When it comes to gameplay, the Far Cry series has always delivered a fairly strong experience. The last offering really tried to make the game more of a sandbox and provide more plot, but it often got bogged down in its own features. Far Cry 3 plays out as a brand-new experience as much as it does as a culmination of the series. The game is a sandbox shooter filled with options, but for the first time in the franchise, the gameplay feels cohesive.
You play as Jason Brody, a twenty-something on a trip with his friends when it goes horribly wrong. During a skydive, the group is captured and separated by a band of pirates led by a man named Vaas. Jason wakes up with his brother in a makeshift cage in the middle of a jungle encampment. Jason escapes and wakes up essentially drafted into the island's rebel forces, who are struggling against the pirates who almost fully control the island. With their support and guidance, Jason begins to work toward freeing his friends and getting the hell off of the island.
Jason's evolution as a character is particularly noteworthy, as at the outset of the game, he has literally never fired a gun before and nearly loses his wits during his escape. Over the course of the game, you gain strength in the form of the expected new weapons and abilities, but the narrative also has Jason evolving as he becomes accustomed to his ability to skulk through the jungle and kill. It's interesting to experience his transition — and equally interesting to see how his friends react to Jason's increasingly flippant nature toward taking lives.
It's not just Jason's character development that experiences a gradual transition. At the beginning of the game, you barely have any skills, short of sprinting short distances and the basic use of a firearm. As you kill pirates and complete missions, you gain experience and levels, with each level granting you a skill point to spend in one of three trees. At the start, skills are basic, like the ability to cook a grenade or slide along the ground. Later skills are what really increase your feeling of being a badass, such as leaping from a rooftop and taking down someone silently or killing two enemies at once while you swim beneath the dock.
This gradual progression of skills and abilities is arguably more important than increasing your armory. Early in the game, if you see two guards and want to take out both, you must throw a rock to distract one or use a silenced pistol to shoot one and immediately stab the other. As you gain skills, your options improve, such as leaping from a rooftop and take out both or killing one and pulling a knife from his belt to throw at the other. Since the game gradually introduces you to these abilities, you also slowly incorporate them into your gameplay, and you tend to use the majority of them by the end of the game.
That's not to say that your armory's growth is entirely inconsequential. There's a wide array of options when it comes to arming yourself, from the stealth options of silenced weapons or the compound bow to far more aggressive selections, such as shotguns and assault rifles. Many of the weapons can also be modified, such as adding the aforementioned silencers, scopes or extended magazines. However, not all weapons can be modified, and even those that can seem to only have a few no-brainer selections. Some weapons are more based on preference rather than any real benefit. Still, it allows you to have a bit more ownership of your gear, and you can even personalize them with paint jobs.
The area in which you use these abilities and firearms is as much a true sandbox as a shooter. At the beginning of the game, you are plopped into the middle of the jungle island and operate out of the rebel's main village, which is essentially a collection of shacks. You can immediately pursue the main story line and track down your friends, or you can get distracted by the myriad other options you can pursue. It's beneficial to complete the different missions or objectives scattered around the island.
To see the map, you need to climb enemy-controlled radio towers, similar to those from Far Cry 2, and deactivate a jammer at the top. Not only does this enable you to see that section of the map, but it also makes one of the guns available to be picked up for free rather than purchase. Later in the game, this becomes less of a perk because if you don't already own the gun, you could easily buy it. The map is always useful, however, as it lets you more easily see the lay of the land and the main roads, as well as which areas are more pirate-controlled.
To push back on the pirates' grip on the island, you must take out their stronghold, which is an assortment of buildings fortified and crawling with a pack of patrolling pirates. You get experience points regardless of how you clear out the place, though you get additional benefits if you don't set off an alarm or get detected. Once you've cleared out the place, it enters rebel control, which also gives you a safe house to which you can fast-travel, buy and sell loot, and pursue some sub-missions. You'll also find some collectibles, free ammo or cash.
