The original Far Cry game shattered all sorts of barriers when it came to graphically lush, huge, open-world sandbox shooters when it debuted on the PC in 2004. The following year Ubisoft attempted to release a heavily modified version of the game on the Xbox, and to their credit, the game was remarkable, but admittedly fell short due to hardware limitations. Well, we don’t have to wait a year to find that history does indeed repeat itself.
Far Cry 3 is out now for both the Xbox 360 and the PC. I’ve played them both extensively even though I got the proverbial short straw and ended up reviewing the console version. That’s not to say the 360 is inferior to the PC in any “major” way, but more accurately lacks the polish of the PC game. Let’s face it; the Xbox 360 is seven years old now – good luck trying to get the PC game to run on a system built in 2005. And the only real reason I even mention the 360 shortcomings is because of just how damn amazing the PC version is (top 3 best looking games of 2012), and if you own a capable PC then you owe it to yourself as a gamer and to the artistic wizards at Ubisoft to experience this game in all its DirectX 11 tropical glory.
So, if you are still with me I’ll assume you are “stuck” playing the 360 version. Never fear; you get a few nice features that the PC people don’t including a much easier co-op and multiplayer experience, and some cool social features with people on your friends list. And frankly, if you haven’t seen the PC version running on a high-end system you won’t even know what you are missing.
Far Cry 3 is hugely ambitious, both in the size of its explorable world and the blurring of at least a half-dozen genres. Throw GTA, Just Cause, Tomb Raider, Hitman, Splinter Cell, Assassin’s Creed, Cabala’s Dangerous Hunts, Red Dead Redemption, and Skyrim (yes…Skyrim) into the blender, and enjoy the tasty smoothie that is Far Cry 3. You’ll pilot all sorts of land, sea, and even air vehicles as you explore the Rook archipelago. You’ll explore lost tombs in search of ancient relics, you’ll relieve fallen Japanese soldiers of their lost letters home, you’ll hunt everything from rabid dogs, pigs, boars, and goats to tigers, bears, and sharks, just to name a few of the soon-to-be-endangered species that will offer up their hides to fuel Far Cry 3’s mighty crafting system – a system second only to Skyrim. You’ll harvest all sorts of colorful plant life and mix and match these herbs to create all variety of injectable buffs. And this is just the filler material. We haven’t even gotten to why you are on this island.
You play Jason, one of a group of rich friends on a whirlwind vacation, when a fateful skydiving jump lands you all on islands inhabited by pirates and slavers. When you wake up, the girls are missing and you find yourself in a cage with your brother being taunted by the villain in charge – Vaas. One of the more satisfactory elements about this game is that you aren’t playing some badass dude or one-man killing machine, but actually some spoiled little punk who has to learn to not only kill but survive, especially when your military-trained brother eats a bullet ten minutes into the tutorial. This triggers an exciting chase through the jungle that ends with you falling from a Temple of Doom-style rope bridge and waking up days later under the care of Dennis Rogers.
Dennis is the leader of his own tribal village and the key to Jason following his destiny that will take him down the Path of the Warrior and restore peace to these trouble isles. Dennis not only serves as the hub for many of your earlier quests, he is a wealth of information that will slowly trickle into your encyclopedic handbook you can reference from the pause menu. He will teach you to hunt and forage and guide you through the three skill trees that allow you to enhance Jason’s abilities; skills that are brilliantly represented by a mystical tattoo that slowly creeps down your left arm. Later, he will introduce you to Citra, and that is when your real training begins.
At its core, Far Cry 3 is a survivalist game. When you start off you can only carry one gun, a few syringes, and limited cash. You’ll need to start hunting, skinning, and crafting to build bigger holsters, loot sacks, and wallets, not to mention quivers for your arrows and larger med kits that can hold more syringes. It’s a diabolical balancing act that rewards both casual hunting (moments of opportunity) as well as sending you off on a dedicated quest when you realize you can’t carry any more cash. When you have acquired the right amount of components a crafting prompt will indicate you can create a new item, but other times necessity demands you actively seek out a species, so if you want a wallet that holds $6,000 you are going to have to kill and skin yourself two sharks or if you want a quiver for your arrows you’ll need to carve up a goat. Crafted items all have multiple tiers, so the larger the capacity the more number of rare animals are required. You’ll need to go on very specific hunting missions to acquire the best in each category. And then you have all the herbal concoctions from simple healing to giving you enhanced hunting instincts, holding your breath longer under water, and even making you temporarily flameproof.
The amount of activities available is overwhelming to say the least, and you can play this game for hours without ever advancing the story. The first thing you need to do is start deactivating these jammers on the top of 18 radio towers spread across the island. Doing so triggers an Assassin’s Creed-style spinning camera that highlights some cool landmarks in that sector and lights up a new grid on your map. Each deactivated tower also means more free weapons at the various shops and vending machines. I found it a bit refreshing that I was able to live almost entirely “off the land” using the stores mostly for buying and equipping various attachments to my weapons. I spent most of my cash on the numerous treasure maps that will reveal all the loot and special items in this collectibles paradise; items like SD cards, war letters, and relics.
Far Cry 3 not only gives you the freedom to go wherever and do whatever, it also gives you the freedom of how to play. The skills are cool but don’t really allow for customization of Jason since you always have enough skill points to purchase them all, so it’s not a matter of what to unlock but when. The real freedom lies within the person playing. You can Rambo through a level or you can stealth it like Sam Fisher; a tactic that will reward you with bonus XP in some missions like Outpost assaults. Nothing is more satisfying than using your camera to lock in the locations of all visible enemies then creep into a camp and start disabling alarms and slitting throats. You also get Hitman abilities of distraction by tossing an endless supply of rocks to lure guards away and concealing leftover corpses after a takedown move.
