As sandbox games go, you don’t get much better than Far Cry 3. Its greatest strength is its large and exquisitely detailed open world which is brimming with fun content and imaginative ways to interact with it. Not only is it large, it is brilliantly dynamic in a way which makes for an unpredictable, yet wholly enjoyable, experience. This is complemented by open-ended gameplay which blends well handled stealth with extremely solid shooting. Far Cry 3 can be extremely tactical or extremely chaotic, and both sides are well executed. However Ubisoft’s latest is not without its problems, and these do have a significant impact on the game. Despite an excellent and wholly promising start, the story in Far Cry 3 is simply bad. It starts out seemingly self-aware but ends up tired and clichéd, complete with poor writing and ludicrous story moments that negate any attempts the game makes to try to say something. When Far Cry 3 shines though, it shines very brightly, a lot of the game even exhibits great writing and memorable characters that make your stay on the game’s islands just that bit more enjoyable. Sadly what promise is shown is undercut as the game nosedives towards the end, the fun content dries up and the player is left with substandard missions that exhibit some beautiful explosions, but also uninspired and often annoying gameplay. If you want a thrilling virtual holiday to a tropical island, Far Cry 3 will entertain to a certain point. But when all is done it’s hard to escape a sense of dissatisfaction and disappointment.
The true star of Far Cry 3 is its open world, the Rook Islands. It’s a jungle out there, and the amount of deadly pirates and vicious animals really hammer this home in the best possible way. One of the best parts of the game design is how the island seems somewhat oblivious to your presence, regardless of you being there everything interacts in brilliant and somewhat unpredictable ways. A variety of wild animals roam the jungle, but it isn’t only you they are after. You will stumble upon tigers attacking other NPCs for example, and these kinds of dynamic events constantly occur thus creating and unpredictable environment which truly feels alive. A random event can severely impact your most carefully thought out plan, but this only adds to the excitement rather than ever being frustration. Smart skill trees and varied weaponry leaves you with a lot at your disposal, this means you can adapt to the situation and it makes gameplay feel more like gleeful improvisation. This is somewhat helped by the save system, which seems constricting at first but truly encourages you to experience Far Cry 3 at its best. Quick saving is off the menu (as is saving in missions) and though you can save your game usually it doesn’t save you at that point but saves your progress. Reloading a save will spawn you at the nearest safe house, or other safe area, rather than placing you exactly where you were. This may seem like a detraction but in reality it creates consequence and adds to the somewhat random nature of the game. It’s fun to be adaptable in Far Cry 3 and the save system forces you to be so. It would be far too tempting to reload a save if your stealth approach was ruined by a random wild animal noticing you, potentially getting you noticed. By not allowing this you are forced into some really fun encounters, and improvisational gameplay is heavily encouraged. It keeps you on your toes and makes tactics count.
Like so many games nowadays, Far Cry 3 has RPG like progression. The usual actions gain you experience points and subsequent level ups gain you access to some great new abilities. On a single playthrough of Far Cry 3 it’s not difficulty to max out every skill tree and this is a plus point as well as a negative. The trees themselves offer some enticing skills and smart ways to improve your character, but you never really make your character your own. It’s not you becoming the stealth guy or going towards effective firepower, it’s you becoming more effective in total. Of course different skills lend themselves to different approaches (so you can carve out a path early on) but in eventually you end up like everybody else. You are a total badass but the character doesn’t feel your own in the way a specialised one in an RPG so often does. Of course this does have the big plus of giving you a wide skill set that enables the improvisation that can make the game so enjoyable, it just seems they could have got a similar result whilst allowing more specialisation.
The beauty of Far Cry 3 though is in how its structure takes full advantage of its open world. Interaction with the lush islands is instrumental to your character’s progression, and this is handled in some very clever ways. The wildlife is not just there to get in the way; it is there to be hunted. Hunting is a core part of the game and is surprisingly one of the best bits. You start out with very basic equipment, and though this means the first hour doesn’t really shine from a gameplay perspective, it paths the way for a superb handling of character progression. Initially you can carry just one gun, a small amount of ammo and money, and your loot bag is shamefully tiny. However you can craft yourself bigger and better equipment, which gives you more options and makes things more enjoyable. A crafting menu tells you what you need for each item and once you have the required ingredients you can make it on the fly. To get these ingredients though means to go hunting, an act made enjoyable by the variety of animals and the impressive ways in which the animals behave. You feel like a real hunter and it’s a remarkably fun experience. The reward is obvious, and makes it very worthwhile, but the process itself is so fun that there is inherent worth. This results in a smart way of handling character development, which makes you feel like you are getting better but doesn’t frustrate you with its artificial limits. Hunting the animals also involves finding your prey’s habitat on the map and making your way to it, thus promoting exploration. The islands are a beautiful setting, one worthy of exploring and littered with hidden loot and collectibles. This makes for a cohesive design that takes advantage of the open world setting as exploration is effectively rewarded and incentivised.
