Far Cry 3 Review
Isle of insanity.
Far Cry 3 is the perfect example of a franchise returning to form. Quick history lesson. The 2004 PC original released at a time when the first-person shooter was climbing to blockbuster saturation. Halo 2 and Half-Life 2 were but two mega-hits of that year. Far Cry’s unique spin was its paradise setting, its lush island juxtaposed with the mass manslaughter of the game’s plot. Gorgeous still today, killing a platoon of mercenaries was proven to be sweeter if one can wage his macabre on a beach.
Ported to the consoles under half a hundred variations, 6th generation machines (and 7th if you care to include the Wii’s abysmal Vengeance) were unable to handle the first game’s massive maps, and were retooled into a more linear campaign. Far Cry 2 then returned to open-world exploration at the cost of its tropical locale, taking place in the barren, lawless battlegrounds of Africa. The self-proclaimed sole sequel was awesome in its presentation and ferociously realistic gunplay, but faltered under elephant-in-the-room issues.
Ubisoft has now returned to the jungle, reconstituting all the elements that made the series’ beginning such a success, emphasising again the delightful polarity of bloody beauty in a paradise lost. But is this island a vacation spot for the books, or do another handful of bugs recommend the repellent?
Holiday From Hell
Far Cry 3 starts out like a bad, by-the-book slasher flick. A bunch of liquored up college kids are living life large on a remote atoll when their promiscuity takes a back-seat to reality and the group are captured by mean, nasty pirates – forget your notions of the romantic depictions of R.L. Stevenson. These guys are modern psychos who rape without the rum, pillage as their psalm. Chief among them is the demented ring leader Vaas, a seriously disturbed young man with only suffering as his teleological end. The most timid of your friends, you manage to escape the sociopath and proceed to put together the plan that’s going to get you and your friends off this tropical hell. All the while, there’s a civil war going on between the pirates and an army of rebels with a mystic minx as their leader.
The story of Far Cry 3 is by far the strongest of any iteration yet in the franchise, with superlative writing as its supplement. This distinction is nothing short of a later learned surprise as, again, the early parts of the game are painfully textbook, but it’s a satisfying shock that grows in gradation the more hours you put into the game. The story mainly succeeds because of the intrigue of its characters.
In a refreshing twist, you’re not a sullied soldier, an ex-cop, a retired merc or any other number of broad-chested action hero archetypes. Jason Brody is just a boy thrown into ‘Lord of the Flies’, an urban youth with no stomach for murder and no experience in combat, but who must quickly learn to kill without mercy if he’s to survive the Machiavellian realpolitik world that is Rook Island.
By association, as this is an FPS, you find yourself both disoriented and excited at donning this persona, in large part because you can relate with it. Jason’s nauseated commentary over the madness around him is actually quite hilarious, as the typical slaughter of any shooter, and how we so easily take it for granted behind the mask of a cold calculator of casualties, is put into perspective extremely well via stripping the superhero character that we want to be in favour of the character that we are. In this way, the violence of Far Cry 3 is so much more profound. Charging a camp of ruthless pirates has more gravity because you’re not a one-man army, at least not an established one-man army. You’ve been scripted as weak, which makes you feel prouder and braver as you engage in a dangerous firefight.
Let it be known that the game does not stoop to the failed mechanic of the long deplored Lester the Unlikely, the SNES title in which you were not only established as pathetic in script, but were practically useless in gameplay as well. By contrast, you can definitely handle hoards of hostiles in Far Cry 3, but excellent writing provides a much more personal and empathetic experience.
As they say, third time’s a charm. And Far Cry 3 certainly proves the point with its gameplay as Ubisoft have found a balance between the linear action of the original and the open world expanse of Far Cry 2. The latter, which offered a wide offering of side activities, at times felt broken due to repetition and a tendency to run into an enemy patrol on the road every five seconds. That frustrating flaw has been rectified. You are free to explore the jungles of Rook without unrealistically encountering enemies at every bend, and there’s still plenty to do in terms of side quests. From securing hostile encampments, to climbing massive radio towers, to supplying the rebels with ammo drops, to accepting wanted missions, to hunting for rare and dangerous wildlife, there is so much to do in Far Cry 3 that only by the end of the game, after 20 or so hours, does it start to become tedious.
