Far Cry 3 lets you capture pirate bases using bears and dingos. I’m not really convinced the rest of this review is necessary.
I suppose I should elaborate. Far Cry 3 is an odd sequel in that none of the Far Cry games are terribly related. They have no common story or characters, just a slight thematic concern with adapting to new environments and cultures, and a technical concern with immersion and freedom. Far Cry 1 was a technical marvel, but ruined by a crazy twist half way through that left you fighting aliens in crazy jungle corridors. Far Cry 2 had strokes of genius with spreading wildfires and varied animations when you ‘healed’ yourself like prying bullets out of your wounds or relocating joints. Unfortunately it was ruined by not being fun and some incredibly frustrating design decisions such as infinitely respawning checkpoints on all roads. Far Cry 3 has taken the best ideas from the rest of the series, and also tried a few new things, and for the most part it’s worked.
The thing that really works is the gameplay, and it’s important as you can imagine. You have a decent amount of freedom in how you carry out your varied objectives, from checkpoint races to story based infiltrations to camp takeovers. The camp takeovers are a particular treat as you get rewarded with experience for being stealthy and dispatching enemies with your amazing ninja skills (Dishonoured would be proud) or you can get rewarded for setting everything on fire and unleashing caged animals into the fray. There are definitely certain ‘events’ that the game pushes you towards, local wildlife is varied and aggressive, so you’ll often see animals attacking NPCs; Hangliders are perched on cliffs above bases, there are convenient holes in fences for sneaking or piles of mines for exploding. But the fact that these situations are presented to you doesn’t make it any less fun, it often feels spontaneous, even if really there was a huge amount of hand-holding behind the scenes.
A regular base attack for me would often involve scouting out the site from a hill somewhere, using the bow to pick off any enemies too far from the others. When you focus on an enemy, they are tagged in a similar system to Battlefield 3, and you can track them through walls. Once the outliers are dispatched, I’ll sprint into long grass near the compound, and slide up against a wall, waiting for the guards to move into the right position. Perhaps with the aid of a well-thrown rocks to get their backs to me, I’ll launch through a hole in the fence to shove my knife through the ribcage of a hapless pirate, pull a knife out of his belt to throw at another enemy, then loose an arrow at a wooden cage releasing giant birds into the panic. By then often some fool will have been throwing molotovs, and everything will be on fire. The fire spreads quickly, and the animals tend to panic around it, so while I’m patting my arm trying to put it out, the cassowary will be scratching the eyes out of the petrol-bombing dolt and I’ll be left in the smoking ashes of the compound, facing down the bird, unsure whether to shoot it or throw it a high-five. Then it’ll kill me because those birds are cruel.
Unfortunately while scenes like this play out all the time in the game, they start to lose their appeal once you start noticing the seams and strings holding everything together. The graphics are beautiful at times, but can get ugly when certain water effects mix with the lighting engine. Occasionally a character will clip through a wall or a low-res texture will appear, breaking the immersion completely. The AI does ridiculous things, reminding you that it’s just a computer program that doesn’t know how to deal with simple issues such as what to do if you’re in water. You’ll quickly realise you’re doing the same things over and over and there’s surprisingly little variation, given the freedom.
The story is also a substantial disappointment. Ostensibly about the morality of justified murder and insanity, it never really lives up to the hype presented before the game was released. The ‘madness’ scenes are all very samey and never resonate in the way that Max Payne 1 and 2 or Spec Ops:The Line did. There are some great characters such as the psychotic but oddly likeable Vaas, but then the player character never really establishes himself and it’s hard to relate to the thing he does or says. Much was made of how you would adapt to murder, but within twenty minutes of landing on the island I had murdered a small village worth of people just for fun. Freedom and a strong narrative rarely go together well, and this game falls well short of the mark in that respect.
The multiplayer is chaotic and enjoyable, but ultimately forgettable. The co-op modes offer the most fun, with a more action-oriented take that the single player, but once you’ve completed each mission there’s not a lot of temptation to go back as very little (if anything) is randomised.
There are wonderful moments when you’re wandering around, like the time I dived into the sea while being chased by pirates and found myself in between giant manta rays, with sunlight filtering through the water, but there isn’t enough of this kind of wonder to keep you occupied for very long. I’m sure I got my twenty hours out of the game, but it’s doubtful as to whether I’ll go back to it often, if ever.
Overall this game is a fun little sandbox but there’s no real balance between the different driving forces of the game. There’s not enough freedom to be a classic open-world toybox like Just Cause 2, and there’s too much freedom for the narrative to have a very pronounced effect. Far Cry continues to improve, and I look forward to Far Cry 4, but I’d wait until you can rent this or pick it up in a sale.