“Far Cry 3” has a genuinely interesting premise (interesting enough to melt away my skepticism and make me pick up the game for full price): a rich, vacuous douche named Jason and his rich, vacuous douche friends go on a rich, vacuous holiday to a remote, tropical island and are captured by a gang of pirates with a penchant for slave trading. Jason escapes the gang, and spends his time murdering swathes of pirates in an attempt to rescue his friends, along the way losing more and more of his humanity as he becomes more adept at killing and even starts to enjoy it. As I said, this premise is a very interesting one, in a “Spec Ops: The Line” kind of way. Interesting, but unfortunately rushed, unbelievable and generally poorly executed.
The main problem, at least at the start of the game, is that being a sandbox the game’s plot can’t account for what the player does in between story missions. A few missions in and I had Jason wielding a bolt-action sniper rifle with perfect accuracy picking off pirate sentries before taking down the rest with stealthy machete kills. The story missions aren’t much better- the fourth mission in has Jason clearing out a camp with a pistol, having never killed anyone before. From there Jason’s character arc is rushed and lacks any real impact- it never seems like Jason regrets his actions, or that he even has any trouble murdering whole squads of pirates at a time. Characters come and go without really adding much (for the most part) and the abilities Jason gains from the upgrade system are never explained or given any context. He starts off as a dumb teenager, quickly becomes a killer, then stays a killer for the story’s run time, with it never being believable that he can do a lot of the things he does. Speaking of characters, the best of them is “Vaas”; the insane, volatile, mohawk-sporting leader of the pirates and star of the game’s box art whose every appearance is pure shouty, sweary gold. It’s strange then that given all the promotional materials he was featured in and all the hype surrounding him he only appears in the game for about fifteen minutes total before being swapped out for a much less entertaining villain. Kind of like Hannibal Lecter in “Silence of the Lambs” only far less subtle and more willing to call some a “Chicken Fuck”. The story should have been Jason gradually building up his skills, taking out Vaas’ men and working his way up to a final confrontation with him, then realising afterward what he has become and questioning where he goes from there. As it stands, the story feels light and lacking in-depth. That said, it’s not completely without positives; there are memorable moments and the odd mission worth experiencing, but they’re outweighed by the negatives for the most part. Oh, and without wishing to spoil anything, both of the game’s endings suck.
Anyway, gameplay. The island is huge, lush and fun to explore with enemy camps dotted around to liberate, dilapidated radio towers to climb to reveal more of the map and an eco system that runs independently of the player’s actions- predator animals with pursue and kill herbivores regardless of what’s going on around them, animals will attack Jason if he gets too close and caged predators in enemy camps can be released to tear apart their captors. Also worth mentioning are the fire physics- a small patch of ground lit on fire can spread at an alarming rate- entire buildings can be engulfed in flames in mere seconds, and grassy areas can quickly become death traps if they’re set ablaze with you in them and you don’t notice. The whole island is fun to explore and feels a lot more natural than most open world games. The shooting mechanics are tight and responsive, and most weapons have numerous upgrades available, making your load-out down to your preferences, rather than what the game deems most useful. The enemy A.I is, for the most part competent and they can easily overwhelm you, although that’s also due in part to how quickly Jason’s health drops in a gunfight. One of the key elements in the game is that of hunting; unlike say “Red Dead Redemption”‘s hunting system that lead to money and upgrades, the hunting in “Far Cry 3” is an essential part of the game- animal skins are used to craft items like weapon holsters, wallets and backpacks. It’s helpful then, that hunting animals is handled very well.
Another point is the boss fights. If indeed they can be called boss fights. When a major villain is confronted the game cuts to a small room surrounded by darkness and Jason engages in a quicktime event-controlled knife fight; pulling impressive blade-wielding skills out of his arse that would give Leon Kennedy pause for thought. Well, this happens for two of the boss fights anyway. One of them is a trippy mind-game sequence with a disappointing conclusion. One last thing to mention is the game’s driving. Rather than handling like an arcade racer or the likes of “Grand Theft Auto”, “Far Cry 3″s driving is done entirely in first person and the cars seem to handle quite realistically (I don’t drive, but I’ve seen it enough to get the idea). Lose control near a cliff and you’re more than likely going over it; rather than being a nuisance though, it actually added to the immersion for me.
“Far Cry 3” is not a bad game. The gameplay itself is fun enough, with the huge, sprawling island being an interesting environment to explore (and set fire to), and the army of pirates being fun to cut down, either guns blazing or stealthily. The major weak link here is the over-hyped story, which feels rushed, light and at times inconsequential. If Jason had developed his skills more gradually and the game had a slower, more restricted start I feel that would have helped- I wouldn’t have minded sacrificing some gameplay freedom for a good establishing act to the story. As it stands, “Far Cry 3” is a disappointment, but is not without merit.