Pure. Tropical. Bliss.
I wish I could count the number of times that I had been hyped for a new AAA release. Constantly refreshing the front page of every gaming news site I could find waiting for new information, creaming myself over new screenshots and desperately trying to share my excitement with my friends over that new mechanic, only to be met with disappointment when the game finally hit store shelves. I’m happy to share that Far Cry 3, Ubisoft Montreal’s latest entry into the Far Cry series, does not join that list of games and absolutely floored me with how much fun it is to play. Basic mechanics like driving, shooting and free running around the world are a blast to take part in even if the fall damage might be a little overboard or the guns might have some awkward bullet pathing. Ubisoft managed to blend sometimes arbitrary RPG mechanics like leveling up, skill points and the crafting system into a wonderfully refreshing experience that surprisingly didn’t feel like it was wasting my time just to progress. Not only did I have a hard time finding things that Far Cry 3 did wrong, I’d be hard pressed not to call it my Game of the Year for 2012.
Trimming the Fat
Ubisoft Montreal’s latest entry into the Far Cry franchise rightfully does away with some of the features from Far Cry 2 that made it little more then an annoying experience. Mechanics like constantly needing to keep up on your medication so you don’t have a spasm and fall over and being sent back to the nearest checkpoint, having your brand new gun grow 25 years of rust and explode in your hand after firing off a couple magazines of ammo, and a shallow game map full of unreasonably angry civilians that will drop everything they’re doing just to run you off the road at a moment’s notice due to “friendly AI” being just a little bit over the budget. Instead, Ubisoft decided to implement some new things a’ la Skyrim, such as a functional fast travel system and a world that feels like it has depth to it with things like randomized missions from billboards and civilians and enough collectibles to keep perfectionists engrossed for days.
It’s a Jungle Out There
The tight restrictive roadways surrounded by impassable cliffs of Far Cry 2 are replaced with lush, dense jungles full of not only crazed gun-toting pirates, but over 20 species of wildlife that could be as docile as a wandering pig or as horrifyingly Australian as the Cassowary, a surprisingly intimidating mix of the ostrich and velociraptor. Not only is the jungle full of things for you to shoot, it’s also got plenty of cash, jewels and random drug paraphernalia to collect for the modern Indiana Jones on the go. Random events litter the landscape, sending you anywhere from hidden pirate camps in the more out-of-the-way parts of the world all the way into snake-infested ancient temples where you can collect relics, or just add some horrible confusion as you try to platform your way out. If you’re having trouble finding your way around the island, you may spend the piles of cash you got from selling stolen smartphones on maps at the marketplace, or you can manually drive around the massive game world and climb your way up the miniature obstacle courses that make up the old dilapidated radio towers for a more budget-friendly way to unlock more sections of the world map.
Far Cry 3’s fictionalized Rook Island brings an awesome new idea to the Far Cry table: things to do. From playing poker at one of the dock towns, overtaking one of the dozens of small outposts on the island for the more friendly denizens of the island, or just taking part in some of the trials of the Rakyat, small events that take place in separate areas from the normal world map where you do various objectives and share them with your friends over UPlay. You’ll have a tough time finding yourself bored playing this game. The best part? All of this takes place outside of the game’s campaign. The campaign itself takes place when the main protagonist of the game, Jason Brody, and his various spoiled Californian friends, apparently unaware of the pirate-filled island’s civil war, come to the conclusion that it would make for a perfect vacation destination. Eventually the gang decides that it’d be a good idea to go skydiving, but their idea of fun in the sun quickly enters the shade when they wind up captured and held for ransom by a cunning pirate commander, and I’m not talking about Jack Sparrow. You’re quickly introduced to Vaas, the leader of the pirates that kidnapped your friends, who is played flawlessly by Michael Mando and is probably one of the most convincing video game villains I’ve seen in years. As quick as the story unfolds, Jason manages to escape and travels the path of the warrior with the help of the local Rakyat warriors and his new friend named Dennis, who serves as his guide, donning tribal tattoos that grow in detail the more you progress in the game and going from a lost, confused rich kid to a ruthless warrior in less time than most people can decide what flavor of ice cream they want to buy at the grocery store.
Skyrim with Guns?
At first I heard the term “Skyrim with guns” being applied to Far Cry 3. Reflectively, I thought it seemed silly but after sitting down and getting all of my hours in with the game, I realized that that comparison was more accurate then I’d thought. Money you find in the world can be spent at the many trading posts in the fast travel locations you unlock, usually coming in the form of a giant refrigerator-looking thing full of guns. Killing pirates and wildlife nets you experience points. Once you level up, you gain skill points that allow you to unlock anything from additional health bars and a longer breath meter to more exciting things like fancier stealth takedowns and the ability to steal guns off of your enemies. Skinning the wildlife you hunt on the island gathers skins that you can then be used to craft all sorts of fancy upgrades, increasing the amount of ammunition, syringes, arrows, flamethrower canisters, or weapons themselves and probably many more things that I can’t think of off the top of my head. Crafting and skill points are almost required to keep progression at a steady pace and Ubisoft Montreal did the impossible and actually made it not that invasive. Everywhere you go you’re running into more animals that you can kill and quickly skin. There isn’t a drawn-out skinning animation a’ la Red Dead Redemption so it doesn’t feel like a chore to watch him slice into the animals all day long and the better you are at dispatching pirates with stuff like headshots and takedowns, the more bonus experience you’ll gain.
