supremacy of the Rakyat than his well-being.

If we take this one step further, it doesn’t take a great leap of the imagination to see Vaas as something of a victim. A product of the conflict between Hoyt and Citra, and the violent, unstable environment of Rakyat society at a time when the inhabitants of the Rook Islands are struggling to reconcile their ancient, heavily ritualized past with the demands of the modern world.

Maybe I’m giving Ubisoft more credit than it deserves, but I like to think it’s this inner conflict and uncertainty that prevents Vaas from killing Jason. It isn’t that he has a taste for the theatrical or is hindered by the same inbred ineptitude that’s confounded countless Bond villains over the last half century; it’s not even a manifestation of his unpredictable, impulsive nature. Rather, it’s because, in Jason, he sees someone capable of bringing down Hoyt’s criminal empire and Citra’s jingoistic religious society (something he can’t bring himself to do because of the potent residual love he still feels for her). A kindred spirit, in some ways, who may just be able to put him out of his misery once and for all.

So Vaas leaves the door slightly ajar for Jason time and time again; not enough to raise suspicions or alert his conscious mind to his growing desire for an escape from his own personal hell, but just enough to give Jason another chance at completing his mission.

I don’t think this theory is quite as far-fetched as it sounds, regardless of whether or not it’s correct. Consider their final, climactic confrontation. It isn’t portrayed as a glorious moment of triumph during which the virtuous hero defeats the evil villain, but a trippy, confusing, frenzied brawl that ends with Vaas almost willing Jason to kill him.

Be that as it may, it’d be wrong to argue the tragic factors that shaped Vaas and the quasi-suicidal nature of his eventual demise exonerate him from the countless acts of abhorrent violence he’s committed in the past or excuse his participation in the operation of Hoyt’s criminal enterprise. Nevertheless, these aspects of his character – coupled with an absolutely fantastic performance from actor Michael Mando, I should add – inject the character with a large dose of pathos, allowing the player to actually sympathize with, and even understand, someone who is outwardly terrifying and seemingly unfathomable.

For this reason, and the various others mentioned over the course of this article, I chose to refer to Vaas as a character, not a villain, in the title. It’s a far less constrictive term for someone who is abundantly more complex than he might seem at first sight. He’s not a one-trick pony whose only function is to provide an entertaining obstacle for the hero to overcome. An emotionless target for our hatred and disgust. A person we couldn’t possibly relate to on any level. He’s a well-rounded character in his own right, with a tragic past that influences and explains his present goals, motivations, and actions.

And if Far Cry 5’s main antagonist, father Joseph Seed, can capture even an ounce of Vaas’s utterly compelling character and unique personality, we’re in for one hell of a ride when the game finally releases in a few days’ time.

Counting Final Fantasy VII, The Last of Us, the original Mass Effect trilogy, and The Witcher 3 amongst his favourite games, John enjoys anything that promises to take up an absurdly large amount of his free time. When he’s not gaming, chances are you’ll find him engrossed in a science fiction or fantasy novel; basically, John’s happiest when his attention is as far from the real world as possible.

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Anion

    November 28, 2019 at 8:47 am

    Too bad Seed–and Far Cry 5–sucked. FC3 and Vaas = still the best!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Advertisement

Games

Most Important Games of the Decade: ‘Dark Souls’

Despite the difficulty and learning curve, gamers are still flocking to the Dark Souls series, and the genre it spawned, in massive numbers.

Published

on

Dark Souls Remastered Review Nintendo Switch

Over the course of the last decade a lot of games have made large and influential impacts on the medium of gaming but few have done so as significantly or triumphantly as Dark Souls

The pseudo-sequel to Demon’s Souls, Dark Souls took the framework of the original title and altered it considerably. Gone were the many individual stages and hub area, replaced by a massive open world that continuously unfolded, via shortcuts and environmental changes, like a massive metroidvania style map. 

Dark Souls also doubled down on nearly every aspect of the original. The lore and world-building were elaborated on considerably, making the land of Lordran feel more lived in and expansive. An entire backstory for the game, one that went back thousands of years, was created and unfolded through small environmental details and item descriptions. 

Dark-Souls-Remastered-Darkroot-Garden

The bosses were bigger, meaner and more challenging, with some of them ranking right up there with the best of all time. Even standard enemies seemed to grow more deadly as the game went on, with many of them actually being bosses you’d faced at an earlier time in the game. Tiny details like this didn’t just make the player feel more powerful, they added to the outright scale of the entire game.

Still, if we’re here to talk about the biggest influence Dark Souls had on the gaming world, we have to talk about the online system. While the abilities to write messages and summon help were available in Demon’s Souls, Dark Souls improved on and enhanced these features to the point where they changed the game considerably. 

