Far Cry 3, by Ubisoft Montreal, nearly has it all
You’ve got a relatable protagonist with a believable arc, an open game world that exudes character, and flexible first-person combat that bucks the “on rails” gameplay of modern military shooters like Call of Duty and Battlefield.
It’s is both substantive and stylish, and it’s a good example of how challenge and narrative can be interwoven, while sacrificing neither.
You play as Jason Brody, who while vacationing on a tropical island with his friends, is captured by the pirate Vaas and his psychotic, drug addicted crew.
Jason manages to escape confinement, and joins the island’s natives, the Rakyat, so he can learn their warrior ways and rescue his friends. What follows is an interesting, if overdone plot concerning Jason’s eventual descent into savagery as he’s forced to contend with a savage land and people.
It’s part Alice in Wonderland, part Apocalypse Now, and part Avatar, with dashes of Fight Club thrown in for flavor.
Jason has an interesting character arc in that he starts off as a over-privileged, whiney rich kid, and evolves convincingly over the course of the narrative.
The game’s most interesting character, however, is Vaas, full time primary antagonist and part time philosopher. He’s certainly intimidating, but never really feels like a direct threat. The game tries to draw similarities between Jason and Vaas, and their mutual brutality, but the resemblance never really sticks. Sure, Jason machine-guns tigers in his spare time, but Vaas is special kind of creepy.
The plot compliments the setting and gameplay well, but ends up coming across as toothless when compared to other, similar works.
The world of Far Cry 3 is expansive, and presents lots of opportunities for exploration. Side missions are plentiful, and their early completion is highly incentivized. Rewards range from skill boosts and unlocks, to new weapons and upgrades.
Animals can be hunted, and their pelts skinned in order to create higher capacity weapon holsters and grenade pouches. You get almost all the upgrades pretty early on in the game, which gives you a good long time to play with them all.
Far Cry 3 takes a page out of Assassin’s Creed’s book, and makes map exploration a mission unto itself. Scattered across the island are radio towers that must be scaled, and unlocked in order to reveal an area of the map. Certain weapons can only be unlocked through this method, and others will have their cash price removed depending on how many towers you’ve unlocked.
The game’s main plot moves along at a brisk pace, but missions are spaced far enough apart in order to allow for deviation and exploration depending on the player’s disposition.
Make no mistake, this is a hefty game. If your main consideration is time over value, you could do a lot worse.
There’s a sequence in Far Cry 3 where you’re given a flamethrower, and told to go burn fields of marijuana along with the mercenaries protecting them.
That kind of says it all, but we’ll go on.
Gunplay is challenging in a good way. Jason feels like a normal human being in that bullets aren’t just a minor inconvenience, shrugged off during a pitstop behind the nearest chest-high wall.
Late in the game when you can carry a larger number of health packs, you’ll feel a bit more unstoppable, but by that point you’ll probably also feel like you earned it.
Combat is best approached from stealth, as enemies often tend to suicide rush and can quickly overwhelm you if ammo is limited. There are a plethora of upgrades that allow Jason to perform quick and silent, or bombastic and devastating takedowns. Others allow him to fire more accurately, take more hits in combat, or hold his breath for a longer period of time under water.
These are all represented by tattoos on Jason’s left arm. It’s a good visual shorthand for the player to recognize and appreciate their progress in the game, and the number of upgrades they’ve acquired.
Even better than the main narrative itself, are the stronghold missions. When you come across a base controlled by enemy pirates, you can conquer the area for yourself. You can attack head on, or for more experience, silently take out everyone in the base without them ever knowing you were there.
Each stronghold mission is varied and memorable. In one, you might find a caged tiger, which can be freed and will clear the entire base without you having to lift a finger. In another, extremely grassy area, you can start a fire, and while it spreads throughout the whole base, you can mow down the burning escapees.
The best upgrade, however, comes late in the game, when you acquire the wingsuit. As long as you start from a high enough point, you can jump from anywhere, deploy said wingsuit, and descend upon your enemies like a flying squirrel of doom.
Above all, gameplay in Far Cry 3 feels tight and well executed, with lots of opportunity for variability.
Aesthetically, the game is nothing short of gorgeous. Like its sister franchise Crysis, Far Cry 3 exceeds at showing off a lush and vibrant world with magnificent vistas over every hill.
The game’s score is purposefully understated, and avoids using well known pieces that might draw the player out of the experience. Except in one case, and when you hear it, you’ll be too busy grinning like a loon to care.
Far Cry 3 is nothing short of a magnificent gem of a game. It falls somewhat short narratively, and can sometimes feel a little bit too easy, but these are minor quibbles next to a abundance of praiseworthy notions.