Sights and Sounds of Rook Island
Far Cry 3 is truly one of the most beautiful games on the market. I haven’t had the chance to play either the PlayStation 3 or Xbox 360 version of the game, but the PC port version has enough DirectX11 options to make even the sturdiest rigs cry for mercy. Even with that being said, the game runs wonderfully on a wide range of hardware. I’m personally playing it on a 4 and a half year old budget rig, the only semi-new part of it being the graphics card and I can run it at a reasonable frame rate with the graphics at medium settings and a few choice options disabled. Going along hand in hand with the graphics is the fantastic sound design. The guns sound crisp and add to the general feel that makes using them so satisfying, The voice actors behind the characters are as fitting as you can get and the distant sounds of rustling birds, growling tigers and cries of unfortunate pirates caught in their way remind you that life on the island goes by with or without your intervention. Far Cry 3’s soundtrack seems to be composed of a lot of bongo drums and wub wubs and it couldn’t be more fitting. My personal favorite moment involving the music comes early into the campaign where you’re tasked by a character I wont reveal to burn down a marijuana field. As the sky fills with the haze of smoke, your vision blurs and that song that Skrillex did with Damien Marley begins playing in the background. I couldn’t help but laugh at it and I don’t think it was just stoner giggles.
Along with a satisfyingly long single-player campaign, you’re also treated to a more linear co-op campaign and a full-fledged totally-not-Call-of-Duty multiplayer mode. The co-op story follows the tale of four interesting and probably mentally unstable travelers who had the ill fate of being on board a yacht that was sold off to some of Rook Island’s pirates. Unluckily for these pirates, the ship was full of ex-soldiers, ex-police officers, Russian hit-men and a chav that loves nothing more than killing people and spouting profanity. The co-op campaign isn’t very long; it dumps most of the single player campaign’s open-world “do what you want” idea for a more streamlined Crysis 2/Far Cry 1 approach: traveling in a somewhat broad direction from point A to point B, getting shot in the head 50 times on the way and having to wait for one of your teammates to rescue you. It’s a lot of fun to play with friends, but the public lobbies are unsurprisingly stressful due to the pick up and go nature of the co-op combined with its difficulty.
I’d be amiss to review this game without bringing up the map editor. The user interface is pretty much the same as Far Cry 2’s, but there’s no need to fix what isn’t broken. Some welcome additions are the ability to create single player maps along with the usual multiplayer ordeal. The multiplayer maps you create can be converted over into your actual game and you can browse all of the community’s horrible creations via the community archive in the multiplayer menu. Unfortunately, if you create a single player map, you can only play it on your own and there’s no option to add wildlife or NPCs into your multiplayer maps asdoing so would block it from being added to the community archive. As far as I can see, there isn’t a way to make co-op maps for now, but the dreamer inside of me hopes that Ubisoft will make that a possibility some time down the road, Maybe we’ll have to wait for Far Cry 4.
Forgive me if I have a hard time believing the protagonist’s “coming of age story” where he doesn’t seem to have much of a problem going from a dude on vacation to a ruthless warrior who has no issues handling a plethora of different firearms and killing dozens if not hundreds of pirates on a whim in the course of about 6 hours. Though I do understand that playing as a scared college kid hiding on an island might not be the smoothest idea for the kind of game that Far Cry 3 is, and I will admit that I’m a bit refreshed to not be playing as Beef Broadchester the ex-marine-turned-mercenary whose peace-time hobbies include drinking and punching everything.
Far Cry 3’s competitive multiplayer scene isn’t anything to write home about. Ideas that were fresh back in 2007 like custom loadouts, perks, and the simple left-trigger-right-trigger-to-acquire-points style of gameplay just feel stale 5 years down the road. It looks like Ubisoft didn’t have the passion for the obviously CoD-inspired multiplayer in this game and it feels tacked on, like a requirement for a modern day FPS. I wouldn’t say it’s specifically “bad” or anything, but you can’t out-CoD Call of Duty, and it I can’t help but feel like Ubisoft didn’t see much point in trying. There are better games out there for the competitive FPS junky, but if you fall into that category then you’re probably already playing Black Ops 2 or Global Offensive. I’m kind of disappointed that Ubisoft didn’t include some things that could have separated Far Cry 3’s multiplayer from the pack. Vehicles, wildlife and any truly unique gameplay modes are notably missing and it just ends up leaving a sour taste in my mouth, though I wasn’t expecting much more.
My final verdict on Far Cry 3? Buy it, right now. If you have even the most remote interest in this type of game you’d be doing yourself a disservice by not picking it up. It’s truly one of the most interesting and entertaining video game experiences I’ve had in a long time and it’s not often I play a game and truly have a hard time finding things to complain about. As hard as it might be to trust Far Cry hype after Far Cry 2, Ubisoft Montreal blows everyone’s expectations out of the water with this wonderfully crafted piece of gaming history that would make a great stocking stuffer for any gamer this Christmas.
Review Platform: PC