Far Cry 3 Review
Far Cry is an interesting creature. While most video game franchises focus on a singular or group of heroes, or an overarching story, the Far Cry series has always been more about a brand or style of play. Veni, vidi, vici, as original developer Crytek use to describe it: I came, I saw, I conquered. The newest installment returns the series to a tropical island setting, this one off the coast of Bangkok, and like its predecessors is a very mature-rated sandbox shooter. Slavery, torture, prostitution, nudity, sex, rape, incest, drug use and violence…lots and lots of violence, this is Far Cry 3.
I love this game’s opening scene. It shows you, Jason Brody, and your friends partying it up on the beach, in a club, and high in the sky, enjoying what looks to be an adrenaline-fueled vacation. When these moments are revealed to be nothing more than video-captured memories on your smart phone, reality quickly sets in. An ill-fated skydiving excursion onto the Rook Islands has resulted in you and your friends being captured by slave trafficking pirates led by the wonderfully disturbing Vaas. “You see, the thing is, up there, you thought you had a chance. Way up there in the fucking sky…but down here…down here, you hit the ground,” Vaas vehemently proclaims. I don’t want to spoil how the rest of this scene plays out, but it does a brilliant job of setting the game’s tone.
Unfortunately, the game has trouble sustaining that level of intensity as the story progresses. Part of it has to do with the writing and part of it has to do with the nature of the sandbox genre. Once you’re let loose into the world, the sense of urgency to rescue your friends dissipates. They’re on the verge of being sold into slavery, sure, but it’s hard not to be distracted if not by the sheer beauty of this tropical island then certainly by the occult temple off in the distance or the large shipwreck along the coast. It’s not a knock on Far Cry 3, that’s just a good sandbox experience for you.
There are a lot of things to appreciate about the story: Finding and rescuing Jason’s friends is a solid plot device; I enjoyed the game’s dark sense of humor; I liked how Jason goes through this transformation from an everyman to a warrior of the Rakyat – the original dwellers of the island – and starts to question whether he can return to his normal life back in Santa Monica; and most of all I relished the cast of characters, allies and enemies alike. Overall the story has good direction, but the plot is scattered with loose ends and missed opportunities.
For example, Vaas is one of the year’s best villains. He is truly evil and steals every scene he’s in. Problem is, he’s only in four scenes. Far Cry 3’s poster child isn’t even the primary antagonist. That distinction belongs to Hoyt Volker, the mastermind behind the atrocities of the islands. When Vaas exits stage left at the end of the second act, the final act suffers some as a result. Though equally villainous, Hoyt simply isn’t as compelling a character as Vaas.
Citra, the mysterious and alluring leader of the Rakyat people, is the character that comes closest to matching Vaas’ on-screen presence. Perhaps it should come as no surprise that the two are brother and sister. Citra tells of a sibling rivalry, but we never get a chance to see the pair interact. How great would it have been if these two predominant characters shared a scene? Even Vaas and Hoyt, partners in crime, share but a brief second of screen time. Missed opportunities to say the least.
The writing can get a little lazy at times, too. There’s obvious tension between you and your girlfriend, Liza, from the moment you reunite. It’s neither explained nor explored beyond Liza’s concern regarding the kind of person you’re becoming. Ultimately it feels like a cheap set-up for the endgame. A love triangle forms between you, Citra and Dennis Rogers – a Rakyat man who initially saves you and continues to aid you throughout your journey. “They are something, aren’t they? I could have any one I choose, but my will is set on one woman,” Dennis explains early on, clearly referring to Citra. As Citra takes more and more of a liking to you, Dennis eventually goes on a drunken, jealousy-fueled rant that, if the player isn’t careful enough to notice, could be missed entirely. These and other parts of the plot could and should have been handled better.
Okay, so the story is good but not great. You want to know what is great about Far Cry 3? Just about everything else. As a sandbox experience, Far Cry 3 is fantastic, and there are a few key reasons for that.
First up is combat, which is silky smooth, incredibly satisfying, and can be approached in any number of ways. You can be stealthy, stalking and eliminating your prey with a series of silent or not-so-silent takedowns. You can be crafty, using mines and other explosives to set traps, luring victims with a well-thrown rock. You can load-up on heavy weaponry and go in guns-a-blazing. You can find a perch and take enemies out from afar with a sniper rifle or crossbow. The choice is yours. There are so many tactics, so many tools, and so many weapons at your disposal that no two encounters are alike. The only criticism I have concerning combat is the enemy AI, which handles being attacked from higher ground a little poorly. Contrary to the animal AI that will hunt you down no matter where you try to hide, the enemy AI tends to suffer from pathfinding issues when it comes to rocky outcrops in particular.
Next up is the pure random nature of the game. Rook Islands feels like a living, breathing place. If you stand still and take it in for a moment, you’re bound to hear gunfire in the distance as Vaas’ pirates and the Rakyat people continually battle for control of the island. Travel towards the sound and if it’s not too late, you might even get a chance to join the Rakyat and partake in the firefight. Depending where you’re situated on the island, you may spot a leopard stalking a herd of deer or a litter of dingoes chasing a tribe of goats. If you’re not mindful, you might wander into an animal’s territory and become the prey yourself.
