Review by sfcalimari
A very likeable but somewhat flawed gem of a game
I have a really love-hate relationship with Ubisoft. On the one hand, they have made some pretty good games over the years. On the other hand, I find they have a tendency to take good series like Splinter Cell and run them into the ground. Like other giant developer/publishers, they almost seem to focus group everything to death, sometimes making their games feel a bit off or rather sterile where a smaller company would maybe take more risks with characters and gameplay. But when they succeed, they really do make some great games. I like Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory and the original Splinter Cell a lot, as well as Assassin's Creed 2.
And of course we need to talk about Far Cry 2. When that game came out, Ubisoft showcased their rather odd decision to have a multi-game series where the sequentially numbered games had very little to do with one another. Other than being fps games, Far Cry 1 and 2 really had nothing to do with one another. So how would Far Cry 3 fit in, would it be at least a spiritual sequel to Far Cry 2? Would it have any of the same elements? I wasn't crazy about Far Cry 2 but in a few certain aspects it had a lot of charm. Setting fires was cool, the setting was cool, and stuff like ambushing convoys was fun. But a lot of things about it were frustrating, like the respawning enemies attacking you every 5 minutes, the long drives from A to B, the bad voice acting, and the ridiculously repetitive missions. Would Far Cry 3 have these problems or get rid of them? Would they go too far in changing the gameplay?
So I was a bit wary about Far Cry 3, since it followed a charming but mostly flawed game, and it was being developed by Ubisoft, a developer I really have mixed feelings about. In the weeks and months leading to FC3's release, a lot of enticing videos and images started circulating about the game in the media. Clearly it was going to be another big name game release by a big name mega-developer. Expectations were high and people started calling it the game of the year before they'd even played it. Eventually early reviews started getting published, and many notoriously fickle review sites were lauding it with 10/10 and 9/10 reviews. Was it really going to be that good? I started getting intrigued by talk about its hunting and crafting system, daydreaming that maybe it would be a tense survivalist game, a S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl in the tropics. So finally a few days ago I bought the game on release day and after installing I started playing, and earlier today I finished the single-player campaign.
The previous Far Cry games had a lot of devotion to impressive graphics, and the popular consensus seems to be that Far Cry 3 has great graphics as well. For myself, I find that they could have been better, though I imagine that if they were the game would bring my GTX 470 to its knees rather than being very playable. One thing the game does really well is light rays, I'm not sure I've seen a pc game do them better while still having such a good framerate. And looking out over the countryside from on top of a mountain is very cool because of how detailed everything is--it's not like other games where only what is immediately in front of you looks good. But I find there's a bit too much low-res painted textures strewn about, and there's too much depth of field blur, which makes far-off objects really murky and blurry. And grass and trees look a bit too sketchy. But, again, the game does run very well for how visually detailed it is. There are frequent graphical glitches I see, like flickering on far-off forests or weird bright-yellow splotches when animals bleed on the ground, but I imagine that future game patches or new video drivers will fix that.
Characters and Story
Your character, Jason Brody, and his friends from California were partying in the South Pacific, when for fun they parachuted onto a supposedly uninhabited island and were immediately captured by pirates who intend to ransom them. The general storyline is that you escape from the pirates and try to rescue your friends and fight back against the pirates. Eventually you get caught up in a campaign by the island's native inhabitants, the Rakyat, to take back their lands from the maurauding pirates.
Honestly, in a lot of ways I find Jason to be a really annoying and unlikeable character. Early on in the game he is scared by everything, and seems to act rather selfishly. But before long Jason is blasting through the jungle in jeeps and slaughtering pirates by the boatload with bows and machine guns and land mines, and healing himself by popping his thumb back into joint. And this transformation from wimp to Rambo is gradually accompanied by a shift in Jason's dialogue and attitude. I won't go into it too much more, but I really did appreciate that Ubisoft put a lot of attention on what the transformation from ordinary guy to murderous cartoon superhero would do to a real person. Lots of games have that kind of scenario and a Rambo-esque main character, but few of them address them as realistically. Jason's friends on the other hand never really evolve from being annoying caricatures of yuppies, making it a little harder to root for their survival.
