Developer: Ubisoft Montreal / Publisher: Ubisoft / Played on: PlayStation 3 / Price: $59.99 / ESRB: Mature [Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Nudity, Strong Language, Strong Sexual Content, Use of Drugs]
If you can’t get enough of open world shooters in tropical island settings, the last several years have been good to you. Those fans have enjoyed an annual release since 2007, from Crysis to last year’s Dead Island. The series that pioneered this subgenre is now in its third mainline installment, Far Cry 3. While the series creator Crytek hasn’t been associated with this franchise since after its inception, the German studio should be proud of what Ubisoft Montreal has pulled off.
Like Dead Island and unlike the previous Far Crys, Far Cry 3 features protagonists who aren’t soldiers or mercenaries, and are, instead, tourists. You play Jason Brody, who, along with his family and friends, made the mistake of skyjumping into the unfamiliar island chain known as the Rook Islands. Some avoid the hostile inhabitants, but others like Jason and his brother Grant aren’t so lucky. The leader of this small gang of captors is Vaas, a maniacal and sadistic pirate whose presence helps set the dark tone for the rest of the game. Vaas might be violent and unpredictable, but he pales in comparison to the mysterious man pulling Vaas’ strings. Escaping Vaas’ camp (which is also the game’s tutorial) leads you to Vaas’ opposition, who appear to be the good guys of the island. Whether that’s true or not, they have the resources to help Jason find his friends.
Much like most open world games, you quickly get the options to progress through the story missions or get drawn into the islands’ wealth of distractions and side missions. There are rival territories to take over, timed races, and skill challenges. There’s engaging plot development with each completed mainline mission, giving the story its own positive momentum. Yet you would do well to take your time and enjoy all the diversions, because most anything you do adds experience that leads to expanding your skill tree.
The skills are conveniently sorted into three animal-themed categories: Heron, Shark, and Spider. Each category has upgrades for different play styles but mobility, healing, and survival skills are also split into these sections, so you just might find yourself dipping into each category as you progress through the story.
Complementing the skills tree is the game’s crafting system. You first learn this by gathering colored plants to make healing items. Sound familiar? Crafting in Far Cry 3 does feel like a 5th generation evolution of Resident Evil’s herb crafting. Yet it’s not just limited to plants; you make bigger wallets and more holsters by hunting and skinning specific animals in and around the islands.
With the AI, Ubisoft Montreal maintains the high standard of enemy behavior that Crytek innovated in 2004. Enemies aren’t so much smart as they are aggressive. Once you’re spotted, they will come at you, and some will charge at you headlong. Those particular guys are easy pickings since they don’t shoot until they’re close. Other enemies are more practical, moving forward while using points of cover. Enemies on wheels are equally aggressive and are happy to chase and shoot at you while you’re trying to speed away; these make for fun chases if you know the terrain. You are also at a disadvantage when battling foes within indoor areas like mines since you don’t have the opportunity to preemptively mark them with your camera before being noticed.
The camera is one of the key ingredients that makes Far Cry 3 immensely accessible to fans of stealth gameplay. You feel you’re getting the upper hand as you point and zoom your camera and perform a headcount of all the visible enemies in the immediate vicinity and in the distance. I haven’t had this much use out of a surveillance tool since the binoculars in Metal Gear Solid 3. Whether it’s your survival instinct or your newfound island powers, you also have the ability to see enemies through objects and walls after you’ve marked them. This is very helpful if your mission escalates into a gun battle.
From the camera and surveillance, the next step in the silent infiltration gameflow is with diversion. This is an undeveloped island, so it feels natural that you would have access to rocks whenever you like. Simply throw one and a once guarded path is open to you. Better yet, this is your opportunity to take out a guard, which is surprisingly easy.
Just as you have these tools for stealth, you also have equal access to weapons. The usual array of firearms from aim-stable pistols to rocket launchers become available early in the game. When you also take into account the weapon, ammo, and loot pick ups from dead guards, dying almost feels embarrassing.
With the addition of fast travel, there’s an impressive gameflow where it’s quick to knock out a couple side missions as you make your way to the next story objective. Better yet, many of these optional missions have practical rewards as well. For example, there are radio towers to scale similar to the elevated synchronization points in the Assassin’s Creed series. By claiming these towers, you’re not only revealing the map of the immediate area, but also making it easier for allied merchants to acquire better and more affordable goods. Another way you can help the cause is by making supply drops, which are simply brief point-to-point timed races.
While the story has a large ensemble cast and seems suited to cooperative multiplayer, that option is not available in Far Cry 3. Instead, co-op is its own mode with its own story, set six months prior to Jason Brody’s adventure. The playable characters are four social outcasts from a cruise ship. They’re ballsy and they’re also very motivated, having been sold out by their ship captain to a bunch of pirates. This revenge tale is nowhere near as long as the single-player mode, but it’s a finely executed addition to Far Cry 3.
For adversarial multiplayer, Team Deathmatch is available, though the other modes are more interesting in their objective-based designs. Domination and Transmission both emphasize capture points while Firestorm is a multi-objective mode where you have to ignite flammable areas within a short span of time. This kind of multiplayer familiarity also extends to the four available classes and their respective loadouts. The stealthy Saboteur has his silencers and the Hunter has his sniper rifle. The aptly named Rusher is recommended for assertive and direct players, while the Gunner is the most well rounded of the four. No matter your preference, each class has something to contribute. Lastly, the 10 available maps range in sizes from adequate to satisfyingly large and offer a solid array of environments and terrains.
VISUALS AND SOUND
If you’ve enjoyed first-person games in heavy vegetation settings before then you won’t be surprised at the modest framerate of Far Cry 3. At least with the console versions, the visuals aren’t smooth but they’re manageable, even in combat. The countless blades of grass, general variety in surroundings, and the day/night cycle do a lot to make this island chain both convincing and inviting. I also found the characters to be well developed both in their design and their motion-capture acting.
Far Cry 3 lets you soak in the tropical island sound ambiance and only saves actual music for the cutscenes and the gun battles. While not especially remarkable, the music features a good balance of up-tempo and dramatic compositions. The natural sounds of the forests and jungles offer enough texture with wind, plant rustling, bird noises that the game really doesn’t need a lot of music.
For as large as Far Cry 3’s setting is, there’s an elegant conciseness to the game’s story mode. It’ll still take tens of hours for completionists to get through, but the fast travel and dense map ensures you always have something meaningful to do within minutes. The production demands of an open world game make Far Cry 3’s sub-30 frames per second performance acceptable.
Moreover, it’s not riddled with bugs to the degree that Dead Island was, before or after that game’s week-one patch. It’s also rare to find a game where all three discrete modes are above average. As an island-based open world shooter, Far Cry 3 ranks high and manages to do it without trained soldiers or high powered exosuits.
+ Open space gun battles promote improvisation
+ Concise gameflow
+ All modes are worth trying
9 / 10