Review: Far Cry 3 (Microsoft Xbox 360)

Far Cry 3
Genre: First Person Shooter
Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
Publisher: Ubisoft
Release Date: 12/04/12

The Far Cry series is one that has generally been filled with good ideas, though outside of the first game, the execution hasn’t always been terribly satisfying. The original was basically a solid first person shooter set in the jungle, while the console revamp of the game, Far Cry Instincts (and its various associated titles) added in trap mechanics and weird powers that were… fine, if not terribly special. Far Cry 2 attempted to become a completely different, and more realistic, experience, but technical issues, design flaws, and the fact that you get assaulted by enemies something like every ten freaking minutes made that game way more frustrating than it needed to be. Well, after sitting on the franchise for a while and focusing on Assassin’s Creed and Tom Clancy titles, Ubisoft Montreal is back with Far Cry 3, a game that refines the ideas of the prior game while adding in new elements to make the game its own experience. The end result is a game that’s basically one part Just Cause 2 and one part Assassin’s Creed strapped into a first person shooter, and it’s everything Far Cry 2 should have been in all respects… which is less of a compliment than it might seem.

The storyline of Far Cry 3 is easily the best part of the entire experience, and this is easily one of the best stories told in a game in years. The plot centers around one Jason Brody and his friends, a group of twenty-somethings who are generally entitled, preppy kids looking for a fun time, which is how most horror movies start off. Here, however, Jason and his friends are taken captive after a poorly planned skydiving excursion by a man named Vaas, with the intention of extorting their parents for ransom money before selling the group into slavery, just because. Jason and his brother attempt an escape, as his brother has actual military training and has a rough idea how to do this, but the escape goes less than optimally. Thanks to the fact that Vaas is a deranged psychopath, however, Jason ends up escaping after all, and is saved by a man named Dennis, who basically tells Jason that he can become a warrior and save his friends from Vaas, and hey, since the locals want Vaas gone he can do them the favor of helping them out, too. The plot basically starts out from a place that is very familiar to gamers, where the unlikely hero ends up saving their friends from a madman by rising to the challenge and blah blah blah, but Far Cry 3 has a different idea of where it wants to go with that plot altogether. Granted, it bears noting that the character of Vaas, who is basically the second most interesting character in the game and prominently displayed on the box for the game, is really only The Dragon to a bigger (and less interesting) evil, which is disappointing. Vaas is really an excellent villain, and without him as the bad guy of the moment the game suffers a bit in the later acts, though not to a significant level.

This is largely because Far Cry 3 isn’t so much about killing Vaas and company, or even about saving Jason’s friends, as much as it’s about the journey Jason must take to get to this point. The plot makes a great effort to explore Jason’s mindset as he slowly becomes the “hero” of the story, as surprise, being thrust into the jungle and asked to kill a lot of crazy druggies to save your friends is a psychologically scarring experience. Jason essentially must become a monster to kill a monster, learning the ways of the local tribe and adapting to his new environment while slowly going through something akin to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in the process, and watching the experience unfold is very fascinating. It’s apparent that the writers put a great deal of effort into making Jason’s change gradual, forcing him to deteriorate at a slow speed so that the player wouldn’t be cognizant of how far Jason was falling until Jason himself realizes what he’s become. The gradual realization that this isn’t just another story of a man becoming a hero is amazing, even if you know it’s coming, simply because the game handles it very effectively by playing to player expectations. Of course the player wants to kill Vaas, he’s a horrible monster and a completely deranged lunatic, he deserves it! We, as the player, want Vaas to die for what he’s done, because that’s just how these sorts of games go, and it’s not until the game forces you to snap back and realize that no, what’s happening to Jason isn’t normal, that you’re left to realize that the plot is, effectively, deconstructing this sort of game, and it’s awesome. The ending may be unsatisfying if you’re the sort of person who feels that Jason should embrace his inner monster, but if you’re that sort of person, well, you’ve probably missed the point of the plot in the first place, and anyone who isn’t a monster themselves should be able to appreciate the point quite well.

