The islands themselves are Far Cry's breakout stars, and what makes the game so enthralling is the constant sense of fear that exploring them provokes.
Far Cry 3Publisher: Ubisoft
Platform: XBox 360 (reviewed), PS3, PC
ESRB Rating: Mature
Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
Release Date: 2012-12-04
It's difficult not to compare Far Cry 3 to some of its open-world contemporaries -- Skyrim and Red Dead Redemption chief among those often named -- but that's taking the easy way out when describing one of this generation's most powerful and gripping experiences. Were you to compare it to any similar games, Red Dead is its closest ancestor because of its primary focus on storytelling, but it's the open-world collection of islands that are responsible for making Far Cry 3 a singular moment in gaming history.
You assume the role of Jason Brody, a well-to-do Southern Californian on vacation with his girlfriend, brothers, and hangers on. When a hastily planned skydiving trip goes awry, you find yourself on a pirate-controlled island and in captivity before escaping and dedicating yourself to saving your friends. In a gutsy move by developer Ubisoft Montreal, Jason Brody is not the silent protagonist that's come to define many modern FPSes. He's a rich putz of the “let's go do some lines of coke in the bathroom” mold. When thrown into a life-defining experience, he reacts as you or I would: lots of vocalized panic and self-doubt. As the game progresses, you follow Brody down the path of self-discovery and maturation.
This character development extends beyond Brody and stands as one of the game's greatest achievements. Primary antagonist and pirate warlord Vaas represents perhaps the most dynamic and fully formed characters in recent gaming. The game opens with one of his twisted monologues, and throughout your occasional encounters with him, you get insight into both his backstory and his madness. And while traversing the island, you encounter countless characters, all of whom have complex, unique personalities.
The islands themselves are Far Cry's breakout stars, however. What makes the game so enthralling -- at least in the first half of the game, about which more later -- is a constant sense of fear. You're a rebel fighting against a pirate regime, which features mobile scout teams, guarded outposts, and unlimited firepower. Walking down the road ensures that a jeep carrying three-plus pirates will spot and attack you, but traversing the wilderness is just as hazardous. With tigers, bears, feral dogs, boars, and even aggressive poultry roaming the jungles, you're just as likely to engage a pack of ravenous dogs as you are to fight anyone with gunpowder in their hands.
As the game progresses and your arsenal and familiarity with the land expands, the island becomes less treacherous. The key mechanics of exploration involve radio towers and pirate outposts. The towers need to be climbed and activated in order to unveil the world map in the surrounding areas. Scaling these towers, each separately challenging with individual levels of degradation to the structure, invokes a true sense of vertigo when you reach the top and reveal expanses of the island that can more confidently be explored.
The pirate outposts are similarly unique. After scouting the environment from vantage points and tagging enemies, alarm stations and on lucky occasions animals kept in wooden, easily broken cages, you engage the outpost in whatever manner you feel fit. My favorite mode of attack was to let loose any animal that had been caged in the camp, distracting -- and usually killing -- a number of pirates, while I snuck in the back and disabled alarms and took down enemies. But the beauty of these moments is in the breadth of options. Lay down C4 around the camp and let it blow? Sure. Drive toward the camp in a jeep and take over the mounted machine gun? Tons of fun. Use stealth takedowns to surgically eliminate everyone in sight? Also an option.
On it's face, Far Cry 3 represents another in a long line of AAA shooters, but its depth and malleability defines it as a masterful work of art. Being successful isn't solely based on how good of a shot you are. Being resourceful, a dedicated hunter, and your integration in the rebel culture -- taking on tasks for the oppressed people of the islands -- triggers your success. Patience is a virtue here; while scouting an enemy outpost, there's a possibility that a tiger will meander into the camp and maul all of the enemies you've meticulously spotted. These frequent organic moments come to define the game.
There are set pieces as well, and even those manage to be unique experiences. The frequent drug sequences are innovative storytelling moments that are both disorienting and enlightening. The sparse quick-time events are disheartening (Haven't we moved beyond these yet?) but feel like a genuine attempt to avoid unnecessary and inappropriate boss battles.
The game's only real pitfalls are in its hilarious emotion-guiding outbursts from the protagonist. When engaging some of the larger set pieces, Jason Brody will frequently be heard yelling, “This is fucking sweet!” While he may be right, “show, don't tell”, Far Cry. The other issue is the pace of the game's second half. Because of a plot turn, traversing the second large island in the game becomes less hazardous, removing the immediacy that defined the early parts of the game.
To neglect Far Cry 3 would be to purposefully dismiss one of the greatest games of this console generation. From the immersive open-world environment to the best storytelling of any FPS to date, this is a game that finds its wheelhouse in every aspect of the experience and keeps swinging. At the game's conclusion, you have a decision to make: stay on the island or travel back home with your friends, but it's colored by an emotional and moral decision that typifies the gravity of the game's storytelling. Whatever you choose, you're bound to be disappointed, as the game strikes its most poignant critique: the violence that defined the game and your evolving character cannot be justified and will not return anything positive. So while the game's conclusion presents a difficult decision, choosing to engulf yourself in the world of Far Cry 3 is a simple one.