Platform | Release Date
360, PS3, PC | December 4, 2012
Developed by Ubisoft Montreal
Published by Ubisoft
Far Cry 3 is an open world first-person shooter set on an island unlike any other. A place where heavily armed warlords traffic in slaves. Where outsiders are hunted for ransom. And as you embark on a desperate quest to rescue your friends, you realize that the only way to escape this darkness… is to embrace it.
The Far Cry series has a slightly bizarre history. The first game – a landmark release – indulged in science fiction craziness that divided fans, but has since been exploited by its developer’s spiritual successor, Crysis. While that franchise has forged its own direction, Ubisoft have kept the Far Cry name focused on the predatory gameplay of the original. However, without the ambitious Crytek at its helm, it’s safe to say that the Far Cry name itself has had a rougher ride than its nano-suit wearing competition.
Far Cry 2 broke new ground while infuriating gamers with its few, but very obvious faults: forced linearity, poor enemy AI and a lack of meaningful side content despite the size of its open world. No doubt trying to tempt players back, Ubisoft have been quick to focus on the chaotic, full-screen explosion elements of its sequel, promising something really, really new… which left me a little concerned.
You see, Ubisoft has a pretty good track record when it comes to iteratively developing its most ambitious titles. To play the original Assassin’s Creed, and then to play all the way up to its most recent release, is almost like watching the same design document grow fatter and fatter. Features expand, new ones are added, and faulty ones are repaired, until you have the single most impressive yearly release from any publisher. I wanted the exact same for Far Cry 3, so marketing videos that promised all out chaos, a complete change of direction, did not make me feel very positive. So I rented it.
Which was a huge mistake. Blockbuster have noticed, and are sending me regular correspondence regarding just how late I am in returning the game. £15 late according to the last red headed letter. Disregard those promotional videos, folks. Far Cry 3 is very much the evolution of its predecessor, and with far more time to develop than its more assassination orientated brother, an incredible amount of improvement has occurred within just one release.
For starters, the new jungle oasis that replaces the barren desert is packed with stuff to do. It’s all easily traversable, with small and large tracks running off into caves, tunnels, and mountain peaks. Your enemy, a local militia with Western connections, has outposts scattered all across this terrain, but they aren’t the only inhabitants. Rampant wildlife, dastardly warlords, socially malfunctioning islanders, voodoo queens and barmy CIA operatives also call this island home, and they all bring something different to the gameplay mix.
While the story sees you taking on the heads of the local militia, tripping through an occasionally drug-induced miasma of set-pieces, it’s the side content which really shines. Vas, the enigmatic madman nemesis at the heart of the plot, is one of the most singularly brilliant pieces of acting that I have ever enjoyed in a video game. That being said, it doesn’t beat sneaking through the undergrowth only to thwang an arrow into the back of an unsuspecting enemy or bear. Or a shark. Shooting arrows at sharks is fun.
Far Cry 3 is about brutality, and losing yourself to it when survival is all you have left. Powerful performances make you care about each character initially, but the sheer enjoyment of hunting, of taking over enemy camps, and of scouting for new territory to dominate, means that you become far more absorbed in the island and its nature than you do the plot. This is an absolute triumph, and makes it one of the few games I have ever played in which the gameplay is entirely joyous, but also the complete mirror of one powerful theme. Remember how every action in BioShock felt like it had to be weighed against the nature of your character and the world around him? Yeah, Far Cry 3 is that good.
On the technical side of things, enemy AI can no longer see you through solid walls but is still ruthlessly smart. The easiest way to overcome them is to develop your resources by hunting and scouting new territory by completing platforming-type radio tower climbs. This makes increasingly more potent weapons free to equip from stores, while the hunting expands your ammo carrying capability and grants you the funds to ensure that your new komodo dragon bandolier is always full. Essentially, the game encourages you to indulge in its most vicious elements in order to successfully save your friends and eliminate your enemy. You lose yourself to the island, to its madness, because that is the only way that you can be the ass-kicking hero that the plot requires you to be.
This structure also means that the forced linearity of Far Cry 2 is now gone. For starters, the map is more open, but the flexibility of the upgrade system sets out each piece of content as being completely open too. Using your map and binoculars to suss out an enemy camp is no longer just a means of working out how you’re supposed to do it, but a way for you to calculate exactly how you want to do it, all based on your current resources. Stealthy knife kills, long range sniper fire, or all out war. It’s up to you, but in every instance the results with be exhilarating.
Far Cry 3 is far more Skyrim than it is Call of Duty. A good thing in my opinion, but while the single player shines, it isn’t the only star on the well packed DVD. Ubisoft have also included a co-op mode that plays as a sort of low-budget Left 4 Dead with mercenaries. It’s fun, fast, and the networking is stable. Extra points are awarded for an authentic representation of a loud-mouthed, sweary Scotsman, as well as the novelty objectives scattered throughout, and the relatively good length.
Add in the extensive Battlefield-style multiplayer, and you have one of the best bargains in gaming. If Assassin’s Creed can be defined by its ambition and scale, then Far Cry 3 can proudly state ‘me too’. Graphically, it’s beautiful, and the map maker allows user created content that bends that beauty far more than the likes of Halo’s Forge. There will be people who play this game for months and months – a rare case in the era of the 6-hour action game. They’ll love every minute, and you would too.
Far Cry 3 is my 2012 Game of the Year. I didn’t expect it to be, and I didn’t expect such a genuinely fantastic improvement to a formula that I already felt worked well. Unless Ubisoft screw it up – which I doubt – this franchise has my money until there are moths in my wallet. Outstanding in every aspect, this is a game that deserves your time. Just don’t be surprised when you feel cold to the cries of a fatally bleeding man on one of its many grassy mountain tops. Brutal, but oh so very, very fun.