It is amazing one installment in a series can turn around the entire franchise. I have been a silent fan of Far Cry since its inception. I loved the first game on PC, then the 360 and Wii iterations kind of soured me on the experience. Far Cry 2 came along and was chock full of so many good ideas, but poor execution made it a chore to play. With Far Cry 3, I was skeptical. The whole “fool me twice, shame on me” mentality set in. Thankfully, after spending countless hours on Rook Island, I can safely say that Ubisoft has nailed it with this iteration. In fact, it may easily top my game of the year list come late December; it truly is that good.
Far Cry 3 immediately throws you into the action. The game focuses on a group of friends who have come to Rook Island for some extreme sporting activities. Things go awry, and the pirates who inhabit the island capture them. While trapped in a cage you and your older brother Grant manage to escape, more things go awry (spoilers redacted) and your journey is set in motion. The intro sequence is incredibly intense and one of those you have to experience to appreciate.
Another thing I love about the story are the characters. Sure, your main protagonist is a bit whiny in the beginning, but the insanity that unfolds around him truly molds him into something more. The rest of the cast is absolutely ridiculous, and I love it. The best part is that they sell their characters. For example, the main bad guy Vaas is a maniac. His outbursts are truly entertaining and made me fear every move he was going to make. His boss is one of those people that is just as intelligent as he is evil. He really just wants to watch people suffer. Then we have the insane doctor that helps you out with medicines and new enhancements. He constantly refers to people by other names and just genuinely feels awkward.
The game does a fantastic job of selling its outlandish narrative. The voice work is excellent most of the time, with only a few questionable performances. The story also kept me engaged by playing to the ridiculousness of it. Burning fields of pot, catching a contact buzz and tripping on mushrooms and seeing some truly wacked out imagery are just the beginning. The story is well told and a lot of fun to follow.
Far Cry 3 is not so different from past games in terms of design. This is still an open-world, first-person shooter set on in exotic locale. You have main story missions, side missions and plenty of collectibles. What makes FC3 so much different is the way it is structured. The world of Rook Island is much more fun to play around in than past games. The way things are divided up is perfect, almost nothing is pointless and nearly all of it is fun. For example, the crafting system takes usually mundane tasks and gives them purpose.
On the island you can hunt wild animals for their skins. This isn’t the first game to include a mechanic like this, but the unique part here is the purpose they serve. The hides are used to craft new weapon holsters as well as wallets to let you carry more ammo, weapons and, of course, cash. Each new item level requires different animal skins, thus forcing you to spread your hunting around the island. This became addictive early on. Having to take a boat out into the ocean and hunt sharks is exhilarating, and diving down to skin them utterly nerve-wracking.
You can also create health syringes by picking plants around the island. The plants also eventually allow you to create boost syringes that give you bonuses in combat and other areas. These are set to the d-pad for quick use,and can even help you when hunting by masking your scent, or making weapons more powerful and effective.
The skill tree system is also unique in FC3. You earn XP for everything you do in the game. As you level up and earn skill points, you can opt to place them in three separate areas in your skill set. The Heron, The Shark and The Spider make up various types of upgrades, including mobility, health and stealth takedowns. Each upgrade also adds a new tatau (tattoo) to your arm that represents your skills. It is nothing revolutionary, but it is fun. I always felt like a kid in a candy store when I had skill points. The new abilities and ways to increase the fun seemed endless.
The story missions are truly fun and inventive throughout the campaign. The story definitely goes a little nuts, but that is also part of its charm. Thankfully, the other activities are equally enjoyable. The side missions are usually fairly straightforward, with a FC3 twist. You have supply drops you have to make through insane terrain. The side character missions usually have you going after something, only to be attacked by insane wildlife like a Komodo Dragon. There are also radio towers that open up parts of the map by climbing them and removing the block, much like synchronizing in Assassin’s Creed. These will also open up new, free weapons at merchants.
There are also outposts you can take over, which removes enemies from that area entirely. The cool part is that you can take them out in a variety of ways. It was always fun to perch on a high lookout position, tag all the enemies with my camera and then stealthily take them down one at a time. Of course, you can also always strap some C4 to a jeep and ram it into the middle of the camp, or if they have a captive animal, sneak in and unlock the cage, leading to utter insanity and chaos. This is what makes FC3 so much fun: the multitude of ways to handle any given situation.
I have spent so much time discussing the finer points of the campaign that I have forgotten to mention this game actually has two other modes. First up is the quintessential online multiplayer. Much like any shooter these days, FC3 has a host of online game types that you can play with up to 14 players on a variety of maps. Sadly, unlike the single player this option feels merely “serviceable” in terms of originality. The maps sometimes feel cluttered, and the game types are pretty standard fare. What does stand out is the excellent mapmaker. With this tool, you can create some truly unique landscapes to play on. I look forward to the creations once the community gets a hold of the tool. The possibilities are endless.
There is also a cooperative mode that is separate from the main campaign. It is designed for up to four players, but you can opt to fly with as little as two. One of the cool features is that it supports split screen, so going online is not a necessity. It does feel critical to have four players, though. Unlike the main game, these side missions are more linear in design. You will be protecting bomb carriers or guarding vehicles, both of which are frustrating with less than four partners. The story is more of a side note, focusing on characters outside the main cast. It is still a fun diversion, and plenty of fun when you get a good party of four going.
Visually, Far Cry 3 is a rollercoaster on some levels. The world is gorgeous. The draw distance is impressive, and the design feels like a lot of care was put into its layout. Even on these aging consoles, this game looks impressive. The characters have this interesting tint around them that almost resembles cel-shading at times, but it is so subtle it is hardly noticeable. Everything in the world just pops. It comes with a price though, as the frame rate sometimes takes a hit. It is never game breaking, but it is apparent. There is also some screen tearing here and there, and some texture pop in, but I cannot stress enough how good this game looks. Just walking out after loading up, staring at the mountains in the distance or watching the sun go down on the beach is just breathtaking.
Far Cry 3 was a shock all around. After being cold on the second game and only mildly excited about the original, I wasn’t expecting groundbreaking. FC3 obliterated my expectations and is easily in my top-tier of 2012 games. I can see myself sinking hours into the campaign, and I am stoked to see what people concoct with the map editor over time. If you like FPS games in general, you owe it to yourself to pick up FC3. The game exceeds all expectations and is quickly becoming one I can’t stop thinking about when real life takes me away from Rook Island.
Review copy of game provided by publisher. Primary play on Xbox 360.