I’ll admit that Far Cry 2 didn’t really spin my crank. While I enjoyed the open African savanna setting, the game just didn’t snare me for some reason. It felt shallow, repetitive, and just somehow empty despite how vast it was. The enemies were ho-hum, and the malaria mechanic was irritating at best. When I saw the insanity-fueled performance of Michael Mando as antagonist Vaas, I knew that this was something special. The game kicks off with a whirlwind vacation video, showing protagonist Jason Brody and his friends having the time of their lives. Dancing, skydiving, cliff diving, riding jet skis, and drinking…it’s a damned shame that this is very quickly interrupted as we see it replayed on our cell phone for us as we sit captured in a tiger cage at the hands of Vaas – a sadistic warlord on the island. Jason is not Sam Fisher. He is not Ezio Auditore, Altaïr Ibn-La’Ahad, he is no Jade, he doesn’t even qualify to hold “Ding” Chavez’s bag. Jason is just a normal guy with no combat skills, no special training, no firearms experience, and no real chance against true psychopaths like Vaas. Will he find determination enough to seek out friends on the island to turn the tide? Can he do what is necessary to save his friends before it’s too late? Welcome to the jungle – it’s about to get crazy.
Similar to previous titles, Far Cry 3 is an open world adventure shooter. Far Cry 2 pitted you against two major elements, malaria, and a ruthless arms dealer named The Jackal. In the end, The Jackal didn’t play a strong role (In my opinion) as an antagonist, and the game itself had some very high points and some odd low points. The introduction of the flamethrower and its devastating effects were a welcome sight, but the mysteriously missing melee, vehicle collision detection, and spotty AI left some room for improvements. All in all though, Far Cry 2 was a solid title with a few hiccups. Far Cry 3 had a daunting task of building on its predecessor while fixing some of the few fan complaints. I’m here to say it has succeeded universally – let’s talk about some specifics.
Oh the flames!
In Far Cry 2, the dry plains of Africa were dangerous enough, but putting a flamethrower to the dry underbrush created a wall of death that consumed all in its path. This gameplay element was awesome but I just never felt like I had a lot of opportunity to use it in game. Far Cry 3 remedies this in a big way, giving you ample opportunity to set the world on fire. Dry areas will go up far faster than you might expect, while more wet and lush green areas will self-extinguish after only a short while. The fire effects are rock solid, can engulf an entire area, and do not shake the framerate in any way. This gameplay improvement changes what would normally just be a pretty visual touch into a tactical tool for flushing out enemies.
Far Cry has boasted some of the best looking vistas in gaming, pushing the limits of what is possible on the Xbox 360. Despite the age of the hardware, Ubisoft has managed to hit very close to what a cutting edge PC can do on a console platform. This cost to maintain the fantastic framerate is that there is a bit of pop-in and some occasionally ugly textures. Without a PC version next to it to compare, you’ll likely not notice the textures, but the pop-in can be somewhat obnoxious.
One area that was rather odd in Far Cry 2 was the lack of civilians. Far Cry 3 feels like a more living world as you’ll see Rakiyat soldiers driving around in liberated areas, civilians in villages going about their business, and plenty of wildlife wandering around the lush and obnoxiously diverse jungles.
I say obnoxiously diverse as there are an eyebrow-raising (and shockingly flammable, if you are into that kinda thing) number of animals that don’t normally appear in the same geographic location. For instance, tapirs are mostly confined to Colombia and South America, whereas tigers are mostly present in Sumatra, Indonesia, China, and parts of Thailand. Galapagos turtles are from the Galapagos Islands, Leopards live in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East, and Cassowaries live in New Guinea and parts of Queensland, Australia. Put simply, there is nowhere on our spinning blue marble that contains this collection of critters, but let’s take a note from MST3K and just relax and enjoy the game.
Let’s go hunting and gathering!
