Did I ever tell you the definition of insanity? It’s the act of doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results – terminology synonymous with the rise of gaming’s annual iteration model. Ubisoft cashes in on this practice yearly thanks to Assassin’s Creed, but Far Cry remains a unique, no less insane beast. The first title showcased a former military operative left to survive the death throes of genetically modified primates on a South Pacific island, while the second game’s hero (of the player’s choosing) landed in a small African state plagued by a disease much less super: malaria.
Far Cry 3 combines the best of these worlds, returning to lush, untamed jungles inherent to the original Far Cry and preserving the volatile sandbox experience and open-ended mission structure of its sequel. In terms of freedom, exploration, and side content, Far Cry 3 may be the closest thing to Skyrim to release this year – minus the sweetrolls. The new protagonist, a narcissistically omnipotent young man by the name of Jason Brody, happens to be partying in Bangkok alongside his wealthy friends and brothers when the inebriated group parachutes onto Rook Island. Almost immediately, Vaas and his modern-day pirates capture the kids with intent on selling them into slavery, but Jason flees the trafficking camp at the cost of his brother’s life.
He soon awakes after being tattooed by one of the village’s inhabitants in some unknown room. This arm band honors Jason for escaping Vaas and his men alive, and denotes his significance as a budding Rakyat warrior, the native tribe that currently resists Vaas and the man he works for. In turn, this body art grants Jason the abilities he needs to rescue his friends still held captive. His tattoo changes throughout the course of the campaign, becoming more intricate and detailed as a visual representation of the progress made when upgrading skills.
The first order of business: Jason must learn to hunt. Although slaying animals is the only activity that does not reciprocate some form of experience points, skinning these beasts for leather and fur opens up crafting options once players gather the prerequisite hides. Each quiver, wallet, backpack, ammo pouch, syringe kit, and holster requires a certain animal pelt, and you will find no shortage of tortoises, boars, tapirs, tigers, sharks, dingoes, cassowaries, or komodo dragons in this tormented promised land.
Get used to the sight; Jason will be bagging a bunch of entrails throughout the campaign.
Herbivores run away on sight, yet predators actually track Jason, betraying their position in the dense undergrowth through hisses and growls. I nearly jumped out of my skin when, while stalking a herd of deer, I turned around to see a leopard not six feet away, shoulders low and ready to pounce. That same hunter or hunted paranoia awakens in the crystal blue seas. Sharks and crocodiles flock to the telltale thrashing of bodies and blood mixing with salt water, and given Jason’s clouded vision (and my phobia of the open ocean), I shuddered before each dive into the briny deep to skin the maneater resting on the sandy seabed. But the isolating tension and Far Cry 3’s ability to elicit an actual fear response made me fall in love with the game even more.
The predators do not shy away from open conflict. Many pirate patrols met their unsavory deaths in the jaws of an angry Asian bear, and so did Rakyat allies. You could assist the side of your choosing (I often left the Rakyat for the hungry carnivores) or let a three-way war take its course around overgrown jungle ruins, abandoned beaches, or unkempt shanty towns, as you gather herbs for another health injection. These random engagements sell Rook Island as an uncontrollable piece of verdant soil better than previous Far Cry settings. From gunshots ringing somewhere off in the distance to a pack of rabid dogs chasing wild goats, events happen in the world regardless of Jason’s presence or intervention.
Except ... the narrative presents a weird disconnect between Jason’s naive, affluent lifestyle and the player’s skill not 30 minutes into the story. Jason tells his savior that he has never used a gun before, though any gamers that have held an Xbox 360 controller will have no trouble picking off stray pigs with a pistol in the following quest. At least, instead of forcing players down linear tutorials until they become proficient in obeying orders, that disconnect diminishes rapidly once Far Cry 3 leaves Jason to adapt to Rook Island’s hazards.
