When the broken mechanics aren't turning firefights into a big mess, Far Cry 3 is actually quite fun.
I was about fourteen or so hours in when tigers started appearing outside all my fast-travel safe houses. Whether this was a straight up glitch or the game’s many internal systems colliding for what felt like the hundredth time, I didn’t know. The point is; Far Cry 3 has a lot going on, so you’re never really playing the game as intended. Yes, there are story missions, and the side activities have structure. Some of those can be quite fun! But all the open world stuff like roaming predators and the game’s love of screwing you over with overlong character animations means you have to spend a lot of time figuring out how to trick all the mechanics into letting you progressing. And that’s a shame, because the designed aspects of Far Cry 3 are really good.
One of the best aspects of the game is the story, mostly the way it’s presented. When I think of a good interactive tale, I think of major beats controlled by the player. Good writing certainly helps, but taking full advantage of this medium should be a designer’s first concern. If the story missions are any indication, the dev team agrees with me. You do so much in gameplay, even if you’re just pushing a button. It’s not a particularly deep or complex story, although it would like to be. You are Jason Brody, vacationing douchebag. Pirates have kidnapped your friends and you don’t like that. Go save them.
But that’s only the plot when you’re not tripping out like a college kid on his first acid trip. I couldn’t shake the feeling that everything was building to a major twist ending that never actually came. There are floating Alice in Wonderland quotes, boss fights consist of crazy imagery with quick time events, and there are whole missions where you do nothing but see just how crazy the imagery can get. After listening to Vass monologue about philosophy, it’s hard to go back. The contrast is just too sharp. If the story lived up to all the setup, it would be amazing.
Thankfully, the character writing is spectacular, in spite of some relatively one-dimensional personalities, and gets a nice boost from amazing voice acting. A particular standout is the pirate leader Vaas; essentially an even more unhinged Nolanverse Joker, and one of the best villains this console generation has ever seen. There are a few weak links, however. Your captured friends are self-obsessed stoners who refuse to understand the gravity of the situation. I don’t know about you people, but if my girlfriend and I were trapped on a pirate-filled island, and she wouldn’t stop fixating on missing some audition in Hollywood as opposed to escaping, that relationship wouldn’t last much longer.
Shoot your way into compounds to rescue friends is actually quite a bit of fun when the stars align. The shooting is tight, and you’ve got a nice variety of weapons to play with. If you’ve played a standard FPS in the last decade, you know how this works. Should you get bored with your default equipment, it’s not that hard to unlock every gun in the game. Just find, climb, and repair some dilapidated radio towers and bingo! Free guns. There’s a significant amount of distance between each one, but you shouldn’t encounter too much resistance if you use the provided ziplines and vehicles. Either way, the promise of a bigger arsenal was a powerful enough motivator, at least for me.
As your arsenal gets even bigger, you’ll probably want to start crafting. Rook Island has a diverse – but probably not scientifically accurate – collection of fauna for you to hunt, skin, and then repurpose. But after you’ve fully upgraded your ammo pouch, wallet, loot rucksack, and weapon holster, there’s not really any use in going out of your way to craft a sling that allows you to carry more flamethrower ammo. Fire was just too uncontrollable to be a legitimate combat tactic. If it’s not full auto or a sniper rifle, there’s just no point in carrying it. Simple combat scenarios can get absolutely bananas in seconds, and full auto weapons are just more useful in those situations. Animal hunting isn’t the only crafting system in the game that could easily be trimmed. There are dozens of plants on this island that can be crafted into an equal amount of shots with positive effects, but you’ll only ever really want to craft healing items. Get too dependent on any other, and you’ll spend 50% of every fight pausing the game, crafting some new items, assigning them to slots, and then jumping back into the action. This game is just too hectic for that, not to mention doing this severely breaks flow.
I keep mentioning this game’s more insane moments, so I think it’s necessary we get this out of the way now. Put simply, a lot of Far Cry 3 is broken, and not in the fun way. Remember the safe house tigers from the opening of this review? They were actually kind of annoying, especially when I’m about an hour from the end of the game. Fire was also a big issue. When you’re on fire, your health drains fairly quickly. After a few seconds, a prompt will appear (Press the top face button to put out fire), and you’ll spend more time watching your character pat his arms. Why couldn’t this prompt appear instantaneously? There were times where I knew I was on fire, Jason’s health was draining, but I couldn’t take care of it because the game hadn’t caught up. And I don’t know why! Holding the button is usually for initiating first aid, but when you’re on fire it does nothing if you’re not carrying health syringes. Many deaths were caused at the hands of this mechanic, since 50% of the late-game enemies have either Molotov cocktails or flamethrowers.
