A man comes to a clearing. Before him stands a pirate encampment. There are snipers on the roof in front of him, and he can see that there are multiple pirates milling about the buildings further ahead. The man sees a handhold on the side of the building and throws a rock at the wall near it to get the attention of the snipers. They walk over to investigate, and in a flash, he jumps up the handhold and kills both of them with his knife.
He climbs up to the top of the building and takes cover behind a grate. While looking out into the camp, he sees that the pirates have decided to keep a tiger as a pet, in a cage off to the side.
The man pulls out his silenced sniper rifle and fires a shot at the lock on the cage, releasing the tiger. The tiger attacks the pirates, mauling the first and making its way toward the second, who throws a Molotov cocktail in fear. The Molotov’s flames ignite a barrel of fuel which explodes, setting the nearby grass on fire. Before the man knows it, the tiger, the pirates, and the building he’s standing on all become engulfed in flames. The man makes a desperate jump from the top of the building, dislocating his wrist in the process. He puts it back into place while watching the encampment burn.
This is Far Cry 3.
The latest in the Far Cry series is gaming’s finest example of “emergent gameplay.” Somehow, the developers at Ubisoft Montreal managed to create an interconnected set of systems that work in near-perfect harmony. The gameplay never feels stale, as even the most routine task is made extraordinary by the way the game’s systems interact. Players will see amazing things in Far Cry 3 that aren’t set pieces. The story above is practically banal compared to the sorts of wild adventures that take place during the course of the game’s 20-hour campaign and beyond.
At its core, Far Cry 3 is a shooter, and it’s thankfully a competent one. Even though my PC sometimes struggled to keep up with the graphical prowess of the game, the shooting felt crisp despite having some weight. The cover system is handled expertly, so much so that players might not even notice it happening. Simply crouch behind cover or walk up to a corner, and protagonist Jason Brody will smoothly pop out and fire shots whenever the player commands.
The elegance of the cover system is indicative of how most of Far Cry 3 feels. For the most part, the game doesn’t have a gaudy UI or obtrusive button prompts. Things like lung capacity underwater are demonstrated with slight audio-visual cues (the corners of the screen darken, Jason’s breathing becomes strained) that simply and unobtrusively give his status. Things like health and armor still unfortunately are rendered on screen, and the mini-map is unwieldy and somewhat useless, but the game does a good job of conveying information to the player in a simple and clean way.
Far Cry 3 is a breathtaking game. On the PC it is a marvel of modern technology, with the ability to cross the entire island without loading once masking just how dense everything is. The jungle on Rook Island is lush and packed with wildlife and other assorted things to do, and every element and environment is rendered with care, unlike most open-world games, which sacrifice graphical fidelity for sheer density. The faces in particular are wondrous, with eyes full of life (or draining of it, as it were), and realistic expressions and movements. The people in Far Cry 3 feel like people, as opposed to strange marionettes that are found in most games.
They sound good, too, with a routinely excellent voice cast. The main character is perhaps a little stilted, but everyone else is amazing, including standout Michael Mando as Vaas. It’s the best performance in the game by quite a bit, but that’s only a compliment to how good it is. Vaas feels dangerous and unpredictable, with twitchy movements and sudden explosions in demeanor and tone. It’s amazing. The sound effects and music all keep consistent quality as well, including a clever usage of a licensed song midway through the game.
Where Far Cry 3 falls apart is in its story. There is a genuinely interesting setup, and the introduction is fantastic, but it loses steam as it goes on. None of the other characters are as interesting as Vaas who, while not necessarily rounded, imparts menace and insanity in an authentic way. Far Cry 3 is a game about losing oneself, and Vass could have been an interesting example to show the player throughout the game, but his agency is not always present. The game pops whenever Vaas is on screen, so it’s unfortunate that he’s not always the primary focus.
There is also a heavy reliance on tropes in Far Cry 3. Your development as a character is guided by a local tribe, and the idea of a white man being “the one” to save a group of brown people is something that has been done many times before. Far Cry 3‘s implementation of this trope is no different. There have been interviews with the writer where he claims that people “just don’t get” his story but it seems like the story could have been better told. The mania of the first third of the game is replaced by a rote feeling of revenge in the latter two thirds, and that mania feels like it should have been the focus of the game. There are allusions to Alice in Wonderland which give the impression that Jason is an unreliable narrator, but the execution of this idea was lacking. Game stories can’t be as subtle as film stories, and what Far Cry 3 is missing is any clues as to Jason’s state of mind. Instead, the game presents the happenings earnestly, giving them a weight that they perhaps shouldn’t have. Other characters will occasionally comment on the changes in Jason, but they seem to more or less go along with what he says.
There’s also the problem of the ending. Far Cry 3, like most games, offers players a binary choice in the end. However, one of these choices makes sense thematically, and one doesn’t. The player’s overall impression of the theme can be diluted or weakened should they choose the “wrong” ending. The “bad” ending fits the game better, but it’s unknown how many players will choose that ending and how good of an argument the game makes for it. In order for the ending to pay off, the game needs to present a compelling case for both choices, but instead it seems like one choice is what players will choose and one choice is what Jason himself would choose. It’s an interesting experiment to have the players potentially disagree with the protagonist, but too much is left to the player’s imagination.
Far Cry 3 is ultimately a success, though. The gameplay, graphics, and sound are all spectacular, and the game builds an arresting world for players to get lost in. While the narrative didn’t accomplish all of its goals, the ambition of the storytellers at Ubisoft Montreal should be respected.
A copy of Far Cry 3 for the PC was purchased by the reviewer for the purposes of this review.