As for the other main NPC's in the game, generally they're done really well, and bring a lot more entertainment to the table than Jason's friends. My favorite was Vaas, the leader of the pirates, who is just completely psychotic. Any scene with him in it is great and makes other NPC's in the game pale by comparison. His lines are simultaneously creepy and hilarious, and his voice-acting is top notch. It's too bad the rest of the characters and voice actors in the game don't measure up to him.
As for the overall storyline, I thought it was decent but not spectacular. It's definitely a huge improvement over the rather incomprehensible and bare-bones plot of Far Cry 2, but it doesn't really measure up to the more cerebral storylines of games like Dishonored and Deus Ex: Human Revolution. All in all the storyline really feels like that of a summer blockbuster movie, it's accessible and doesn't make you think too hard or bore you or confuse you, but it does address some complex topics here and there.
In general, Far Cry 3 is a typical first person shooter game, but with a lot of unique features, some of which are pretty cool and others which aren't so cool. And the gameplay is pretty similar to that of Far Cry 2 in a lot of ways, but with some major changes. Most of the time you'll be running and gunning, throwing grenades, firing RPG's, just like almost any other fps game. But the variety of weaponry is pretty unique. Some stuff comes back from Far Cry 2, like the flare pistol and flamethrower, which are a lot of fun to use to cause fires. Giant fires are not as easy to start as in Far Cry 2 but they're still useful for distracting enemies, and can also be unpredictable and end up killing you if you're not careful. The main weapon that stands out from other fps games is the bow, which is a lot of fun to use because it's silent and very deadly, but only if you aim really carefully. You also get a very good variety of standard weapons like assault rifles and sniper rifles and pistols, and you can upgrade them with cool stuff like extended clips, various scopes, and silencers.
Stealth is pretty useful in the game because it lets you avoid getting stuck in massive firefights, and lets you pick off enemies one by one. Silenced weapons like the bow and silenced rifles and assault rifles are useful for this, but you can also instantly kill enemies with a takedown by sneaking up behind them and clicking a button when prompted. You see this kind of melee takedown in a lot of other fps games, but Far Cry 3 takes it further by giving you several kinds of takedowns which you can unlock in a skills tree. The knife takedown lets you do a takedown to one enemy, then grab his knife and throw it into a nearby enemy, killing him as well. The chained takedown lets you kill several nearby enemies, one after the other. The grenade takedown lets you kill one enemy, then pull the pin on the grenade on his belt and kick him forward, so he explodes a few seconds later. The variety of takedowns is pretty cool but I found they are a bit too tricky to use, because you have to be really quick and precise with your button presses to get them to work. I think it would have been good to have time slow down when you do a takedown, so you'd have enough time to input the proper button. Instead, half the time when I wanted to do a fancy takedown I'd freak out and press the wrong button and get shot a bunch, because the input time is so short.
As I just mentioned, there's an rpg-esque skill tree that you unlock as you get experience from doing main story missions, side missions, and by killing enemies. Many skills like faster crawling and extra health bars make your life a lot easier, and others like chained takedowns give you some variety to your playstyle. Some of them aren't that useful though, or are unlocked far after they would have been more useful. But in general the skills tree is a nice rpg element, I really appreciate fps games with an unlockable skills tree and an experience system, and they're done well in this game and make you feel you're getting stronger as you go through the game.