The wider player base made the online components work more consistently as well. Rarely were players left standing around for 15-20 minutes waiting to summon or be summoned for a boss fight. There were more messages on the ground to lead (or mislead) players, and the animated spirits of dead players warned of the hundreds of ways you might die while playing through the game. 

Dark Souls

The addictive nature of the game and its rewarding gameplay loop would lead to the establishment of the Souls-like genre. Like with metroidvania, there are few compliments a game can receive that are as rewarding as having an entire genre named for them.

Since 2011, the year of Dark Souls’ release, dozens of Souls-likes have emerged from the ether, each with their own little tweaks on the formula. Salt and Sanctuary went 2D,The Surge added a sci-fi angle, and Nioh went for a feudal Japanese aesthetic, to name just a few. 

Either way, Dark Souls’ influence has been long felt in the gaming industry ever since. Despite the hardcore difficulty and intense learning curve, gamers are still flocking to the series, and the genre it spawned, in massive numbers. For this reason alone, Dark Souls will live on forever in the annals of gaming history. 

Continue Reading

Game Reviews

‘Riverbond’ Review: Colorful Hack’n’Slash Chaos

Published

on

Sometimes a little bit of mindless smashing is just what people play video games for, and if some light sword-swinging, spear-stabbing, laser-shooting giant hand-slapping action that crumbles a destructible world into tiny blocks sounds like a pleasant way to spend a few hours, then Riverbond might just satisfy that urge. Though its short campaign can get a little repetitive by the end, colorful voxel levels and quirky characters generally make this rampaging romp a button-mashing good time, especially if you bring along a few friends.

Riverbond grass

There really isn’t much of a story here outside something about some mystical leaders being imprisoned by a knight, and Riverbond lets players choose from its eight levels in Mega Man fashion, so don’t go in expecting some sort of narrative thread. Instead, each land has its own mini-situation going on, whether that involves eradicating some hostile pig warriors or reading library books or freeing numerous rabbit villagers scattered about, the narrative motivation is pretty light here. That doesn’t mean that these stages don’t each have their various charms, however, as several punnily named NPCs will blurt out humorous bits of dialogue that work well as breezy pit stops between all the cubic carnage.

Developer Cococucumber has also wisely created plenty of visual variety for their fantastical world, as players will find their polygonal hero traversing the lush greenery of grassy plains, the wooden piers of a ship’s dockyard, the surrounding battlements of a medieval castle, and the craggy outcroppings of a snowy mountain, among other locations, each with a distinct theme. Many of the trees or bridges or crates or whatever else happens to be lying around are completely destructible, able to be razed to the ground with enough brute force. Occasionally the physics involved in these crumbling structures helps gain access to jewels or other loot, but this mechanic mostly just their for the visual appeal one gets from cascading blocks; Riverbond isn’t exactly deep in its design.

Riverbond boss

That shallowness also applies to the basic gameplay, which pretty much involves hacking or shooting enemies and environments to pieces, activating whatever task happens to be the main goal for each sub-stage, then moving on or scouring around a bit for treasure before finally arriving at a boss. Though there are plenty of different weapons to find, they generally fall into only a few categories: small swinging implements that allow for quick slashes, large swinging implements that are slow but deal heavier damage, spears that offer quick jabs, or guns that…shoot stuff. There are some variations among these in speed, power, and possible side effects (a gun that fired electricity is somewhat weak, but sticks to opponents and gives off an extra, devastating burst), but once an agreeable weapon is found, there is little reason to give it up outside experimentation.

Still, there is a rhythmic pleasure to be found in games like this when they are done right, and Riverbond mostly comes through with tight controls, hummable tunes, and twisting levels that do a good job of mixing in some verticality to mask the repetitiveness. It’s easy for up to four players to get in on the dungeon-crawling-like pixelated slaughter, and the amount of blocks exploding onscreen can make for some fun and frenzied fireworks, especially when whomping on one of the game’s giant bosses. A plethora of skins for the hero are also discoverable, with at least one or two tucked away in locations both obvious and less so around each sub-stage. These goofy characters exist purely for aesthetic reasons, but those who prefer wiping out legions of enemies dressed as Shovel Knight or a sentient watermelon slice will be able to fulfill that fantasy.

Riverbond bears

By the end, the repetitive fights and quests can make Rivebond feel a little same-y, but the experience wraps up quickly without dragging things out. This may disappoint players looking for a more involved adventure, but those who sometimes find relaxation by going on autopilot — especially with some buddies on the couch — will appreciate how well the block-smashing basics are done here.

Continue Reading

Game Reviews

‘Earthnight’ Review: Hit the Dragon Running

Between its lush visuals and its constantly evolving gameplay, Earthnight never gets old, from the first dragon you slay to the hundredth.

