An open-world shooter which offers a compelling plot and ultimate player freedom? Sounds like pure insanity…
Open world games and cohesive plots don’t really go together. Think about it, look at the story problems of Grand Theft Auto, Assassin’s Creed, Dead Rising and any other story-led open-world franchises. As soon as you offer players a chance to go off and do their own thing in a wide-open sandbox, be it jumping off cliffs in buggies or exploding ammo canisters for the sake of it, all of that effort developers put into producing a compelling narrative with interesting characters and deep-seeded motivations becomes null and void.
It’s a paradox even the almighty Rockstar has struggled to address over the years, but in Far Cry 3 that problem has been fixed. Ubisoft Montreal has made this player conflict of doing what they like rather than what they should (farting about versus doing story missions) a key part of the plot.
You’re cast as Jason Brody, a mild-mannered Californian twenty-something who has to free his friends and two brothers from the clutches of pirate gang whilst trapped on a tropical island in the Pacific. Think Taken, only rather than playing as a bona fide bad ass, you’re actually just a gun-shy weakling. There’s a brutal honesty to the campaign’s opening few hours, as you see some horrific imagery bombard your senses with no means to jump in and save the day, but this all ties into Brody’s transformation from Starbuck’s barista to tribal warrior extraordinaire, with help from the island’s native Rakyat tribe. As hammy as this premise sound, it’s actually delivered in a manner which seems plausible, at least in game logic terms, with well realised characters and excellent voice-acting across the board. Most surprisingly though, all this plot serves the gameplay rather than the developers’ ambitions to be film makers.
The Rakyat task Brody with taking back the island on their behalf one outpost at a time, leaving your friends to fend for themselves in captivity. There aren’t any timers involved or anything like that, you’re free to tackle side-activities before missions as much as you wish, but when you eventually catch up with your former friends, they’ll constantly ask about your state of mind, what you’ve been doing and reminding you why you’re out there in the first place. This interplay is genuinely fascinating as it echoes the players own conflict of progression versus mindless fun. The deeper you get interned into the Rakyat clan, the more your friends see Brody losing himself to the island. In a similar manner to Spec Ops: The Line you can hear Brody’s mentality shifting in the tone of his voice and how he approaches scenarios.
Frankly the less you know about this premise going in the better really, as the array of crazy, deranged lunatics Far Cry 3 introduces to you is well worth the surprise first hand. Yes you will see some altogether nasty stuff, but it never reaches exploitative levels like IO’s Kane & Lynch series. Instead it all makes sense in the context of the world and crucially feels believable.
This premise which confidently links everything together is something Far Cry has never really gone for before to this degree, but the good news is this series’ sandbox gameplay has remained intact. Basically whenever players initiate a mission, they are locked into a certain area of the map and assigned a clear objective to carry out. Delivering the story in this restrictive manner focuses the player to be in the moment rather than being distracted by anything that arrives on the horizon.
After the lengthy introduction, players are free to explore the island in any direction they wish. Specific species of wildlife meander freely around the island, pirates patrol the roads, the day/night cycle transitions, and weather patterns shift from blazing sunshine to tropical storms with seeming irregularity. In terms of open-world environments Rook Island certainly is a paradise, with activities like hang-gliding, hunting, point-to-point races, poker and numerous relics and SD cards to search out, which actually offer up more history of the island and its inhabitants. It appears Ubisoft Montreal has listened to the criticisms of Assassin’s Creed and its over reliance of meaningless collectibles, as all of Far Cry 3′s hidden trinkets are well worth searching out.
The need to retake enemy outposts also returns from previous Far Cry games, but here they seem a bit more nuanced thanks to the improved stealth system which has its own HUD elements to signify when you’re about to be discovered and where from. Altogether combat feels more responsive and snappier with different types of sniper rifles, rocket launchers, pistols, machine guns and the silent bow available for experimentation. Every weapon has multiple attachments to tinker around with, including silencers and scopes, all with the aim of offering player choice. Want to go loud and take out that outpost with a bazooka? Go right ahead, but be prepared for reinforcements. Want to attack from afar, taking down the enemies with a silenced sniper rifle? Not a problem, but you’d better work fast as if any guards spot a dead body they’ll raise an alarm. The stealth aspects don’t reach Hitman proportions or anything like that, but being discovered by enemies is enough of a problem that you’ll go out of your way to avoid it.
Tags: Far Cry 3
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