Far Cry 3 is a visually amazing game, featuring a vibrant, living world that basically entices the player to go running off into the jungle for hours to explore, just because you can. Flora and fauna abound, and the environment is amazing and lively as you travel through it. Enemies generally react and animate well, also, and the game makes excellent use of lighting and weather effects, with noticeable day and night cycles and weather patterns that give the game a lively feel. There’s some notable pop-in occasionally when the game renders the environment and enemy and animal patterns tend to repeat, but these are minor concerns that don’t take away from the experience much at all. The audio presentation is equally strong, due in large part to the ambience of the island itself as you traverse it. Weather effects, the sounds of animals of all kinds off in the distance and various other expected effects will pass your ears during your travels whether you’re in any way responsible for these sounds or not, and everything sounds distinct and believable. The more obvious effects, such as gunfire and explosions in battle, are also well assembled, and make for a strong contrast against the quiet moments you’ll find during routine exploration. The in-game music is also quite varied, featuring various strong compositions for dramatic scenes and combat sequences, reggae tunes on the radio when you jump into a car, and dubstep tracks when you’re in setpiece missions, and the soundtrack just gels in a way that makes it all work well. The voice work is also very strong, as your various characters you’ll meet are well cast, especially Michael Mando as Vaas, who basically destroys every scene he’s in without even trying. The remaining cast is solid as well in their respective roles, though the generic grunt voices repeat a bit more than is reasonable… unless everyone on the island has the clap, of course. Maybe they’re all sleeping with the same whore? The world may never know.

Far Cry 3 is mechanically similar to most standard first person shooters, but the controls are only one part of how the gameplay works. The left stick moves and the right stick looks around, you can aim with the left trigger and shoot with the right trigger, and the right bumper tosses grenades of various sorts. A is your jump button, X reloads guns and interacts with the environment, Y swaps out between two hotkeyed weapons and lets you heal up, and B crouches and slides when you’re running. Holding in L3 allows you to run whole pressing in R3 is your melee attack, and allows you to take out enemies silently if they’re unaware. You can hold down the left bumper to bring up an inventory wheel to swap weapons and grenades whenever you need to, and the D-Pad allows you to map two hotkeyed items to the pad as needed on the down and left directions. The right direction is hotkeyed to throwing rocks, which you can use to distract enemies, while the up direction allows you to pull out your digital camera, which allows you to scout areas when needed. Finally, the Back button brings up your map of the area for marking destinations and fast travel, while the Start button brings up the menu for various functional purposes. The game also offers the option to drive various vehicles, which mostly work as you’d expect, as the left stick steers, the left and right triggers control the brake and gas respectively, and you can hit the hand brake with B, so that’s not hard to grasp. Despite the fact that, literally, every single button on the controller performs multiple functions, this is not terribly difficult to figure out, as the game gives you an extensive tutorial in the beginning, and many of the mechanics are instantly familiar across the genre.

Far Cry 3, as with its predecessor, offers a gigantic open world sandbox for you to play in, allowing you set locations to visit to complete mission objectives but otherwise allowing you to run off and do whatever you want. In theory, you can perform the various missions set out to you, and for the most part, these are varied and interesting. Early missions walk you through the specifics of gameplay, showing you how things work and what to do with yourself as you move along, and you quickly learn how to keep Jason alive for longer than five minutes as a result. Jason is a surprisingly nimble dude, as he can dash and slide into cover, leap chasms and climb up onto rock ledges, and otherwise parkour his way around the game world without too much trouble. In addition to his agility and such, however, Jason can also stealthily sneak up on unsuspecting dudes or distract them with a thrown rock and knife them in the neck to keep things quiet, or he can run in and shoot a place up (which is less smart given that Jason is basically made of tissue paper). Jason can also mix up concoctions that allow him to heal up (though he can set his own injuries in a pinch), dive deeper underwater, resist fire damage better, and more if you find the herbs around the game world to make these medicines, giving him an edge in battle. Additionally, as Jason does things he earns experience that allows him to level up, earning a skill point to dump into one of three categories: Heron, which improves your ranged attacks and movement, Shark, which improves health and melee, and Spider, which improves gathering, survival and stealth. Each point you buy adds a piece of the tatau to Jason’s arm (it’s magic just go with it) and improves his overall chances of survival, as he learns new skills that allow him to better end his foes.

