Starting with the original Far Cry, released for the PC in 2004, Ubisoft slowly began carving out a niche for itself in the crowded FPS market by stripping away the traditional “level” design of most first-person shooters and replacing it with an open, freely-explorable world. Instead of self-contained “levels,” you received a mission and an objective waypoint and it was then your responsibility to make your own way to where you needed to go, while engaging hostiles and completing objectives however you saw fit. You could strafe the enemy camp with a heavy machine gun from a boat before assaulting it on foot, you could sneak up and silently kill everyone, you could bomb the hell out of the enemy with grenades, C4, and anything else you could make explode, or any other combination that comes to mind.
Eventually, the Crysis series came in and stole a little thunder from Far Cry with its story of alien invasions and soldiers in super-suits. Then consoles started getting in on the Far Cry party. Those first console Far Cry titles were unremarkable to say the least. The open world was mostly gone and the graphical downgrades were disappointing.
Then in 2008, with Far Cry 2, Ubisoft tried to revolutionize the FPS by setting it in the most detailed and realistic open-world setting the genre’s ever seen. It was mostly successful and offered gamers stunning visuals, a day/night cycle, inclement weather, wild animals, and a true open-world. However, several things did not work. Respawning enemies made foot travel harrowing at best and controller-tossingly difficult at worst and the limited fast-travel system didn’t help. Also, the world, while beautiful, was a little sterile and lifeless. Towns were locked down demilitarized zones where shooting your gun - even accidentally - meant it was now you versus the entire town. Also, in their quest for realism and immersion, your character was saddled with malaria that required a near constant supply of meds lest you fuzz out during combat. The game also featured featured degrading weapon meaning that any gun you ripped from the cold, dead hands of an enemy was going to jam or just cease to function sooner rather than later.
That brings us to Far Cry 3. Far Cry 3 deviates from Far Cry 2 in many ways and almost all are for the better. It’s possible that Far Cry 3 is exactly the kind of open-world first-person shooter Ubi has been trying to make for almost a decade.
The very first thing that struck me about Far Cry 3 was the tone, set right there in the intro movie that features a bunch of twentysomethings partying like they’re about to be kidnapped by pirates - which is exactly what happens when, on the last day of their South Pacific adventure, they decide to skydive above Rook Island not knowing that the pirates on Rook, led by the certifiably insane Vaas, just love to kidnap then ransom those that look like their parents can pay. Far Cry 3 eschews the more socially relevant African setting and morally conflicted mercs, warlords, and arms dealers of Far Cry 2 for dudes and their girlfriends and the story of the worst vacation ever.
Part of that, to me, is the game’s biggest surprise. Far Cry 3’s protagonist isn’t some super-soldier, regular soldier, highly-skilled mercenary, poorly-skilled mercenary, bounty hunter, or even a scrappy journalist with luck on his side. No, in Far Cry 3 you are Jason Brody - soft, frightened, and, if I can be crass for a second, kind of a douche bag in that “whut up, brah?” frat boy kind of way. When the game opens and you find yourself caged and bound while Vaas rants at you about things that could only make sense to a crazy person, it’s your ex-military older brother that frees you and leads you on a tense sneak session out of the pirate camp. You escape briefly but everything goes to hell from there. Eventually Jason finds himself in the care of a local named Dennis - a member of the native Rakyat tribe - who is so convinced Jason is some mythical savior that he tattoos him with what can only be described as magical ink and sends him out to stop Vaas and break the pirates’ hold on the island and its natives and to also rescue his brother, their girlfriends, and the rest of the group. Along the way Jason meets a motley crew of eccentrics and weirdoes and you, as the player, get to enjoy an open-world game in the most classic sense.
You might be asking what makes an open-world game “classic.” Well, to me, it’s all about the side quests. The best open-world games have a wide variety of side quests to distract you from the story. Far Cry 3 gets this right exactly as much as Far Cry 2 got it wrong. The game is filled with assassination missions, hunting jobs, sharp shooting challenges, races, and poker. It’s reminiscent of Red Dead Redemption in that way, however, a better comparison would be Just Cause 2, or maybe the love child of RDR and JC2. It even has “bounty boards” because it hadn’t sampled Borderlands yet. There are also “story missions” that help flesh out the island, collectible relics, memory cards that flesh out the island’s history with the drug trade, and letters from long dead Japanese soldiers stationed on Rook during WWII.
That’s not even everything. FC3 also has enemy camps to liberate which reduces the enemy’s presence in the region - and no, camps don’t respawn like guard posts in FC2. You also have radio towers to activate. Those reveal previously hidden areas of the map and allow you to receive free weapons at safe houses. And finally, you have Trials of the Rakyat. Those are basically carnage missions where your goal is to kill as many enemies as you can with a specific weapon or vehicle within a certain time limit. Scores are tracked via leader board with the top scorer getting their gamertag scrawled on the rock carving that initiates the mission.
So there are tons of things to do, but what about Rook Island itself? Nothing hurts an open-world game more than a lackluster open-world, right? Well, Far Cry 3 has no such problems. Rook Island is a tropical paradise, and as such, features rivers, lakes, rainforest, rolling hills, islands, native ruins, and mountains to explore on foot, or via car, truck, dune buggy, ATV, rubber boat, Jet Ski, and hang glider. Each one is a blast in their own way. I only wish comprehensive river travel was possible, but, for what I assume are gameplay reasons, waterfalls keep the rivers broken up into segments and it’s only around the island that you can freely travel by boat. That’s a little disappointing. Also a little disappointing is the lack of personality Rook shows. Whereas the African setting in FC2 was almost a character in and of itself full of dense rainforest, endless expanses of lifeless desert, advanced darkness, intense thunderstorms, and river travel that would creep even Joseph Conrad out a little, Rook Island is brighter, more open, more inviting, and far less threatening. It’s in line with FC3’s distancing from the immersion and realism in FC2, but it’s disappointing nonetheless - it’s also way more fun.
