Far Cry 3 Review
Far Cry 3 is alive, and playing Ubisoft Montreal’s open world shooter we’re plunged into a colourful living, wonderland buzzing with possibilities.
It’s an arguably rare achievement; while open world designers often attempt to create places of wonder and whisk you away from humdrum reality, sadly all too often technical limitations or clashes between narrative and open world gameplay mean few manage it totally convincingly.
In Far Cry 3, however Ubisoft has crafted a believable, living open word and not only provided myriad ways to enjoy it, but imbued its gameplay with a deeper sense of player agency that helps immerse you in its tropical climes and exciting revenge drama adventure.
The foundation of that experience is the depth and scale of the huge open world on the fictional Asian Pacific island of Rook itself, and we haven’t played in as involving a game world since Skyrim. Filled with vast tropical forests, volcanic mountain ranges,lush grasslands and rivers that feed waterfalls and lakes there are vast possibilities for exploration as you uncover hidden towns and settlements, ruined WWII fortifications and even ancient buried temples.
It’s wildlife is just as detailed; countless colourful butterflies and birds fill the air, tropical animals ranging from goats, tapirs and buffalo to bears, tigers, crocodiles and even sharks abound on land and sea, all interacting in a convincing procedural ecosystem. It’s far more intricate than anything in previous Far Cry games, even before you add it’s human elements, making it an impressive technical achievement.
Far Cry 3 is a welcome return to the lush blue green island environments of the original game – and it’s open world action focus.
But all the technical kudos in the world wouldn’t matter if Far Cry 3’s gameplay and narrative didn’t take proper advantage of this world. They both do; Far Cry 3’s tale of aimless holidaying Generation Y rich kid Jason Brody forced to take up the mantle of deadly island warrior through the power of a mythical tattoo ( a clever device explaining how this athletic but otherwise ordinary young Californian becomes a jungle killer) in order to save his kidnapped friends and liberate the local population from a blood thirsty group of pirates, uses this setting perfectly.
It’s an often surreal, darkly tinged narrative that sees you join the islands freedom fighters, the native Rakyat warriors, to seek revenge on the pirates leaders, the charismatic but totally insane Vaas Montenegro and his sadistic master Hoyt Volker.
Just as importantly Far Cry 3’s narrative conceit, the avenging warrior’s journey, is used to defuse an often inherent tension in the open world genre; a disconnect between the freedom and myriad mini games of the open environment and their narrative drive, which often feel like very disparate halves of the same experience, with the narrative pacing derailed by various event based activities that simply exist give players more to do in the open world.
After all, what’s a gangster attempting to get revenge or reclaim stolen mob money for example, really doing engaging in frivolous activities like pizza delivery or racing? Far Cry 3 attempts to solve that dichotomy by cleverly weaving it’s narrative, open world exploration, resource gathering and character progressions systems tightly together.
Just about everything you do in Far Cry 3, from story missions to simply killing enemies and open world activities like hunting animals, assassinating Pirate leaders, completing kill frenzy warrior trials or even entering point to point races on Quad bikes attempt to have some kind of meaningful impact on the games progression system and reflect its narrative.
You’re constantly earning XP to unlock your special skills as a Rakyat warrior, from three distinct skill trees. The Path of the Heron focuses upon long range take downs and mobility, like special vertical assassinations, shooting while on zip lines and deep breath skills for sniping and diving.
The Path of the Shark grants full frontal assault take downs and healing skills, letting you openly assassinate multiple targets or gain greater health and resistances. Those with a more stealthy disposition will focus on the stealth and survival based Path of the Spider, which will let you stash bodies after stealthy take downs, better use silent but deadly bows and efficiently utilise plants and animals in crafting. It’s a versatile system that really allows you to tailor your play-style and while your powers aren’t as mystical as those in say Far Cry: Instincts your really feel you’re becoming a warrior.
That motif of growing warrior prowess is further expressed in Far Cry 3’s movement and combat through great use of the first person perspective. Your vision weaves naturally as you move through the jungle, and there’s a palpable sense of the physical jumping onto ledges or climbing often hand over foot with brute force.
Stealth rather than brute force is often the best way to tackle groups of foes, but you can change on the fly and go buck wild any time.
That visual approach is even more effective in combat with bullets hits, explosions and even raking claws from animal attacks presented in dramatic fashion. It’s crowning glory has to be its healing mechanic, which gruesomely shows you using tweezers to pry bullets or pull shrapnel out of your bloody flesh when caught in an explosion.
It’s a fitting visual reflection of Far Cry 3’s enjoyable and very hard hitting FPS combat . As you progress you gain access to myriad weapons, including guns, bows, rocket launchers and secondary devices like C4 and mines and your spread of weapons very much serves FC3’s sandbox nature. Your Pirate enemies often use cover, charge and run away very effectively, and when you encounter more armoured foes with special weapons, working out how to best use your current arsenal is a huge part of the fun. You’re vastly out numbered in FC3 and direct assault is often a way to get killed, but stealth helps tip the balance.
It’s stealth mechanics can feel admittedly very game like – a key tool is a camera that marks the position of enemies with icons you can see through solid objects, and enemies can occasionally feel a bit dumb – but there’s immense satisfaction in silently killing a bunch of foes and just vanishing like the killer jungle you are.
Those closer links between narrative thrust and gameplay mechanics also affect how you explore the island and use its resources. Rook Island is presented to you via an inventory map showing general animal habitats and often major locations , but it’s covered in a fog and the angry red representing the influence of Vaas’s pirates over the island. None of the paths, roads, and secrets on the map are revealed until you seek out Radio Towers in the jungle and scale them, turning off the Pirate signal.
