The Far Cry series has always had that of a devout yet cult following, perhaps both because the first installment was PC-exclusive and because each game features a unique location and story. That is to say there is no common, uniting element beyond that of you needing to kill your way out of a difficult situation. Far Cry 3 isn’t merely one of the best holiday releases this year, it may be the best FPS of 2012.
The definition of insanity
Far Cry 3 takes place on a South Pacific archipelago, with gamers taking the role of Jason Brody. Together with his brothers and their friends, Brody’s brotastic vacation goes ploin-shaped when they find themselves in the clutches of slavers. After escaping the drug-crazed Vaas, Jason must quickly turn from frightened tourist into a one-man army, fighting to rescue his friends. Along the way Jason meets various inhabitants of the islands and in these offerings, Ubisoft has managed to create a set of memorable characters. While the overall story to Far Cry 3 is nothing to write home about (more on that later), every person you meet feels like a real individual with actual motivations and it’s impossible to understate how rich this makes the world feel — special nods to Citra, Dennis, Vaas and Buck’s voice work.
The size of the islands is immense, easily comparable to something like Skyrim. Every square inch of the island feels like something from a Lonely Planet guide with breathtaking vistas and gorgeous views. This is best experienced while hang gliding, allowing you to really take in the scope of the islands and the oceans. It’s impossible to do this mechanic justice — climbing to the top of a mountain and looking out across the land, only to hop into a hang glider and then float to your next mission is a phenomenal experience.
Exploration combined with hunting, crafting and sidequests make this one of the best values this holiday season. In fact, yet again I am boggled that games like this receive less attention than the frustratingly linear hand-holding exercise that is the Assassin’s Creed franchise. But I digress.
Becoming one with the jungle
It feels only natural to start this section with mention of the predators found within the islands. Sharks, wild dogs, tigers and Komodo dragons can be found all over the island and while it’s fun to punch a shark in the face, that’s not what makes the wildlife stand out. Nothing — and I do mean nothing– tops the sheer joy that can be had releasing a tiger into a group of enemies and watching it do its tiger business. A close second is wandering the jungle and hearing the unmistakable hiss of a Komodo dragon, or the baying of wild dogs. The animals act in a realistic manner, hunting down prey and reacting to your presence, and yes, swimming along and being unexpectedly grabbed by a shark is truly a fear-inducing moment.
The sound design really deserves recognition. Throughout the island Jason must climb old, rickety radio towers to gain the map for that section of the island. Climbing these towers and hearing the metal creak and groan under your weight and any passing breeze instills a sense of vertigo that I rarely shook. Add to this the shaking, swaying camera work and you have a majesty of game design.
Another feature of the game that struck a chord with me — and is a clear improvement over Far Cry 2 — is your ability to positively affect the locals. In Equatorial Guinea, no matter how often you killed local warlords and their henchmen, the island stayed in a constant state of war-torn misery. That is to say all of your work was in vain. In Far Cry 3, as you liberate outposts you bring locals back and eliminate patrolling enemies for that area.
The skill system in Far Cry 3 is visually cool but feels a little superfluous to gameplay. As you level up you are able to select various skills from three trees: Heron, Shark and Spider. As you select skills these are visually represented in Jason’s arm tattoo which is super cool in and of itself, but sadly the skills don’t provide that noticeable of perks. As an example, I often found myself sitting on multiple skill points later in the game because I would forget to spend them.
Time to make the medicine
Much like Skyrim or Fallout, Far Cry 3 is not flawless. The enemy AI isn’t great and at turns it’s downright laughable. Perhaps this is just me, but it feels as though Ubisoft heard the criticism from Far Cry 2 and went a little too far to remove some of the challenging features of the game. Yes, traveling anywhere in Far Cry 2 was a pain in the butt, but the fast travel system in Far Cry 3 feels a little too easy. Also, depending on your feelings toward the minutia of the aforementioned Bethesda titles, all of the hunting and crafting may feel more like busy work.
I feel as though the story deserves a slight knock here, too. About mid-way through the game Jason has a very startling and intriguing realization* that would have elevated this story from that of gung-ho shooter to something more cerebral. Sadly, this concept is abandoned to return to the safety of shooter land. Much like Darksiders II earlier this year, the ending is rather abrupt and several loose ends are left open. Oddly, this feels like a minor complaint in light of everything else.
It’s almost impossible to not recommend Far Cry 3. There is so much to see and do, it makes for a wonderful value, and even on Xbox 360 the graphics are impressive. If the devil is in the details, Ubisoft Montreal has crafted a highly detailed, solid shooter that offers something for most everyone. Since it isn’t reliant upon having played the first two games, it’s highly accessible and an amazing addition to your holiday lineup.
- Release Date: December 4, 2012
- Genre: FPS
- Platform: PC, Xbox 360, PS3
- Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
- Publisher: Ubisoft
- ESRB Rating: M
- MSRP: $59.99
Our Score: 4.5/5
Reviewer’s note: A copy of Far Cry 3 was provided by Ubisoft for the purposes of this review
*Yes, I plan to discuss this at length in a spoiler ‘cast.