Video Games

I Wrote Stuff: Week of March 29

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Hello! Here’s a quick rundown of writing of mine that appeared on other sites last week.

For PC Gamer:

  • My weekly mod column covers Altis Life for Arma 3, a game mode where you assume the life of either a civilian or a police officer on the massive Altis map. As a cop, I ran around with other cops desperately trying to find crime to stop. As a civilian, I bought a car and ran myself over with it. Somehow. That’s me in the above picture, under my own car. I don’t even need enemies or other players in order to hurt myself in games, apparently.
  • My Rust diary wraps up with a long, lonely jaunt around the entire map and a return home to find that my cozy neighborhood has undergone some major changes.

For Rock, Paper Shotgun:

  • In my weekly early-access column, I took a look at Planet Explorers, an ambitious survival slash exploration slash crafting slash building slash multiplayer game. It’s trying to do a lot of different things, and doing most of them pretty well. Best of all are some of the interesting-looking alien dinosaurs.

I don’t think I added to my DayZ tumblr this week, as I didn’t have much time to play. I’m thinking about trying the new experimental branch to check out some of the upcoming changes, though.

Video Games

I Wrote Stuff: Week of March 22

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Hello again! Just a wrap-up of my writing that appeared on other sites last week.

For PC Gamer:

  • In my weekly mod column, I take a look at a Spelunky mod that replaces monsters, items, weapons, music, and other assets with elements from the Metroid series. It’s incredibly well-done. It doesn’t change the gameplay, but you have to relearn which monsters are which so you know which monsters do what. It’s fun!
  • In the second part of my Rust diary, I experience the perils of home ownership, namely, that once you have a home, people know where you live. And they start stopping by. Often, in the middle of the night. Often, to kill you.

For Rock, Paper, Shotgun:

Hey Are You Cool:

  • I added a couple entries on my ongoing DayZ tumblr. I find it interesting that I can spend hours on a full server and never see another player, yet sometimes on a server with only three people on it, we all wind up in the same building at the same time.
Screen Cuisine | Video Games

I Wrote Stuff: Week of March 15th

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Hello! So. I need to do a better job of posting here when I write stuff that appears places other than here. I’m going to try to do a weekly post linking the stuff I’ve written for other sites. This should catch you up to the present day.

For PC Gamer:

  • Also for PC Gamer, I’m currently doing a multi-week diary about the survival crafting game Rust. You can read part one here, in which I vomit on a campfire until I die. Part two will be up this coming Wednesday! I don’t think it will contain vomiting because I learned how to cook.

For Rock, Paper Shotgun:

My DayZ Tumblr:

  • Lately I’ve been keeping a tumblr describing my encounters with other players in the multiplayer survival game DayZ. The encounters can be weird, funny, disturbing, violent, or poignant, and frequently several of those at once. There’s no update schedule; I should probably have one. Right now, I write when I play, and I play when I have time.
Video Games

“Breaking Madden” Is Some Great Games Writing

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Before I direct you to some truly fantastic and hilarious games writing about the Madden video game series, let me spoil today’s Super Bowl for you.

Kris and I played the Super Bowl with Madden for Xbox 360 the other night. Kris played the Broncos, I played the Seahawks. Final score: Broncos 27, Seahawks 21. I fully believe this will be the outcome of today’s Super Bowl.

If our game does correctly predict the real Super Bowl, here are some highlights today’s actual game will include:

  • The game will go into overtime as the result of nobody being able to score in the 4th quarter
  • Four out of five field goals will be missed
  • The winning quarterback will be Tim Tebow (we were playing Madden 2012)
  • The Seahawks will replace their quarterback with their punter for two full quarters before the coach realizes his mistake
  • This mistake will be considerately pointed out by the Bronco’s coach
  • The aforementioned Seahawk punter will throw seven interceptions

I’m pretty sure all of those things will come true.

Anyway, I mainly wanted to point you to some outstanding video game writing about the Madden series. Jon Bois writes a column for SBNation.com, wherein he experiments with the settings of the Madden game with hilarious and interesting results. He’s also a fantastic writer, a skilled video editor, and a magnificent craftsman of animated GIFs. You should read/watch/enjoy this entire series and everything he ever writes from now on.

For instance, he simulates the Super Bowl using a team of seven-foot-tall, 400 pound Seahawks vs. a team of tiny, unskilled Broncos.