Since I mentioned the otherworldly ecosystem of the islands in the game, let’s talk about the flora and fauna and how they affect gameplay. There are a total of 38 main missions in the game (that’ll take you about 10 hours, if you can stay focused and not run off to kill off every flag, star, diamond and other distraction on the map) but you likely won’t get through that many of them without doing a bit of hunting and gathering. By climbing the radio towers to the top and breaking the jammers, you’ll reveal the map, showing hunting grounds and other points of interest in the nearby area.
Interestingly, it’ll also reveal the hunting grounds in the area. These can range from shark, alligator, boar, foxes, dingos, and many more creature stalking grounds. Hunting and skinning these creatures gives you access to craft upgrades that’ll help with your adventure. This can be expanding your weapon carrying capacity, cart along additional syringes, store more ammunition, sling additional arrows, and much more. Capping each capacity upgrade requires a special hunt, but I’ll not ruin the surprise save to say that they are the ‘rites of passage’ type of challenges.
Thankfully you don’t have malaria (or the mysterious 3 pill maximum) in Far Cry 2. Throughout the game you can pick up plants in four different color varieties. As you progress you’ll learn recipes that do simple things like heal you a bit, all the way through medicines that give you superior reflexes or the ability to detect enemies simply by smell.
While you are on the collecting path, there is plenty of that to do here. There are 24 relics, 20 Letters of the Lost, and 20 memory cards to find in the world. The memory cards give insight into how Rook Island is involved in the drug trade, and the Letters of the Lost uncover a darker past with the Japanese soldiers stationed here during World War II. The relics I’ll let you figure out all on your own. The nice part is that all of these are shown clearly on your map once you’ve stumbled past them or purchased a map, so it’s not quite the hunt you might expect.
To hunt the creatures and foes in the game you’ll need weapons – lots of weapons . These fall into more than half a dozen classes including handguns, SMGs, Shotguns, Assault Rifles, Sniper Rifles, LMGs, and Launchers, as well as Special weapons like the aforementioned Flamethrower. You’ll also have to keep your ammunition stocked, and you’ll likely find yourself using the automated gun store at every fast travel spot to handle that. Each weapon can also be painted (though that doesn’t affect performance), as well as attaching mods like silencers, extended magazine, and reflex scopes. Thankfully, the much-maligned weapon degradation that we had to suffer through in Far Cry 2 is gone, replaced with weapons that can cycle rounds forever without jamming. While it’s true some weapons do occasionally jam, it just didn’t make a fun gameplay element – good riddance!
In Far Cry 2, paper money wasn’t ‘fit to wrap fish’, but it rules the roost in Far Cry 3. Scattered throughout the world there are numerous sources of money to put in your wallet. Doing main quests, side quests, and favors for people, you can stuff your pockets full of cash. Reminiscent to the Zelda series, you’ll have to upgrade your wallet to be able to hold additional cash, and that goes back to skinning things…including sharks. I recommend a boat with a LMG before you dive into the deep.
Go on vacation. Check. Earn a tattoo, piece by piece. Check!
As you progress you’ll also earn skill points and experience. These allow you to expand your ‘tatau’ (tattoo) that lets you cook grenades, steadies your aim, let’s you hold your breath while aiming or underwater, and much more. You can also learn new takedown techniques such as leaping down on your target with a knife, pulling a grenade pin and shoving them towards their friends, our yanking them off ledges or into the water. Eventually you’ll be able to chain them together, turning Jason Brody from a whimpering punk into a ruthless killing machine. Beyond kill chains, you’ll also be able to perform feats like sliding, deep diving, rapid reloads, more efficient skinning and gathering, and more effective syringes. In all there are over 50 skills to earn, though you won’t need them all to beat the game. It is fun to watch as each skill is added to your arm and represented, with the entire piece being an impressive partial sleeve.
