The games in the Far Cry series have about as much in common as apples and organically grown broccoli. Sure, they dabble in the same themes, tend to let you loose in an open world environment. But there is no common tie. They can just be stand alone IPs. Even so, Far Cry 2 felt more like an experiment. A bunch of smaller games strung together. Perhaps that’s what it took to get us Far Cry 3. Normally, I make you wonder how I feel about a game before the review, to let the suspense linger, ask a poignant (okay, I don’t know about that) question. But here, all I can say is, Far Cry 3 is amazing. Go play it. But read this review first maybe?
You’re Jason Brody, the kind of spoiled rich kid that makes me feel nauseous. While partying on a remote island (in what is one of the best intro sequences I’ve seen in a while) you get captured by a psychopath named Vaas, a local pirate who controls the mercenary population. He wants to sell you as slaves, but your brother has different plans. So you escape, and then, as Jason have to go through a difficult time of getting your friends free and helping the island natives defeat the oppressive force that is Vaas and his pirates. The story starts very strong, and in part it owes that to Vaas. As a character, you simply can’t help it but stare at everything he does and listen to everything he says while on screen. The characters on the island are amazingly written and they pull everything together.
Unfortunately, the story falters a few times in the middle and towards the end. It fails on some of the major themes and doesn’t exactly explain a thing or two. Even more disappointing because it starts out so well. If it held up all the way through, this would be the best game I’ve played in years. Actually, it still is, but I would argue for it more. I give everything to the people behind Vaas and other characters however. They come together as real people, and they give you that real feeling of insanity. They really do.
In true Far Cry fashion, storytelling is done within the confines of the game engine. The game doesn’t want to break you out of the immersion. It wants you to be Jason, to learn things as Jason does. Every interaction, every moment, they’re delivered as you play, making it a more effective tactics, making it somehow, more real. It takes a lot of dedication to pull off cohesive storytelling without having to break the flow with CGI cut-scenes. Doing it this effectively is a feat. And UbiSoft Montreal pulls it off with aplomb.
The voice work is terrific. Like I said before, Vaas and other villains are the highlights and the actors truly deliver the emotion and personality with every line. In fact, some of the moments are so compelling I’m already going back on YouTube to relive them again and again. It’s THAT GOOD! The jungle is alive as well. Animals, water, wind, everything. You really hear things, and some of them fill you with dread. Imagine walking through the jungle and hearing a close-by hiss of a snake, or a distant roar of a tiger. It all feels you to real and puts you in the middle of the action very well.
Visually, the game is one of the best I’ve seen, especially on the PC with DirectX 11. The island wildlife, shrubbery, water, character models. Take your pick. It is hard to find a fault with the visual style that UbiSoft Montreal went with. It really is. Leafs will tremble in the wind, water will ripple and reflect light. Even your character will take damage realistically. The Far Cry series always took pride in it’s visual accomplishments and not much changes here. If games are a visual art, this is as close to the bench mark as we can get, well, this and Crysis.
There is really only one way to describe the gameplay in Far Cry 3, and that is to call it “highly addictive.” This is open world FPS done right. Imagine Skyrim, but with guns. And a compelling story. And lots of stuff to do. While Far Cry 2 seemed like an experiment, a mash up of mechanics, Far Cry 3 is where everything comes together oh so beautifully. The game welcomes you into its world and allows you to proceed however you want. Want to breeze through the story? Fine. Want to do a bunch of side quests? Fine. Want to just roam around hunting animals to skin while simultaneously being hunted by the more aggressive wildlife? Fine.
The strength of Far Cry is that it is easily accessible with simple enough gunplay but also happens to be incredibly deep. The leveling system is great. It allows you adjust your loadout to the way you want to play. Eventually it becomes a little irrelevant as you’ll probably get all of the upgrades by the end, but in the beginning it is nice. The crafting ads an added component, encouraging you to do extra stuff in order to get the most out of your character. Want more weapons? Gotta craft. Want more ammo? Gotta craft. Want to carry more loot? Gotta craft. Wanna craft? Gotta hunt and skin animals. The game has a very healthy ecosystem of it’s own and it all works to perfection.
There is plenty distraction too. You can track down towers to open up the map (great first person platforming), take over enemy camps and do plenty of sidequests. It is varied enough that every diversion feels like a break in its own right, never letting the experience get stale. The mechanics is what makes it all work. You can tag and track enemies with your camera (never attack a camp without it) and chose however you want to proceed: guns out, stealth or unleashing a trapped bear on your enemies. The devil is in the details and there are lots of them. Weapons can be upgraded, as your skills, all making your kills more stylish and captivating as you go along. It’s a complete single player experience.
The game has a great co-op component, which unfortunately doesn’t shine through as it should. It’s nice to have story that is thematically consistent with the main single-play, unfortunately the level progression gets all too repetitive. By constricting your progress path the game takes away what takes the single campaign so much fun. All of the distractions are gone. Also, the difficulty is a bit suspect, and you’ll probably need at least three players to stand a chance. It’s a neat idea, but it will not keep you away from single player for too long.
Multiplayer isn’t the greatest either. The maps are either too big or too small, and once again, they funnel the experience as opposed to letting you explore and have your own fun. The mode feels almost unnecessary. So many games build themselves around multiplayer and would be better options. Here it feels as an afterthought. Sure, there is a pretty deep map editor, but unfortunately it doesn’t grant you the freedom that the single player does so it is really moot.
Verdict: Far Cry 3 is a phenomenal achievement, as good as any other game this year. Take nothing away from it, it’s a great game. The freedom is unprecedented and the mechanics are refined enough to never take you out of the experience. I am absolutely in love with Far Cry’s method of storytelling while never taking you out of the first person perspective. The game will easily last you many hours of game play, rightfully so. Sure, the story doesn’t hold up all the way through. Sure the co-op could have been better and its only purpose is to remind you how great the single player is. Sure multiplayer is stale and unoriginal. But the first, single player experience is so good, so polished that you forget all about the other things. And also, there’s Vaas.