He plays a game with an entire offense comprised of Tom Brady clones.

He recreates the unstoppable Bo Jackson from Tecmo Bowl.

He tries to see if Colts punter Pat McAfee can win a game by himself.

Check out his stuff. Even if you don’t like football, you’ll like his columns.

Video Games

Hey, PC Game Reviewers: I Think We Should Take Our Own Screenshots

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I recently reviewed a horror game called Outlast for an upcoming issue of PC Gamer Magazine. While I’ve written for the magazine before, this is the first actual game review I’ve ever done.

Naturally, when reviews of Outlast started popping up online, I wanted to see what other reviewers thought of the game. While looking through the first handful of reviews, I noticed something that didn’t quite sit right. Many of the reviews — about two-thirds of them, in fact — used the same three or four screenshots. These were screenshots given to them by the developer (I got them as well, along with review code) as part of a PR media kit.

Using a developer’s screenshots for a PC game review seems… well, a bit misleading. The reviewer doesn’t know for a fact that these are genuine screenshots. They may have been embellished, or touched up, or Photoshopped, or specially rendered. Presumably, these developer screens have been carefully selected as part of the game’s promotion. Reviews, on the other hand, are not (or should not) serve as promotion. Reviews are an opportunity for a writer to describe his or her specific experience with the game. If a reviewer doesn’t use his or her own screenshots in the review, it seems (to me, at least) that they’re not accurately describing their own personal experience.

[Read more...]

Video Games

The Division: Trailer Breakdown

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This week I watched a few E3 presentations and tweeted annoyingly about them (sorry). For the most part, I saw a lot of vague information about new consoles I have no interest in buying and fancy, glossy, pre-rendered CG trailers for games I have no interest in playing. However, one game trailer caught my eye: Ubisoft’s multi-player third-person action RPG called The Division.

There were actually two trailers for The Division. The first contained the backstory for this Tom Clancy game: apparently, terrorists put some sort of super germs on all our money and on Black Friday, when everyone goes out to buy Christmas presents at two in the morning, they get sick from the terror-germs, which completely destroys the United States. It’s sort of a weird message– don’t go shopping on Black Friday or you’ll die from moneygerms– for a game made for two new game consoles that will probably be sold during Black Friday. Also, people still use cash to buy things? And people still go to stores? If you want to infect us, terrorist, put some germs on Amazon.com’s one-click button.

Anyway. The “everyone is infected” angle led me to initially think: zombie game. Another damn zombie game. Then Ubisoft aired about eight minutes of (what appeared to be) actual gameplay footage, and I found it entirely engrossing. The footage involves the exploits of four co-op human players: Bronson, Megan, Chris, and Nick (whose perspective we are watching from.) You can watch it right here, and I’d suggest doing it on the biggest screen you have, because there’s a lot of detail. Once you’ve seen it, check out my notes below!

[Read more...]

Video Games

Seven Examples of Gunpoint’s Great Design Choices (That Have Nothing to do With Gameplay)

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If you follow me on Twitter, you probably know that when I get bent out of shape about a video game, it’s usually over something minor. Bioshock Infinite, for example, doesn’t allow players to manually save their games, which I groused about at length (well, at a length of 140 characters, at least). Far Cry 3 cluttered my screen with huge reminders to stay on-mission, despite being an open-world game where missions are the last thing I wanted to be doing. (They later patched this out due to gamer complaints.)

It’s not that these little details are game-ruiners, but when something minor is overlooked it makes me wonder if game developers actually ever play games. Like, did it not occur to the makers of Bioshock Infinite that I might want to save my game and quit, rather than run around for five or ten minutes trying to trigger the autosave function?

That’s why it’s so exciting when I realize that a game’s developer has actually thought about their game from the viewpoint of someone playing it. Dishonored’s comprehensive user interface settings is a great example: you can toggle and adjust just about everything on your screen, from quest markers to health bars to mission notifications. This sort of attention to the finer details says: “Hey, we make games, but we’re gamers too.”

Gunpoint is a new 2-D stealth puzzle game created by writer Tom Francis. In it, you infiltrate secure facilities, elude (or leap, tackle and punch) guards, and rewire electrical systems to help you navigate through buildings. Full disclosure here: I’ve never personally met Tom but I consider him a friend, I’m a huge fan of his writing, and he was integral in getting me started freelancing for PC Gamer. I’m not reviewing the game itself here, (though I think it’s excellent: fun, funny, and highly replayable, with charming art and music:  you should check out the game’s launch trailer to see what’s in store for you).