And then there is the wildlife on Rook Island, and what a menagerie that is. You’ll come across goats, tapirs, water buffalo, and giant turtles, among others; however, the real fun is in dealing with the animals that want to tear your face off. For that you have bears, komodo dragons, leopards, tigers, crocodiles, bull sharks, boars, and the roughly man-sized flightless birds called cassowaries (think colorful yet deadly ostriches). Rook Island is a Darwinian paradise full of things that want to eat you. It’s made all the more…um…“interesting” by their insane resistance to bullets. I’m talking about getting mauled to death by a leopard despite putting half a mag into its face. It gets even more ridiculous as the predators grown in size. For tigers and bears, don’t even bother shooting them; explosives are your best friend. That’s right; in Far Cry 3 you can hunt tigers with landmines. It’s insane. I don’t know if it’s a hit detection issue in the game itself or if the people at Ubisoft just like messing with us gamers. Either way, you have been warned. At least it keeps you wary if you travel on foot. On the plus side, many enemy camps come with caged animals. One well placed shot will release them. Then you only have to sit back and wait for the bear or tiger or whatever to do all the work, and then you can roll in the XP bonus that comes with liberating an enemy camp undetected.
I said “XP bonus” because Far Cry 3 has chosen to open up a can of RPG whup-ass on us. Now, each kill and activity earns XP and when you level up you can spend the earned skill point on a skill in one of three trees: Heron skills, Shark skills, and Spider skills. Heron skills translate to long distance combat and mobility, Shark skills translate to assault skills and healing, and Spider skills translate to stealth and survival. Oh, and every time you pick one, your magical tattoo grows. By the end of the game, you can forget about ever getting a job that doesn’t involve drugs or motorcycles.
Honestly, the RPG aspects are a little undercooked, amounting to little more than the ability to change the order in which you adopt skills, but you know, if you want a first-person RPG you can go play Skyrim. The skills are fairly useful and include things like cooking grenades, enhanced aim, more health, an ever-increasingly complex set of possible stealth takedowns, and more competence with the ability-enhancing syringes you can craft yourself from the color-coded plant life you find throughout Rook Island.
You’ll also find yourself crafting other items out of the skins of animals you kill. These items improve you inventory, money, ammo, explosives, and weapon carrying capacity. At the start you can carry one weapon at a time, and very little ammo and explosives so skinning the appropriate animals to craft those items is one of the first things you should do. Luckily, they’re almost always easy to find.
In case you couldn’t already tell, the single-player portion of Far Cry 3 is pretty big with 20 or 30 hours of content; however, it doesn’t stop there. Far Cry 3 also sports a separate co-op campaign, a full suite of multiplayer options and the map editor is back.
The co-op campaign can be played online with up to four players or offline with two via split screen. The story consists of six “chapters” and takes place before the main story and involves a ship captain that sold his ship and crew to Rook’s pirates and the four people determined to hunt the captain down and score a huge pay day in the process. The four characters are pretty unremarkable. You have the old man, the obligatory female, the crazy guy, and the regular guy. They all have their own back stories, but you probably won’t care. Also, each mission sports fully rendered cut scenes. It’s straight-forward and lacking any real open-world content, but it exists - and, frankly, it has to in this day and age.
The multiplayer, meanwhile, is pretty much what you’d expect. There are four modes: Team Deathmatch, Domination (aka “capture and hold”), Transmission (score points by controlling transmitters), and Firestorm. In Firestorm, each team must set fire to two supply caches belonging to the other team. Once that happens, the battle shifts its focus to a transmitter that, if controlled by the team that set the fires, calls in an aircraft to drop kerosene, causing a firestorm and ending the match. If the other team wins control of the transmitter, a fire fighting aircraft puts the fire out and the match continues. Obviously Firestorm is the only real original idea in the bunch.
Finally, you have the map editor. If that’s your thing, then have at it. I found it confusing and tough to use, but I’ve never touched the map editor in a Far Cry game before so that’s on me.
Beyond gameplay modes and features, the graphics and music are good enough. There is a lot of object fade-in and a fair amount of screen tearing, however. It’s what you’d expect from previous Ubisoft games. When you stand still, though, the game can look breathtaking.
The music is nice, but just sort of gets in the way of the natural sounds of the jungle and the first time you get jumped by a tiger you didn’t hear because of the intrusive music, you’ll turn it off just like I did. On the other hand, being able to hear every noise every animal makes is nerve-racking in its own way. I don’t know if tapirs really sound like vicious, blood thirsty monsters, but I do know that the sound they make in the game is terrifying. I can’t count how many times I’ve snapped around ready to defend myself from whatever monstrosity is attacking only to find that it’s just a tapir mindin’ its business.
Overall, Far Cry 3 is a vast improvement over Far Cry 2. What it loses in immersion and atmosphere, it more than makes up for in fun, thanks to generous fast travel and fairly forgiving combat, the ability to tag and track both animals and enemies, and vehicles that really typify “Hollywood handling.” Despite the handful of technical issues, Far Cry 3 is easily recommendable to FPS fans everywhere. It’s a big game with a solid story full of interesting characters, fun missions, an interesting island to play on, and all the multiplayer and co-op options a game needs.