Jason’s sudden mastery of all firearms also plays a part in single-handedly clearing outposts of pirate influence. Liberating camps equates to fewer armed patrols on the roads in that region and new points of fast travel. Better yet, each station’s layout (no two are identical) emphasizes the puzzle elements correspondent to Far Cry 3’s combat. Do you tag targets with the binoculars first, manually disable all alarms, then execute the soldiers, machete in hand? Do you let a caged carnivore loose from its bamboo prison and snipe the animal’s captors while they’re distracted? Maybe the video game sadist in you enjoys throwing Molotovs into fields of barren grass moments before soldiers go up in flames. Players never have to worry about weapon degradation, too. Ubisoft Montreal had the foresight to scrap this hindrance after Far Cry 2.
You could say that pirate is feeling the heat.
Takedowns further expand the tools at Jason’s disposal. One execution allows him to drag corpses out of sight, while another pulls a knife from his first victim’s belt (machete still in his neck) before lodging the blade in the second target with a fatal throw. If subtlety does not fit into your playstyle, Jason can rip the pin off a soldier’s grenade and kick him into a crowd, or wrench a handgun from the man’s holster and eliminate several oblivious guards in a rapid quick draw. Still not convinced? Ubisoft even borrows a pair of aerial and ledge assassinations from Assassin’s Creed. The greater the variety, the more experience earned when chaining takedowns. Honestly, this brutality satisfies in ways only video games can.
You’ll have difficulty traversing the treacherous countrysides, however, unless you scale nearby radio towers and reestablish their signals. Although these crumbling citadels of rust and metal demand that Jason jump between Tetanus-infested ledges, I clipped through their catwalks twice and plummeted to the ground below. Chalk it up to glitches or the stiff first-person platforming, but at least players respawn at the nearest allied outpost. Parkouring up to the tower’s peak and unjamming the radio broadcast reveals a new part of the map, its quest markers, collectibles, and the animals that call the territory their own. As an added bonus, store owners hand out free weapons to repay the favor.
One of these armaments happens to be the recurve bow, a silent piece of assassin engineering perfect for instantly killing mercenaries. Given anyone’s affinity for stealth, I recommend dumping as many points possible into the Spider skill tree, which encourages silent takedowns and survival techniques. The remaining two trees, the Shark and the Heron, specialize in assault takedowns/healing and long range takedowns/mobility, respectively. Extra health bars come with time, as do executions, and each skill point spent moves Jason a notch up the food chain. Even though the game never abandons a first-person perspective, Jason’s want for revenge can make him a surprisingly likeable character. It was enjoyable seeing this 20-something-year-old athlete out of his element (clubs, penthouses, exotic cars), stranded in a strange land and growing into the island’s fiercest champion.
But what training could truly prepare Jason for any ambush rigged by Vaas? His friends’ lives hinge on the whims of a bona fide sociopath that hails from both extremes of the bipolar spectrum. One minute, Vaas chats rapidly in a hushed, benevolent tone; the next, he’s enunciating every syllable as his temper flares and his screams shake the rafters. He’s 100 percent unpredictable, taking immeasurable glee in the harm of others, and that makes him terrifying. Every time Vaas walks on screen, you're in for a psychotic treat.
After the first five minutes, it's safe to assume that Vaas does not become Jason's Tyler Durden.
Vaas steals the vocal show for sure, but Rook Island’s other villains are just as strong in their performances (and my favorite cast this year). No one on this green patch of ocean rock could be diagnosed as sane. They would have to file a claim and stop abusing drugs, an absurd task for the one villager that can’t remember the difference between his enema and memory medication. The side quests highlight one deranged scenario after another, be it the couple that intends to commit suicide Romeo and Juliet style, or the thief that wants to dig up his fiancée's grave for her wedding ring. Far Cry pushes the shock value in its occasional handling of rape and domestic abuse too, but the acts themselves could be considered less deviant than the individuals that commit these crimes.