Unlike any game before it, Far Cry 3 really captures the feel of being a “hunter”, but sometimes the hunter can also become the prey. On multiple occasions I was stalking human or animal targets only to find myself being stalked by a tiger or worse. I was sneaking up on two slavers escorting two prisoners and just as I was about to attack and free them I heard a hiss, turned and was face to snout with a Komodo dragon, and you can’t really fire without alerting the slavers, so I am slashing away at this giant lizard with my knife when two more rush in. But thanks to a fully functional ecosystem, when I got up and sprinted away, the two slavers saw and followed and the dragons attacked and killed them. I love that about this game – you can use the world as a weapon. I was witness to several leopards clearing out an entire beach camp, and on another occasion there was a snake inside a hut. I tossed a rock through the window which prompted a guard to go inside and investigate and a moment later I heard a hiss, followed by a yell and a thud as his body hit the floor. Far Cry 3 is perhaps the most realistic and unpredictable game I’ve ever played.
My only real issue with the overall game design is that the core story is nothing more than a series of side missions of their own. I might know my girlfriend is at a certain location, but I don’t have a clock telling me to go there and free her. Normally, the story is what carries you through the game and you have to force yourself to do the side stuff, but in Far Cry 3 I almost always had to make a conscious effort to hit that mission that would advance the story, and even when I did lock in that waypoint on the map I would still try to grab a few collectibles along the way.
As hinted in my opening, the Xbox 360 just isn’t up to the task of doing this game the justice it truly deserves, but that doesn’t mean the game doesn’t look good. Just expect a lot more textures snapping into focus, foliage magically appearing a few yards ahead of you, and frequent framerate issues and screen tearing, especially when you take to the skies or start speeding down a road in a car or across the ocean in a boat or jet ski. Playing Far Cry 3 on the Xbox 360 is like being stranded on a tropical island after losing your prescription glasses. Playing on the PC is what it would be like if you found them.
The rest of the presentation if film-worthy from the incredibly professional voice cast to the perfectly place sound effects and environmental sounds of a living breathing jungle, to Brian Tyler’s score that blends suspense, action, and adventure with some cool tribal themes. One of my favorite audio treats in the game is whenever you get close to a hidden relic you start hearing this sinister tribal chanting like you’re about to be cursed.
Far Cry 3 supports both online co-op for 2-4 players and up to 14-person multiplayer, both of which are much more accessible on the 360 than the PC, but are sadly not nearly as fun as playing alone. The co-op campaign deals with four survivors from the S.S. Astrid, a black-market cruise ship who was abandoned by its captain leaving Leonard, Mikhail, Tisha, and Callum at the mercy of Vaas. These characters all have complementing skills but are much weaker than Jason in the solo game, so you end up relying on each other a lot more to revive fallen friends. You also have a cool Battle Cry that will temporarily “buff” your abilities. The only things about the co-op I didn’t like was that the missions are more linear and shooter driven, so you don’t get to do as much of the cool stealth or tactical attacks you would expect when you have up to three other players.
Competitive multiplayer doesn’t fare much better and just seems like a forced addition because it’s expected these days. The various modes deal with the two opposing forces on the island, the Rakyat and the pirates, and have cool ideas like XP and leveling, which in turn can trigger airdrops of burning oil or mind-alternating Psych Gas. As you win matches you unlock SD cards that can be decrypted for special signature weapons. It’s not that the modes aren’t original or fun, but the maps are poorly designed with questionable spawn points, and it is all too easy to get stuck on random objects in the level when you are trying to get somewhere fast.
Modes includes Domination where you capture and hold control points on the map, Team Deathmatch where you can actually reduce your enemy’s kill count by reviving your teammates, Transmission where you need to find and protect various broadcast transmitters for as long as possible to keep increasing your score, and finally, Firestorm. Firestorm is my favorite mode and has both teams trying to destroy the two enemy supply depots while protecting their own. You only have a short time to ignite the second stash before the first one burns out, but if you can get them both lit at the same time a firestorm ensues. At this point a radio appears on the map and it’s a race to see which team can reach that radio first. If the team who triggered the firestorm gets there first a plane will fly over and dump fuel on the rest of the map burning out the enemy and ending the game, but if the defending team gets the radio that same plane will dump water on the supply depots and reset the match.
Second only to Skyrim, Far Cry 3 is perhaps the most epic of game worlds ever created for this generation of gaming. It’s just a shame there wasn’t a better story to carry me through that world. I was left feeling probably very much like Jason, lost and directionless and completely overwhelmed. There was one five-hour game session where I did nothing but search for relics and lost letters, and the simple act of getting from those visible icons on the map provided so much random entertainment. I would come across some pirate roadblock and a jeep chase would ensue that would lead me up a mountain road where I would escape by hang glider, or I was hunting a group of Cassowary only to have them stampede and knock me off a cliff into the ocean below where a shark was waiting forcing me to swim for my life to some half-sunken shipwreck that had a hidden relic in its hull.
Everything in Far Cry 3 is alive and seems interconnect, both in the elaborate ecosystem as well as the cascading mission design and the tiered structure of unlockable skills and crafting levels. I’m guessing there is more than 40+ hours of gameplay spread across the Rook Islands, and much like real life, what you do during that time is entirely up to you.