Wildlife is a huge aspect of the game and it fully succeeds as a mechanic rather than a gimmick.
Wildlife is a huge aspect of the game and it fully succeeds as a mechanic rather than a gimmick. The original Far Cry never featured any forms of animal life except the Trijans, a genetically mutated primate species that escaped its corporate captors and ran amok on that title’s island, making the first game something akin to Jurassic Park. But it also made its tropical setting feel like a protected resort instead of the wild. This time around, you always have to think twice before crossing a river, going for a swim in the sea, or deserting the road for the bush, lest you be ambushed by a waiting croc, shark, or leopard. Want to investigate a cave? Have a care. Watch out for bears! You feel vulnerable without feeling defenceless, making this, I would argue, the first successful attempt at emphasising survival in a shooter.
Different regions are home to different types of fauna and even though most of their territories’ are marked on your map, you’re always kept on your toes as you make your way across the island, making those long treks much less dull than they otherwise would be. It also helps that the AI for the wildlife is incredibly intelligent, able to sneak up and outmanoeuvre you before you can get your rifle locked and loaded. There’s nothing more tense than hearing the subdued snarl of a tiger preparing to pounce, and nothing more rewarding than taking the predator down with a bow and arrow. Adding to the realism is the interaction between different elements of the game. For example, you might come across a unit of enemies who have just opened fire on your vehicle, and just when you think you’re outnumbered, a stray bear comes charging into your opposition, doing your work for you. No-one is safe in Far Cry 3, and it makes the world feel so much more organic and delineated.
Despite being a beautiful game in keeping with the series’ tradition, there are some rough edges here that should be addressed. This reviewer’s main issue was with horizontal tearing, as there is a major absence of any vertical sync here. Every time you veer and turn quickly, especially in areas populated with texture like villages, you can barely see what you’re looking at as the screen becomes a frenzy of choppy lines and fragmented pieces of an overall image. Also, NPC’s and certain objects are outlined with what I can only describe as a shadowy aura, a thick, black skeleton around their frame that just feels out of place and aesthetically awkward. Up close, many objects and characters can look downright ugly as textures are clearly prioritised to the natural world.
Trouble In Paradise
There are other annoyances. Noteworthy among them is the fact that abandoning any quest reverts you to the start point of that quest or the most recent checkpoint, instead of letting you simply quit the mission and continue to explore where you are. Another pain in the ass is having to listen to the same phone calls from contacts. This happens when you choose not to pursue the next story mission, opting to go after side quests or explore, and quit your game before continuing with the main story. Every time you boot up the game you have to hear the same crap over and over until you decide to progress in the campaign.
But all of that aside, that’s pretty much where the issues stop. Like the story, which fails to impress early on and slowly grabs your attention over a length of time, you eventually forgive the scratches of Far Cry 3’s graphical quirks as you explore the island, soar above its expanse from a glider launched from the highest peak, and stealthily sneak on prey, animal and human alike, like a professional savage, a la Rambo. The sound is phenomenal, too. It gets the blood pumping, and makes you honestly feel alone and exposed at every step.
The Far Cry franchise has never really had its own identity, save for its natural environments, because of its tendency to change up the formula at every opportunity. But this is without a doubt the greatest game in the series yet. The original stunned with its graphical power, but failed to innovate in writing or gameplay. Far Cry 2 went the Rockstar route and gave us a massive, open world with tons to do, but suffered because of an imbalance. Far Cry 3 takes the best of both worlds while correcting the errs of its peers.
Prefer moving pictures and sound? Then watch our video review here.
Far Cry 3 was reviewed on Xbox 360.
Sun, Sea And Shootings
A clever story with brilliant characterisation that makes you feel weak without being unable to throw off this weakness, exciting gun-play that rivals any shooter available helped by a huge arsenal of awesome weapons – bow and arrow, baby – and an organic world that does not discriminate between you and your enemies are a few of the elements that make this one of the greatest titles of 2012. There is nothing more terrifying than being taken by surprise as a crocodile springs up out of a creek you foolishly trod, and there has never been a survivalist video game more thrilling than Far Cry 3.