Review: Far Cry 3
Far Cry 3
Xbox 360, PS3
Action, First-Person Shooter
Review copy provided by the publisher
Jason Brody is a normal dude, actually leaning a tad too much towards the pampered, rich-boy type that many of us would roll our eyes at. It’s during one of those pampered, rich-boy escapades in the pacific that he finally learns that there’s more beyond his sheltered every day life. He, his brothers and his friends get kidnapped by a band of modern-day pirates led by the mentally unstable Vaas. His older brother is the first to get gunned down, but Jason manages to escape.
Freedom isn’t the only thing Jason finds once he’s free of his cage. He meets the native Rakyat tribe and their mysterious and dangerously beautiful leader Citra, and he discovers a reason to fight, or several. Initially he wants revenge, then he seeks to free his friends and to help the Rakyat, and finally, as the boy that couldn’t even hold a gun becomes a deadly warrior, he starts killing hordes of enemies just because “it feels like winning”.
As his own mental situation starts to become more and more unstable, Jason’s motives become the true protagonists of the story, creating an inner conflict that is truly entertaining and engaging to follow. Is Jason a pampered and naive puppet led around by the nose by Citra? A savior? A hero? Or simply a ruthless killer?
Characters are one of the strong points of Far Cry 3, even thanks to some of the best voice acting performances I’ve heard in a while. Whether they’re likable or unlikable, they’re all entertaining. Vaas may very well be my favorite villain in a very long time. His sudden and volatile mood swings are simply a joy for eyes and ears, and he manages to be definitely scary because you don’t really know when he’ll finally explode and how big and damaging that explosion will be.
The Rook Archipelago is a wicked place, a den of scum and villainy ruled by some of the worst examples of human trash that the world has to offer, and Ubisoft Montreal definitely took off the gloves in depicting it. The game has no qualms in depicting sensitive elements like brutality, torture, racism, homophobia, slavery and drug abuse under an absolutely ruthless light. As a matter of fact, quite a few reviewers got their underwear in a bunch about it, but if you know me, you also know that my panties are pretty much always well ironed. All those elements aren’t there just for shock value, but exist with the factual purpose of enriching the story and the characters, and they succeed at it almost perfectly.
As soon as you set foot on the island, you’ll find yourself hard pressed not to be amazed. Far Cry 3 simply looks stunningly beautiful in its depiction of a lush environment where nature dominates almost violently over the few influences of mankind (try to let a tiger loose in a camp full of pirates armed to the teeth if you want further evidence of that). Every blade of grass, three and decrepit World War II bunker is rendered with great detail, and all those elements are masterfully pieced together to create some of the most amazing environments I ever saw in a video game.
A year has passed since Skyrim set a new standard for the combination of beauty and scope, and it was about time for a new game to beat that record, thankfully without all the performance problems and glitches that came with it.
Lighting plays an important role as always in tying everything together, and while nights are as usual a tad on the bright side (something video games do often for practical reasons, and here it can be considered justified because there’s no night vision equipment or portable light sources unless you’re in a cave), Far Cry 3‘s lighting engine creates a beautifully realistic atmosphere, with some of the best sunrises and sunsets ever.
Main characters and villains are equally well rendered, with complex models and rich textures that really bring them to life, even thanks to a generally great animation work that fits very well with the top notch voice acting. Unfortunately this doesn’t extend to minor NPCs and enemies. Not only their models and textures are very much on the simple side, but there are way too few models. All enemies in the same role look basically the same, and after you meet the same Rakyat Warrior for the 200th time, you wonder what kind of breeding techniques they use to bear so many twins.
Audio is equally well done, even thanks to the aforementioned awesome voice overs (even if they suffer from exactly the same problems for minor characters), and while music is pretty much always adequate to underline every situation, what really shines are some of the sound effects.