Jason does what he must to save his companions, even if his adventure crosses paths with illegal substances. During these character introspections, the hallucinations often require a severe leap in logic. In one situation, Jason spars against another antagonist in his mind, yet he bears witness to dozens of bodies strewn about his feet upon regaining consciousness – no doubt a result of his amnesiac killing spree.
After the 15-hour story, the remaining 20 hours of single-player content prove to be successful time sinks, encompassing Wanted Dead missions, Path of the Hunter quests, poker games, marksman competitions, and Trials of the Rakyat. The Trials track high scores across your friends list in a variety of human shooting galleries. For example, one Trial cycles firearms after every kill, similar to Counter-Strike's Gun Game. Wanted Dead contracts, on the other hand, ask that players honor Rakyat tradition by eliminating PMCs or pirates with the knife, and Path of the Hunter assignments send gamers to eradicate prized beasts using a weapon of the employer’s choosing. A rare ebony panther, golden tiger, and red komodo dragon all provide pelts for the final crafting recipes, yet the pinnacle moment entails one crimson bull shark, a small lifeboat, and nothing but the bow to stave off the other half-dozen circling maneaters.
‘Letters of the Lost’ – unsent World War II letters written by Japanese soldiers now decaying in crumbling bunkers – and memory cards that expose merchants' drug cartel connections unravel additional abhorrent mysteries surrounding this unfriendly tourist destination. However, scavenging relics rounds out the less gripping activities. Treasure maps reveal collectible locations, but these mementos require some rock climbing or underwater diving before they can be acquired. While every trinket offers a sizable experience reward, the trouble is not worth the effort beyond the temptations of achievements.
This here's Buck, and you'll meet no sicker a man that you'll want to murder.
The co-op missions are not worth the trouble, either. A band of cruise ship survivors pursues the captain that sold out the crew and passengers in exchange for an easy payday, except these four unhinged individuals echo many of my sentiments regarding The Darkness II’s cooperative agents. As terribly written antiheroes, they compose the Far Cry 3 ‘B’ team, scrapped protagonists only mildly interesting compared to Jason. The controls also lose a certain precision and responsiveness to lag, though the shooting still works fine despite the linear level design, and the addition of three teammates allows players the opportunity to behave a little more recklessly than the campaign permits. Objectives consist of repairing a train engine, detonating multiple bridges, and murdering droves of mercenaries, but the odd minigame allows Far Cry 3 to cut the humorless tone and have some fun, whether you’re competing in a pirate sniping challenge to see who accrues the most points, or racing bomb-strapped ATVs to the next goal marker.
Try as I might, feelings of a tacked-on co-op mode could not be dispelled. The six scenarios tell a generic tale that lacks the payoff seen in the single-player’s conclusion, and hostiles fall through the ground, vanish from sight, and teleport into obstacles. Although glitches remain absent from competitive multiplayer, Far Cry 3's rank persistence does not breed the same rivalries fundamental to Call of Duty, Battlefield, or any other AAA shooter. The comprehensive map editor, which includes dozens of landscaping tools and building assets to shape some incredible vistas, does not save the online experience, either. Even hardcore gamers will strive to find some enjoyment beyond the first few sets of unlocks.
At any rate, the cooperative and multiplayer components should be considered meager side dishes to an otherwise delectable main course. Gamers can spend 30 hours exploring Rook Island and not touch on all there is to see. From hunting beasts to crafting pouches to reclaiming outposts to climbing radio towers to rescuing Jason’s friends, each task undertaken feeds back into the sandbox experience smoothly. Every quest, collectible, and contract also benefits Jason, so players never feel like they’re not progressing the story or finalizing their skill trees. Few releases master this freedom outside the studios of Bethesda or Rockstar, but you’d be insane not to purchase Far Cry 3.
Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
Release Date: December 4, 2012
Number of Players: 1 (Campaign), 2-4 (Cooperative), 2-14 (Multiplayer)
Platforms: Xbox 360 (Reviewed), PlayStation 3, PC
Retail review copy provided by the publisher.