Something that comes back from Far Cry 2 is the healing system. You start out with two bars of health, and each bar regenerates over time after you take damage, but only to the top of that bar. You can hold down the heal button to heal yourself more, by wrapping a bandage around your arm or pulling a bullet out of your skin (ouch), but this process takes a while and can get you killed in busy firefights. Alternatively you can use a heal syringe, which is faster, but you can only carry so many of them. You can either pick up syringes lying around on tables during missions or when exploring, or you can craft them with a green leaf, which you can harvest all over the island. There's four different colors of leaves, and you can use specific ones to make a variety of syringes with different uses. Some let you swim for longer without needing to resurface, others let you see enemies around you, and others let you sprint further. I never ended up using many of the syringes, except for the ones that improve your hunting, like letting you see where all the animals are around you, or one that makes your weapons more effective at killing animals.
Speaking of hunting, the hunting and subsequent crafting elements in Far Cry 3 are some of my favorite aspects of the game, and in my opinion are the most truly revolutionary gameplay concept in the game. You know how in a lot of similar games, you might have to complete a certain number of missions or get a certain number of experience points to unlock a new weapon slot so you can carry more guns? Or maybe you have to go to a store and buy an extra weapon slot, or buy a bigger wallet so you can carry more money, or maybe you just find those types of upgrade stuff lying around in a cave. Well, in Far Cry 3, it's all Do It Yourself. Need a bigger wallet so you can carry more money? Kill a pig, skin it, then use the skin to make a bigger wallet. Need another holster so you can carry 2 guns? Do the same thing with a goat. You can do this with backpacks to carry more ammo, quivers to carry more arrows, and so on, and each of these upgradeable items can be upgraded four times, and each upgrade requires a different skin. The game does a good job of making you roam widely around through the countryside looking for the animals you need to skin, and helps you out by putting animal pictures on the map so you can know where on the map you're most likely to find a certain kind of animal. I really like this aspect of the game a lot, it's very creative, it's fun, and it feels rewarding because it really is useful to be able to carry more guns and grenades and money. But you can do pretty much all of the hunting in the game very early on, meaning that you'll never really need to do it during the rest of the game. On the one hand it's nice that they leave it entirely up to you when you will do it, but on the other hand it's kind of disappointing when you have no more animals to hunt for crafting so early on in the game.
So I think I've generally covered what playing the game is like, but I haven't spoken about what you do to actually complete the game. During the single-player game, your main goal is to do main story missions, but outside of these missions you can roam around and do whatever you want. Your main side tasks (which I believe are totally optional) are to climb radio towers to reveal new parts of the map, and to take over enemy bases by killing everyone there. As you take over enemy bases, new side missions will unlock, which I'll talk about in a bit.
During the main story missions, you're basically doing stuff to further the story, save your friends, fight the pirates, and so on. Honestly I felt mostly disappointed with these missions. Some are fun, but too many of the early ones are really short and simplistic, and later missions tend to be padded out with quick time events, scripted events like firing a machine gun on a jeep at enemies while someone else drives, and linear sections where the game forces you into using a specific kind of gameplay. Like some missions make you skulk around unable to kill or shoot anyone no matter what, and others force you into massive gunfights with endlessly respawning enemies to force you to move forward down a set path. Considering how free you are in the rest of the game, it's annoying that they often give you so little freedom in these story missions. A few of them are genuinely fun, like one where you lose all your weapons and can use stealth attacks to get past a bunch of enemies, but in general they're more scripted than that. In all there are 38 missions, which sounds like a lot, but I am pretty certain that more than a few of them are just going to a certain point and sitting through a cut-scene, and maybe pressing forward to walk across a bridge.
Fortunately for someone like me who's disappointed by the main missions, there's a lot of other stuff to do, and it's generally way more fun. To reveal sections of the map you have to go to those aforementioned radio beacons and get to the top to rewire them. But to get to the top, you have to figure out how to get to the next level above you, usually by jumping to a ledge. It's kind of a puzzle, but it's very simple and very easy. Then once you rewire the beacon you not only reveal more of the map, you also can unlock free weapons at gun stores, and you also unlock side missions.