There are three difficulty levels in the game, and you can change them on the fly. To that end, Far Cry 3 offers plenty of go-loud and stealthy moments, with very few constraints. Certainly, there are moments with forced stealth, but for the most part the gameplay is as open as the world. Once you gain access to silencers and sniper rifles, you’ll likely change the pace that you storm strongholds, but the option is always yours. For me, the turning point was when the enemy snipers were tearing me up while guys with shotguns and Molotov cocktails charged up close. Unfortunately it was also this moment that also pointed out just how omnipotent the enemy AI really is. While enemies need to spot you for a short while to break your stealth, sometimes they are able to spot you without direct line of sight. It’s not game-breaking, but there were moments where I was well hidden in waist-high foliage and an enemy was able to spot me at a ridiculous distance. It occasionally makes a stealth takedown more frustrating than it has to be.
Speaking of frustration, getting around an island this could be difficult if not for the fast travel system. Thankfully, every area on the island that you liberate becomes a bounce spot for you to get closer to your next objective. I personally tried to use the fast travel system as much as possible as the vehicles use ice skates for tires. While you are still stuck in first person perspective for driving (something you can get used to, but is not my personal preference), the vehicles feel like they ice skate through the environment. Similarly, despite the size or relative power of the vehicle, they are fairly gutless. Hill angles that I’ve personally jumped in a quad runner are frustratingly impassable unless you get off and walk. Unlimited sprint was a welcome sight at some points rather than dealing with a vehicle that fights you at every turn.
There are two areas that will cause you to gnash your teeth hard in Far Cry 3 – respawning and healing. Death is inevitable, but respawns don’t have to be. When assaulting a base you’ll occasionally get overwhelmed and end up face down in the dirt, but when you come back you’ll find that your ammo has not. Enemies have often (but not always) completely respawned and rejoined their patrol routes, but you may not have any bullets to take then down. In addition, fire can quickly become your worst enemy as pressing Y to brush out fire or heal is occasionally ignored by the game. This can cause you to die yet again, and have even less ammo than before – frustration on top of frustration.
Family, friends, foes, and freaks
As I mentioned before, Far Cry 2 didn’t deliver the most solid antagonist for us to rally against. Vaas, from the moment he is introduced, presents as a ruthless, explosive, and unpredictable element. Not unlike the flamethrower, he destroys all around him with vicious efficiency. Thankfully, Vaas isn’t the only shining star on the roster. Every character is polished and carries their own slightly off-kilter backstory. While the portion about assembling a rickety boat doesn’t make any sense with the hundreds of functional boats (with guns!) on the island, the storyline does a good job of pulling you in.
Jason’s story, as I’ve mentioned before, has an interesting arc. As he progresses through his tatau and his experiences on the island, Jason develops as a character. The great part is that this arc is not linear. The main story is rather unpredictable, almost like it was directed by J.J. Abrams. It occasionally bounces back to what has delivered Jason into this mess, giving us backstory on the entire cast of characters. There are even a few drug-fueled bits of fun to play through – insanity is occasionally self-induced.
Beyond the solid single player and sandbox style gameplay, there is also a large cooperative campaign as well. Up to four players can tackle a series of pre-set and objective-based missions (they don’t turn the 4 of you loose on the single-player island), while Firestorm is essentially capture and hold with flamethrowers. The cooperative mode very much reminded me of Left4Dead, but the folks online were in Australia (where the game is already out) so the lag was horrible. I suspect this mode and Firestorm will have legs, but the game stands on its own two feet just fine without it.
Embrace the Insanity
Far Cry 3 manages to improve on the great technological advances brought by its predecessors and manages to bring a few new ones as well. The little things like the danger of the jungle, the fantastic voice work, and a world that feels more alive than ever easily overshadows the minor issues in the game. While bouncy/slidey vehicles and respawn quibbles make for some aggravating moments, Vaas and the rest of the characters in the game keep it unpredictable. The single player game alone is enough to warrant the full price of Far Cry 3, and the cooperative missions / Firestorm modes simply make it irresistible. We may have passed Black Friday, but you’ve got one more holiday gift to pick up – you’d be insane to miss Far Cry 3.