Instead, I want to point out a few examples of some design choices Tom made, and how they show he genuinely kept gamers in mind while creating his game.

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1) Try Before You Buy (In the Game)

As you complete jobs and earn money in Gunpoint, you can spend your virtual cash on new gadgets to help with your heists. This is nothing new in games, except for two distinct differences. You can try the gadgets out on a mini-level before you buy them, which is great. It sucks when you buy an upgrade in a game and wind up hating it, or worse, finding out that it doesn’t suit your playstyle, and you end up wishing you hadn’t bought it. Gunpoint gives you a chance to put your new gadgets through the paces to see if it’s something you want before you spend your precious heistbux on it.

What’s more, you can return your gadget to the in-game store for a refund. What’s even more: it’s a full refund. Whoever the unseen gadget vendor is in Gunpoint, he’s better than any other vendor in video games EVER. Vendors in video games are notorious for buying back your gear at far less than you paid. Not Gunpoint. Dude gives you a full refund. He is my hero. I think I’ll call him Clark. I love you, Clark.

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2) Try Before You Buy (In Real Life)

There’s a demo version of Gunpoint, so you can try out a handful of levels and see what the game is all about (you should do this now). Most game demos let you play for a while and then end with a splash screen, listing a bunch of features about the game, or maybe a link to where you can buy it, almost as an afterthought: “We’ve given you a taste of the game, and here’s a static list of features for you to stare at for ten seconds while you hammer on the Escape key. We’re done here.”

Tom actually created an interactive conversation between two of the game’s characters to let you know the demo is complete and suggest that you now buy the full game. It’s witty, it’s meta, it’s clever, and, hilariously, it lets you actually participate in Tom’s efforts to convince you to buy the game. I’ve never really seen anyone do something quite like that before. Most of all, it shows he didn’t just slice off a chunk of the game, stuff it into an executable, and theatrically dust off his hands. He gave this demo some custom content and personal attention.

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3) Failure Is an Option

In the spirit of games like Spelunky or Trials, screwing up in Gunpoint is usually funny and isn’t always a huge setback: the simple tap of a key gets you right back into the game. Gunpoint does this especially well by giving you some choices on reloading your game, as shown above. Do you want to erase the most recent stupid move you made? Maybe the last two? Or three? You can restart from scratch, load your last manual save, or rewind by several steps. The point is, you have options, where in many games, you don’t. ATTENTION EVERY OTHER GAME: DO THIS THING.

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4) You’re Not Slow, You’re Just “Thoughtful”

Like many games, Gunpoint tracks how much time you’re spending in a level. Games are notorious for pointing our your shortcomings, but when you’ve spent perhaps too much time solving a puzzle, Gunpoint gives you a speed rating of “Thoughtful.” This is nice. I mean, I know I suck, but Gunpoint is at least being considerate of my feelings. I appreciate it.

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5) Music Volume

This is totally minor, but I still noticed it. In any game with a constant soundtrack, I’m going to reach a point where I have to go into the options and turn the music down. This is especially true in puzzle games, where I need to concentrate. Even if it’s good music (and Gunpoint’s music is good), I just can’t think properly if the music is too loud. (I have the same problem while driving and trying to find an address: I have to turn my radio off). By default, Gunpoint’s soundtrack is set to 40% volume by default, saving me the trouble. The trouble, by the way, consists of me having to open a menu and move a slider, which is not even remotely trouble. But the idea that Tom knew players might need to do it is the point I’m trying to make.

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6) Story? What story?

Tom’s a writer, so I’m not surprised to find some great, snappy dialogue in Gunpoint. Of course, no matter how well a game is written, it’s unlikely you’re going to want to have to experience the story in full every single time you play. Once you’ve had enough of the story you can skip past the dialogue and just get right into the puzzles. I think Tom even knows you might not want to read everything on your first time through the game: as you can see above, even the character we’re playing doesn’t seem truly interested in the finer details. He just wants to break into some buildings and slap guards around.

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7) Commentary & Prototype Versions

If you buy the Special or Exclusive Edition of Gunpoint, you gain access to extras like developer commentary and prototype versions from earlier stages of development. MORE GAMES NEED THIS. Some of Valve’s games have commentary, one of the Riddick games does too, I think, and maybe a handful of others. Not nearly enough, though, and I think it’s something gamers would like to see more of.

