In Far Cry 3, players will assume the role of Jason Brody, a kidnapped American who, after a narrow escape from his captors, must find and reclaim his captive friends from the pirates of Rook Island.
The first thing the game does is to abruptly kill off the character that, in any other game, would have been the protagonist. Instead of the Elite Assault Bro, I would instead be playing an average young man—and not “average” the way Nathan Drake is “average.”
In those early missions, Jason Brody is upset when he has to kill a man, frightened when he’s about to be killed himself—he does what most videogame protagonists never consider, which is react to the unbelievable shit he’s forced to do.
At first, those reactions are true to life. Quickly, though, Jason’s attitude changes. Naturally, being thrust into the hands of the seasoned FPS gamer means that Jason almost instantly becomes startlingly efficient at murder, and as time goes on he gradually begins to talk a little differently, to react a little more aloofly to the circumstances he finds himself in. Where initially taking a flamethrower to a grow op (and the pirates within) would have been unthinkable and horrifying, Jason cheers with enthusiasm. It’s awesome, after all.
On Rook island, everyone you meet is legitimately crazy. The only difference between allies and enemies is how compatible the craziness of each person is to Jason’s goals. Jason throws in with the crazy rebels because they don’t mind helping him kill the crazy pirates to reclaim his kidnapped friends. The unhinged people around Jason see him a certain way, and they talk to him a certain way—as if he were one of them. They create a persona around him, making him one of the larger than life personalities on the island—and, eventually, Jason absorbs that manufactured role onto himself.
I think most people have been in a situation like this—though perhaps without the flamethrower part. If people talk to you a certain way, as if you fill a particular social role, it can be easy to play into that role, even if it’s alien, even if it’s not you. There’s commentary here about the way in which players take their actions for granted and the unrealistic protagonists who carry them out; in videogames, everybody talks to the player this way, and the player follows along. That is, of course, the idea.
When Brody spoke like a man who had never killed, who was afraid to die, I huddled in bushes and carefully, nervously darted out to dispatch lonesome, distracted enemies—fearful that alerting their allies would spell certain doom. Later, when the men and women of the island started to talk about me like a dangerous hunter of men, I carefully and methodically dismantled enemy outposts from afar. Finally, when Brody himself spoke like a man without fear, who now took murder for granted, a fact of life, I dove madly into combat and set the jungle aflame wherever I went.
This is where Far Cry 3 excels. It builds the character and the experience together; subtly when necessary, and over the top when appropriate.
Through the leveling system there’s a synergy between the path of the player and the path of Brody. A reasonably robust series of player perks unlock increasingly deadly abilities, such that Brody goes from a fragile fighter who must hide to survive to a devastating war master who sweeps through enemy ranks with ease. There’s a wealth of abilities to unlock through standard leveling, complimented by a more actively driven crafting system that requires the player to hunt island wildlife to progress.
Brody starts with an extremely limited carrying capacity, meaning the player must scrounge for ammo and conserve every shot—not difficult when you’re hiding in the bush afraid to fight. As experience increases, though, and the fragility of Brody is eliminated through upgrades, the player can craft increasingly spacious accessories by collecting animal hides—accessories that increase ammo capacity, wallet size, and even the number of weapons Jason can carry.
Each step of the way the player becomes more the soldier, changing the way the game is played.
Now, let’s get the basics out of the way: this is a solid shooter with a wealth of activities and clever AI; everything you expect from a tentpole game of this kind. You want to hang glide? You got it. Hunt a shark? Done. Light up the jungle with a flamethrower? Swing through hidden caves? Snipe enemies from the bush? Drive cars into explosive barrels, diving out at the last moment? Solid. What’s more, everything works. Whether you’re driving, gliding, swimming, hunting, or shooting, nearly every element of the game works comfortably and, more importantly, satisfyingly.
Everything is rendered with high-fidelity animations and sharp sound effects—it’s all exciting, all high-impact. Core shooting is excellent while all elements of gameplay feed into each other and enhance the experience.
What’s interesting is that, at first glance, Far Cry 3 almost seems like a stealth game—but it’s not. You won’t hide, you won’t evade—you’ll hunt. Far Cry 3 is a hunting game (dramatic pause) and the prey is man. Jason can manipulate enemies into walking into ambushes by throwing rocks to draw their attention, while the jungle provides cover for surprise attacks and the wealth of death-tools supply a robust number of options for dispatching enemies.
