There’s a lot of like in Far Cry 3. In fact, there’s so much to like that there’s nearly two or even three games’ worth of cool stuff. From Achievement-hunting, to various kinds of collectables and stories to unlock, endless mini-games to get distracted by, wild-life to hunt, and of course a tonne of amazingly solid and emergent first person action... it’s easy to get breathless with glee at just how much is on offer in the game.
But then you get pulled back to earth, either by an awkwardly executed main story or the less-than-ideal port of the game’s menu systems from console to PC, or even just by some odd design decisions.
Far Cry 3 is very, very good, and we’d not argue with anyone who said it was their game of the year. But it’s certainly not OUR game of the year.
Save us, magical white man!
Our biggest issue with the game is how the main character is represented. He’s one of a cadre of rich young kids holidaying on Rook Island, the game’s rather dangerous setting. How these rich kids came to the decision to party hard on a small tropical island best known for pirates, runaway animals, and a history of violent warcrimes is anyone’s business – but it backfires anyway, and they get kidnapped by the brilliantly psychotic Vaas.
The player steps into the shoes of young Jason Brody as he seeks to rescue his pals and generally goes native as he discovers his inner warrior self, incidentally saving a curiously Maori-sounding local tribe called the Rakia.
The story’s consistent enough to drive the game forward, and Vaas is one of the great characters of the last few years, but by and large the game’s plot is easily its weakest point. For one thing, the urgency of the story – your friends are in deep trouble if you leave them with Vaas – gets in the way of the many diversions the island has to offer. In many cases, while you’re looking to overcome a very real case of life and death, it’s odd to be stopping to collect plants or hare off on checkpoint races.
Far more annoying, though, is the way save games work. While just generally wandering around the islands, you can save the game at any time. This means the game will port you to your nearest safehouse, which is annoying enough, but worse still is that when you’re in some of the main missions, you simply cannot save. There are checkpoints in case you fail, but if you quit out you’re taken right back to the start of those sections.
In a lot of ways, it’s tempting to ignore the plot a lot of the time, which is pretty poor. And, finally there’s the fact that Jason and his friends are basically rich kids and more or less unlikeable, while Jason is written as being the storied saviour of the locals. It’s a highly negative colonialist trope, that only a westerner can bring civilisation to the savages, and it seems really out of place in this day and age.
Better than this
Speaking of the unlikeable main character, Ubisoft’s made a solid effort to show Jason’s progression from noob to killer. He starts out knowing nothing about defending himself, and so the game uses a series of RPG-like skill trees for you to unlock, as Jason learns about guns, stabbing people, and being able to take a bullet or two without flinching.
The system offers a lot of customisation to how you play, from different stealth takedowns to boosting your health, or even how you forage for skins and herbs.
Speaking of which, crafting features heavily, though not cleverly. In a lot of cases, aside from the ability to make arrows and health potions, you’ll often find yourself roadblocked from carrying more cash/guns/ammo etc by the need to upgrade your wallet/bag/ammo pouches, and to do this you need to kill and skin certain animals. It’s a good idea, but the frustration of suddenly running out of space in the middle of a good passage of game, and then needing to go sell stuff, or hunt something, is pretty flow-breaking.
It sounds like all these issues would add up to an overall frustrating and unlikeable game, but by and large when the game works well, and you don’t have to struggle with foraging roadblocks or a terrible menu system, the game is packed with amazing moments. As you progress through the game you need to seek out radio towers to reveal portions of the map, and fight and conquer checkpoints to win bits of the island back from Vaas’ evil pirates. There’s a good range of weapons of all kinds, including a very satisfying bow, enemies with very different roles and AI routines, and more wild animals than you can poke a stick at.
In fact, between the randomness of animal attacks and the chaos of the game’s dangerous fire propagation system, running gun battles take on a frenetic pace unique in shooters. All the while, the game is definitely one of the most amazingly good-looking titles this year. Deep, jade-like coastal waters, rich, seemingly dripping jungle grottoes, and all the various characters and mooks are about as life-like as you could want them to be. Some more destructible environments would be welcome, but that’s small beer compared with just how good this game looks.
And that’s with barely looking at the co-op and multiplayer – which, really, is likely for the best, as it’s pretty pedestrian.
Even so, Far Cry 3 is easily one of the great single-player shooters of the year, with some amazing gameplay and a variety of emergent systems that will keep you coming back to see what you can set on fire, hunt, or shoot in the face next. You really can’t ask more from an FPS.