Tigers always ruin everything. There I was, 20 minutes into my stealthiest outpost takedown yet. The perimeter guards had all been lured clear and picked off, the alarms had been shut down with surgical precision, and the remaining quintet of interior camp guards had all been marked for termination. With no enemy patrols on the road and night starting to fall, the time had finally arrived. It would have been perfect, if not for that damn tiger.
As I crept quietly toward the outskirts of the camp, a sudden burst of gunfire from within gave me pause. An exasperated sigh on my lips, I slipped back to the treeline and worked my way over to the opposite end of the camp, where the commotion was coming from. There, in the growing darkness, I saw three, now two, gun-toting pirates doing their best to put down an invading tiger. Now one. The last man standing out of the five managed to land a killing blow on the great cat, though he wouldn’t have time to savor the victory. I put the weakened pirate down with my sniper rifle in one shot, no longer interested in my planned stealthy infiltration.
Welcome To Paradise
Far Cry 3 begins in a prison cell. Pirates have captured Jason Brody and his vacation party — a group that also includes his two brothers — after an ill-fated skydiving expedition. The captives have been split up and now it’s just Jason and his older brother Grant, a trained soldier on leave. It’s Grant who engineers a spur-of-the-moment escape plan and it’s Grant who guides himself and his brother to the perimeter of the pirate camp they’re trapped in. It’s also Grant who, right on the cusp of freedom, takes a fatal bullet, fired from a gun belonging to Vaas Montenegro.
Vaas is an electrifying antogonist, a charismatic crazyman who dogs Jason’s progress through Far Cry 3‘s story from moment one. But Vaas is really a small portion of a much bigger story. He’s ultimately just a red herring, a well-conceived bit of sleight of hand that keeps your attention riveted to the shiny thing while the meat of the experience sinks in. He, like many others that you’ll meet in Far Cry 3, has a lesson to share with Jason. There is an insidious second narrative at work throughout your journey, and Vaas is emblematic of the parallel paths that you tread. Once he’s gone, what started as a revenge quest transforms and you realize that you’ve become exactly what you’ve fought so hard to resist.
Jason is not Vaas in some Fight Club-like twist. That should be made clear. But you are Jason and Jason is you, and the two of you come to follow a Vaas-like trajectory into clear-headed insanity. Big credit to Ubisoft Montreal’s writing staff for pulling together this surprisingly affecting story. Far Cry 3 is empowerment fantasy at its finest. Jason, stripped of everything he knows and everyone he loves, is forced to take control of his own destiny. This is standard-issue video game storytelling, and yet it somehow hits on a much deeper level than games are generally able to.
Part of the credit goes to the little things, the small features in Far Cry 3 that give the feeling of being part of this world. The slight heaving of weight as Jason pulls himself onto a ledge. The pause as a doorknob is turned and the slight step back to allow the door space to swing open. The lifting and ducking into the confines of a hang glider’s perch. Far Cry 3 takes no shortcuts with its animations. If Jason is going to do something, he’s going to do it right, and in a realistic way. It’s an entirely convincing illusion, just like it was in Far Cry 2.
Credit goes as well to the sharp, linear narrative, a necessary divergence away from the open-ended nature of your world explorations. Story missions are tightly composed affairs that offer up a stunning variety of scenarios, from tomb raiding to run-and-gun action to stealth to – believe it or not – an epic showdown against a skyscraper-sized “boss” monster. It all makes perfect sense within the context of the story, a story strengthened all the more thanks to its cast of bizarre characters. Vaas is the ad-driven tip of a very large iceberg, a mascot chosen to represent a wider assortment of individuals who will help and hurt Jason as he searches for his lost friends.
Then there’s the open world, a stunning achievement of game design that amounts to a gigantic, beautiful diversion delivery system. You can hunt, you can craft, you can take on arcade-style challenges, liberate outposts, assassinate marked targets, climb rickety radio towers, race, and then some. Crafting actually deserves a special mention, since it’s fundamentally tied to Jason’s progression. Hunting and gathering are required tasks, and you’ll use what you collect to make healing items and improve your weapons/ammo/loot storage capacity. XP rewards feed into a separate leveling system, with skills divided between three trees that favor stealthy play, ranged play, and brutal in-your-face play (though you’ll dip into all three).