The island is littered with enemy outposts that must be cleared to make areas safe for travel—otherwise, pirates will patrol the roads. Likewise, radio antennas must be liberated to reveal the map (with the added bonus of making weapons free in stores, though money is never really a concern). Assassination missions task Jason with ambushing groups of enemies and dispatching commanders with melee takedowns—a task that becomes progressively simpler as more devastating chained melee kills are unlocked.
Hunting quests require the player to eliminate animals with a specific weapon and make it a little easier to locate and hunt a particular animal type. These quests also provide the occasional unique item (think rare albino pelt) needed for the best crafted items.
Finally there are a selection of reasonably straightforward sidequests. I’ve seen Far Cry 3 compared to Skyrim, and that’s not really true—the number of things to do and paths to take via sidequests in Skyrim was unparalleled. In any other title, the sidequests of Skyrim would just be called “The Game.” Far Cry 3 is comparably reserved; sidequests are fewer in number and less varied. This isn’t a criticism, though; Far Cry is more oriented towards its main quest path, which provides exciting missions and comfortable variety. Sidequests are mainly designed to feed into player progression; they’re there to build Jason up for the next mission.
Far Cry is a more directed game, designed for the player who has a tendency to get lost in trivial tasks (like myself)—but Rook Island remains an extremely expansive setting, with secret locales and items to uncover. Mainly, though, players will find their time spent trying to dominate the landscape of the island by conquering enemy outposts that lay between them and the next objective.
On the technical side, Far Cry 3 is a mixed bag (noting that I played the PS3 version of the game). If you were wowed by the graphics showcased in the trailers, well, there are a view caveats. While certain characters look really excellent, the average inhabitant of Rook Island looks… well, average, or maybe a little worse. The jungle looks great, until you get A) too close, or B) too far, at which point jagged edges and a generally muddy appearance become apparent. Most of the time, you’ll be at exactly the right distance not to notice these things—but when they do crop up, they can be jarring.
Additionally, facial animations sometimes mysteriously lose frames, with mouths switching from completely open to completely closed and back again—and that’s when they don’t just disappear entirely, leaving characters to pontificate through closed lips.
Performance is usually solid, though slows somewhat for cutscenes. Players will encounter the occasional drop or hiccup, but for an open world game of this size the performance is fairly impressive and the game is surprisingly free of bugs. You need not fear Skyrim-esque flying bears or the like.
The same cannot be said for the online mode, however, where I found that anytime I equipped the grenade launcher in co-op there was a 60% chance the gun would simply refuse to fire for no particular reason. Though there were no other significant bugs of this kind, a weapon failing to fire is a pretty significant problem for a game about firing weapons.
More generally, co-op and online feel disconnected from the core experience as they don’t really leverage what makes the campaign successful. Play online, and you’re no longer playing a hunting game—you’re just playing another shooter. Though the online modes don’t really fail in any particular area, there’s a lack of identity here that’s unfortunate.
Competitive online modes are pulled directly from Call of Duty, and as with all titles to adapt this strategy, I’m left to ask: why would I play a Call of Duty imitation (no matter how fair) when I could just play the real thing? In any case, the online comes with the standard content: the usual game modes plus an unlock path that includes perks and weapon modifications, among other tidbits.
Players are likely to have more fun with the co-op campaign than the competitive modes, though, which tries to adapt a Left4Dead approach with four unique characters and team-oriented objectives. It’s straightforward, and again lacks the qualities that define the single player experience, but for some simple run-and-gun co-op, it’s reasonably entertaining. The solid gunplay that fuels the game makes it worthwhile.
Of special note, however, is a fairly robust map editor that will allow players to generate new maps from scratch. This is a nice departure from the more common “Let’s charge fifteen bucks for a map-pack” strategy, and Ubisoft will support the content creating community by highlighting exceptional maps. Also of interest is that players can create their own single-player sandboxes and populate them with enemies to take on by themselves.
As you might have guessed, I wouldn’t recommend buying this title for the online features. They’re fun, but not especially compelling—a bonus. The real value here is in the expansive single-player experience that leverages a robust variety of meticulously designed gameplay avenues against a clever story with a set of interesting characters. Far Cry 3 offers a pile of value when weighed against other shooters, and is smartly designed and written–a clear choice for fans of the genre.