Ubisoft Montreal really nailed not only the sound of gunfire from the various weapons in your arsenal, but also most of the environmental element that contribute in creating the island’s atmosphere. When you climb a radio tower or walk inside a beached and decrepit ship you won’t only see the destructive influence of nature on the torn steel, but you’ll also hear it. Climbing radio towers, specifically, tends to be a rather unsettling experience not only because of how the tower looks, but also because of how it sounds. You rationally know it won’t collapse under your weight, but it sounds wonderfully like it’s almost about to.
Freedom is the main theme of Far Cry 3‘s single player campaign. After a relatively brief introduction you get thrown at Rook Island with a very approximate idea of what to do and the very clear message “go and wreak havoc however it tickles your fancy”.
Of course you could just follow the story from start to finish without straying even a little bit, but that would be rather difficult, and also rather boring. On the other hand, the two single player islands are a massive, lush tropical luna park in which exploration is not only rewarded handsomely by the game, but also a reward in itself.
The structure is simple, and wonderfully modular: every island is divided in sectors. Each sector is dominated by a radio tower and two enemy camps. Conquering the climbing puzzle at each radio tower will unveil the map of that sector, and then the fun starts (actually I lied, climbing the tower is a lot of fun in itself).
You can liberate the camps for the Rakyat, unlocking them as a safe-houses and fast travel spots. That will also make a number of assassination and hunting quests available and extend your dominance over the island, removing the enemy patrols around each outpost.
You can go around treasure hunting, in order to find the inane number of collectibles and loot chests scattered all around the place. The “letters of the lost” are the most interesting, as each find will unlock a piece of correspondence mainly between the Japanese occupants during World War II. Reading them will give you a lovely idea of the historical background of the archipelago and on the fact that insanity isn’t really anything new or recent around it.
Otherwise you can also gather plants to create medicines and beneficial concoctions, or hunt the island’s diverse and often aggressive game, ranging from harmless wild pigs to much more harmful bears and tigers. Skinning the animals you kill will allow you to craft very useful pieces of equipment that will let you carry more weapons, money and assorted ammunition. The good hunter and explorer will definitely have an edge even in combat.
Exploration and free roaming aren’t the only elements in which the game shines. The combat system is in itself almost perfect, not only thanks to the well varied arsenal that you can also customize via a rather large number of extended magazines, silencers and sights of all kinds, but also due to how well actual fighting is integrated with stealth gameplay.
At first sight most people would identify Far Cry 3 as a shooter and, don’t get me wrong, it is one. The good part is that on top of being a shooter it may very well be the best stealth game of the year. Not only Jason is able to secretly kill enemies in hand to hand in a wonderfully diverse and spectacular number of ways, but the bow is probably the most utterly satisfying and perfectly silent weapon of his arsenal. Normally I favor silenced sniper rifles, but in this game the fantastically practical and utterly stylish recurve bow won my almost undivided attention. When you kill someone with it, it really “feels like winning”.
One of the best parts of the stealth gameplay is that your enemies behave almost realistically. In most games that includes elements of stealth guards are what I affectionately nickname “Stupidgeniuses”. They are completely stupid and oblivious until you actually do something. As soon as you do *anything* that could warrant detection (which includes using most of the weapons in your arsenal, that basically become dead weight), they home on you like Sidewinders on the four super-hot turbines of a 747. Good luck shaking them off.
In Far Cry 3 enemies have different degrees of detection, and using most of your arsenal won’t destroy your chances to remain hidden immediately. As long as you use a silenced weapon (and silencers are available for almost every kind of gun) killing an enemy in his mate’s line of sight, hitting him without killing him or just missing the shot won’t immediately reveal your position.
Your enemies will understand the general direction the shot came from, and will move towards you, but, if you’re in cover, they won’t actually detect you until they’re able to realistically see you. That leaves you with a reasonable amount of time to covertly relocate in order to take the next shot without being discovered.
Even if you happen into the line of sight of an enemy, detection won’t be immediate, and you’ll have a couple seconds (indicated by a very useful cue) to get to safety before your cover is blown. All those elements combined create an extremely fullfilling and stylish stealth experience, that I personally found much more fun, engaging and rewarding than just running into the enemy guns blazing.