Just as in Assassin’s Creed they grant a cinematic view of the area hinting at secrets and give access to new free weapons in stores. Initially towers are fairly easy to scale but as you venture deeper they become challenging puzzles of steel and iron that take increasingly longer periods of time to solve. They’re joined on the map by Pirate Outposts, camps filled with large numbers of entrenched pirates. Liberating them frees them for occupation by your Rakyat allies, reveals more side quests in the area.
These camps also become part of the games fast travel system, allowing you to instantly move from place to place without trekking through the jungle, or using Far Cry 3’s myriad vehicles. They ranging from quad bikes and cars to jet skis, boats and even a hang glider, which all handle in a realistic but fun ways adding yet another element to play.
You’ll need every tactical trick in the book to survive some of the more frantic missions in Far Cry 3, pitted as you are against huge numbers of foes.
But you’ll want to explore the jungle on foot, thanks to Far Cry 3’s excellent hunting and crafting mechanics. Hunting is how you gain animal skins used in the crafting system to create bigger rucksacks to gather the loot sold to buy weapons, ever larger wallets to carry money, and even increase the amount of weapons and ammunition you can carry. It’s one of Far Cry 3’s unique joys, thanks to it’s animals realistic behaviour.
Even the meekest herbivore will lead you on a merry chase, and the predators, like leopards, Kimono dragons or bears are deadly. We’ve rarely been more terrified than in Path of the Hunter Side Quests where you’re forced to tackle fearsome creatures like Golden Tigers with nothing more than a bow and arrow. But the satisfaction of besting a dangerous beast and upgrading an important piece of gear makes it all worth while. Part of the crafting system even includes the creation of injections with recipes that heal you or grant status affecting properties like fire resistance or the ability to hunt animals by scent, making you even more effective.
Everything is very so woven together – you scale Radio Towers to unveil the map revealing more paths and gaining free weapons, tackle Outposts to unlock more side quests and earn XP in combat, hunt for plants and animals to gain more crafting materials so you carry more weapons, ammo and supplies to become a more efficient killer – that it creates an addictive gameplay loop giving you real incentive to do more of everything, and it’s really effective.
You’re driven to keep playing because everything feels very organically tied – and doing so helps keep you alive in the often exciting and bombastic story missions. These are centred around your efforts to defeat Vaas and rescue your missing friends, and use open world with some impressive set pieces. You’ll sneak into pirate bases, defend distraught villages, dive underwater, have drug fuelled visions, battle across derelict boats, explore Indiana Jones style lost temples, escape burning buildings, and race away from foes in cars or boats in frantic chases. Even the dreaded QTE is used in some imaginative ways, to spice up dramatic narrative encounters with major figures.
There are some major highlights, including a mission to burn down a brace of marijuana fields with a flame thrower at the behest of our CIA ally. Racing through the fields in a jeep listening to blaring dub step, before stepping out to set the crops, and their pirate protectors, gloriously ablaze with a flame thrower Is easily one of our fondest gaming moments this year.
As you’d expect, the PC version is easily the most impressive rendition of this gorgeous open world, but the console versions do hold their own .
But even these crafted missions are often put to shame by the unscripted and the random event’s in the games clever procedural systems. This is a living world you’re thrust into, and it’s effectively used to make you feel like a bad ass warrior, outposts for example often have captive animals that can be gleefully released to create havoc while you pick off panicking foes.
Just hunting for a goat skin in the open world started a twenty minute odyssey in which we were chased by a pair of Tigers, ran into a squad of of Pirates who were decimated by them, and finally only escaped the Pirate reinforcements who jeep machined gunned the wild beasts by plunging down a nearby waterfall – and that’s only one example. We developed a real fear of water after a crocodile suddenly dragged us into a river, and while we won’t talk about it, we’ll never be comfortable swimming in the sea again.
While we haven’t said too much about Far Cry 3’s narrative in order not to spoil it, it’s easily a high point, thanks to its colourful characters like the crazy and unsettling pirate henchman Vaas . But he isn’t alone, this is a veritable cast of the good, the bad and the often very ugly, all filtered through the colourful lens of this rather violent island wonderland. Your enemies, who are occasionally mission givers, are all shades of dodgy and depraved, but never boring.
You’ll also encounter some unusual allies, like Citra the sultry female leader of the Rakyat, wry and cynical CIA Agent Willis (responsible for your journals often hilarious encyclopedia style entries ) and the trippy Dr Earnhardt, whose drugs give you brief side missions detailing Jason and his friends adventures before they arrived on the island.
This is a very human story and narratively Far Cry 3 likes to play with expectations and character tropes, often wryly questioning things you’d normally take for granted like your transformation from naïve innocent to a hard bitten killer or the true natures of your antagonists or allies. It might not have Far Cry 2’s social political message , but there’s plenty of subtext to enjoy in this seemingly straight forward revenge fantasy if you’re that way inclined.
For everything it does right however Far Cry 3 isn’t perfect. Ironically given the quality of the human drama in the main story , and in contrast to the emergent gameplay of its wild life, its incidental human interactions can feel a bit lacking.
Things like constantly repeated ambient speech in towns, and unresponsive people in the jungle are merely tiresome; far more intrusive is the occasional lapse of character animation and voice work in the open world and occasionally in side quests. It’s also a shame you’re never acknowledged or rewarded for saving locals from dangerous animals in the open world.
None of these problems or the little things, like the slightly cumbersome elements of inventory system and the very occasional touch of open world jank, spoil the experience however, and perhaps wouldn’t even be noticed in other games. But in Far Cry 3 the quality of the experience is often so high that you notice more when it dips – and that’s a testament to how successful it is.
Version Tested: Xbox 360