Six years ago, Far Cry 3 came out to the rapturous applause of game critics and punters alike. I, on the other hand, was only partly on board. I enjoyed the open world gameplay but found the story lacking, calling out what I thought to be a rushed, underdeveloped plot, a non-existent character arc for the main protagonist, and placed emphasis on said protagonist starting the game with a combat ability far beyond that of a normal, untrained human being. Now, having played through the game again recently, I’m willing to admit that I was wrong. Maybe it was my frame of mind back then, maybe I just didn’t pay close enough attention, or maybe it’s just time and a different perspective now, who knows. Point is, I agree that it’s something special, particularly in contrast to where Ubisoft has taken both its general output and the series since.
Interestingly, the game has parallels to the Tomb Raider reboot, released the year after. In that game a new version of Lara Croft starts as a fit, capable but otherwise largely normal young woman. The main difference here is that she has had some degree of informal training thanks to her ex-Royal Marine guardian, but in terms of actual combat and killing experience, the two are the same. After being stranded on a island controlled by a hostile, armed force Lara has to save her group of friends, putting her talents to use, adapting to combat situations and learning to kill, ending the game as a survivor and the heroic adventurer she’ll be in later games. Now, it hit me during my recent playthrough that the genius stroke in Jason Brody’s similar tale is how far his development goes beyond that. He hits the “embattled survivor saving his friends” stage about one third of the way through the game. See, Jason is clearly in a different story to his friends. His girlfriend Liza talks about how they’ll go home after all this and Jason can have a film studio job and everything’ll be fine, but every interaction with her irritates him; he’s spent his whole life a directionless hedonist and now he’s finally found a direction. That’s the final step in the arc: from Lara Croft survivor to a blood-thirsty killing machine, taking the story of an ordinary person forced to kill people to survive to its logical conclusion: that person is no longer going to fit into a normal, polite society. Going even further, Jason likes the new him, and about halfway through the game decides that not only is he going to stay on the island, he’s going to go and assassinate the crime lord controlling said island, a man he’s never met and has had no direct action or input on his life. He kills Vaas for revenge, he kills Hoyt because he wants to. He goes from normal guy with an innate talent for survival, to a Lara Croft/Nathan Drake style action hero, to a blood-thirsty, knife fighting lunatic. That’s the USP, that’s what I didn’t grasp six years ago- it’s not that he becomes a killer, it’s that killing becomes who he is, that he goes far beyond any kind of arc or hero’s journey. Imagine if Lara Croft or Nathan Drake could get to the end of their journey and then choose to kill their friends and never go home? That’s the only ending that makes sense, in my opinion. Jason spends days on end drugged out of his mind, slaughtering pirates and loving every minute of it, then decides that actually he’s had enough now and he’s going to go home? Yeah, that’s likely.
His ability to fight and use weapons and tactics are, for the most part merely a question of suspending one’s disbelief, something I found a lot easier to do this time around, for whatever reason. A lot of it is down to just doing it often enough, helped by Jason being almost constantly full of drugs, many of which bolster his already considerable skills.
I used to share in the opinion that Vaas was the far superior of the three villains, and underused. Now I believe it’s for the best that it works this way. The game is about Jason’s journey, so it works that the villains’ interactions with the player tie into that. Vaas arrogantly thinks that Jason isn’t anything to worry about, and their interactions showcase how far Jason goes- his successes somewhat increase and he kills more and more people until he finally kills Vaas. His death is what marks the turning point- that Jason no longer wants to leave the island, that he’s finally found his path through life. Buck strings Jason along, messes him about and is clearly irritating him, then a last minute betrayal costs him his life. Hoyt, despite being the overarching villain and crime lord of the island, is slaughtered by Jason along with a load of his men, because by that point Jason is so far over the line that no one can stop him in open combat. I appreciate the knife fights a lot more now, too. The game’s use of drug-induced, hallucinatory dream sequences is fantastic, and it all comes to a head when Jason imagines his enemies are far more competent and important than they really are, distracting from the fact that Jason is now a towering god of death, his greatest skill and talent being the ending of human life. The villains are used just enough for their true purpose; as visible indicators of Jason’s progress and journey. The player spends so much time with Jason, seeing his progress one kill at a time, then one of the main villains comes along to show just how far he’s come.
In regards to Ubisoft’s other games, and Far Cry as a series, I’ll keep it brief. Whereas say, Assassin’s Creed has become increasingly indicative of Ubisoft’s nightmarish obsession with busywork and bigger open world maps (not including Origins, which was a beautiful turnaround and a brilliant game), Far Cry 3 was a tight, focused experience in which the environment added to the already strong character development, and again, to Jason’s journey. Actually having Jason traverse the island, hunting and navigating the environment was all part of the story. Far Cry 4 did have some interesting ideas, with its alternate, best ending involving not actually playing the game at all, and the ending revelation that you’ve messed everything up for yourself completely necessarily, but neither it nor any of Ubisoft’s other games can match that path from normal person, to survivor, to monster, to crossing the moral event horizon of slitting your girlfriend’s throat and staying in this new hell you’ve made for yourself.
Far Cry 3 took risks, and they paid off. It’s dawned on me now, on the other side, that way back in 2012 Far Cry 3 was something special, it still is now and I’m glad I gave it another chance. Took me long enough.
By James Lambert