As soon as you’re ready to pause your exploration in favor of proceeding with the story, you’ll be faced with considerably more linear and shooting-oriented missions, that are still definitely nice thanks to the character interaction and to the good level design. Luckily enough most of them still give you quite some freedom in choosing your approach, letting the most stealth-oriented of us do our dirty work between the bushes instead of just gunning everything down. A few will still force wild gunnery and open action on us, but those are relatively rare.
The added bonus of the story missions is that some involve a number of absolutely marvelous and otherwise inaccessible environments (think ancient subterranean cities) that have a lovely Uncharted/Tomb Raider vibe and that further delve into the backstory of the island.
A game like Far Cry 3 that has elements of a shooter, of a stealth game, of a platformer and of a sandbox adventure game of course can’t be shipped without some RPG elements as well. Performing almost every action in the game will award experience points, and accumulating enough will earn you skill points. Each skill point can unlock a new perk for your character, ranging from a different way to kill enemies stealthily to better shooting performance or the ability to find more loot.
This progression element proves definitely rewarding and ties all your victories together, displayed in the tattoo that your character bears on his arm, and that also works as a major plot device to indicate your relationship with the Rakyat.
On the side of the fantastic single player campaign the game also has both competitive and co-op multiplayer, but unfortunately they really aren’t up to par with their local counterpart, as they lose most of the explorative elements and all the freedom.
The co-op multiplayer puts a team in a series of rather linear run and gun mission, with a few sparse elements of variety in the form of driving and bomb-handling. To its credit, the mode allow local split-screen gameplay, which is a rarity in this day and age, but it simply fall short of the best elements present in the single player campaign. Add to that the fact that it doesn’t seem very well balanced (there seem to be way too many enemies) and that it appears written by a completely different person as the main story, and one that seems to be excessively fond of profanity, and you get a rather bleak picture.
Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against the use of profanity as a narrative element, but designing a character whose only personality trait is “swears like a sailor” isn’t exactly my best idea of good writing. The whole mode is fun for a little while, but there’s only so much mindless slaughter you can do before it gets old. That’s too bad, considering that the idea of creating an entirely separate co-op story was good. Unfortunately the inability to experience the game’s best perks (exploration and stealth) while co-operating with your friends is a big missed opportunity.
Things get better with competitive multiplayer, that offers the usual variety of game modes and a couple original ones that unfortunately fail to really make a lasting impression. Despite that, Far Cry 3 performs as a competent, while not exceptional, online shooter, with all the perks and unlocks that a hundred Call of Duties educated us to expect.
Unfortunately the ability to “execute” or “spare” the best losing fighter at the end of a match (and yes, there’s institutionalized teabagging involved) in a rather flashy and public way simply isn’t enough to set Far Cry 3’s multiplayer apart from the lot. It’s not bad, not at all. But it’s simply not exceptional in any way.
What’s definitely interesting is the map editor, that lets you design your own multiplayer maps using the assets included in the game, and that proves both quite intuitive and easy to use, and powerful. It’s still early to say if the community will use it to really enrich the multiplayer aspect of the game or not. but it’s hard not to praise Ubisoft Montreal for giving us this kind of tool to play with, as it’s very rare for a shooter. The potential is definitely there, but now the ball is in the community’s court.
Lackluster multiplayer notwithstanding, Far Cry 3 is an amazingly complete and rewarding single player experience. It offers so much in scope, variety and sheer quality that it easily and effortlessly beats every other shooter in the market this year. Top it all with a great story and deep, engaging characters, and you get an extremely positive outcome.
If you love sandbox games and gameplay that involves swooping on the enemy unseen and unheard before turning him into a pincushion like the tropical version of a ninja Robin Hood you simply can’t miss Far Cry 3. The same goes if you enjoy great games, because this one fits that bill perfectly.