Today we take a detour from our regularly scheduled backlogging to check out Far Cry 3. Up until this point, I’ve had a love/hate relationship with the Far Cry series. The first Far Cry was so frustrating that it led to vein-popping outbursts of violence against my dormitory furniture. The second game was a lot better, but it got bogged down by its lengthy collection quest for war diamonds (yea, I’ll admit it… I collected them all anyway).
In Far Cry 3, you’re dropped into the war-torn and exotic Rook Islands, a lush archipelago in the South Pacific. American tourist Jason Brody and his equally privileged pals end their vacation with a skydiving trip over a supposedly uninhabited island, only to discover that the island is in fact very inhabited, and by bloodthirsty pirates nonetheless. You alone manage to escape, and are predictably expected to rescue your friends, kill a bunch of evil drug-lords, and drop some straight-up fucking democracy on everyone’s heads. Ooh rah.
Despite having played my fair share of open world games, Far Cry 3 still managed to impress the hell out of me. For starters, this game is gorgeous. It’s rare that I appreciate a game for its graphical beauty alone, but Far Cry 3‘s breath-taking vistas had me hooked. From its towering, salt-sprayed sea cliffs to its vast, endless jungles, every part of Rook Island is pure Earth-porn.
Take note, however: Your graphics card will pay for it. even on my recent GeForce GTX 970 I was unable to max it out on ultra settings without a noticeable framerate drop. If you plan on playing Far Cry 3, make sure you invest in the right hardware.
Likewise, Far Cry 3‘s actual open-world gameplay is some of the best I’ve played in a long time. The game’s best moments come when you are attacking outposts, which must be liberated by killing the soldiers occupying them. These can be tackled in any way you like – from afar with a sniper, silently with a machete, or as messy as possible with a machine gun and a bandolier full of grenades. Stealth approaches are better rewarded, but slip-ups quickly escalate into hectic firefights, forcing you to switch tactics quickly. Each outpost is laid out differently, and finding the right approach to each one is satisfying sort of a puzzle in itself.
Beyond that, there are many things to find for yourself in Far Cry 3, and simple exploration is in itself rewarding. Rook Island’s abundant wildlife and its scattered, nameless fishing villages make the island feel convincingly alive. Stumbling upon a forgotten cabin tucked away in the quiet shade of the forest was an almost relaxing distraction between missions. I myself had many amusing encounters with both the wildlife and natives on my journeys across the island, and I’m sure I missed many others.
In between exploration and outpost hunting, Far Cry 3‘s story will keep you well-occupied. The game’s more memorable missions will have you doing things like exploring ancient ruins ‘Indiana Jones’ style, destroying marijuana fields with a flamethrower, and escaping from burning hotel buildings. In between these segments, the game fleshes out its backstory while having you perform slower missions like collecting mushrooms or rendezvousing with an ally over a game of poker. The game’s skillful pacing makes every mission feel meaningful and distinct, right up through its thunderous grand finale.
Playing through the campaign also means you’ll encounter the game’s colorful cast of sociopaths that thrive on Rook Island’s chaos, most notably the psychopathic drug lord Vaas. The instant you first see his evil, twinkling grin, you know you’re about to see some messed up stuff. And he certainly lives up to his image – each encounter with Vaas makes for a memorable scene, especially his diabolical insanity speech, which he delivers with the unhinged coolness of a serial killer.
Overall, Far Cry 3‘s story explores the themes of escapism, Western entitlement, and the emptiness of wealth. The game opens with a fast-paced montage of a wild tropical vacation set to M.I.A.’s “Paper Planes”. The frame then pulls back from a digital camera’s LED screen, revealing the interior of a crude bamboo cage where Vaas holds you captive and mocks your spoiled lifestyle. Within minutes, you must murder your way out of the camp and flee through the jungle like a hunted animal.
This instant transition from the heights of privilege to the depths of life-threatening peril serves as the starter pistol to Jason’s personal “Alice in Wonderland” adventure, which the game uses as a recurring motif. Metaphorically, he’s gone down the rabbit hole, emerging in a drug-addled fantasy-land where he can literally do anything he pleases. During one the game’s many hallucinogenic trips, a character profoundly tells Jason that “we spend our whole lives holding back. Imagine how quickly you can succeed if you just take what you want.”
This is a theme that the game returns to time and time again: That it is better to seek exactly what we want, and then to use that power to take more it. Jason and his friends chase the illusion of freedom through the emptiness of thrill-seeking and partying. It’s not until Jason gets to the primitive Rook Island that he finally finds true freedom, where it turns out to be brutal, violent, and ugly.
As you might expect, Jason gets addicted to this new feeling of empowerment. He continues to pursue a personal vendetta against the island’s pirates in spite of his original intention to escape the island in the first place. In Santa Monica, Jason was a prospectless Millennial. On Rook Island, he is literally revered as a god.
Naturally, as Jason starts to strip away his attachments to society, his friends gradually feel more like strangers in a strange land – bankers, stoners, and actresses dressed in designer clothes hiding amidst the island’s lush jungles and tatooed natives. Several more drug-induced flashback segments revisit a prior evening at a Bangkok night club where your friends act – for lack of a better word – like total assholes.
The central theme is a not too subtle jab at its own demographic – entitled suburban spawn that feel more liberated gunning down natives than in their own dull, sheltered lives. It’s a Fight Club-style philosophy that begs the question: What is true freedom, and what would you give up in order to obtain it?
All things considered, Far Cry 3’s only real flaw is that it’ an Ubisoft game, which means it gets bogged down by repetitive side quests, endless checklists, and way too many towers to climb. I spent roughly the first half of the game spellbound by Far Cry 3‘s open-world gameplay, rushing from outpost to outpost and enjoying the most magnificent jungle scenery I have ever seen.
There was a distinct point, however, when care-free exploration felt like it had morphed into familiar quest-hunting: check map, fast travel to outpost, perform task, rinse and repeat. There are also not one but three separate collection quests. I didn’t even bother with its longest one, requiring you to find 120 tribal relics scattered across the island that, unlike the diamonds in Far Cry 2, serve absolutely no in-game purpose.
Far Cry 3‘s pros vastly outweight these cons, however, and it’s hard to come up with a reason not to play it. Even if you can’t be bothered with its endless side quests, the game is still beautiful, fun, and definitely worth picking up during the next Steam sale.
The Bottom Line: Far Cry 3‘s open world shooting is some of the best I’ve played in years, and it’s eye candy is actually something worth playing it for.