Published

on

Earthnight

In Earthnight, you do one thing: run. There’s not much more to do in this roguelike auto-runner but to dash across the backs of massive dragons to reach their heads and strike them down. This may be an extremely simple gameplay loop, but Earthnight pulls it off with such elegance and style. Between its lush comic book visuals and its constantly evolving gameplay, it creates an experience that never gets old, from the first dragon you slay to the hundredth.

Dragons have descended from space and are wreaking havoc upon humanity. No one is powerful enough to take them down – except for the two-player characters, Sydney and Stanley, of course. As the chosen ones to save the human race, they must board a spaceship and drop from the heavens while slaying as many dragons on your way down as they can. For every defeated creature, they’ll be rewarded with water – an extremely precious resource in the wake of the dragon apocalypse. This resource can be exchanged for upgrades that make the next run that much better.

This simple story forms the basis for a similarly basic, yet engaging gameplay loop. Each time you dive from your spaceship, you’ll see an assortment of dragons to land on. Once you make a landing, you’ll dash across its back and avoid the obstacles it throws at you before reaching its head, where you’ll strike the final blow. Earthnight is procedurally generated, so every time you leap down from your home base, there’s a different set of dragons to face, making each run feel unique. There are often special rewards for hunting specific breeds of dragon, so it’s always exciting to see the new set of creatures before you and hunt for the one you need at any given moment.

“[Earthnight is] an acrobatic, dragon-hunting ballet that only becomes more beautifully extravagant with every run.”

Earthnight

Landing on the dragons is only the first step to slaying them. Entire hordes of monsters live on their backs, and in true auto-runner fashion, they’ll rush at you with reckless abandon from the very start. During the game’s first few runs, the onrush of enemies can feel overwhelming. Massive crowds of them will burst forth at once, and it can feel impossible to survive their onslaughts. However, this is where Earthnight begins to truly shine. The more dragons you slay, the more upgrade items become available, which are either given as rewards for slaying specific dragons or can be purchased with the water you’ve gained in each run. Many of these feel essentially vital for progression – some allow you to kill certain enemies just by touching them, whereas others can grant you an additional jump, both of which are much appreciated in the utter chaos of obstacles found on each dragon.

Procedural generation can often result in bland or repetitive level design, but it’s this item progression system that keeps Earthnight from ever feeling dry. It creates a constant sense of improvement: with more items in your arsenal after each new defeated dragon, you’ll be able to descend even further in the next run. This makes every level that much more exciting: with more power under your belt, there are greater possibilities for defeating enemies, stacking up combos, or climbing high above the dragons. It becomes an acrobatic, dragon-hunting ballet that only becomes more beautifully extravagant with every run.

Earthnight

At its very best, Earthnight feels like a rhythm game. With the perfect upgrades for each level, it becomes only natural to bounce off of enemies’ heads and soar through the heavens with an almost musical flow. The vibrant chiptune soundtrack certainly helps with this. Packed full of driving beats and memorable melodies with a mixture of chiptune and modern instrumentation, the music makes it easy to charge forward through whatever each level will throw your way.

That is not to say that Earthnight never feels too chaotic for its own good – rather, there are some points where its flood of enemies and obstacles can feel too random or overwhelming, to the point where it can be hard to keep track of your character or feel as if it’s impossible to avoid enemies. Sometimes the game can’t even keep up with itself, with the performance beginning to chug once enemies crowd the screen too much, at least in the Switch version. However, this is the exception, rather than the rule, and for the most part, simply making good use of its upgrades and reacting quickly to the challenges before you will serve you well in your dragon-slaying quest.

Earthnight

Earthnight is a race that’s worth running time and time again.”

It certainly helps that Earthnight is a visual treat as well. It adopts a striking comic book style, in which nearly every frame of animation is lovingly hand-drawn and loaded with detail. Sometimes these details feel a bit excessive – some characters are almost grotesquely detailed, with the faces of the bobble-headed protagonists sometimes seeming too elaborate for comfort. However, in general, it’s a gorgeous game, with its luscious backdrops of deep space and high sky, along with creative monsters and dragon designs that only get more outlandish and spectacular the farther down you soar.

Earthnight is a competent auto-runner that might not revolutionize its genre, but it makes up for this simplicity by elegantly executing its core gameplay loop so that it constantly changes yet remains endlessly addictive. Its excellent visual and audio presentation helps to make it all the more engrossing, while it strikes the perfect balance between randomized level design and permanent progression thanks to its items and upgrades system. At times it may get too chaotic for its own good, but all told, Earthnight is a race that’s worth running time and time again.

Continue Reading
Advertisement
Advertisement

Trending