The Easy Way Out
HIGH Taking out an entire encampment of privateers at close range without being detected.
LOW The final mission in the "Buck" sideplot is just gross.
WTF Can I please face one major boss I don't kill in an apparent hallucination?
Most people have difficulty telling skinned animals apart. Oh, the general body plan and size can give some hints, but it's extremely difficult to tell a cat from a dog from an opossum once the fur and ears and other distinguishing characteristics have been stripped away. The anonymity of exposed flesh and the loss of identity is in many ways just as disturbing as the permanent stare of lidless eyes. A skinned animal is a freakish and unsettling sight, not that you would know this from playing Far Cry 3.
The player, via protagonist Jason Brody, will almost certainly "skin" dozens of animals through the length of Far Cry 3, yanking the epidermis off a menagerie that ranges from rabid dogs to sharks to cassowaries. The game presents this process as a plunging knife, a shapeless fold of tissue being shoved into a bag, and a muttered curse. Then Brody moves on, leaving behind a corpse that's notably intact. It's as if the game has mussed the player's hair, reassured him the animals are only sleeping, and sent him on to play some more.
"Play" is what Far Cry 3 is best at, and indeed is phenomenal at. It has a great variety of smooth-handling guns, plenty of ammo to let the player use them effectively, and a fair share of explosive, flame, and short-range options for tactical variety. The game's stealth system is both functional and reasonably transparent, and the game's enemy tagging functionality turns the minimap into a tool of death almost as powerful as any weapon. The game's world is a vast playground of mountains, jungles, rivers, and caves, with an array of vehicles well-suited to each one. If it wanted to be a joyride of free-form violence, Far Cry 3 could be the best of them, despite its limply-scripted main plot and unlikable protagonist.
That's not what its creators want, though. Its lead writer, Jonathan Yohalem, has been especially outspoken about his intention for the game to make players examine its protagonist and its story elements. To hear him tell it, players are supposed to react to its white savior and magic negro tropes by questioning them, not embracing them.
Viewed this way, Far Cry 3 is an unmitigated failure. It wants to be a game of probing questions and hard choices, but it's ultimately just a game of easy answers. Like the weapons you're carrying? Easy! There's tons of ammo laying around; you'll never need to swap. Want a better gun than the one you're carrying? Easy! Just climb this tower and you'll get a whole array of new ones for free. Friend being abused by a homosexual rapist? Easy! Just stab the guy in a QTE and the whole thing goes away, never to be mentioned again. Need a bigger holster to carry more guns? Easy! Just skin these few animals and you won't even need to look at the gross result of what you're doing.
Far Cry 3 wants to make the player question its world, but it almost never seizes any opportunity to unsettle him until the very end. The easy answer is always available. If the player wants to kill a guy, he will. If he makes a plan of attack, it almost always works. Far Cry 3 never attacks the player, never tries to undercut his sense of confidence, even to the extent of forcing him to improvise by picking up a new weapon now and then. Rather, Far Cry 3 relentlessly teaches the player that he is the ultimate power in its universe, only slipping when the ham-handed developers force Jason to behave idiotically in scripted scenarios.
The game tries to make itself meaty, but doesn't work for it. It quotes Lewis Carroll's books, trying to appropriate their symbols via reference, without creating any itself. It tries to make Jason's withdrawal from his friends seem troubling, but since it doesn't do any of the work to establish those relationships in the first place, that never works.
At one point Jason tortures his brother, an individual the player has quite possibly never seen before that moment. Afterwards, Jason asks "What have I become?", in one of the game's many moments of transparently claiming that it has something important to say. The player, however, has no context to ask that question; the game has given him neither the relationships, nor the history, nor the tools to do anything with the moment.
Far Cry 3 could have been what it wanted to be. All the necessary elements were on hand. Alas, it shies away from almost every moment where it could make the player question what he's doing, and doesn't earn the few opportunities it does seize. Everywhere, it is hamstrung by the apparent unwillingness of its creators to recognize that if a game is to mean something then that meaning must live in the design of the systems, not just in a few lines of dialogue or a couple of quotes from Through the Looking Glass. Its creators shirked the hard work.
Far Cry 3 is tremendously fun and may well stand as one of the all-time great joyrides, but it can never be as intelligent, as searching, or as moving as it wants to be, because it took the easy way. Rating: 7 out of 10
Disclosures: This game was obtained via retail download and reviewed on a home-built PC running Windows 7, equipped with an untweaked Intel i7 processor, 8 GB RAM, and a single Radeon 6800 HD-series graphics card. Approximately 60 hours of play was devoted to single-player modes (completed 2 times) and 0 hours of play in multiplayer modes. This review only covers single-player.
Currently Sparky works as a scientist in Rhode Island, and works gaming in between experiments and literature reviews. As a writer, he hopes to develop a critical voice that contributes to a more sophisticated and interesting culture of discourse about games. He is still waiting for a console port of Betrayal at Krondor.