The biggest testament to how much I enjoyed Far Cry 3 is that I got the platinum Trophy before writing this review. Granted, it's not the hardest platinum to get, but rarely do I get invested enough to search out every single Trophy or Achievement. Something about Far Cry 3's stellar gunplay and beautiful open-world island environment really dug its hooks into me. While that extended amount of time with the game certainly exposed a few flaws, it's still one of the best first-person shooters I've played all year. Considering we've seen a new Call of Duty and a new Halo drop in recent months, this really says something about the quality of Far Cry 3.
If you haven't had a chance to lay your hands on Far Cry 3, the game puts you in the shoes of twenty-something Jason Brody, a middle child who gets kidnapped by pirates while on vacation with his fellow trust-fund buddies. This group doesn't make for your standard assortment of video game heroes; you'll hate them after the initial video introduction, which sees Jason and his eldest brother trapped in a cage by the villainous, and superbly acted, pirate leader Vaas. The game kicks off from here, featuring a harried escape from the prison camp, which sets Jason down the path of island warrior.
This transition isn't handled as well as hoped. There is a part after the escape where Jason struggles with his first kill, and he is at his wit's end before being introduced to the local opposition, dubbed the Rakyat, who have been at war with the pirates for a while. The moment is fleeing, and soon enough, you'll be mowing down countless enemies with a variety of heavy weaponry. Jason transitions into a typical first-person action hero in no time, and the fact that he's never killed a man before, much less hundreds, becomes a distant memory.
In all honesty, the plot of Far Cry 3 isn't something to write home about. It has some fun scripted sequences that keep it entertaining, but most of the strong points come from side characters instead of the actual plot. On the surface, the story elements are pretty basic. Jason wants to rescue his friends from the pirates and other bad guys, he gets recruited by an opposing faction on the island, and he proceeds to wreck the pirates' operations on Rook Island.
There's some mysticism involved, which ties back to the three skill trees that revolve around the tattoos given to Jason at the beginning of the game. Jason gets drugged, has wild hallucinations that involve some really strange moments, and there's some talk of Jason being the best warrior that the native Rakyat people have ever seen. Little of this matters in the long run. There's a point in the game where you feel the writers are going to drop the other shoe, peel back the curtain, and reveal an incredible twist, but that never happens. There are some relatively minor swerves, but the plot feels like it's constantly waiting for a payoff that is never delivered.
While I'm discussing the negatives, the game has some serious technical hiccups that occur on the PlayStation 3. There's a hefty amount of environmental pop-in that occurs with trees and other structures, and the frame rate often takes a hit anytime the action gets a little wild. The frame rate issues are the biggest culprit on the technical side and sometimes make the game feel like a slideshow of images instead of a modern-day shooter. The issues with the frame rate seem to be exacerbated in the latter half of the game, particularly when boarding and driving any vehicle in the jungle. It's a pretty disappointing problem in an otherwise gorgeous-looking game.
Despite some disappointments with the story elements and some annoying technical hiccups, I had a really hard time putting down the controller. Far Cry 3 takes the open-world element of Far Cry 2 and improves upon it in just about every way. Certain complaints leveled at Far Cry 2, like respawning camps of enemies, have been addressed, making for a great open-world experience that is unlike any other shooter on the market. From the start of the game, you're given the freedom to go wherever you want, and there's just enough side content to make exploring Rook Island worth your while.
Along with the excellent exploration angle, you've got some really fantastic gunplay. Jason's arsenal constantly expands the more you play, and you'll gain access to the standard assortment of assault rifles, grenades, pistols and submachine guns that you'd expect to find in any modern first-person shooter. You'll also gain access to some explosive firepower, like rocket launchers, and devastating yet fun weaponry such as flamethrowers. I certainly wouldn't consider myself to be a pyromaniac, but it's surprisingly fun to watch the way Far Cry 3 handles flame and allows you to light structures and fields on fire — and then allows those flames to spread to startling levels.
Jason also has a number of weapons at his disposal that allow stealth to be a viable option on some occasions; the game even rewards you for taking out enemy encampments without alerting a soul. You'll be able to crouch behind enemies and take them out from behind with a pretty generous lunge attack, and as you unlock more abilities you can also surprise enemies from below or above. You can distract foes by tossing rocks to draw their attention, and you'll get access to silencers for most weapons, along with a bow and arrow that allow for satisfying one-hit stealth kills.
If you get bored with that, you'll occasionally have the option to allow the local wildlife to do the job for you. Some of the most fun I'd have with the game came from the enemy camps scattered around Rook Island, which you'd want to clear to eliminate most of the random enemy patrols in the vicinity. I'd often climb to a nearby high spot, scout the location using my camera, and highlight enemy placements by tagging them via my camera. Once done, I'd gleefully look for a cage — which hopefully contained a bear, leopard or other beast — bust open the cage and watch the mayhem unfold. More often than not, the animal would do all the work for me, clearing the camp and allowing me to swoop in for victory without needing to fire a shot. Sometimes, I'd have to mop up the leftovers, but either way, animals were a very effective tool.
On a handful of occasions, random elements would come into play that didn't require any manipulation on my part. Sometimes I would approach a camp or group of enemies from the surrounding high grass, with my finger on the trigger button ready to spray rounds into the nearest foe, only to be surprised by shouts that I thought meant I had been spotted — but were alarms that a pack of wild dogs or other creature had entered the camp. I'd hang back in the surrounding foliage and watch the invaders make short work of my targets, again allowing me to jump in for an easy victory. These random elements occurred just often enough to remain special, but they weren't so rare that they felt like bugs or something scripted gone awry. I really loved the randomness of the environment around me, and I loved seeing things in Far Cry 3 play out in unexpected ways.
Beyond the single-player campaign, which is a lengthy affair if you're interested in seeing everything the game has to offer, there's also a six-stage co-op mode for up to four players on- or offline in addition to a fairly standard versus multiplayer mode. The co-op mode is a lot of fun, as the stages are fairly long, set in different locations around the island, and feature four new protagonists. Your multiplayer loadout between co-op and versus is shared, along with the experience points, perks, weapons and other boosts found while playing either mode. There are some light story elements in co-op that were more interesting than the oddball single-player plot and featured a more straightforward revenge/heist setup that perfectly fits the mode.
The versus side of multiplayer, however, was largely forgettable, and it felt very much like a last-minute add-on rather than anything that was fleshed out or on par with other high-profile multiplayer shooters. It certainly won't draw you away from Call of Duty or Halo this season, but it provides some mindless entertainment if you're set on standard Team Deathmatch-style gameplay in Far Cry's tropical setting. You have the ability to revive downed teammates, which adds something to the formula but doesn't feel remarkable.
While Far Cry 3 doesn't always fire on all cylinders, I found the overall package to be quite enjoyable. Despite some lackluster story elements, technical issues, and a ho-hum multiplayer mode, the excellent world design, weapons, and gun battles are enough to draw you in and keep your interest throughout the campaign. The co-op mode is an added bonus, well worth playing through with friends, and a great alternative to the lackluster versus side of the multiplayer. I'd suggest picking up Far Cry 3 despite its issues, since it's one of the more interesting and fun shooters I've had the pleasure of playing this year.
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