The commentary mode plants little figures of Tom and his development team in the maps so you can listen to their thoughts on the game while you play. I did try to tackle and punch Tom (in the game), but it doesn’t work, sadly (I only wanted to do so because his avatar suggested there were eight different ways to solve a certain puzzle, and I had only come up with two).

At any rate, a lot of gamers are interested in how games are made, and there’s really something great about playing a game while listening to developers talk to you about how they made it. The prototype levels are neat, too, because you can play with the game at its earliest stages, and see firsthand how it has developed and changed over the years.

ANYWAY. GOOD JOB, TOM. Gunpoint is available on Steam (as is its demo) and you can find more details here at the Gunpoint site.

Video Games

2012 Text Adventures on PC Gamer

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All this week on PC Gamer, I’m imagining an alternate universe where graphics where never invented, but the games of 2012 were still published… as text adventures.

Monday: Dishonored: The Text Adventure!

Tuesday: Mass Effect 3: The Text Adventure!

Wednesday: Assassin’s Creed III: The Text Adventure!

Thursday: Far Cry 3: The Text Adventure!

Friday: Hotline Miami: The Text Adventure!

Video Games

Bullet Points: Far Cry 3 (Dislikes Edition)

UPDATE! I was wrong about a few things here. This is because I am dumb. Corrections have been added.

Observation: If I play a game for a few hours, and then quit, there’s often a residual bit of the game knocking around in my brain for a while. It’s usually a bit of audio that gets repeated in the game a lot. For instance, if I’ve been playing Plants vs. Zombies, it’s the crunching noise the zombies make when they eat my plants. If it’s Bioshock, maybe it’s the pleasing sound that plays when you loot a container. It can be the sound of an oft-used gun reloading, some sort of common ambient noise, or music from the game’s soundtrack.

When I finish up a session of Far Cry 3, what sound is left rattling around in my brain for a couple hours? The music from the game’s menu screen. The sort of low-key five-tone ominous music sting that you hear when you hit the Escape key to open the menu any one of a hundred times in the space of a few hours. Doooooo-deee-DOOOOOOO-deeee-DOOOOO. That. That is what I’m left with.

I propose that if your massive open-world game filled with driving, running, shooting, looting, and swimming leaves me with the music from the MENU SCREEN echoing in my head, you’ve probably done something wrong.

The reasons I’m in the menu so much?

  • There is no quicksave. There is, actually! F9. I looked through the game’s handbook under the heading “Saving Your Game” and it’s not mentioned there, but Roberto on Twitter sorted me out. Apparently, it’s not documented in the game (I certainly didn’t see it anywhere, and I tried F5, which is where it was in Far Cry 2.)

More on that in a sec, but since we’re talking about saving your game, there are also these:

  • There is a single save slot for your current game.
  • Loading an old save starts you off not where you saved the game last, but the nearest safe location.
  • There are no manual saves during an official mission.

Let’s go over all this.

It’s an open-world game in a simply massive game world that you are constantly doing unofficial (not main-quest related) things in: fighting, hunting, looting, crafting, running around doing dangerous shit all the time all over the place. And you can’t quicksave. That’s baffling. Does Ubisoft not know that PC games crash sometimes? Do they not know that some people (me) suck at games and die suddenly and unexpectedly for being sucky? Did they forget that they packed the world full of dangerous animals and things that explode and guys that kill you and cliffs you drive off and a bunch of other things that end your life before you’re ready? Do they know that might not be such a big problem if the player could tap a key every now again and save his or her progress?

Nope. Instead of tapping a key, you have to go to the damn main menu, where that damn music is playing, and click save. And I do that a lot, for the reasons above: PC games crash, I suck, and it’s a dangerous world full of death. That’s why that damn music is stuck in my head after a few hours.

I was wrong. Sorry, Ubisoft, you were nice enough to provide a quicksave option, and I retract that portion of my whining. Though you might have pointed that out somewhere, like in your in-game instruction manual on how to save a game. (Click for larger image.)

AND, you have but a single slot to save your game, meaning you are constantly saving over your progress. So, say you finish the game, and want to go back to almost the beginning but not quite the beginning? No, you can’t. You can’t revisit any prior points of your game-life, because you’ve saved over all of them. Not to mention, when you save your game through the menu, you get a prompt: “There is a game saved in this slot. Are you sure you want to save over it?” every time. Uh? I don’t have a fucking choice, why are you even asking me?