Other side content speaks just as well to the games great design. Throughout the world there are communication towers that, when climbed, update your map of the surrounding area. The process works just like synchronisation in Assassin’s Creed, and though you don’t climb them as such, rather navigate a certain path (complete with jumps and ladders), getting to the top is still good fun. It’s first person platforming, but it’s forgiving and not very difficult. Later watchtowers do become more of a challenge, and do put you in a position where you do have to work out the path up rather than just following an obvious route, and there is enough variety to the structures to stop it from getting boring. This process also links into other mechanics as it reveals where animals are to be found on your map and uncovers side missions and activities. It’s another way in which Ubisoft have made a true open world game in which interacting with that world and exploring are key if you want to improve your character and experience the game at its best. The other standout part is liberating safe houses and outposts from enemies; these are some of the most fun gameplay segments in the game as a whole and can be approached in numerous ways. Basically there is a small camp populated by enemies and you have to depopulate it and take it as your own. Liberating it turns it into a waypoint of sorts for you, which you can fast travel to and buy and sell equipment at. You are greatly rewarded for stealthily conquering an outpost and the differences in each (including enemy placement and variety as well as structural differences) make each one a unique challenge. They are superb tiny sandboxes and expertly show off how fun the game can be. It’s also amazing when you manage to provoke a nearby tiger and it takes out the whole encampment for you, giving you the bonus for remaining undetected.
The gameplay at the heart of Far Cry 3 is also noteworthy. Shooting is incredibly solid and the weapons are mostly customisable and well designed. It’s usual shooter fare, but done well. The stealth is more interesting. If you sneak up on enemies you can initiate a silent take down, and unlockable skills can make this even more effective by adding perks like moveable bodies, aerial takedowns or the ability to chain one silent assassination to another. Enemy line of sight isn’t shown, but there is a detection meter on display. A bar pointing in the enemies direction starts to fill, and if it fills completely then they are alerted to your presence and your silent infiltration is at an end. One very smart addition though is in regard to preparation. You can mark targets and this shows you what class of enemy they are and where they are at all times. It puts an indicator above their head and shows their silhouette through anything that comes between you and them. This is somewhat ludicrous, but as far as gameplay goes it’s an excellent mechanic. You can scope out areas effectively with a camera, but aiming down the sights on any weapon at an enemy for a few seconds will tag them. This is a small thing, but it streamlines the gameplay in a meaningful way, making for a more seamless experience.
These great elements are complimented by some astounding visuals on the PC. If you have a machine that can handle it, Far Cry 3 is one of the best looking games you can play. Long grass covers the island and sways in the wind and on a technical level everything just looks amazing. Animation work is also very impressive, as well as textures and most character models. Most characters themselves are just impressive as a whole, Far Cry 3 gives you some very memorable villains, and though it doesn’t make great use of them they are good presences when on screen. The game’s story is a real negative though. Things start out well with an excellent opening that seems brilliantly self aware when it shows how annoying your character may be before showing him and his friends caught by slavers on a dangerous island. You then escape and are found by a mystical tribe who think you are a great warrior (despite you freaking out at the prospect of violence) and you decide to save your friends and bring down their oppressors. It sounds clichéd, but it’s written and acted in a way that seems knowing and hints that there is something else going on. Sadly the story doesn’t capitalise on this potential and goes completely downhill, ending up as just poor and moderately exploitative. The same is true of the game as a whole though, it’s a fun sandbox but the back third of the game doesn’t play to any of its strengths. You can get all the important side content and the story done in just over twenty hours, and you are then just left with an empty island and a weak main quest line. Once you’ve done the hunting, the towers and outposts there just isn’t much else to do. The island turns from a strong presence into a wasteland with no reason for you to remain there. Your outpost conquering means there aren’t even any enemies, and though the hunting is fun you can get it done reasonably quickly. Thus meaning that the island’s animal inhabitants no longer hold any relevance to you, there’s nothing to do but start again. This isn’t encouraged though because you feel a sense of finality, you can have all skills unlocked and used up all the meaningful content. The excellent progression leaves you in a place where starting again from square one isn’t overly enticing, but mostly the game’s final parts leaves such a bad taste in your mouth that you won’t be hurrying to replay it. Of course the single playthrough does give you more than enough value for money, it’s just a shame the game weakens towards the end.
All in all Far Cry is an impressive yet flawed game. It can be incredibly fun but its lows are too meaningful for it to carry a full endorsement. The main quest is weak and just plain bad towards the end, and a number of small problems get in the way of otherwise great design. It’s really weird to end an open world game and be presented with no content and no enemies in existence. It’s not a huge problem but it’s an eventuality that should have been avoided. While you are playing Far Cry 3 you will have a lot of fun, there’s plenty to do and most of it is really good. However in the end the game leaves you with a sense of disappointment and dissatisfaction, and despite doing so much well the game ultimately undermines itself. It’s definitely worth picking up, but it just manages to be simple fun rather than anything special or meaningful. You will enjoy it at the time, but it won’t stay with you when you are done with it.