Sub-missions range pretty wildly in their benefit. Missions, like the races where you have to make it through a series of checkpoints before time runs out, or target practice are little more than time-wasters where you can make some scratch. Other missions, like the assassination of enemies, are more profitable and interesting, as you must kill the target with your machete and nothing else. You don't necessarily have to do so stealthily — embedding it in his face will do — but it's a lot of fun to pick off his entourage one by one before taking him down. Finally, the most important missions are the Path of the Hunter ones, which, at worst, get you a bunch of pelts and some cash. If you're lucky, though, you can get rare pelts that are only available from these missions.
Hunting animals for their pelts ties into the crafting system, where you can improve your gear, such as getting larger quivers of arrows, bigger wallets to store more cash, or carrying more guns at one time (up to four in total). There are a large variety of animals on the island, and each upgrade requires a number of a specific pelt. Lower-level upgrades have you hunting relatively easy animals, like boar or goats, but later on, you'll be fending off tigers and leopards that can easily take you down if they catch you unawares. Your first encounter with a leopard starts only as you barely catch it stalking you through the tall grass.
You can also gather plants from the wild to use in crafting syringes. The plants involved are of numerous species, but all fall into basic color categories. To make a medical syringe, you only need green plants, not a specific species. This makes crafting a lot easier to manage, so it's also easier to use their benefits. One syringe type lets you more easily track animals while another does the same for human enemies. They are rarely something that you rely upon, but it can be nice to pop a couple to start a fight with a slight edge. However, you can only quick-slot two types of nonmedical syringes at a time, so it's usually easiest to pick the couple that you use the most and leave the rest. Given their relatively short duration, syringes don't factor into the gameplay as much as they could have.
The interface that you use to craft items or manage your inventory is quite cumbersome. Everything is buried in multiple submenus, and while double-clicking them enters, you must click on a button at the bottom to back up a level. This makes it a pain to quickly jump between different areas, such as when you are taking stock of the pelts needed to make the next batch of upgrades. Your rucksack inventory is easier to manage, mainly due to the existence of a quick-sell button that immediately sells all junk items. Selling items that are considered actually useful is far less smooth, as every time you sell an item, the rest of the inventory resorts itself. If you wanted to sell two dingo pelts, you'll sell the first one and then must find where the other shuffled itself — even if it used to be right next to it.
You'll want to spend as little time in the menus as you can because there's a whole island to mess with and conquer. Getting from place to place is easy, between fast-traveling to established places and the use of vehicles, such as quads and jeeps, to get around the road system. To make a stealthy entrance, you can always use a hang glider and land next to an enemy fort to begin your assault or use a conveniently placed zip line to make your grand entrance. Even sprinting on foot gets you from place to place surprisingly quickly, so forgoing the use of a vehicles doesn't feel like you're about to spend a bunch of time needlessly on foot.
Using the stealthy approach to the game is just as viable as running into every enemy group with guns blazing, though the former is a lot more entertaining. Guards actually fan out and try to secure the area when threatened, and you can also use this to your advantage, though it'll be far harder to get the drop on them. There's a good bonus for doing things stealthily when taking out strongholds, but that's the only area where it matters. Any other time, you can use shotguns and grenade launchers to your heart's content, and even then, if you use them to wipe out a stronghold, you'll still have plenty of skill points to spend in the areas that you really want.
The plot is pretty straightforward, with Jason slowly becoming assimilated into the rebel culture and losing his grip on his sense of self. What makes the plot memorable is the voice acting, with virtually every character coming across as either genuinely well grounded or completely insane. No one carries the latter mantle better than Vaas, and you'll want to catch up to the parts of the game where you encounter him just to listen to his special brand of crazy. Predictable story or no, it's put together well and delivered in such a way that it doesn't seem to cover overly trodden ground.
Thankfully, the plot isn't the only thread that pulls you back to the game. Ultimately, the biggest reason for that is because of how well the different aspects are balanced. You'll break up doing missions by taking over a tower, and then maybe do a spree of stronghold assaults punctuated by hunting feral tigers with little more than a bow and arrow. All of it is entertaining, and it gives you a sense that the island is little more than your plaything— a feeling that's only emphasized as your skills increase and you become a badass cross between Turok and Rambo. It's for that reason that Far Cry 3 comes across as a fresh experience and ranks up there as one of the best shooters of 2012.
Reviewed on: Intel i5 2500k, 8 GB RAM, nVidia GTX 660 Ti
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