PLUS, if you load a saved game (rather, the saved game, as you only have one), you don’t even start off where you saved it, you start off in a nearby safe location. So, if you’re out in the wild and you spot, say, a graveyard, but don’t have time to explore it, you might save your game there and expect to pick it up right there, later. But no, you get teleported to wherever and have to try to find that spot again later.

ANDPLUS, if you’re on a mission (as opposed to just exploring or goofing around) you can’t save manually at all, you have to use the checkpoint save system. And the checkpoint system, as all checkpoint systems are, is pretty iffy. There was an official mission early in the game that was essentially teaching you how to stealth-kill dudes, and you had to stealth-kill three dudes, one by one, to collect items on their bodies, and then go to another location with what you collected. I killed them, I took their stuff, and I reached the distant location. Then the game crashed. When I reloaded, it took me back to the start, before I’d stealthed the dudes to death. Why not checkpoint after the third dead guy? I’d learned stealth, obviously, there was no need for me to learn it again.

Anyway. That’s the save problem. The game does autosave nicely for you in certain situations. If you reach a radio tower (they take some effort to climb, and falling is a real possibility), they save when you reach the tower so you respawn right at the base. That’s nice. Also, if you’re approaching an enemy outpost, it saves for you and respawns you where you were approaching from. These are handy. The rest is just irritating.

  • The game menu itself is not well designed

Crafting is a pretty common activity: you can craft various syringes for giving you temporary abilities, and you have to craft a ton of pouches to carry your gear around in. Most often, you’ll be crafting your own health syringes, so you’d think maybe there’d be a hotkey to enter the crafting menu, but no. Just go the the main menu (DOOOO DEE DOOOO etc) and click on Crafting. There is a hotkey! I am a dumb. It is F1, which I somehow never managed to press during the entire game. Even by accident. I didn’t see this anywhere in the documentation either, but I probably still should have tried it.

Here’s the crafting menu screen. You can click to enlarge.

Okay, there’s the word SYRINGES, which is helpful, and a little description of whatever you’re planning to make, also helpful, and the list of basic types of syringes that you can double-click to expand and see what they are and then make them, one by one. So, if you need some meds, and some hunting tonics, and maybe a couple other things, you have to do a bunch of clicking and double-clicking. Which is probably unnecessary because there are roughly forty-five acres of completely empty space they could have used to avoid a bunch of pointless sub-menus. Here, I boxed the useful info in red and pointed out the extra real estate:

Look, I know these giant empty useless menus are there for console gamers, because they’re sitting way back from their screens, and a ton of small text would be hard to read. And I’m not saying cram every single crafting option onto the same page, but at least use SOME of the pointlessly empty space to help us spend less time fucking around in Menuland (DOOOO DEEE). There’s no reason for the syringes to have submenus. Also, again, hotkey the crafting menu. How hard would that be?

  • Notifications are all up in your face all of the time.

This is a really irritating issue early in the game, that sort of fizzles to a minor one later. When you start playing, you quickly acquire a lot of information. The people you meet, the weapons you unlock, new skills, new locations, new animals, new everything, and each and every time this happens, you’ll get a little box on your screen inviting to to learn more about them via (sigh) the menu (DEE DOOO DEEEEEE). And hey, great, I like learning about things, but some of these boxes won’t go away until you tap Escape and then tap it again, at which point another one will pop up. Obviously, the further you progress, the less of an issue it is, because you’re encountering fewer unfamiliar things, but the first couple hours of the game is a party and notifications were invited and they brought all of their goddamn relatives.

Even worse: your main objective? The one you’re planning to ignore for eighteen hours because you want to go fuck around in the jungle and hunt for relics or shoot at sharks or chase deer with a flamethrower or do some hang gliding or whatever else? About once a minute, your main objective will pop up on your screen. Then it’ll fade. Then it’ll pop up again. This never stops.

You know how Far Cry 2 showed your main objective? Red circle on your map. You know how it informed you what the objective was? It didn’t. If you wanted to know, you’d  — GASP — hit escape and visit the menu! You know, the thing the menu is actually FOR.

