“Holy fuck! This is awesome”
Those are the words spoken by Far Cry 3 protagonist Jason Brody as he enjoys the splendour of a flamethrower for the first time, and it’s quite an apt way to open our review of the game’s single player mode, because, goddamn it IS awesome.
There’s quite a divide among gamers when it comes to the previous Far Cry titles; some love them, some hate them. We’ve tended to find ourselves in the somewhere in the middle, neither fawning over the open world layouts and reasonably wrought narrative nor complaining about the flaws and issues that found their way into the titles. Far Cry 3 has very much changed that for us however, and a new love affair is blossoming.
Today’s gamers are most definitely suffering from first person shooter burnout. Every time you turn around there’s another FPS hitting shelves, most of the time with little to differentiate it from the swathes of other titles available, but occasionally something crops up that threatens to change the status quo by offering so much more, both in terms of scope and gaming intelligence, that you have to sit back and appreciate it in all its glory.
Far Cry 3’s single player campaign is absolutely huge. Like, it’s actually incredible how big it is and how much there is to do within the game world, from hang gliding to Jet Ski racing to hunting to mixing herbal remedies. Christ, we could go on all day. It’s just bloody well massive, let’s leave it at that for now.
Where most FPS titles tend to fall down is in single player narrative. Usually it’s just enough to slap a seasoned combatant in the middle of a fire fight, provide some vague world-ending threat and plonk a load of guns in front of the player, but Far Cry 3 takes a far more reasoned and, dare we say it, mature approach. You play as Jason Brody, an American tourist on holiday with his brothers, girlfriend and some friends who end up being kidnapped by a batshit crazy group of pirates (no, not that type of pirates). The game’s intro beautifully sets the tone, taking players on a veritable rollercoaster of emotions before we’ve even seen the game’s title screen.
With no combat experience, and probably little real world experience, under his belt, Jason is fortunate that he can rely on the military expertise of his brother Grant to help the pair escape and set out on their way to recover the others. At least that looks to be the plan before Grant is unceremoniously taken away and Jason is left to fend for himself against insane protagonist Vaas and his group of heavily armed assholes.
The lack of experience Jason has in these matters is particularly apparent early on. Rescued from drowning following his escape from Vaas by Denis, his path to salvation, self growth and the rescue of his friends takes players on a journey of astonishing depth for a title in the genre. Initially, we’re put through the basics of gameplay. Early missions are crafted specifically to teach us the ropes, from gathering various plants in order to mix medicinal syringes to hunting animals for their pelts to allow us to carry more items through to the game’s skill growth tree. It’s a little hackneyed, and occasionally it feels a touch tiresome, but it serves its purpose of ensuring that players are ready and able for what will follow.
Once you’ve gained your stripes, as it were, the game’s world opens up and you’re free to play however you like. Those who want to follow the story and do little else will find that things aren’t quite as easy going as they might have been had they taken the time out to explore. Liberating enemy strongholds, for example, will make areas of the map much safer to explore, while removing scramblers from radio towers not only unlocks more of the map on your radar, letting you see what’s around you, but also adds to the selection of free weapons you’ll be able to pick up at each of the game’s towns’ gun stores.
It’s that open ended feeling coupled with the sheer size of the map that really makes Far Cry 3 so different from literally everything else out there. It’s possible to quickly run through the tutorial missions and then spend countless hours simply liberating strongholds and unscrambling radio towers to make your navigation as straightforward as possible. This approach certainly has its benefits, but it will put you in some sticky situations, and you’ll often find yourself overwhelmed by enemy forces, especially when reinforcements are called in after an alarm has been raised.
Most players will likely focus on the narrative, and take advantage of their position on the map after each mission to clean up the area, which in itself prolongs the game’s already mammoth play time even further. Alternatively, you could opt to spend your time seeking out all the cool shit the islands have to offer and taking part in a variety of strangely addictive side missions, races and games. Make no mistake, you could play this game from now until Far Cry 4 and still not see everything it has to offer.
Pulling it all together is the storyline. Both wonderfully written and acted, with a notable mention going to Michael Mando’s sublime turn as Vaas, there’s a real connection made with the player as progress is made. You will actually care what happens to your friends, not because you care about them specifically, but because of the bond you’ll find yourself forging with Jason. His growth is your growth, his experiences are your experiences, and that’s something that really resonated with us. Similarly, the fate of the Rakyat warriors and the islands’ inhabitants will genuinely matter to you by the time you’re little more than half way through the game.
