Reviews
Far Cry 3

By Seán O'Sullivan - December 7th, 2012

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In the first ten minutes of Far Cry 3, we’re introduced to a character who represents the typical first-person-shooter hero archetype: a muscular white guy with military training whose ability to improvise and ease of violence sees him defying the odds and successfully escaping from an enemy encampment. This character is then unceremoniously murdered, and you play as his shaggy-haired, dweeby brother; the guy who spent the entire sequence audibly squirming at the horrors that unfolded around him.

Shooting the cookie-cutter hero through the neck before the title card has been displayed is a rather bold declaration of intent from Ubisoft Montreal; but Far Cry 3 is not your typical first-person-shooter. By building on top of the best lessons from previous games in the series, Far Cry 3 has masterfully trumped contemporary genre conventions to deliver what is arguably the best shooter of the year.

After the aforementioned opening sequence (in which the tropical setting is established), the maniacal antagonist is introduced, and the central motive of revenge is impressed upon the player, they are loosed into Rook Island, one of the most vibrant interactive settings of recent memory.

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When crossing the border, be ready to declare war.

In most games, it feels like the world revolves around you; Far Cry 3’s world is all the more interesting for how it continues in your absence. You will regularly find yourself intruding on snatches of jungle life that you can intervene in or ignore at will. You could happen across a skirmish between the indigenous Rakyat tribe and their pirate aggressors, witness the thriving animal ecosystem of predators and prey in effect, or some darkly humorous combination of the two involving civilians caught in the crossfire.

A plethora of activities are available to the player at all times, which work in concert to keep the player in a constant loop of: embarking on side-quests to unlock map data and bases, hunting wildlife to craft better equipment, and doing story-missions to unlock upgrades. Since every kill and recovered trinket nets XP that can be redeemed for abilities, the game constantly stokes your pleasure-centers with a sense of reward, so even going for an aimless wander feels worthwhile.

This exquisite world and feats of game-design would be moot if the core game-play fell flat; but Far Cry 3 absolutely nails the fundamentals. Each combat encounter empowers the player with a great deal of latitude – whether you want to stake out the scene and plan out a stealthy approach with silent weapons, or charge in with explosives and heavy machine guns, the combat systems are so robust that both are equally rewarding, and can be changed on the fly.

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If you’re able to remember Lost fondly, you’ll be able to forgive Far Cry 3’s story.

Once you’re in the fray, all bets are off – as the refreshingly chaotic game world guarantees that no two scenarios play out at all the same. One memorable encounter saw me sneaking into an enemy base through a hole in a fence, distracting the sentry with a thrown rock, then dispatching him discreetly with my machete. As I lined up a silenced head-shot on the sniper in the guard tower, he started shooting into the distance. A 4×4 full of my tribal allies screeched into the centre of the compound and were greeted by a hail of machine-gun fire, which blew up their ride and all but one occupant, who dashed for cover while blindly firing towards the enemy. The alarm sounded, and reinforcements arrived, even though I had yet to be discovered. In the confusion, I remained undetected while plugging a few more enemies, but now I had to brace myself for a direct confrontation with the goons that had just gunned down my ballsy associate. At least, that’s what I thought, until a black bear ran into the camp and started swatting down my foes with aplomb. This is no scripted event, but rather a typically unpredictable example of Far Cry 3’s many systems colliding.

The bread and butter of the game is absolutely rock solid, but there are a few disappointments along the way. The first two thirds of the story are replete with ominous foreshadowing and narrative fugues that make for a thoroughly gripping ride – but the failure on the part of the writers to resolve it just smacks of wasted potential. Moreover, the initial story missions do a great job of touring through the island’s many stunning indoor and outdoor settings, but the final act introduces a sizable amount of game world that is ultimately up to the player to explore. The game oscillates between playing into and debunking the myth of the noble savage as the protagonist struggles with the taste for blood he’s acquired, which might be more compelling fodder if it wasn’t placed in opposition to his life of entitlement and many vapid friends that he sacrifices his humanity to save. There are many opportunities to explore the more sophisticated and frankly mature emotional themes, but they are left as innuendos, while the GTA-style mission-dispensing cretins get the lion’s share of screen time.

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Worried about jungle-fatigue? Don’t! There’s plenty of variety amidst the greenery.

Aside from the single-player campaign, there’s a 4-player cooperative mode that doesn’t benefit from the same kind of thoughtful approach or creative approach to killing; but is fun with a few friends in the right mindset. The competitive multi-player doesn’t benefit from the kind of bold convention-shirking mindset of the core game, amounting to a serviceable Call of Duty-style shooter with a familiar unlocking and custom-class system, and some neat incentives to promote teamwork; but it’s ultimately stifled by lackluster maps and a stillborn player base.

Don’t let the narrative hiccups or tacked on value-additions dissuade you – when you’re making your mark on Rook Island, you will feel a sense of empowerment that few other games can give. Far Cry 3 is loud, bold, unpredictable fun that lets you wage war in the way you want, and comes highly recommended to any fan of action-games. That said, if you’re weary of identikit military shooters, Far Cry 3 is essential.

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