Video Game Review: Far Cry 3
Far Cry 3, upon initial inspection, is an utterly fantastic game. As per the usual, there is a fairly brief tutorial level wherein the protagonist, Jason Brody, escapes from the clutches of the main antagonist, Vaas, and flees into the jungle. After somewhat successfully fleeing from Vaas, Jason awakens to find himself under the care of Dennis Rogers in Amanaki Town. Once he helps Dennis, the world opens up and thus, Far Cry 3 is fully unveiled. Ubisoft Montreal has created a fantastic island setting allowing you to stalk through the jungles, ride a jet ski over waterfalls, or go spelunking, assuming you are into that sort of thing.
Of course, a huge open world would not be complete without an array of side quests and collectibles, and Far Cry 3 is kind enough to oblige. Aside from basic side quests, there are supply drop missions, marksmanship challenges, scramblers to disable atop radio towers you must scale, assassination missions, hunting missions, outposts to liberate, the Island Racing League courses, and the score-based Trials of the Rakyat. On the collectible side, there are 120 relics, 20 lost letters, and 20 memory cards, which uncover various aspects of the sordid history of the Rook Islands.
This is perhaps the most fun Far Cry 3 offers; the freedom to run around and pursue any fleeting idea that you may formulate. Furthermore, all of the mechanics are solidly built. The driving is surprisingly fun, especially when taking some of the vehicles off–road into the jungle, although some may wish for a more pronounced sensation of speed. Similarly, the shooting is nice and tight — almost too tight. By this I mean that despite Jason apparently having minimal to no experience with guns, the guns have minimal kick allowing for some borderline impossible accuracy. This comes together to make the gun play feel rather light, but makes it much more approachable for the more casual player.
I found the takedown system, particularly with the investment of skill points, to be the most interesting and appealing aspect of the combat. While the basic knife takedown suffices for stealth kills, you can unlock the ability to quickly chain together kills as long as the enemies are tightly packed. If that situation does not present itself, the knife throw takedown lets you silently kill a second enemy at distance. If you prefer action over stealth, you can kill an enemy, and grab their pistol to shoot another. Perhaps the grenade takedown is more your style allowing you to kick enemies away as they explode, taking their fellow pirates with them. The more utility takedowns include the ability to assassinate heavy soldiers, an aerial takedown allowing you to jump on enemies from above, and, conversely, the ability to pull enemies from ledges above you. With enough patience, each and every one of these takedown skills were not only tactically relevant, but also extremely satisfying.
Generally, stealth is the name-of-the-game when playing Far Cry 3. The aforementioned assassination missions require you to kill a target by use of a knife, which can be somewhat dangerous when there are several pirates acting as defense. Upon liberating an outpost, you will receive an experience boost with a modest bonus if you can liberate it without having the enemies trigger the alarm and summon reinforcements. If you are able to liberate the outpost without having been detected at all, however, the experience boost you receive will triple. That said, performing an all-out, guns blazing, frontal assault is feasible and fun it its own regard.
Clearly, there is plenty of opportunity to stay preoccupied, but this starts the trend of cognitive dissonance that can be found in Far Cry 3. For example, despite having a large and beautiful open world, missions will frequently create somewhat oppressive boundaries, and should you leave them, you will fail the mission. Also, the checkpoint system ensures that once you start the mission, you may not be able to leave again if you wanted to come back later. Even worse, there are some missions that are nearly entirely scripted. While useful for creating some extremely cinematic moments, there are plenty of other games out there that make use of that technique, and I specifically made the decision to play Far Cry 3 with the hopes that it would be different in that regard.
Another example of this cognitive dissonance can be found in the crafting system — specifically concerning gathering herbs and creating injections for temporary special powers. When scavenging the jungles, there are 14 different (named) herbs to gather. However, upon actually gathering said herbs, they are merely condensed by colors so a Torch Ginger, Good Luck Plant, and a Golden Beehive (all red herbs) are functionally identical. Conversely, when upgrading ammo pouches, weapon slings, or quivers, each different type of object requires a specific type of animal leather, which is only further amplified by each of the four tiers, so to fully maximize your gear requires different leather. While incredibly minor, it seems completely counter-intuitive in that I specifically have to go skin a shark to make a wallet despite having several Komodo Dragon skins in my backpack. Even worse is that the final upgrade for most weapons requires a specific skin from a unique animal only possible to be found through a Path of the Hunter side quest (which can only be unlocked by liberating outposts).
The narrative is even further divorced from the game play than that of the mechanics. While helping Dennis during the second mission, Jason specifically mentions that he had never killed anyone before. Within half an hour of hearing how hesitant Jason was to even buy a pistol, a Trial of the Rakyat mission told him to kill as many people as possible within two-and-a-half minutes … granted, this was by running them over with a Jeep instead of shooting them, but this mission does allow you to earn a place on the leader board which awards experience and money, but has no other impact on the game. Even if we were to overlook that aspect of the game, as the Trials of the Rakyat are all optional. Immediately upon receiving any new weapon, either through purchasing it from a shop or otherwise, Jason immediately knows every aspect of its operation. Basic knowledge is understandable, but when later weapons involve military grade weaponry, like flamethrowers and RPGs, the plot just seems nonsensical. Granted, based on the use of quotes from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, a certain degree of strangeness is to be expected; although I highly doubt this was Ubisoft’s intention.
Ubisoft did manage to truly impress me in a way I never expected when I first picked up Far Cry 3 — through the incredible characters. Each character has a ton of personality thanks to the impressive animation and dialogue Ubisoft brought to the game. These characters range from the psychopathic antagonist Vaas, the “self-medicating” Dr. Earnhardt, or the German-American CIA agent Sam Becker. These characters are all fascinating, and add to the plot in meaningful ways; especially Vaas who I would consider to be my favorite villain in recent memory. Overall, I found the plot to be incredibly interesting and well done. Ubisoft exceeded my expectations as they included drug usage (leading to some incredibly interesting hallucinations), sex, rape, and human trafficking. Again, it was not impressive that they included these topics, but that they were actually done well and had meaning within the context of the game.
Having spent approximately 30 hours with this title, I can easily say that is a great game, and one that I would recommend to many people. However, Far Cry 3 is more akin to a series of puddles instead of an ocean. Digging into any one aspect too deeply just leads to the realization of how shallow it actually is. But, merely jumping from puddle to puddle, enjoying the splash it makes before moving on to the next, is key in really enjoying this title. Ubisoft Montreal has managed to tease me once again in creating a game that is great fun, but is just good enough to make me wish it were so much better.