Other notifications, helpful ones, still find ways to be annoying. There are times when you’re approaching a location, and for reasons I won’t say, you may be unsure whether or not you’ll be fired upon. A box pops up saying, “Hey, this is a restricted area, they will shoot you,” which is helpful. Only it keeps popping up, even if you’re having a giant gunfight with the people it’s trying to warn you about. I may not know if someone is planning to shoot me, but if they start shooting me, I can probably figure it out from there.

Apparently, a patch is due shortly for the notification problem — we’ll see what it addresses.

  • BREAKING NEWS! Uplay is a garbage thing

Oh, Uplay! You almost didn’t make this list! I was not thrilled to buy FC3 through Steam and then realize I had to sign up for Uplay as well, but I begrudgingly did. And for a while, Uplay seemed perfectly benign. It auto-logged me in, it didn’t really pester me with a bunch of crap, and while it took some extra time to connect and synchronize or whatever the hell it does, it didn’t really bother me the way Origin does (by being a garbage thing).

UNTIL, when I went to boot up the game today to take some screenshots of the menu for the bit above, and suddenly Uplay couldn’t connect, and couldn’t synchronize whatever, and it told me to contact tech support, and gave me some error messages, and told me my account had been accessed from another location, and took several minutes to even let me start the game, and when it finally did, I found that my saved game (my only saved game dooo dee doooo) was trapped in the “cloud” or whatever the fuck and I couldn’t access it because Uplay was farting up it’s own butt and couldn’t connect and apparently didn’t save my only saved game on my actual computer.

So, Uplay is a garbage thing. Super. Doo dee doo.

Video Games

Bullet Points: Far Cry 3 (Outposts Edition)

Apart from the animals, the enemy outposts are the best part of Far Cry 3. Handily, the animals sometimes play a part at the outposts as well.

Unlike the security checkpoints in Far Cry 2, the outposts in FC3 are generally big, well staffed, and once captured, don’t repopulate with jerks. (On the other hand, I just cleared the final outpost the other night, and I’m a little sad — I sorta wish there was an option to auto-repopulate them). FC3′s outposts are also way more fun to assault than FC2′s — there are a lot of options for causing havoc.

What follows is my bullet points list of what makes the outposts so much fun. I don’t think it contains spoilers, per se, but I did enjoy discovering the various aspects of the outposts myself as I played, so if you haven’t played FC3 yet, and want to go in completely cold, you might want to skip this.

  • Outposts can be seen from miles away.

They’re marked on the map with red flags, but you can also spot them from a great distance: just look for a telltale column of black smoke. The smoke is a pretty awesome touch: the map in FC3 is massive and cumbersome and can’t be used without pausing the game (unlike Far Cry 2′s fantastic in-game handheld map) so being able to spot an outpost from a mile away without having to consult the map every few seconds is a time-saver. Thanks, video game!

That’s a long walk, but worth the fun that results.

  • You can scout them with your camera.

Looking at enemies through your camera tags them with an icon, depending on what kind of enemy they are (see the screenshot at the top of this post). General goons get a little skull and crossbones, snipers/rocketeers get crosshairs, dudes who will run right at you get a lightning bolt.

(I think it might be more fun if the game let you tag them yourself: “That guy is on a perch and he might he holding a rifle; I’ll tag him as a sniper.”)

Once an enemy is tagged, you can see their icon no matter where they are. Maybe this is a bit too easy, but I like it.

This bear is probably the first and final step to capturing this outpost.

  • Some outposts have penned animals. Penned animals can be freed. Freed animals are awesome.

Sometimes the goons will have a captured animal inside a wooden cage, and you can shoot the cage open from cover. The escaping animal will cause a distraction, or maybe a death or two, if it’s a dog or a giant bird. If it’s something like a bear, your work is pretty much done: the bear will kill the shit out of everybody and capture the camp while you sit somewhere safe and watch. Thanks, bear! You’re the best. Also, I have to kill you now, because I want to loot the place.

Tigers are also grrrrreat for completely wiping out enemies.

  • The guards can call for reinforcements by triggering alarms. If you let them. Don’t let them.

Alarms look like a telephone pole with an electronic horn on top. They’re important: alarms will be used by goons to call in reinforcements unless you disable them, and the goons will try to sound the alarm the instant they know they’re under attack. Reinforcements aren’t a joke, either. It’s not like a couple guys show up in a jeep. There’s a big swarm of goons who show up: in vehicles, in boats, on foot. I’m not saying it’s not fun, but the fight can quickly get out of hand when multiple squads arrive.