You never know what to expect, or what might happen next. One time, while I was scouting a pirate outpost planning my strategy of attack, I was assaulted by a pack of rabid dogs, alerting the pirates to my presence and ultimately resulting in my demise. In another instance, while I was sneaking around another pirate outpost, a bear suddenly wandered onto the compound and began mauling its occupants. The bear killed all but a single pirate before being put down, which made my job that much easier. And then there was a situation where again, I was scouting a pirate outpost when a jeep full of Rakyat warriors drove up and starting besieging the station. I picked a few pirates off with my sniper rifle and let the Rakyat do the rest. These unscripted moments are some of the game’s most memorable.
Last but not least, aside from the wonderfully varied campaign missions, there is so much to see and do on the Rook Islands. Climbing radio towers not only reveals some of the unique locations and loot chests in the immediate area, but also unlocks new recipes for syringes and frees up weapons in the general store/vending machines (yeah, let’s not try to make sense of the latter), with emphasis on the word ‘free’. The radio towers are an obvious cue from the Assassin’s Creed franchise, but they can become quite tricky to ascend. When you clear out one of the aforementioned pirate outposts, they come under the control of the Rakyat, making it and the surrounding area a safe heaven from enemy activity. Capturing outposts also unlocks new side missions, often involving bounty hunts and/or hunting excursions. Speaking of hunting, you can kill and skin all manner of fauna, gather leaves from tropical plants, collect relics and lost letters, sit in for a hand or two of poker, or simply search the island for loot chests. There are also an assortment of oddly named “story missions,” none of which have anything to do with the story and most of which are uninteresting fetch quests. They’re the weak link of the lot.
The best thing about the side quests and activities is that, for the most part, they serve a purpose. Is your loot sack not big enough? Does your wallet not carry enough dough? Do you wish you could pack more ammunition? You’ll have to hunt and skin various animals in order to craft improved items. If you care to craft the ultimate loot sack, for example, the only way to do so is to hunt and skin rare animals that can only be found in “Path of the Hunter” quests that unlock when you capture outposts. Running out of healing syringes or looking to craft the perfect hunting concoction? You’ll have to collect specific-colored leaves. Even finding relics and other collectables help as reaching certain milestones unlocks signature weapons and new syringe recipes. It doesn’t always make total sense (really, I have to make a shark-skin wallet in order to hold more money?), but it does give meaning to a lot of various quests and activities.
The biggest incentive for adventuring is earning experience points, which translate into skill points. You can spend these points to unlock skills within three trees: the Heron (long-range takedowns and mobility), the Shark (assault takedowns and healing), and the Spider (stealth takedowns and survival). You’ll want to pick wisely to start with but if you partake in enough missions, side quests and activities, you should be able to unlock just about skill in the game by the time you finally get your hands on Hoyt Volker. The only downside to all of this is you can only have one active quest at a time. If you’re already involved in a campaign mission, for example, you won’t be able to do a side quest along the way; you have to either complete or cancel the mission you’re currently on. When all is said and done, though, the amount of playability in Far Cry 3 is sure to keep you busy for hours, days and weeks to come.
Far Cry 3 is a gorgeous looking game. Vibrant colors, mostly green and blue, help paint a picture of paradise that is the Rook Islands…you know, if it weren’t for the slave and arms trafficking pirates and privateers. Life abounds on the island, from the natives to the animals to the plant life, and all of it looks amazing. Around every hill, over every dune exists a unique site to explore. There’s a complete day/night cycle and weather effects in the form of storms, but the latter can be a little jolting with little to no warning of their arrival. Sound design is equally impressive. The acting is top notch, led by Canadian Michael Mando as the voice of Vaas. The soundtrack is amazing, the weapons effects are deep and impacting, and the ambience is incredible. There’s no scarier feeling than hearing the growl of a bear or the roar of a leopard moments before stumbling upon one of these deadly animals.
Far Cry 3 offers a full multiplayer suite. The co-op campaign is playable with up to four players and features a unique storyline with four new protagonists, but unfortunately it ditches the sandbox in favor of a more traditional, linear shooter experience with little to no room for improvisation. It’s worth playing through with friends, but even with the inclusion of a competitive element it’s pretty much a one-and-done affair.
Competitive multiplayer is also present, but it too fails to take advantage of Far Cry 3’s best features. Sure, there are a few interesting ideas here like Battle Cries that buffer team members with increased weapon accuracy, health or speed; a couple of intriguing game modes; and the opportunity for the top player on the winning team to perform a post-match finisher on one of the members of the losing team. But why not go all out and incorporate roaming wildlife into the mix? They were responsible for some of the more spontaneous and glorious moments in single player. Can you imagine the potential havoc they might wreak in multiplayer? How about giving players the opportunity to gather leaves around the battlefield, allowing them to craft syringes that restore health or provide combat bonuses for them and their teammates on the go? It’s hard to believe you can’t perform the amazing takedowns from the single-player campaign. How do you get away with not introducing those into multiplayer? You don’t. So much more could have been done to make the experience more distinctly Far Cry, but ultimately multiplayer as a whole comes across as generic.
Far Cry 3 has the distinction of being one of the year’s last games, but it’s also earned the honor of being one of the year’s best. The story doesn’t quite live up to the prologue and multiplayer feels tacked on, but otherwise Far Cry 3 is a sensational sandbox shooter that’s a far cry better than Far Cry 2 (cue slow clap). Hide the kids and book your trip to Rook Islands, a mature gamer’s paradise.
Reviewed By: Stephen Riach
This review is based on a copy of Far Cry 3 for the Xbox 360 provided by Ubisoft.