Imagine that you are exploring the jungle, and happen upon a base full of pirates. What follows is a two minute dance through the underbrush where you size up your enemy and plot the ideal attack plan. Fortunately, just as you head towards the danger of the pirate camp, a grizzly bear wanders out of a nearby thicket and mauls every pirate in sight, leaving you to reap the benefits.
Far Cry 3’s open world is full of emergent opportunities like this one. I have at least a dozen other tales of jungle (mis-)adventures that practically sold my friends on the game. A lackluster story mode tarnishes its spirit, but an enjoyable open world makes Far Cry 3 a game that every shooter fan should experience.
Immediately after completing the opening scene, Far Cry 3 dumps the player in the middle of the jungle and lets them explore at will. Story missions, side quests, hunting, crafting, exploring the map, and taking back land for the troubled natives are all possible venues of activity just 10 minutes in to the adventure. Pursuing the story is not completely optional like in other open world games, though. Story missions need to be completed in order to unlock the full extent of Far Cry 3’s “RPG-lite” skill trees. There is also a second island that can only be unlocked through the story missions.
The lion’s share of open-world games fail in being too overwhelming from the outset. Far Cry 3 clearly explains the benefits of each optional activity, so players can quickly decide what is most prudent at that moment. If you need a bigger bag to hold all the herbs and loot you have been collecting, go hunting and make a new bag. If a goal is right next to an uncharted area of the map, seek out the nearest radio tower to fill it in. If there are too many pirates roaming the area, conquer the nearest base to thin their numbers.
Far Cry 3 features a whole host of interesting weapons that allow for inventive ways of dispatching enemies. In killing a man-eating shark, you can either take a mind-enhancing stimulant you have created to see sharks underwater and snipe them from the safety of the shore, or you can ride around on a jet ski, wait until you hear a satisfying “thump” and dive down in search of the carcass.
Besides the solo island exploring, there is also a co-operative mode that lets up to four players battle their way through the dangers of Rook island together. It’s a fun diversion but, like the story missions, its narrow mission-based structure fails to capture the charm unique to Far Cry.
The jungles of Rook island are replete with great visual landmarks. Of course, it’s the density of the foliage that is really the highlight of the visuals department. A vibrant color palette adds to the “tropical paradise” feeling, and is a much deserved break from the browns and grays that make up most shooters. The main characters in the storyline look great and move in a believable way thanks to some stellar motion capture on Ubisoft’s part, but side characters look a bit low-poly by comparison.
On PC, the game performs better than other games released this year with worlds half the size. My three-year-old PC ran Far Cry 3 in DirectX 9 with most settings at high or maximum with no break in the 60 fps framerate.
Far Cry 3 has two distinct halves: one I love, and the other I can’t stand. In terms of both plot and mission design, Far Cry 3’s campaign over-promises and under-delivers to an extent that it affected my enjoyment of the overall package.
The story starts with a strong cast of a half-dozen or so well-acted, interesting characters with a mysterious plot that begs to be unraveled. Unfortunately, none of these characters are given the screen time they deserve. Far Cry 3 generally opts to introduce a new character rather than build up relationships with ones you have already encountered, which robs them of any opportunity to be meaningfully developed. To add insult to injury, characters met after the introduction tend to be one-dimensional racial caricatures that are unsympathetic at best, offensive at worst.
A few easily-guessed plot twists spoil a story that seems intriguing and mysterious at the outset. What could have been an exploration of insanity and mind-bending hallucinations slumps down into impact-less blockbuster schlock. Far Cry 3’s second and third acts are devoid of any logical sense and, due to static unsympathetic characters, the binary choice that ends the game lacks emotional impact.
This theme of over-promise and under-delivery carries over to the gameplay. What starts as an emergent approach to first-person shooting in an open-world quickly devolves into a corridor shooter with gameplay ideas from the last generation. Do you like escort missions? Instant-fail stealth sections? Protecting an NPC while wave after wave of enemies comes running at you? Then you will love Far Cry 3’s campaign.
Furthermore, story missions automatically fail if you stray too far from the dedicated “mission zone”, which narrows play down even further. For a game that otherwise lets the player progress however they want, a campaign full of tight corridors (Caves. Lots of caves) and missions that fail if you don’t “play them properly” add up to a large step back for the series. There are a handful of other first-person games from this year that offer terrific AI and systems-driven story missions in open environments that would have suited Far Cry 3 perfectly. Instead, the linear campaign is taken straight out of shooters from yesteryear.
But on the flip-side, the core foundation of the open world gameplay is the most fun I have had in a first person shooter this year. It feels like a completely different game.
Exploring Far Cry 3’s jungle and carefully planning out assaults on pirate bases is gaming bliss. The interaction of AI and gameplay systems in a massive open world allowed by the side content lets Far Cry 3 live up to its ambitious premise. Rook Island begs to be conquered by the player, and I know I will be revisiting the island until I have seen everything it has to offer. Given that the story missions are tied to player skills and progress in the world, I recommend that you grin and bear it through the story mode until you are free to explore the magnificent playground that Ubisoft has established.
Far Cry 3 is the type of emergent open-world shooter that only current-generation technology can accomplish, but its campaign is filled with stale ideas. Its ambitious framework and strong first impression write a lot of checks that it can’t cash, especially when it comes to the lackluster story mode. Luckily, that is only a small third of the complete package.
As a “dangerous tropical island simulator”, Far Cry 3 is one of the most satisfying and inventive shooters released this year. Gamers eager to explore the wild jungle should pick this up without second thought, and try not to let the infuriating campaign rain on their parade.