Alarms have a control panel near the base of the pole, which can be disabled in a few ways. If you sneak into the outpost, you can disable them– all of them– just by manually turning off a single panel. If you’re not confident you can stealth in, it can get tricky: there’s usually more than one alarm pole, and there’s often not a clear shot on all of the panels from the same location, so circling around the camp for a bit is essential to find a good sniping spot where you can hit both panels. If there’s anyone standing nearby, though, they’ll notice the shot, even if you have a silenced rifle.

  • You can completely stealth-kill the whole outpost, but I tend not to.

You can stealth-stab dudes pretty effectively, especially since you can throw rocks to distract them and get them to turn their backs. Working your way through an entire outpost, offing dudes quietly, isn’t without its charms. Thing is, I’m coming to FC3 straight off of Dishonored, and, I dunno, I kinda had my fill of lurking around stabbing dudes in the neck, I guess. I did one or two outposts by skulking around and stabbing, and it was satisfying, but with all the guns and toys in the game, I’d rather have some big loud messy fights.

  • Proximity mines are great, unless no one steps on them.

If I do decide to sneak into camp to disable the alarm, rather than shoot the panels from a distance, I also make sure to drop a proximity mine next to the alarm panel. Even if the alarm is disabled, someone will probably try to ring it once your attack begins. Now they have a little present waiting for them. While you’re scurrying around during the firefight, there’s nothing more satisfying than hearing the boom of someone stepping on the mine you planted, and knowing there’s one less guy to face.

If I can get away with it, I sometimes plant additional mines in likely spots for foot traffic. Next to a vehicle is a good spot: if you’re sniping from a distance (I often am), someone may decide to jump into a Jeep and come after you: the mine will blow when they get close to the vehicle. A gap in the fencing is also a good spot to lay a trap for anyone who decides to rush out after you.

The only problem is, sometimes no one steps on your mines. This isn’t a problem for you specifically: they won’t go off if you step on them. But once you’ve captured the outpost, your allies will immediately show up, often in a speeding vehicle, and start walking around talking to themselves. If you have a mine or two on the road, it will blow up their car. If you have some scattered around the camp, they might walk over them. If one of your allies gets blown up, any others will blame you, and you’ll have to retake the camp all over again, this time from your friends. Which, admittedly, can be kind of fun. Still, I generally try to avoid harming my comrades, so after I win the outpost I have to rush around collecting all my mines before they get stepped on by my homies.

  • Outposts are often filled with explodey things already.

Some outposts are essentially explosions waiting to happen, littered with gas canisters, propane tanks, or standard-issue exploding barrels. At the very least, they’re a great distraction, and will draw out enemies who are inside of buildings. At best, they’ll take some bad guys with them when they explode. It can also be fun to drop some C4 near them while you’re skulking around, and detonate them remotely from a safe distance.

He is neither stopping, nor dropping, nor rolling.

  • Molotov dudes are fun/scary

There are these dudes who walk around with a bunch of Molotov cocktails strapped to their bodies. Shooting them will, as you might expect, cause them to burst into flame, which causes things around them to burst into flame, which can be quite useful. What you might not expect is that, while they are on fire, they are not quite done with you yet. They will run right at you, setting everything on fire in their path, which can be a rude awakening if you have a nice little sniping spot you’re fond of.

  • Unpredictable things happen.

It’s completely satisfying when things go according to plan. I handle the alarms, my mines get stepped on, I drop the snipers before they spot me, an animal thins the enemy herd, a fire I’ve started forces goons out of cover, or I take down everyone silently. But it’s also fun everything goes wrong.

Once I was moving into position when a boar attacked me and I freaked out, firing a million noisy bullets that alerted the outpost to my presence. A few times, an enemy patrol drove up just when I was getting started, giving me extra enemies from I hadn’t prepared for on a flank I hadn’t mined. Once, I was driving toward an outpost and didn’t realize it was located at the bottom of a cliff: I couldn’t brake in time so I had to jump from my vehicle, which plunged down into the outpost, more or less announcing my arrival (killed a couple dudes, but they were replaced with reinforcements). And, once I was sneaking around planting C4, got spotted, and ran out, frantically detonating the C4 to cover my escape, only I’d laid the C4 along the route I was escaping with and blew up my own stupid self.

  • This dog killed a dude and then teabagged him.

Good boy.

Not a standard feature during an outpost fight, but it happened.