Oh Far Cry 3, mi amor, how I longed for you before release. Though I didn’t notice your beauty and your promise until nearly half a year after you were announced, it was love at first sight. Grand vistas, huntable jungles, the journey from the college everyman into The Man — it was as if you were speaking directly to me! There was a quality about you that instantly enraptured me; it pulled me from the games I had, each intriguing in its own right, and made them seem like mere filler, like the rickety-tick of a roller coaster ascending its first peak. Now that we’ve finally spent some time together, I see with clearer eyes. You’re still beautiful, yes, but the stories you share… they began so well but fell astray and came perilously close to becoming a deal breaker. Close but not completely, because you have other qualities that keep me coming back late night after late night. Namely it’s the oh so silly mayhem which marks most moments we share.
To say Far Cry 3 is a first-person shooter is only telling half the story. In truth it is a farrago of first-person shooting, stealthy sneaking, open world sand romping, and roleplay. While you will certainly do your fair share of shooting, you will also creep through bushes and lure enemies to investigate thrown rocks. You will take over enemy encampments and reclaim territory from modern day pirates, unlocking quests and side quests, sometimes from bulletin boards. You will earn experience and spend skill points to advance your character. You will hunt often deadly and sometimes cute defenseless animals for their skins to be used in all-important crafting recipes; flowers will also be in abundance for creating ability boosting stim-shots. Far Cry 3 is an amalgamation of good ideas, from the map unlocking radio towers (a la Assassin’s Creed) to the game-making importance of hunting wild animals (Red Dead Redemption). Some of these ideas work wonderfully, others less so, but no one can fault developer Ubisoft for not paying attention to what gamers have savored in this generation.
Within minutes of beginning the game you are introduced to the the sprawling jungle wilderness of the Rook Islands. Just as critics have cited Grand Theft Auto’s cities as being a true main character, so too do Far Cry 3’s Rook Islands fill this role. Not only is the setting visually stunning, it is also rich for exploration. Setting out in any one direction is sure to reveal hidden caves or underwater coves. Scattered throughout the game’s heights are hang gliders that pave the way for far off views and aerial exploration to challenge the very best visuals seen so far in this medium. Numerous other vehicles dot the landscape. From jeeps to four-wheelers and jet skis to armored guard boats, traversing the wild is rarely a case of hoofing it unless you choose to. Exploration is also supported by an excellent minimap which, if a bit cluttered, does its best to highlight lootables and distract you from your initial goal.
Distraction is something to be embraced in Far Cry 3. Some of the most fun I had in-game was when I ignored the story all together and let a loose goal guide my path. Ubisoft did a commendable job of making nearly everything you do contribute to character progression. While there are campaign missions to follow, there are also myriad other paths to follow if you want to thrive instead of merely survive. Hunting and gathering are necessary to craft, and crafting is necessary to upgrade essential abilities, like carrying multiple weapons, upgrading ammo, and increasing your wallet size. But each craftable involves special animal skins which can only be found in certain parts of the map (plants are a bit more plentiful). This is where travel comes in and that’s where the dynamic nature of Far Cry really comes out.
While it’s possible that nothing could happen, that you will get to your location, kill the animal, grab their skin and be done with it, it’s entirely more likely that something unexpected will occur along the way. Maybe a band of pirates will drive by and spot you, triggering a heated chase. Maybe you will follow up on a hard to find loot icon or radio tower before finding yourself half a mile away wondering how you got so off track. Or maybe you’ll just be eaten by a leopard or komodo dragon. In virtually every case, minutes will slip away as you sink into the game world. This is actually how much progress occurs since it’s through these explorations that you will discover enemy encampments which, when rid of their hum-bum pirates, unlock new missions.
The prescribed content is a little more hit or miss. Story missions were generally good and there were some truly fascinating sequences. Early on in the game, the main character inhales poisonous mushroom spores and stumbles through an ensorcelling hallucination. Experiencing a burning building in first-person, flush with plunges through collapsing floors, was also something to be remembered. Rakyat tribal missions were also a lot of fun: These side-tasks often gave a kill order on a soon-to-be endangered species or demanded the assassination of some well known brigand – and occasionally racing. What made them stand out, however, were the special conditions required for success. One mission involved killing the pirate’s attack dogs with a rocket launcher. Another required completing the kill with only a machete. It was good, silly fun. The dog mission made me feel a little bad.
The campaign, on the other hand, I found inconsistent and ultimately unfulfilling. While the voice acting was great and there were several genuinely enjoyable characters, it loses its way in the middle and doesn’t find its way back by the end. The game opens strong, with rich white kids going sky diving in all their douche-y glory, flipping off the camera in mid-descent. Things go bad when they land as they’re taken captive by the crazed firework that is Vaas, pirate-leader extraordinaire. Your character, Jason, escapes after having his older brother die in his arms from a gunshot wound. From there on out, you partner with the local rebels and island citizens to rescue your friends.
Everything about the dialogue for the first half of the game seems slightly off and more than a little mysterious. Before you’ve killed your first boar, rebellion warhounds will confidently assure you that only you can complete their missions. Your first friend, Dennis, scribes a tribal tattoo on your arm binding you to the Tautau — a form of mystical island spirit destined to transform you into a warrior. I loved the delivery and I loved the mystery even more. It all seemed very leading. Sadly, where it lead wasn’t nearly as gratifying as it could have been. Strong storytelling elements early in the game tread off by its completion. Even more strangely, main characters are simply abandoned. It isn’t bad and I enjoyed my time with it, but the campaign holds Far Cry 3 back from the achievement it might have been.
The campaign isn’t the only flawed element of the game. When you begin, you can only carry one weapon, a pocketful of ammunition, and a paltry amount of cash. It incentivizes unlocking everything as quickly as possible because your character simply feels gimped gimped without. Getting to the point of feeling capable comes off like a slog before getting into the “real game.” Skill unlocks are also poorly arranged. I often found myself with ability points to spend and nothing very fun to spend them on. Most of what would suit my play style was locked until completing future missions. This is a self-solving problem but customizing your skill set can feel inconsequential early on. Looting also seemed like a wasted opportunity. Enemies carry so little cash that it’s almost not worth the time to scavenge. Containers come in very few forms and usually only carry colorfully named junk. The first time I looted a meth pipe or a joker card I found it amusing. After that, I longed for something more consequential. Gathering pelts from animals also suffers from the same type of unskippable animations that grew so tiresome in Red Dead Redemption.
Readers with surround sound gaming headsets should also take note. The game, quite simply, fails to support them. Dialogue is so pitifully quiet that I found myself straining to understand Vaas in some important early game encounters . It’s best to turn surround off until a fix comes in.
I will say this about Far Cry 3, it achieves its most important goals. It is fun, atmospheric, immersive, and will steal the time right out from under you. It’s entirely possible to have a fulfilling, progressive game experience without ever touching a quest. Much of this is in thanks to the dynamic way in which events unfold. Taking over a stronghold will rarely play out the same way twice and it’s great fun to explore different approaches. Stealth or run-and-gun? Bow and arrow or loose a tiger to do you work for you? That Far Cry 3 can stand up to this kind of exploration without crumbling under the weight of possibility is an accomplishment. That it does so while also providing numerous other ways to while away the hours makes it an easy recommendation for anyone even remotely interested. If you’re compelled, do yourself a favor and buy this game. It is, without doubt, one of the highlights of the year.
Note: The games does feature multiplayer but I didn’t get the opportunity to spend review-quality time with it. Thankfully our own Don Parsons has done a great job of writing about it recently. You can read his experiences here.