You can also simply explore, allowing Far Cry 3‘s living world to surprise you with dingos and tigers and bears. Oh my. This is an open world that gauntlet-smacks the likes of Skyrim with a challenge to do better. The dynamic environment that is Far Cry 3‘s tropical paradise nightmare has no equal in gaming; I’ve never encountered an open world that feels more “alive” than this one does. You’ll play Far Cry 3, but Far Cry 3 will play you as well with every step that you take.
Triple Threat Appeal
Piled on top of the story-driven campaign are a pair of multiplayer-oriented modes, for adversarial and cooperative play. Co-op amounts to its own story, following four character archetypes — the angry Scot, the ass-kicking black woman, the gruff city copy, the stoic, thickly accented Eastern European — as they seek vengeance on a ship’s captain who sold them off to pirates. Or attempted to. Our foursome escapes before they can be captured, and they set out together to follow the captain’s trail and bring him justice at the business end of a loaded gun.
The co-op missions lack the varied flavor that is on offer in the solo campaign. They’re more involved than advancing through a series of checkpoints as you gun down everything in your path, but the framework is for co-op play. You’ll defend teammates as they carry mission-critical objects and work together to defend locations against attack. The vibe is different compared to that of the solo campaign, but not in an objectionable way. Far Cry 3 co-op is different, and more linear, but it offers good times. Especially since you’ve got the same dangling carrot progression that fuels the adversarial multiplayer.
I admittedly wasn’t able to spend much time with Far Cry 3‘s competitive online mode. The dangers of playing games pre-release and all that. The bits that I’ve seen show promise, again thanks to a well-developed system of dangling carrots. It also helps that the core game here is so mechanically sound; the feel is different from a Call of Duty or a Battlefield, but Far Cry 3‘s weapons pack some impressive punch, delivering virtual gunplay that fundamentally entertains. Add to all of that a robust map editor that allows for both solo futzing and online carnage and you’re left with a potent recipe for success. I’ll adjust this review accordingly if the post-release multiplayer doesn’t measure up, but the various bits and pieces all seem to fall into the right places based on what I’ve seen.
Cutting Corners By Necessity
The bulk of my review play was with a PC version of the game, and I’m pleased to say that Far Cry 3 looks outstanding on my Alienware X51 (the mid-range i5 model). The tropical paradise is rendered with exquisite detail, feeding you breathtaking vista after breathtaking vista. You’ll squirm at the sight of Jason snapping a dislocated thumb back into place or digging a bullet out of his arm with a knife because it looks (and sounds) so alarmingly real. The AI behaviors are similarly impressive; pirates all come from a fairly limited stock of character models, but they’ll demonstrate individual and group intelligence most of the time, sending advance scouts forward, engaging in flanking maneuvers, and the like.
I’ve also spent a good 10 hours (and counting) with the Xbox 360 version of Far Cry 3, and I can confirm that corners were most definitely cut. As you would probably expect. The world still looks beautiful, but multiple layers of detail have been stripped away for the aging game consoles. The world AI also doesn’t seem to be quite as sharp. Enemies will still challenge with unexpected behaviors, but that intelligence is tempered by occasional breakdowns. I’ve seen my own friendly Rakyat forces run over their fellow soldiers in speeding jeeps and I’ve seen enemies fire rockets directly into whatever object they’re crouched behind. These occasional breakdowns don’t disrupt the experience too much, but they’re all that much more obvious when everything around them is otherwise so sharp and polished.
Far Cry 3 is a tremendous game to cap off the year with, and Ubisoft’s strongest of 2012. It should be considered a strong contender for game of the year. As a work of entertainment, Far Cry 3 is most definitely of the “can’t miss” variety. It’s an exceptional game by any measure, and it effectively raises the bar for any first-person open world experience that follows.
Score: 9.5 out of 10
(This game was reviewed on both the PC and the Xbox 360, using copies provided by the publisher)