I was tucked behind some tall tropical grass, taking aim with my camera to highlight the pirates of an enemy outposts. They were quickly marked, and after spotting a strategic opening, I slid from the tall grass to a pile of wood. I had the enemies’ paths down, I could tell they were drunk (the swigs from random bottles followed by heaves of barf gave me a pretty good indication), and I knew exactly what to do next. I’d toss a rock to distract the closest guard, stab him in the back and quickly drag him so his inebriated companions wouldn’t see his corpse. Then I’d sprint up to the highest vantage point and stab another pirate in the throat. I knew this wouldn’t be an easy task considering this particular outpost was protected by guard dogs, plus the enemies could easily sound the alarm if something went wrong. In 30 seconds I’d be swarmed. Making my final calculations for the assault, I reloaded my SMG, double checked my medical synergies, and turned to make the move. But as I turned I heard that unmistakable grumble, soon accompanied by those haunting eyes. The plans quickly changed as a tiger sank his teeth into my arm, causing me to stab and flail around helplessly until I was free. The next thing I knew I was unloading bullets into the tiger and my cover was lost. This is how Far Cry 3 wants you to experience its tropical playground of a setting. The game begs you to find your own way, to explore, to figure out how to kill your targets, to find plants to craft medicine, and to skin animals to upgrade your ammo and weapon capacity. Just like that tiger that seemed to come out of nowhere, Far Cry 3 never lets you forget that this is a dangerous place full of surprises.
Ubisoft created one of the best open-world shooters and easily one of the strongest games of the year. It blows other shooters this year out of the water (with the exception of Borderlands 2) and, in my opinion, is Ubisoft’s best game to date. That scenario described above is just a typical 20-30 minutes in Far Cry 3, yet you can easily get 30+ hours out of the single player campaign. Practically every element blends together to create an insanely powerful title, and that’s not even talking about the story. That’s because the setting is the real star of Far Cry 3. Sure, there’s an interesting narrative filled with entertaining and quirky characters, and a story that deals with some heavy, heavy themes, but what’s available outside the story missions is so vast, so enticing, and so entertaining that it’s hard not to explore every cliff, every radio tower, every shanty town, every cave, and every inch of the vast islands and jungles.
Most protagonists in first-person shooters are super lame, but luckily the lead of Far Cry 3, Jason Brody, isn’t a douchebag. In fact, you see him progress from a typical spoiled and shallow American into hero and a killing machine. His family and friends he attempts to rescue throughout the game are pretty lame, and players are likely not to care all that much about them. But Jason does care, and Ubisoft does a great job allowing the player to connect with the protagonist through a relatively natural evolution. Just about every tool is at his disposal–from typical guns, to bows, a speargun, mines, C4 charges, grenades, and a flamethrower. He is a forager, a hunter, and someone who cares about his overall mission and is clearly annoyed with those who seek to distract him.
Players can choose their unique style. Do you want to focus on stealth? Would you rather put all your attention into hunting and crafting? Or do you want to beef up your health and weapon skills? There’s an upgrade system that gives you the advantage in the shadows, or you can choose to upgrade your combat abilities, survivability, and crafting. Any option or combination is viable as story missions rarely give you the same type of objective over and over again. At times you’ll use your flamethrower to light-up marijuana fields, or you’ll rescue your friend from a prison camp, or crawl through ancient ruins to find an important artifact. Far Cry 3 at times feels as epic as an Uncharted game and as action-packed as a Battlefield title. The gameplay in Far Cry 3 is as good as it gets for a shooter. Guns react as they should, this is especially true considering Jason isn’t a super soldier, he’s just a regular dude. You can upgrade those weapons to add something extra and Jason will discover how to use new killing and surviving techniques as you progress. Stealth is as good as it gets in a FPS, with plenty of cover and no huge over-the-top abilities to make it all that unrealistic. General combat includes all the required melee like backstabs, and there’s even a halfway decent cover system.
The setting is peppered with nearly 20 radio towers that act as strategic vantage points to unlock sections of the map. They will provide you with new side quests and objectives, allow you to buy new weapons in shops, and offer a surprisingly effective first-person platforming experience. Yes, first-person platforming works remarkably well in Far Cry 3, and the radio towers offer mini puzzles to show off that excellent climbing system. While Jason can’t climb every cliff in the land, he can make his way through the terrain with relative ease. As you explore old mines or scale a steep jungle mountain, you may stop and wonder why more first-person games haven’t done platforming and navigation this well in the past.
The only misstep in navigation comes from not-so-great vehicle mechanics. While driving boats and jet skis across waterways works quite well, driving land vehicles isn’t as successful. It’s too basic and camera perspectives don’t always permit you view of the roadway. Driving an ATV is a blast, and hoping on a glider is even better.
If you also get annoyed with using vehicles to get around, Far Cry 3 has an easy fast travel system. These are available at towns, but are also unlocked each time you reclaim one of the 30 or more enemy outposts. Each outpost is unique to the area on the map and increase in difficulty the further you progress. Some may have sirens that can alert waves of reinforcements, while others are protected by animals. You can approach these events just about any way you want. See that caged tiger in the middle of the outpost? Why not shoot the lock and have it attack the pirates. Capturing these outposts isn’t a requirement to complete the game, but it makes it easier as it adds fast travel, a quick weapons shop, and enemy patrols in the area are removed.
You may notice this review hasn’t included a lot about the story. That’s because it’s worth experiencing yourself. It definitely starts off slow as the game seeks to instruct you how to play it, but in no time you’ll find yourself in the thick of the heat. It’s a story that focuses on a group of friends that crash land on an island inhabited by pirates involved in the drug and human trafficking markets. There are rebels that fight against the pirates, and even government spies. The line between friend and foe is razor thin throughout the story, and there are elements that work extremely well.
This is all done on a beautiful backdrop of crisp graphics, a surprisingly stellar soundtrack that bends throughout the campaign, and generally terrific voice acting. There are so many details in the jungle, from cleverly placed treasure, to ancient ruins, to a wildlife both dangerous and semi-friendly. The animals in the jungle and water play a big part in Far Cry 3, and you’ll definitely want to play this game with the volume up loud to hear for slithering snakes or the distant roar of a tiger or bear. On the presentation side, there are only some minor issues. For example, during a game of poker my opponents hands were not connected with his cards, making him look magical. Other visual issues include flickering shadows and low draw distance as the game saves or loads a new area.
Multiplayer includes a four-player co-op campaign that allows you to play in split-screen or online. You’ll fight with friends against waves of enemies in various objective-based missions. This will certainly add more legs to an already massive game, but be sure to fill all four spots as the missions can get really tough. Competitive multiplayer includes all the traditional and required FPS modes. They all work just fine but aren’t all that special. They do, however, come with options to upgrade your character as you go, which again is pretty standard these day.
There is so much to do in Far Cry 3 that doesn’t feel like filler, and that’s saying a lot for an open-world game. It’s worth noting that some of the side missions feel extremely disconnected from the overall campaign, but I like to view that as something to do after the story is over. Outside those elements, players are rewarded in Far Cry 3 by an extremely connected experience. This is one of the most successful games and one that should be on the top of your must buy list. If you can deal with the insanity of the story, you will be rewarded with an absolutely brilliant experience where attention is paid to every inch of the setting, story, characters, and gameplay.