Far Cry 3 Review
I’ll start off by saying Far Cry 3 is hands-down the most intense game I’ve played this year. The box art advertises a journey “into the heart of insanity,” and does it ever deliver on that promise. I can’t sit here and tell you the game blows the previous Far Crys (Far Cries?) away because this is actually my first experience with the series. I can say, on its own however, that Far Cry 3 is a fantastic first-person shooter experience.
Far Cry 3 tells the story of Jason Brody, a nebbish ne’er-do-well twenty-something on vacation in South-East Asia with his two brothers and their little clique of friends. The game begins with the mandatory accompanying track to any montage of American twenty-somethings acting like rowdy idiots —Paper Planes, by M.I.A. After a brief whiplash-inducing introduction, our seven haplessly attractive d-bags are plunged feet-first into hell, quite literally. Protip, kids: blind skydiving onto an island full of pirates on the ‘advice’ of your skeezy DJ friend-of-a-friend is NOT a good idea. The local gang of pirates quickly captures them all, and it looks like the intro to the shortest game ever, as they’re about to sold off into slavery, or just straight up killed.
After a harrowing escape from the pirates’ lair, where young Jason barely makes it out with his life, he’s taken in by the locals of the island, one of whom decides to arm and train him (or rather give him a gun and send him out into the jungle to learn for himself), in the hopes of turning our aimless d-bag ‘protagonist’ into a warrior-god. From there, it’s an uphill slog through every measure of tropical hell imaginable as you struggle to save as many of your friends as you possibly can from the hands of lunacy incarnate: Vaas Montenegro.
What I Liked
Let’s get this one out of the way first. Far Cry 3 is like first or second season Lost meets Heart of Darkness, by way of an Uncharted game. I’m at a loss for my usual hackneyed descriptors here: it is just plain visceral. It doesn’t so much ‘immerse’ you in its story so much as it forcibly holds your head in it and cackles maniacally whilst performing profane acts on and around you. Oh, no, sorry, wait, that’s Vaas, but we’ll get to him short order.
The story of Far Cry 3 is a long and unflinching character study of evil. You could probably take it further and call it a deconstruction of violent video games in general, as well as the people who play such games. It prompts all kinds of uncomfortable questions, like just what kind of person enjoys inflicting this kind of brutality on other human beings, or—worse still—does it, and is simply numb to it. This is not one of those games you can write off as “LOL Vidja Gamez Riting!” like say Call of Duty: Black Ops II (uncomfortable David Patreaus cameo and all); there’s a lot more going on under the hood of Far Cry 3, a lot of intriguing, troubling, existentially vile things. I could write a Master’s thesis on it.
But I won’t.
Vaas Montenegro, you crazy, vile bastard. I have not seen a villain this psychotically captivating since Heath Ledger’s Joker in The Dark Knight. The man is a black hole that seems to suck all the light and warmth and humanity out of the world whenever he shows up on screen, and you cannot look away as he does so. This is due largely to the phenomenal motion capture work and voice acting by Michael Mando. Any still image you can find of Vaas already encapsulates the tweaking crazy that’s at work in his mind, but to see him in action is something else entirely. I am rarely terrified of video game villains these days, but Vaas quickly ripped the callus of that part of my psyche. After completing the prologue to Far Cry 3, I was left with only two thoughts: “this man scares the crap out of me… and I’m going to kill him, no matter what it takes.”
The Rook Islands are a beautiful and deadly living world in Far Cry 3, and you will either come to appreciate them enough to survive in them, or they will eat you up. I knew I’d blundered into something special when, while setting up a sniper attack on a hillside overlooking a pirate outpost, I was more concerned with the wild bear prowling around slope about a hundred feet away from me than I was any of the pirates down in the valley, who all had guns. “You just stay there and let me shoot these idiots without raising an alarm,” I kept thinking, as if the bear could be willed into compliance. I was lucky that time, it wandered off into the bushes and I completed my attack more-or-less stealthily. Another time, I was not as lucky, having my element of surprise completely ruined by a sudden tiger attack that forced me out of cover and gave away my position to the pirates. Far Cry 3 is just that kind of game.
That last point dovetails nicely into this one. Far Cry 3 is far more cerebral than any other first-person shooter I’ve ever played. It even outstrips Black Mesa in the “run, shoot, think, live” department, because you need to be prepared to do all of those things at any given moment, or you will die. Even once you’ve figured out the rhythm of the Rook Islands, you need to be on your guard at all times, lest, like I said, a tiger comes running out of the bushes and try to maul you as you’re setting up a sniper nest. It’s good to be a little paranoid when playing Far Cry 3—it will keep you alive.
Many elements of the game bear a strong resemblance to what you would find in any given Assassin’s Creed game, which isn’t that surprising given that it was developed by Ubisoft Montreal, the same studio responsible for the Assassin’s Creed franchise. You climb up radio towers to expand your view of the map; you complete side quests like races and target elimination to earn rewards; you can expand and customize your inventory and arsenal on the fly; and there’s a great deal of sneaking around to be done too. Some of the skills you unlock also come straight out any given Assassin’s Creed game, namely some of the quick-kill attacks, which waylay unsuspecting enemies in one hit. This feels a lot like the modern day Assassin’s Creed Ubisoft spend six years dangling in front of our noses to no avail in the form of Desmond Miles. Not that I’m bitter or anything. This is one of those games where the various elements and game modes all come together naturally and seamlessly, rather than feeling slapped together with duct tape.
There’s also QuickTime Events to be had as well. However, they get a surprisingly benevolent pass from me this time around because unlike other games, the QTEs in Far Cry 3 actually help to further your experience with the game, rather than come across as vestigial (like the two QTE sequences in Halo 4, for example). I actually get stabs of fear in some of these sequences, so good on you Far Cry 3 for even accomplishing that.