Of course, the game is only about its missions and character developments partially, as there is an astonishingly large amount of stuff to do around the island. The island is segmented into smaller regions that are essentially blocked off on the map, but can be revealed by climbing radio towers (in shades of Assassin’s Creed). By activating the tower in a region, you can then see the map of the area, unlock a gun in the shop at no cost, and mark important locations on said newly unlocked map when you run across them. In each map there are two hostile outposts that are staffed with various guards who will generally perforate you on sight; by clearing out these outposts you will turn the outposts over to your allies, thus unlocking a fast travel spot with a shop built in, ready to go. Once that’s done, however, you’re then basically given free reign to do whatever you want in that particular region, and as it turns out, there’s a lot of “whatever you want” to do. You can forage for materials from bushes to make more medicine, or hunt animals, which allows you to upgrade your carrying capacity for weapons, ammo, explosives and so on. You can take on hunting missions to clear areas or hunt rare animals, perform supply runs, challenge top scores in combat challenges that allow you to compete with your friends, goof off with weapon challenges or poker games, and hunt for random collectibles scattered around the game world, among other things. As there are two whole islands to do this across, both of which are absolutely stuffed full of these options, you’ll have plenty to keep you occupied if you want.

This isn’t even discussing the multiplayer, which is its own interesting and multi-faceted beast all its own. The game offers you two multiplayer options, in standard versus play that you’d expect from a first person shooter, as well as co-op play in a completely separate story mode. The co-op play follows the tale of four random strangers thrown together due to a double-cross that involves massive violence and more straight-forward storytelling. You can take these missions on online or offline with a friend or a stranger, so even if you’re not interested in the online aspect of the game you can still play the missions if you have a friend handy. The standard online mode offers the now-standard Call of Duty style level up system and a decent amount of match types, as well as the ability to create your own maps under whatever conditions you’d like to use for online play. The map editor works well enough, allowing you an extensive amount of options to play with, and while it takes some time to learn the basics of map design (IE not making a map no one would ever want to play), it’s a fun tool to play with if you’re interested in online play against others. You’ll need to buy an online pass if you want to spend a significant amount of time playing in competitive play unless you buy the game new, but even then, the game allows you to play up to level fifteen before forcing you into this position, so you’ll have plenty of time to decide if it’s for you or not. This also doesn’t seem to affect the cooperative play to any significant degree, also, as you can just play it offline either way, so it’s not a particularly big downside on the chance that you pick up the game used, so don’t let that drive you away if you’re on the fence.

You can complete the core campaign, if you do nothing but the story missions, in around ten hours, but if you put a decent amount of effort into clearing out enemy bases and radio towers, you can expect to put twenty to thirty hours into the single player, easily. The game also allows you to drop back onto the island once you complete the campaign with one of the two available endings so you can go about finding collectibles, upgrading gear and doing anything you may have missed, so you don’t have to do everything before the endgame. You’ll also have the multiplayer, both online and offline, to bring you back, as the co-op campaign can easily add another ten hours to the game, and the competitive play can keep things going for a while, even if you just goof around with the map creation tools. The game is also stocked with Achievements to earn and it’s tied into UPlay, allowing you to earn various rewards for performing tasks in the game, including specially upgraded weapons that have exceptional stats and make things even more fun. Far Cry 3 offers a lot of compelling reasons to come back to it in general and after you’re done with the storyline, and basically manages to justify its asking price on content alone with little effort.

Which is not to say that it’s flawless, as such isn’t quite the case. Even on the easiest difficulty, the game can be a pain, difficulty-wise, but not because of the challenge of battle so much as because of the game’s difficulty curve. Basically, in the beginning of the game, Jason is essentially completely useless; he can carry one gun with a minimal amount of bullets, he has nothing available to him but garbage, and he’s incredibly squishy and liable to die a lot. Now, this is fine in the sense that it encourages the player to learn how to work with stealth tactics or else be perforated expediently, but once you’ve spent a few hours hunting the needed animals in the woods to get a few holster and ammo upgrades the whole thing becomes moot. It’s nice to be a badass late in the game, to be sure, but the disparity between the beginning of the game and the end of the game is striking; this may or may not be on purpose, but either way it’s awkward for the first few hours of play. Further, full-on combat is often less enjoyable than stealthy kills, as Jason tends to get rent asunder in direct confrontations. This wouldn’t be terribly problematic on its own, but the controls don’t always respond in the most timely fashion, meaning that holding down Y to heal may not actually cause him to do so, making some scenarios more annoying than they ought to be. The checkpoint-based save system can also be annoying, as the game does not allow manual saving during missions, meaning that you could find yourself repeating sections until you get them right (escaping from Vaas for the third time comes to mind), which gets annoying in a hurry. On the “minor nitpicks” side of things, the driving mechanics are such that you’ll likely never want to be bothered driving if you can help it, and the Active Time Event boss battles, while a better solution than having bosses with massive health bars, are annoying and unwelcome in a game that otherwise doesn’t use such mechanics. Perhaps the single biggest issue, however, is that Far Cry 3 is everything Far Cry 2 should have been, and while it’s a very impressive game in that regard… had Far Cry 2 not been shoved out the door far too early for its own good, it would have largely been this game, in a different environment. It’s nice that we got that game, to be sure, but it’s hard to compliment a game for being the game its predecessor was supposed to be when that game should have been this one, and this one should have been so much more.

