The past month has been dominated by two of the greatest titles to grace 2012, and arguably gaming in general: Ubisoft Montreal’s Far Cry 3 and Gearbox Software’s Borderlands. The former more than the latter took up a considerable amount of time, and whether Skyrim comparisons are apt or not, looting boxes and simply robbing enemies (and friends, if you were the friendly fire kind) never gets old. Neither did liberating outposts or completing Wanted Dead missions. Honestly, Far Cry 3 was a blast through and through, and I highly encourage anyone who hasn’t already to just forget they have to earn a living and dive right in.
However, with January, and finally getting my hands on Borderlands 2, the thought struck me that it’s the exact same game as Far Cry 3 – or rather, that Far Cry 3 had taken many familiar aspects from Borderlands 2 (much more than the original Borderlands).
Maybe it was just my approach that warranted the déjà vu, as I went about looting anything that flicker the faintest of green, or completing side quests and causing random havoc in places rather than participating in the main quest. Or maybe it wasn’t all just déjà vu.
To call Far Cry 3 a rip-off of the Borderlands formula is unwarranted. In time, I’ve come to realize that both games have their respective ways of going about the formula.
When it comes to guns – or just about any kind of item – Borderlands 2 relies on a random variable generation. This is what allows for such variety in weapons, and fuels the desire to loot. Far Cry 3, on the other hand, sticks to a predefined set of weapons that can be modified.
More impressive “Signature” weapons can be unlocked with their own unique attributes but for the most part, they’re nothing out of the ordinary. You won’t find random weapons in Far Cry 3 that aren’t already available in stores.
But both take different approaches. Borderlands 2 treats its weapons and items like they’re trash, storing them in the grimiest places and beating you with better weapons than whatever your precious penny can afford. Far Cry 3 wants you to earn your way up to its weapons, making them free with the more radio towers you unlock, and putting extra value on the Signature weapons with the amount of different tasks that need to be performed to earn them.
And yet, Borderlands 2’s formula seems to win out in the end. Because there is no end to the loot, no end to the adventure and especially no end to how you can customize your character. Whereas Far Cry 3 gives you ample opportunities to earn all skills, Borderlands 2 forces you choose which area your Siren or Gunzerker will specialize.
Do you want an unstoppable demon, Phase Locking enemies in explosions or do you want to be a nurse for the team, reviving them with shots to the face? You could try being both, with mixed results but there’s no way you’re going to be mastering all three skill trees, even if you make it to Level 50.
But the Badass Ranks? The tokens for all the wild ways you murder enemies, which not only encourage you to think out of the box but just plain KNOW when to reward you for when you do? Those are unlimited. So your basic character is always growing, even if you start a new game or go online. It feels personalized, not like some unstoppable white boy whose basic claim to fame is using a bow and arrow and a machete to topple entire camps of soldiers. You’re never at the pinnacle of perfection in Borderlands 2. There’s always room to improve, and always better guns to be had.
On that note, Borderlands 2 and Far Cry 3 follow different templates for missions, both story-based and side-quests. Borderlands 2 culls its entire philosophy of loot, hoarding, character development and insanity into some truly awesome moments like implanting an AI core into your shotgun after several misguided attempts to find a non-violent body for it to reside or inviting Flesh Stick to Tiny Tina’s tea party (spoiler: he doesn’t make it out alive).
The game seems dead set on not only pushing the insane aura of obsessive compulsiveness but an entire stream of vices that would make otherwise normal people back away slowly. Far Cry 3 is the same with its vices, but in the end, the two routes of redemption and reflection – plus various moments of clarity peppered through the game – remind us that insanity and embracing one’s savage instincts isn’t the answer. Not so in Borderlands 2.
Insanity is celebrated and it brings you nothing but good fortune, despite reducing you to a stat-hoarding, gun-crazy lunatic without remorse in real life.
Far Cry 3’s missions take on a more cinematic flair, emphasizing the story and moments more than anything. For the most part, they’re brilliant, whether it’s the stealth missions or the final end-game sequence with Hoyt and the helicopter spewing “Ride of the Valkyries” as you machine-gun poor fools into dust. But when set upon the world, realistic and beautiful as it is, the moments feel like just that: Moments.
I can recall every single awesome moment in Borderlands 2 because they were tied to locations that felt like living, breathing, people-filled places. Sure there were plenty full of blood-thirsty bandits and horrific murders dotting the walls, but better than the endless expanses of hills, cenotes, waterfalls and jungles. It’s all beautiful for sure (the fires are the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen) but there are times where you struggle real hard to find variety and life.
Taken as a satire of the FPS genre itself, Far Cry 3’s remote surroundings, familiar foliage and cloned NPCs make sense but compared to Borderlands 2 which both satires its genre and takes itself very seriously, it feels somewhat…lesser.
Then again, Far Cry 3 is about the transformation from a normal man into a predator, and the consequences this brings while Borderlands 2 is a wide-open adventure full of mayhem and decadence. One emphasizes connections to nature and the spirit of bloody murder, while the other emphasizes sleaze and the spirit of bloody murder. At first, they feel like two sides of the same looting coin.
Both games embrace the saying, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results” to the letter, but only one truly celebrates the process while the other takes it as a warning of things to come.