What I Didn’t Like
The Loading Screens
This problem only plagues the storyline missions, but Ubisoft, what happened? This is a right proper conundrum for me, especially after spending hours just screwing around between missions. You can run from one end of the map to the other in a single go and be bothered with nothing so much as an occasional out-pacing of the dynamic loading engine. In the storyline missions, however, the game starts channelling Asura’s Wrath and throws up a loading screen when you cross from one area to the next. Again, after doing a hit and run on a pirate outpost which resulted in a small inferno breaking out because I blew up the outpost’s gas tank, running into the woods and immediately having to fend off a bear that came charging out the bushes, before hopping on a jet ski down on the shore and zipping away as the forest burnt behind me, all without once encountering a loading screen or any pause in the action, the abrupt stops in the story missions. Are about as jarring as the period at the end of that disgustingly long sentence I just made you read.
This is perhaps the one major mechanical flaw in Far Cry 3. I just don’t get how Ubisoft could make a gigantic living world that’s damn near seamless and then play the stop-and-start shuffle when it comes to the narrower-focused storyline missions. Uncharted didn’t do this, Assassin’s Creed didn’t do this, so why is it happening here? All I know for certain is that I can pretty much name all the random-yet-meaningful words that flash through the loading sequences from memory because I’ve seen them so many times now.
This is a game to be played on the highest of high-end PCs, that’s for damn sure. Don’t get me wrong, the game does remarkably well with what it has, but even the PlayStation 3 nearly has a stroke trying to render everything in the game. The animation and character detail are top notch, I’ll say that too. Again, this is best displayed through Vaas, who likes to get his crazy as uncomfortably close to your face as possible. The lighting and environments are also beautiful, but things tend to fall apart if you look at them a little too closely or for too long, particularly when it comes to the shadow effects, which are pockmarked by artifacts and jagged edges. For better or worse, Far Cry 3 forces itself right up against the boundaries of current-gen graphics technologies… and leaves a few scratches and dents in the walls after its done.
Everyone Who’s Not Vaas
Okay, a few of the side characters are disgustingly endearing like the paranoid deep-cover CIA agent Willis, or the quasi-supernatural trickster Buck, but for the most part, the cast is an uninteresting lot. Perhaps it’s because they’re all existing in the shadow of the living god of awesome madness that is Vaas Montenegro. I just cannot get over my hate-crush for this man. Again though, I come back to the idea that I’m not supposed to like anyone in this game, no matter how charismatic they might seem. This is all about the ugly self-made monster that is humanity; no one gets to wear the hero hat in this game. Jason’s mission to save his friends becomes increasingly hollower as you the player see just how hollow (or broken) his friends are as people, and ultimately how hollow Jason himself is as a person, being an already empty vessel forced to live through the unending hell that is the Rook Islands under Vaas’s reign of insanity. As I said, I could probably get a Doctorate dissecting what’s really going on in this game.
Too Much Potential For Sidetracking
Okay, this one is quasi-optional, so make of it what you will, but there is just too much time-sink potential in this game. Yes, this argument is a recursive one that applies to video games in general, but timewasting in Far Cry 3 just feels like it’s there to pad out the gameplay. It’s the same thing that’s happening in the Assassin’s Creed games: semi-useful sidequests exploding out of control. They’re there to troll completionists (or obsessive-compulsives like myself). Some of them are worth the time, as they result in noticeable gameplay benefits, like climbing radio towers to reveal more of the map, or taking out pirate outposts to reduce enemy soldiers out in the wild, or hunting animals to craft better equipment. But the really useless ones tend to show up with the most frequency, and these are the ones that only give you money and experience, two things you earn in spades in the story missions anyway.
The sad part is, I can’t tell if this was done intentionally or not as a larger mechanical metaphor for the storyline. The game shows in full haunting detail how his time on the islands is changing Jason as a person, and that, while his quest is ostensibly to rescue and protect his friends, he grows more distant from them and what they represent as the game progresses. He becomes more and more a part of the islands, physically, mentally, and culturally. So then it’s little wonder that the game would expect you to put your ‘A’ quest on hold for hours at a time while you addressed the concerns of the islands—the world you’ve truly become invested in—rather than the world of your rich, entitled, shallow, baseball cap with the sticker still on it-wearing friends.
Or I might be reading too much into it.
Better Than: Halo 4*
There’s an asterisk on this one for reasons I’m about to explain. We gave Halo 4 a perfect 10, and as you can clearly see up at the top of the page, Far Cry 3 only nets a 9.0. Yet while I agree that Halo 4 is a very good game, I believe overall Far Cry 3 is the superior first-person shooter (hell, first-person story) experience. Far Cry 3 is a proverbial punch upside the head to your sensibilities. It provokes the tough questions about violence in video games (and violence as a fact of existence, for that matter) that are absent from the Halo games. It’s gameplay is more involved and involving than any given Halo (especially 4), the free-roaming is always superior to linear levels, and its more creative with mundanity than any Halo could ever hope to be with the limitless fantastical. It’s marred by technical problems, so I can’t give it a perfect 10 in good conscience, but take my word for it: despite its flaws, it’s better than Halo 4.
Far Cry 3 is a fantastic, beautiful, finely crafted, and thoroughly provoking experience that will probably haunt you for some time to come. I know it’s going haunt me. If you’re a fan of cerebral storytelling and challenging gameplay, then Far Cry 3 is right up your alley, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a better first-person shooter out there this year.
Far Cry 3 was reviewed with a copy provided by Ubisoft.