Far Cry 3 doesn’t stumble noticeably over its flaws, however, as every flaw that presents itself is kicked aside by three or four good things the game does, and the game basically feels like the best parts of Far Cry 2, Just Cause 2 and Assassin’s Creed stuffed into one game that is full of reasons to play it. The plot is an interesting, multi-layered thing that can be many things to many people and offers plenty of room for consideration and interpretation, and the game looks and sounds fantastic at almost every moment you’re playing it. The gameplay is simple to adjust to if you’re a fan of the genre, but is more than willing to hold your hand through the beginning if you’re not, and it offers all kinds of variety and reasons to explore for hours doing nothing that make for a lot of options and enjoyment. There are numerous things to do to keep you busy, both in your first run and subsequent playthroughs, and the game also offers multiple multiplayer modes, collectibles, Achievements and more to keep you coming back for a good long while as well. The game is a bit bottom-heavy in its difficulty curve, making for a more challenging beginning and a less challenging end, and the combat tends to be more fun when you’re not in a pitched firefight, as stealth combat tends to be more satisfying than being rent asunder in direct combat. Further, the controls don’t always respond as they should with complete accuracy, the checkpoint save system during missions can be frustrating when missions leave no margin of error, the random Active Time Events that pop up during boss fights are somewhat unwelcome, and the driving mechanics aren’t terribly fun or well designed. For the most part, however, Far Cry 3 rises above its flaws into a game that’s honestly a joy to play for multiple reasons, and it’s easily one of the best first person shooters released this year as a result.

The Scores:
Graphics: CLASSIC
Control/Gameplay: GOOD
Replayability: CLASSIC
Balance: GOOD
Originality: ABOVE AVERAGE
Addictiveness: CLASSIC
Appeal: GREAT
Miscellaneous: GREAT


Short Attention Span Summary:
Far Cry 3 pays off the promise of its predecessor by being the game Far Cry 2 should have been, combining elements from Just Cause 2 and Assassin’s Creed with its own unique concepts to make a fantastic, if slightly flawed, experience. The story is absolutely stunning if one gives it the opportunity for consideration, as it appeals on multiple different levels and offers a great deal of substance in general and within its own genre, and the game looks and sounds amazing at virtually all times. The gameplay is such that genre fans will be able to figure out the nuances simply enough, but the game also makes a good effort to hold the hands of newcomers to explain the basics, and once you’re set loose on the island you’ll find there’s always something to do to keep you interested. There’s plenty to do during the main campaign and beyond, between the numerous side quests available in the single player campaign, the collectibles to find, the Achievements to unlock, and a robust multiplayer setup that allows for cooperative and competitive play, online and offline, all of which give plenty of reasons to return to the game. The game is a bit more challenging in the beginning and a bit less challenging in the end than it should be, and the combat tends to be more interesting when using stealth actions, as heavy firefights tend to go badly due to the main character’s fragility. Additionally, the controls can occasionally show spotty responsiveness, the checkpoint save system that pops up during missions can be an annoyance when the missions themselves require spot-on performances, the Active Time Events that accompany boss battles are out of place and rather unwelcome, and the driving in the game is such that it’s often easier and less frustrating to not get into a car if possible. Still, that Far Cry 3 manages to rise above these issues is a testament to how strong the game is in and of itself; the fact that it manages to be one of the best first person shooters released this year on top of that is amazing, and makes the game well worth checking out as a result.



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6 responses to “Review: Far Cry 3 (Microsoft Xbox 360)”

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