Your right hand clinches the worn grip of a gun that once belonged to a man whose name you never cared to learn. The incessant beat of your heart only seems to be getting more strident, but the hulking pirate, now relieving himself behind his camp’s most rickety shack, hasn’t a clue of your location. The shot’s open, but the terrible growl of a caged bear in the center of the outpost shifts the plan of attack. A well-placed round from your silenced rifle cracks open the door holding the wild, goaded creature, and although his roars alert the gaggle of mercenaries to the danger, it’s not long before the animal sinks its teeth into six different bodies. The last painful yelp is your cue. Lead is transferred from the barrel of your pistol to the skull of the wounded behemoth, and with a single thud, it eats the dirt.
This is just a single, probable illustration from your upcoming journey through the vast jungle of Ubisoft Montreal’s Far Cry 3, and one that has no ties to the game’s core narrative. The tropical island featured, which lies at the intersection of the Indian and Pacific Oceans, may lack a proper name, but the environment carries a personality not often seen in modern shooters. If Far Cry 2 was a sandbox, then it’s only fitting to describe this third effort as a beach that, while seemingly endless, is well decorated with brilliant and unique features. It’s nearly impossible to run in any direction for three minutes without encountering a new animal to skin, or a lofty radio tower begging to be scaled. The story presented may fail to live up to the game’s incredible opening, but it would be a crime to let that fault hold you back from experiencing this monumental world.
It all starts out as a simple vacation, as Jason Brody and his friends have little on their minds but drinking and sky diving when they first arrive on the island. However, the revelries come to a halt when the unstable pirate Vaas takes the group hostage with the intent to sell them off to slavery. A small opening allows Jason to escape in one piece, but this timid, fearful protagonist has no intent of leaving the island alone. It’s his goal to save the rest of his companions, but in doing so, Jason must also embark on a personal journey to discover his true self. The local Rakyat tribe help to push him to become greater than he ever thought possible, and while the safety of his friends remains a top priority, the thrill of the jungle slowly seeps into his mind.
Jason’s evolution from a petrified hostage to a Rakyat warrior opens with limitless promise, but the inconsistent story telling holds back what should be one the game’s most impressive features. The protagonist isn’t a war hero or hardened spy with proficiency for killing; Jason has no desire to end another man’s life. He trembles as thrusts a blade through the heart of his first victim and reels while removing the skin from the jungle’s wildlife. It’s a refreshing twist on the power trip that is a modern shooter campaign, but Jason quickly understanding advanced artillery and moment-to-moment combat breaks the illusion the introduction creates. It seems like Jason never knows if he wants to be a cold-bloodied killer or a man who’s too afraid to watch an R-rated movie in theaters, and the forgettable nature of his friends doesn’t help the story gain much steam.
Even if Jason’s arc falters, it’s the game’s world, and those who inhabit it, that give Far Cry 3 such a strong personality. The people Jason encounters throughout the story range from hard-nosed tribesmen to delightfully peculiar villagers, and their expert physical and vocal delivery do well to drag you into the jungle. These don’t feel like cheap archetypes developed exclusively to paint waypoints on your map; each personality has a grounded nature that’s rare in a supporting cast. Vaas, the scarred man shown so prominently in the game’s marketing, isn’t someone I’d care to share a meal with, but his verbal peccadilloes and unstable nature are fascinating to watch. Most encounters with him will lead to perilous situations, but it’s worth the risk to hear the troubled individual speak.
It’s absolutely worth seeing the story missions through to the end, but the narrative is just the beginning. The true strength of this series is the sprawling environments surrounding the drama, and I’d be hard pressed to name another open world as wonderfully populated with fun things to do. You could spend hours climbing unstable radio towers in an attempt to reveal more of the startlingly large map, and honestly, it’d be time well spent. Engaging first-person platforming is notoriously difficult to achieve, but jumping from ledge to ledge with little regard for Jason’s safety is thrilling. Capturing outposts is also a worthwhile venture, and one that can eat up plenty of free hours. Similar to Far Cry 2, these combat scenarios allow the player to decide the best method of capturing a heavily fortified camp. Different amounts of experience are rewarded to the player for how quiet (or loud) the takeover was, and being able to fast travel to conquered bases is a welcomed bonus.
Money is the driving force behind many of the smaller quests that can be picked up at villages and friendly outposts, but experience points that contribute to a three-tiered progression system make the pot much sweeter. Combat, crafting and medical abilities can all be acquired and upgraded as Jason strives to become a true warrior, and simple hunting missions found on bulletin boards are just one way to help him reach that goal. The animal pelts and shrubbery gathered along the way can be crafted into larger wallets, deeper rucksacks and medical supplies that help in a pinch. Guns, too, can be customized with attachments, adding further credence to Far Cry 3’s dizzying amount of content. This is a deep RPG wrapped around a more-than-competent shooter, all taking place in a beautiful open world.
But that’s not all, folks. Outside of Far Cry 3’s campaign, which can last well beyond 30 hours, awaits both competitive and cooperative experiences. And while there’s an expectation for online features to feel tacked on om largely single-player titles, what’s available here is quite impressive. The robust competitive mode may not hold any real surprises, but that doesn’t mean it still isn’t a hoot to test your warrior abilities against real people. Most of the activity can be found in Team Deathmatch, but the standard objective-based affairs are available for more tactical players, too. A progression system, as well as a slew of unlockable armaments, supply a pretty compelling argument to continue to fight in the game’s virtual jungles, but Far Cry 3 probably won’t replace either Halo 4 or Black Ops II as the world’s go-to shooter.
The cooperative aspect is akin to Left 4 Dead, and that’s a good thing. A beautiful cinematic sets up the tale of the four playable characters, and while you’ll be spending most of your time shooting enemies in, or around, their noggins, mid-level objectives help make the current missions worth a look. Once again, this isn’t a feature that will eat up all your free time, but it’s obvious that a team put quite a bit of work in developing a fun experience for players to enjoy after completing the fantastic main game.
Far Cry 3 manages to accomplish all this while being one of the most vibrant and technically brilliant experiences to ever be released. Reaching one of the game’s tallest peaks will reveal beautiful vistas that, while infested with blood-thirsty pirates, would be a treat to visit. Yet, popping colors and meticulously crafted geography allow you to see past the jaded eyes of Jason and into the heart of this organic island for yourself. Characters are believably animated, and the tigers, deer and pigs that roam the world are just as much fun to study as they are to hunt. A souped-up PC is undoubtedly the best way to experience Far Cry 3, but console gamers will still marvel at what Ubisoft has accomplished on a technical level.
Of course, Far Cry 3 is much more than just a pretty face. This open-world journey through the jungle is filled to the brim with compelling content that’s begging to be played, and while the story never quite realizes the potential established in the intriguing premise, it’s difficult to think of a reason to not play this December blockbuster. Ubisoft has managed to fit a full shooter campaign into one of the largest open worlds ever conceived – giving players a more guided experience to enjoy when not collecting pelts or driving through the perilous roads of the wild. Far Cry 3 has the personality that’s been lacking in this tropical franchise, and that results in a game you’ll want to spend some serious time with. Grab a bow, holster your pistol and take this plunge into insanity.
Far Cry 3 was developed by Ubisoft Montreal, and published by Ubisoft. An Xbox 360 copy was provided by the publisher for the purposes of review.