Far Cry 3 is everything its predecessors tried to be. It is a rich open world adventure based in survival that uses its incredible environment to tell a story.
The original Far Cry, it is fair to say, featured an uninspired sci-fi narrative that was a necessity used to tie its much more impressive elements together in a tangible way. If it was up to Crytek, I bet they would’ve preferred to have just advertised on the box a more honest suggestion of its game style with ‘shoot this’, ‘explore this’ and ‘blow this up for fun’. Because that was where the brilliance of Far Cry was found, in its active use of world and gaming to provide an exciting opportunity of varied violence. It’s first proper sequel Far Cry 2 went in the other direction, and sacrificed a lot of the fun of the original in its bid to keep up with the hyperbole of narrative in FPS’s that characterised the last decade. It had a gritty and meaningful story, that with things such as a physical map, endless travelling and a bad case of player malaria really emphasised the sense of human survival in the experience. And yes, I do actually mean your character was stricken with malaria.
With Far Cry 3 though, you’ll find it’s worked on the mistakes of the past and established something that combines the convincing narrative of Far Cry 2 with the blind and ridiculous fun of the original. Set on Rook Island somewhere in the Pacific, you control the young, unsure Jason Brody. After years of what clearly looks like the student life, Jason does the classic gap year pursuit and travels to the islands with a few friends for booze and kicks fuelled frolics in the sun. It doesn’t turn out as planned though, in which an unlicensed sky dive turns out to be a trap to force Jason and his buddies into slavery. Apparently being rich, white and American isn’t so great on Rook island, especially if you’re totally clueless; so anyone featured on ‘The Real Housewives of New York City’ be warned. Imprisoned, Jason encounters the corrupted Vaas – a leading pirate on the island whose intimidation and mad threats lead us to conclude he is a little off-kilter. Quotes from the Lewis Carroll classic Alice in Wonderland appear regularly throughout the story, encouraging a natural response to Vaas as a mad hatter figure. Well, perhaps a mad hatter figure with a penchant for drugs and sex slaves – a frightening concept, I know.
After managing to escape, Jason travels through the looking glass into the wilds of Rook Island, where he becomes embroiled in a rebellion against the pirate army of Vaas from the native Rakyaat tribe locals. Jason is encouraged down this path of the warrior, and so Far Cry 3 becomes the story of a young man finding himself and his purpose. From the players first distressing kill, in which Jason screams and cries as he plunges a machete into a pirate, it follows the progression of Jason from a snivelling little boy to – well, a bit of a bad-ass really. It is initially unconvincing, in which five minutes after crying with remorse at the death of a sex trader, Jason picks up an AK47, slaughters some pigs, takes off their skin, then proceeds to kill a few more pirates with little comment. However, once you get past this implausibility, you are treated to one of the most well-paced and engaging narratives ever realised – which I say with no exaggeration. Each major story segment is told with the finesse and dramatic pacing of a Hollywood Shakespeare adaptation, with moments of huge explosions and chase sequences complimented by intimate dialogue sequences. These are made outstanding by their realism; Jason moves his head and interacts with people as they move around him, while one encounter with a girlfriend figure focuses so close on her face, you can basically see the hormones oozing out of her skin. It’s an intense encounter that manages to capture real human emotion in its expression, but it shows how far the series has come in being able to accomplish a story.
The reason this story is so effective though, is because of the location itself. Rook island is gorgeous and breath-taking, from the baby blue ocean and the exotic green foliage of the trees, to the detailed and rich environment of the various areas – it is daunting how accomplished the island is. This is also seen in the island inhabitants, in which the wildlife of Rook Island is something constantly present. An incognito mission can quickly go awry if a tiger happens to be near your location, while a dive in the wrong river can result in a heart-stopping crocodile attack. In some encounters with the animals, a short sequence requiring a rapid button pressing to kill the creature is enough to remove the threat, but in other examples a swift retreat and ranged attack is usually the only way to not get you killed at the hands of a man-hungry brown bear. They can also be used to an advantage though, in which caged animals located in enemy outposts can be unleashed to wreak havoc on any threats near-by – with hilarious results. While it adds a sense of life to the play area it also compliments the central plot by making it a significant part of it. Animals must be hunted for their skin to create upgrades, but this also has the narrative effect of showing how the wimpy Jason is adapting to his surroundings. Likewise, radio towers scattered across the Island must be climbed Assassin’s Creed style in order to unveil more of the map and any side quests. While outposts can be conquered to provide more fast travel locations and gun stores– with a colour representation of areas conquered on the map as a throwback to the gang wars of GTA: San Andreas. Therefore, while you get a sense of exploration, you are also advancing the story by aiding the cause against Vaas and his pirate army.
The new levelling system introduced in Far Cry 3 also demonstrates this relationship between game and world. By gaining XP from kills and such, the player can obtain new skills for combat and exploration, which takes the form of tattoo’s affiliated with the island natives’ religion. This both nicely symbolises Jason’s journey towards a warrior and gives you some tasty moves that help you kick pirate butt better than Jack Sparrow. Combat is therefore a varied experience that allows you to tailor Jason towards a certain play style. When confronting certain missions or capturing an outpost, the player can use a camera to scout out an area and tag enemies for reference. You can then decide on a certain approach to the encounter, in which the mapped enemies can be easily sniped or stealthily stabbed in the back. In addition, the large array of customisable weapons that are unlocked at captured outposts as you progress also encourage this sense of choice in combat. Most of the weapons can be silenced, and the recurve bow provides a stylish way to silently take down enemies or destroy areas with specially crafted explosive arrows. Crafting equipment from plants and animals can also effect certain situations, in which syringes can be used to protect yourself from fire or increase the speed of player movement.
The multiplayer component is nothing to remark on particularly, providing a typical XP based series of matches that allow customisable classes and perks. Where’ve I heard that before? Likewise, the new Co-op mode is something of a disappointment considering the scope of the single-player. Instead of the joys of exploration, playing with friends forces you to be subjected to linear and repetitive missions that might change location slightly, but nevertheless force you to do the same thing in each. Still, the multiplayer is solid enough if you like unlocking things and playing with your chums, just don’t expect anything as radical and impressive as the central game. The classic map editor is back as well, which provides the same accessible, but intricate tool of possibilities to use creatively. You can even add animals to your created maps, but don’t try adding dozens of bears and pigs – it will just end in a blood bath.
To sum up
The real achievement of Far Cry 3 then, is in its single player, which ultimately dispels the less impressive multiplayer. The island gallivanting experience is one to be cherished by all, but its ability to balance the fun of an open world, with the engagement of a linear blockbuster narrative makes it the great FPS success of 2012. While Halo 4 provided healthy competition, Ubisoft Montreal has meticulously crafted a detailed and thrilling world that is excitingly exotic and dead fun to play around in. Various side quests encourage this sense of exploration, while the search for hidden relics will entice committed players to explore every nook and cranny of the luscious and compelling landscape. The constant interaction between the small details of Rook Island with the main gaming element is what makes such a convincing experience in Far Cry 3.
Version reviewed: Xbox 360