The roaming gangs of animals don’t really help either. When you first start out, rosy-cheeked and all set to attack the world, a leopard is a huge drain on resources. So when you’re low on ammo, fighting a horde of pirates, throwing a few carnivorous beasts into the mix just doesn’t help at all. Getting through fights like these requires pure luck. Later on, when you’ve got decent weapons and some decent upgrades, the addition of animals to firefights can be fun and exciting. But it comes full circle when you’re packing serious heat and your skill tree is almost fully unlocked. At that point, carnivores and even regular pirates are just a nuisance.
You’ll mostly have these experiences at strongholds, which are scattered around the map and can be taken over. They all have unique layouts, but everything looks similar enough to breed mild contempt if you attempt to take on a bunch of them at once. Some are easier to clear out than others, but there are certainly multiple ways to deal with each one if you don’t feel like just running and gunning. Claiming the stronghold will unlock a fast-travel point and a store; both of which are incredibly useful. Once you’ve captured them all, you can also take on time attack races, specific hunts, assassination missions, and search for collectibles. You know, bog-standard sandbox activities. If you don’t know how you feel about doing that stuff again for the hundredth time, you probably never will. Personally, I found the races to be the most fun side activity, but the rest can be pretty entertaining as well.
Ultimately, Far Cry 3’s sandbox is hit or miss. Perhaps that’s more a compliment than a criticism; a sandbox having a lot to do isn’t a bad thing at all. But that compliment only extends so long as everything works. There are so many technical issues that it’s almost not worth doing half the available side missions.
Once you’re finished tricking the sandbox’s mechanics into behaving, there are some multiplayer components for you to play with. The most interesting thing Far Cry 3 offers besides its campaign has to be the map editor. Although the controls haven’t been properly adapted for gamepads – I never quite got it to do what I wanted – the inclusion of this mode kind of blows my mind. There’s a multiplayer playlist that deals exclusively in community-edited maps…if you feel like waiting for an eternity, hoping players eventually show up.
The co-op campaign isn’t quite what I expected. Put simply, it’s Dead Island; a cast of wacky characters, sweet intro movie, tropical island, kind of crappy story, and violence. Minus the zombies, of course. During my first time out with the campaign, I was lucky enough to be dropped at the end, so I have a good idea of how everything wrapped up. Since this is a co-operative mode, you’ve got a few techniques you can use to help your teammates. Press in both analog sticks, and your team gets a specific kind of buff, depending on your loadout. If that’s not enough, there are booster shots placed around the levels that you can give to allies. The campaign is fairly lengthy, and has all the fun shooting without the broken open world mechanic, so it’s definitely worth a look if the sandbox aspects left you cold. However, the AI is dumb as rocks in this mode. Enemies would just stand where they were, and completely ignored me. I never encountered problems like these in the campaign – foes could practically see me through walls over there – but a talented group should be able to plow through the campaign no problem.
Also, hey, there’s utterly perfunctory multiplayer. Some executive probably had a B-team put it together, and with games like Black Ops 2 perfecting the formula, there’s no reason you ever need to explore this mode. It seems the community agrees with me, because when I actually found a match, we only just barely hit the minimum amount of players. This is a significant problem, because the maps are far too big. But this probably doesn’t matter to 90% of you. I mean, the only reason I played it was for the purpose of this review.
The game’s high-quality visuals luckily are consistent across the many different modes, but unfortunately the framerate comes along for the ride. It should probably go without saying that more things on screen equals a lower framerate, but it’s already pretty low to begin with. There’s clearly a trade-off here, but I would honestly drop realistic lighting effects for a rock-solid framerate any day. I hear the PC version doesn’t have these problems if you’re running the game on a powerful enough machine. Even then, you should be able to change enough settings to get a smooth 60 FPS, but the console versions have no such feature. I didn’t get to play around with the PS3 version, but I haven’t gotten any positive reports.
Far Cry 3 has a significant list of issues, but there’s some real gold here if you’re willing to dig for hours to find it. A simple firefight in this game is more entertaining than entire modern first person shooter campaigns, especially when just a little of the open world insanity creeps in. But too much can make exploring the world not worth it, and that’s a big problem in a sandbox game. Although the unnecessary multiplayer, decent co-op, and generally fine writing do their best to hide this glaring misstep, sometimes a bloodthirsty shark kills you while you swim to an objective. For some people, the constant unpredictability might be a huge draw! If that’s you, I heartily recommend Far Cry 3.
(Version Reviewed: Xbox 360)