Jungle Sound-System

Looking at the distracting licensed music of Far Cry 3, and how it encapsulates the game.

By: Garrett Martin

Filed Under: Action Editorial Music

I didn’t like Far Cry 3. (Here’s a review, if you need to know why.) I don’t think I liked its musical score, either, but I honestly have no memory of it. I think there were a lot of drums and chanting and maybe some reverby, delay-pedally mechanical whirrs? It’s easy to forget incidental music like that when licensed songs are also prominently used. Try to hum anything from Caddyshack that didn’t play while a gopher or Rodney Dangerfield danced.

Far Cry 3 uses a few licensed pieces of music. M.I.A.’s “Paper Planes” is the immediate attention-getter in Far Cry 3, because it’s the very first thing you hear in the game. A couple of hackneyed scenes reference Apocalypse Now by blasting “Ride of the Valkyries” from helicopters. I’m pretty sure it’s the weed burning mission that will stick out the most in everybody’s memory, though, and not just because the entire internet apparently loves when a game has you destroy pot fields with a flamethrower. This scene sees perhaps the most prominent and surprising use of music in a game since John Marston first rode a horse into Mexico. Instead of the McCabe and Mrs. Miller hat tip of Jose Gonzalez’s acoustic folk pop, though, Far Cry 3 unleashes a musical face-palm from Skrillex and Damian Marley that smartly reflects the game’s overriding theme of California assholes running roughshod over an island culture.

“Make It Bun Dem” comes out of nowhere. Unlike other non-background music in Far Cry 3, from “Paper Planes” to the dance music that plays in the bad guy’s headquarters to the Southeast Asian pop occasionally overheard on jeep radios, this song is non-diegetic. You show up at the drug fields, the song starts blasting, and nobody in the game notices or acknowledges it. Its appearance isn’t quite as weird as that Red Dead Redemption song, if only because Far Cry 3 does use pop music at other moments, and is also set in a time period in which the song in question actually exists, but it makes you wonder why this particular song is emphasized in this way. Far Cry 3 tries hard to immerse you in its world, although with occasional psychedelic flourishes intended to make the player question the character’s sanity. Is this non-stop loop of shrill robo-reggae the internal theme song to non-hero Jason Brody’s flamethrower spree? Or is it simply a song that some Ubisoft employee thought would appeal to sullen 15-year-olds while also sounding good on a TV ad? Either way. it’s an unusual one-off aberration.

I’m not exaggerating when I say the song doesn’t stop during this mission. It loops for however long it takes you to finish the scene. I intentionally dragged the mission out to see if the music ever stopped or obviously restarted. Eventually I could pick up on the moment when it loops back to the beginning, but only because I grew intimately acquainted with its structure over a dozen or so minutes. There are no fades, no clear clips or cuts, just a seamless loop of dubstep and its ancestor reggae syncopating and bleeping along until every last sprig of pot is in flames.

Far Cry 3’s missions regularly destroy any sense of immersion you might feel when you’re trudging through the game world, but this is the only situation where music is the major culprit. One minute you’re stumbling upon animals in the jungle while hiding from a passing jeep full of pirates, the next you’re helping cartoon characters who strayed in from a fifth-rate Tarentino knock-off search for an ancient Chinese MacGuffin. The weed burning expedition is Far Cry 3 at its most shamelessly game-like, but it stays on the right side of ridiculous, even if it’s an off-putting distraction. It’s absurd and patently unrealistic but also an almost lighthearted contrast to the game’s tendency to raise serious issues without saying anything remotely intelligent or insightful about them. Also I can’t deny that conceptually the music perfectly fits the scene, as it’s a song about burning stuff that can be classified as either of two different genres of music commonly associated with stoners. (I also won’t deny that I would love to never hear this song again – twenty or so minutes across two play-throughs are more than enough.)

It might arrive unexpectedly, but “Make It Bun Dem” really does fit Far Cry 3 perfectly. Just as reggae grew out of jazz and R&B, blissed out into dub, and was eventually cross-pollinated with electronic dance music by the British to form dubstep, Far Cry 3 fixates on how cultures appropriate one another. It’s a constant cycle of cultural colonialism, looping ceaselessly as privileged white Americans burn some weed.

[art credit]

Filed Under: Action Editorial Music

About the Author:
Garrett Martin is the Games Editor for Paste Magazine and reviews games for the Boston Herald and elsewhere.

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