If you’re planning a trip to an obscure tropical island with a needlessly beautiful assortment of your twenty-something friends we have some advice for you, don’t play Far Cry 3. This franchise has a long tradition of ruining potential holiday destinations for Westerners. The last game centred on the more unsavoury side of African politics with gun running, malaria and particularly unsavoury individuals, and the next entry from Ubisoft Montreal continues that fine tradition in a fantastic, yet distressing, open-world mould.
Even more so than the previous game, Far Cry 3 is an intensely story-driven game, with players cast as privileged wimp Jason Brody, as he seeks to save his friends from the clutches of a reliably evil pirate clan led by the increasingly bonkers and sweary, Vaas. Following the traditions of this series, Ubisoft Montreal commit completely to the immersive power of the first-person perspective, even though Jason himself is meant to be his own character. Characters speak to you, threaten you and continually break the fourth wall drawing you in. It’s an intriguing phenomenon which makes the truly terrible things that happen to Jason in opening moments involving his older brother/fellow hostage Grant extremely uncomfortable. Curiously the protagonist has an innocent almost naïve side to him, at least by game standards, which he must shirk aside in order to survive and rescue his friends in turmoil.
This sort of premise has been seen before, but there’s a level of commitment, maturity and subtlety to the campaign which is quite rare actually and if we’re honest seems completely at odds with the open-world structure of the game.
The linear aspect of the campaign is shirked aside very quickly, with players shown how the major systems of the game work – buying and selling weapons,crafting, hunting, levelling, skill trees, exploration and the like – in just around forty-five minutes; leaving players free to do what they like. All of this is supported by a helpful doctor named David who rescues you from certain death and helpfully takes you in, as do his Rakyat tribe brethren who are fighting Vaas for control of the island. There’s a lot to take in initially, but the brilliant voice acting and fantastic motion capture for each of the characters involved again helps you to believe the situation that’s been thrust upon you. Besides, earning XP for kills and evaluating whether side activities are worthwhile isn’t a difficult concept for most modern gamers to grasp. Skill trees, story information and equipment are all easily reachable via the menu any way.
So after you’re cast out into Rook Island what exactly is there to do? Lots, actually. Scattered around the island are numerous radio towers which need to be scaled in order for that area’s topography and key locations to become visible on your map, there are hunting missions where you must kill certain wildlife and find specific fauna, there are enemy strongholds which need to be cleared out in order claim that territory in the name of the Rakyat unlocking new bonuses and there’s Supply Drop missions where you must deliver medical aid to villages around the island in record time with whatever mode of transport you’re given, be it buggy, car, jeep, or hatchback. These are just a smattering of activities we came across during our hands-on and they all featured the sort of impulsive gameplay which you’d hope an open-world game to offer. These operate as XP-laden palate cleaners which unlock new gear or XP and cash which you can then bribe vendors with to secure new gear. Walking around the island itself is enjoyable enough with hang-gliders conspicuously placed atop cliff edges to encourage a floaty good time, and radio tower ascents capped off with zip lines to the ground once you reach the top; simultaneously rewarding players with a cool way to get back to the ground and an accurate appraisal of just how high they climbed. It’s these little touches that make the island worth exploring.
That feeling of being compelled to discover what lies past that ridge in the distance is definitely here and accounted for. The thing is these feelings are almost counter-productive to telling a good narrative, as it’s easy to become desensitised to the story as you decide to skip to your own tune rather than the developer’s. This is factor recognised by Ubisoft Montreal, so whenever main story missions are initiated, the map closes in on the player – only allowing them to venture around a local area to give the action some structure and focus. This may sound like an approach which denies player ingenuity, by mission areas are still big and don’t make the player feel fenced in. One of the story missions we tried resulted in us searching out a manor on top of a cliffside housing a stoner chemist, who asked us to retrieve a mushroom located in caverns nearby. This involved traipsing out of the house, making our way down the cliff and exploring an underwater cave and never did we see the telltale ‘You’re leaving the mission area,’
Combat feels much like the last game, with guns feeling every so slightly unwieldy which resulted in us favouring a stealth approach over open confrontation. Jason’s camera helps with this exponentially, as it allows enemies to be tagged marking their patrol pattern on the HUD, and also offers a zoom in function your surroundings to gauge the situation. The weapon arsenal is also similar to the previous game as well, with pirates utilising AK 47s and various pistols. Mines, grenades, and C4 are also available to the player to stage orchestrated assaults.
In terms of scope and depth Far Cry 3 is every bit as versatile as its predecessor and the story of a weakling tourist trying to save his friends is much more approachable than the story of a Malaria-suffering mercenary from the second game.
Whichever way you look at Ubisoft Montreal’s evolution of this series definitely seems like a winning one. It may be suffering from a bit of an identity crisis trying to meld a coming of age narrative with the untamed craziness of an open-world sandbox, but the general nastiness and mystery surrounding the major characters in the story should result in an experience which sticks with players due to its frankness and brutality. And we haven’t even had a chance to sample the game’s multiplayer yet…
Tags: Far Cry 3
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