Review: Far Cry 3

We’ve been harping on about Far Cry 3 since we first laid eyes on it several months ago, and with the long wait finally over it’s time to take a trip to a gorgeous remote island and see just what the latest title in the series has to offer. With Far Cry 2 getting amixed response when it was released (a “hike-em-up”, according a gaming friend of mine) Ubisoft had high expectations with Far Cry 3. But mixing FPS action with stealth, exploring and RPG style missions has often been tough to pull off, so is this just another mediocre attempt to bridge several genres?

Well… No. It’s not. Far Cry 3 utterly brilliant.

Part of what makes Far Cry 3 so fascinating to play is the fact you’re not taking control of an utter badass when you start playing. Instead you’re one of a group of friends, whose holiday ends with a badly planned parachute jump that happens to land them on a remote island controlled by an utter mentalist. Our guy has no military training, has never killed or injured anyone, and has no desire at all to start now. Sadly when things kick off and they get captured, a daring escape results in his brother (the one with all the army training) getting killed by the island’s king nutter. A speedy escape later and we find ourselves saved by a local friendly tribe who tattoo your arm and set you on your way to becoming a general butt-kicking legend determined to save his remaining friends from captivity.

Somehow, even though you very quickly get to grips with firing a gun and rapidly lose your concern for stabbing pirates in the back, it’s tricky to forget that you’re a regular guy just doing what he needs to do. It’s possibly the emotion put into his relationship with his friends which brings it home regularly, with his determination to find them being much more intense than your average “find a bad guy, kill a bad guy, celebrate with biscuits” FPS storyline. It could also be that the pacing of the game is utterly tremendous, with just enough time to take in the gorgeous island surroundings that draw you in and make you want to see what’s round the corner, or check out the view from the top of a nearby hill. And if you really want to see the beauty of the game, you’ll need to be finding the radio towers.

In order to build up the map of the island and reveal new locations, you need to disable some scramblers that are in place at the top of the (usually half-guarded) radio towers. These are dotted around on various high-altitude areas of the island, and climbing to the top will allow you to shut down the scrambler and see more of the map. Doing so takes you to some of the highest places in the island, and if you’re up there at the right time of day the views can be genuinely breathtaking. Having a full 360 degree view of a beautiful island with the sun setting is reason enough to just sit at the top of the tower and watch the world go by.

But there’s too much to do to spend a lot of time gazing at the scenery. There are a huge number of main and side quests, as well as a series of individual challenges to complete which offer various rewards for their completion. There are areas where you can put a bet on you being able to complete a certain task, giving a nice risk/reward system into the bargain.

If you want to take a break from the action, you can go hunting and crafting. Don’t mistake this for a dull time-waster, chasing down various animals and killing them is crucial for crafting extra equipment to let you hold more weapons, more cash or other items. In addition to this, finding certain plants (thankfully marked on your map) let you create various things to drink which boost healing, stealth and various other elements of your character. Not enough? Well how about a huge skill tree, which lets you unlock new skills as you go, letting you learn some crucial (and often very cool) new abilities. With a keen lean towards stealthy gameplay, being able to drag bodies away after you’ve silently taken them out for example is a vital early addition to your box of tricks.

The storyline in the campaign is mightily impressive, and never really feels like it’s getting out of control or excessively absurd. The obvious urgency to find your friends does give an incentive to press on and play more, and the gratefully received “just one more mission” feeling is here in full force, making early bed-times a thing of the past and no doubt prompting much eye rolling from your significant other.

My only real bugbears with the main campaign is the way the game is saved at certain checkpoints, and a slight lack of flexibility mid-task. During a mission there’s no way to save your game manually, meaning you’re relying on the game’s own checkpoints. With no easy way of knowing exactly when the game is being saved (or at least, no obvious way of knowing where you’ll go back to if you quit) it can be a little frustrating when you have to quickly dash off and find yourself 15 minutes back in the mission. The game is also a little touchy about exploring while you’re on the job too, and if you notice something interesting in the distance on your way to a certain objective, you’re not allowed to go roaming off without the mission being aborted and having to start it again. It helps to keep the story on-track, but it’d be nice to be allowed to go and activate a nearby radio tower while I’m thinking about it instead of having to come back later.

But these are two small gripes that grate more early on in the game, and just become second nature later on. The fact is that there’s so much to enjoy that a couple of little annoyances will get lost in amongst the rest of what’s going on, and once you’ve had enough of the main campaign, you’ve got the almost infinite multiplayer to look forward to. Yes indeed, the map creator is back, and it’s very very impressive. Possibilities are endless, and maps can be created for any or all of the multiplayer modes on offer. Whether you start from scratch or get the game to randomly generate a starting point for you, there’s so much stuff you can do that you’ll never run out of new places to run around in. The online multiplayer itself is pretty decent – co-op modes let you and a small handful of friends dispatch large numbers of pirates (although you’ll need the full compliment of 4 to prevent this from being hellishly difficult). Competitive modes are ok too, with some interesting twists on standard game modes including Firestorm, a mode which has you setting fire to your opponent’s supply point while trying to capture a transmitter. It’s something pretty different and adds some good tension to proceedings, and sits well alongside the standard deathmatch and domination modes.

Just what makes Far Cry 3 so enjoyable is hard to pin down in a single closing paragraph, but the way everything blends together and provides a compelling story with a great number of hugely enjoyable missions has got a large part to play. The issues of uncertain checkpoints and strict mission boundaries are a bit of an annoyance, but everything else is a joy. Hunt some deer, create some potions, or sneak up on a pirate and put an arrow through their neck, it’s all great fun. Add in the insanely deep map editor and you’ve got one of the games of 2012. If you liked the look of Far Cry 2 but didn’t like the idea of too much hiking with nothing to do, this is ideal. There’s plenty of options to roam around quietly if you want to, but between liberating pirate camps, running supply missions and disabling the radio scramblers there’s always something nearby to keep you busy. A very impressive overall package, and well worth a look.

Reviewed on PS3

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