We admit that some things may have been handled a little better, though. Jason’s transformation from a whimpering little pussy to a no-fear Rambo style character happens a little too quickly, and with little comment passed on it. Within a few hours of him freaking out after stabbing an enemy in the throat, he’s lobbing grenades and mowing down all comers with assault rifles like nobody’s business. There was definitely an opportunity missed here to explore some darker emotions, but alas Ubisoft Montreal instead chose to focus elsewhere – not that we’re complaining, we just thought it was shaping up to be something a little different early on.
Our fear before finally getting our hands on the finished game was that the whole thing may end up feeling a touch disjointed, as is often the case with sandbox games, but that hasn’t transpired at all. No matter how caught up you get with sightseeing or non-story based distractions, the narrative will always bring you back in.
Visually, Far Cry 3 has to be commended for its colour palette; bright and cheerful during the day and dark and foreboding during the night, it offers just the right contrast, while putting the never ending stream of grey and brown corridor shooters to shame. In the peak of the afternoon the blue sky extends lavishly towards the horizon, while greens and yellows pop from the screen. At night time dark shadows add a menacing flavour to your progress, particularly when you’re engaged in a stealthy battle with Vaas’ goons. The weather, too, plays a big part in the aesthetic of the game. Sunny skies turn cloudy and before you know it you’re in the midst of a tropical story with rain lashing down, reducing your range of vision and the wind howling past making it difficult to hear anything that might approach.
In truth, it could perhaps have looked a little smoother when it comes to certain things. There’s a strange graininess to distant objects, while some textures don’t look to have gotten quite the same love as others. All in all though, it’s still a damn fine looking game, and given the scope of the game world it’s easy to see why it’s not quite as pristine as some of the more on-the-rails shooters available.
Beyond the basic FPS mechanics (which are executed particularly well, aside perhaps from the melee which can occasionally be a touch fiddly), Far Cry 3 implements many additional gameplay elements that add to the experience. The ability to whip out Jason’s camera at any time in order to use its zoom to check out the location of enemies is particularly clever, and those who like to lurk in the shadows and plot their attacks will definitely get a lot of use out of that. There’s also the ability to craft new loot bags and mix medicines, as we mentioned earlier, as well as plenty of vehicular shenanigans, swimming, rock throwing to create distractions and, most spectacularly, the use of animals as weapons.
While PETA may not be too impressed with this particular design choice, weaponization of the jungle and its inhabitants can potentially play a huge part in players’ approaches. Sneaking into an enemy stronghold and unleashing a tiger, for example, is a fantastic way to create a sense of panic and confusion among the enemies, allowing you to pick them off one by one as they get separated from the group – if the tiger hasn’t gotten to them, or you, first.
The skills available as you progress are plentiful, and regardless of your favoured play style you should be able to find ones that offer a good fit. Some of the options available include dragging dead bodies into secluded areas so as not to alert enemies, faster movement while crouched, quicker reloading, faster recovery, increasing the effectiveness of medicines and so on. With three screens in all, there’s no shortage of choice, and players have the opportunity of trying most of the different types of skill out without much chance of regret due to the ample availability of skill points as they progress.
Having approached the game in several ways, we’re confident enough in saying that there’s something here for everyone. However the most satisfaction is definitely to be found by taking your time, carrying out the necessary recon work, and then slowly but surely setting your plans into motion. Stealth is most certainly your friend, as thoughtless running and gunning is a sure fire way to taste failure time and again. Indeed many missions require you to go undetected, forcing a certain pace onto players, but it never quite goes as far as offering you the pacifist’s route – you’re out to kill, and killing you will do.
Given the sheer size of Far Cry 3’s campaign, it’s astonishing that everything works so well. Whether you’re exploring for secrets or plotting the downfall of an enemy encampment through the shrewd use of those ever convenient red barrels and some well timed headshots the whole thing plays out beautifully. There’s an incredible amount to see, do and experience, and it will certainly hold your attention for far longer than any other single player shooter on the market to date, but the most astonishing thing is the fact that that’s only half the game – there’s an equally monstrous multiplayer face to Far Cry 3, and we’re going to give you the full run-down on that next week!
Until then though, rest assured that this is a must have for its single player campaign alone. Shooter fan or not, this is an incredible experience that you really need to treat yourself to. ‘Tis (almost) the season, after all!