Scattered around the islands are enemy bases which you can capture. Until you capture them, the entire countryside around each base will have enemies wandering around on foot or in cars who will attack you. After you capture them the enemies will disappear, and you'll be able to fast travel to that base and also buy guns and ammo there at an automatic gun dispenser. It's up to you whether you want to capture the bases or not, but for me capturing them is the best and most fun part of the game because you have so much freedom in choosing how to go about it. The bases are generally a collection of buildings near a road, and with several enemies hanging around patrolling it. Basically you need to kill everyone in the base to capture it, and it's up to you how you will do it. You could just clamber up to a good vantage point and snipe them all with a silenced sniper rifle. Or you could sneak in with a bow and kill them one by one with bow and takedown attacks. Or you could just run in like Rambo with a machine gun and blast them away. If you get spotted the enemies will run to an alarm box and call for reinforcements, who will arrive in a minute or so. Fortunately if you're sneaky you can walk up to the alarm boxes and disable them, so they can't call in reinforcements. The AI is also really quite good in that you can cause distractions by throwing rocks or causing explosions, making them all face in the direction of the noise so you can run behind them to set some mines or knife them to death one by one. You could throw a molotov on a nearby field to cause a brush fire to get their attention, then as they gawk at the fire, run behind them into the base and disable the alarms, kill a guy and place a mine by his body, use a rock to get them to see the body which will make them run in to check on their buddy and get blown up by the mine, then as the other enemies search for you pick them off one by one with the bow. Base capturing is the best part of the game by far, and I kind of wish the game had been centered more on such smart and free gameplay, especially in the main story missions.
Aside from taking over beacons and bases, there's also a lot of other side missions you can do for money and experience points. My favorite are the Wanted Dead missions, where you have to kill a nearby enemy commander, but you have to do it with your knife or otherwise you will fail the mission. The commander will be somewhere like a bunker or on top of a hill, surrounded by a few other enemies, so like with the base capturing you have almost complete freedom about how to do the job, so long as you kill the commander with your knife. Supply Drop missions have you get in a car and drive through a bunch of checkpoint flares within a time limit. Path of the Hunter missions have you go to a nearby area and use a certain weapon to kill a certain enemy. Like using a shotgun to kill two bears, or using a bow to kill a tiger. Some are completely ridiculous and fun, like using an RPG to kill a bunch of feral dogs. Also some Path of the Hunter missions give you skins that you need for the final crafting upgrades, so it's definitely worth it to do them regularly. Trials of the Rakyat are basically shooting gallery challenges where you get points by killing enemies with certain weapons. In one of them you rack up points by running over enemies with a car, and in another every time you get a kill your gun randomly changes to another gun. There's also missions that you can do for the island natives, the Rakyat, who want you to do stuff like find missing tablets or resolve a marital dispute. Honestly I found these missions to be pretty dumb, especially since a lot of them are lame fetch quests. There's other stuff you can do like play poker, do sharpshooter challenges, and do driving challenges, but at this point it just feels like Ubisoft was padding out the game a bit too much, I didn't really do many of these challenges since they weren't very fun or interesting.
So, that's my review. Is Far Cry 3 a fun game? Generally yes, though some parts are way more fun than others. Is it a big improvement on Far Cry 2? Yes. Is it the Game of the Year, Game of the Decade, a 10/10 once in a lifetime experience? Not for me, there's just too many annoying things about it, like your unlikeable character and his friends, the way the HUD annoyingly reminds you every 2 minutes to go to the next story mission when you're in the middle on an intense crocodile hunt, and the rather undercooked main story missions. But I won't deny I generally had a blast playing it, and it's been a while since I laughed out loud so much during a game, because of all the hilarious and crazy things that you see randomly in the open world, like a tiger chasing a goat into the path of a pirate's speeding jeep. Splat!
Rating: 4.0 - Great
Product Release: Far Cry 3 (US, 12/04/12)
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