HIGH Leaping off a zipline and driving a machete into one pirate, then slashing his friend's throat before he realizes what's happening.
LOW Being asked to make one of the stupidest endgame choices in history.
WTF Okay, that's a lot of Komodo Dragons all in one place.
Offering simplified stealth and gunplay, Far Cry 3 takes the open world first-person shooter (FPS) concept of Far Cry 2 and heaps on piles of accessibility. Rather than crawling through mud and dust, scrounging for a fallen bullet that might save my life if a patrol manages to spot me, Far Cry 3 has me striding through lush tropics as an avenging angel, slicing effortlessly through any opposition foolish enough to get in my way. I can't say that Far Cry 3 is necessarily an improvement over its predecessor, but taken on its own terms, it's certainly a thrilling experience.
At the game's outset Jason Brody's friends and family are kidnapped by pirate slavers, and he's forced to go to extreme lengths to rescue them—namely using one of the island's myriad radios or satellite phones to call in the US Special Forces, whose job it is to rescue rich white people.
I'm kidding, of course—what kind of game would that be?
He actually accomplishes his task by "going native" with all of the icky racial subtext that implies, signing up with a tribe of local resistance fighters currently warring with the pirates who've chosen to give up their culture's old ways. Jason quickly becomes the finest tribal warrior of all, giving the player a chance to use his newfound powers to execute Vaas, the game's primary villain, and his hundreds of pirate underlings.
And what varied and wondrous forms those executions take!
From creeping through the brush silently stabbing people, to firing an RPG (Rocket Propelled Grenade) into the middle of a group huddled around a jeep, to setting a building full of mercenaries on fire with a flamethrower and listening to them scream, Far Cry 3 offers dozens of options for slaughter on an unprecedented scale. There are weapons offered for every range and type of engagement, whether it's long-distance sniping, hallway-clearing rapid-fire shotgun blasts, or playing Rambo with grenade-tipped arrows.
Between the game's forgiving progressive health system and the way enemies can be "tagged" to put them on the minimap and visible through obstacles, fights are never "challenging" in the traditional sense. Instead of a struggle for survival, Far Cry 3 offers the player a chance to play out some freeform murder choreography, playing out all the endless ways they can imagine to wipe out the opposition.
In addition to all of the impressive random carnage, Far Cry 3 also has some spectacular level and mission designs to offer. The developers have done an incredible job of building complex multi-leveled fighting areas for their missions to take place in, and then allow the player to approach them using their own tactics.
A pristine beach marred by the rusting husks of two tankers, the ruins of a Japanese sub pen, a crumbling Chinese temple suffering from hundreds of years of neglect—they're all visually stunning locations, and the gunfights, chases, and rescues that take place within use them to their greatest possible effect. These exceptional design choices break down in the game's second half when the action moves to a second island with comparatively less interesting geography and near-zero threat from the denizens, but for the first ten-or-so hours, the story missions are a gripping and nearly unparalleled action experience.
Perhaps the most interesting things about the island's construction is the way simply wandering around the map can lead to interesting player-created "stories." As I made my way through enemy-occupied territory I'd constantly happen across random incidents—a team of soldiers leading slaves to an unpleasant fate, hostages about to be executed, pirates at a roadblock trading shots with fleeing natives, and more. It's up to the player whether they want to involve themselves in any of these situations since there are no rewards or penalties for doing so, simply the experience of making a choice and seeing the outcome.
Multiplayer is also well-represented in Far Cry 3. All of the standard deathmatch, control, and objective modes appear, and the the cluttered, asymmetrical maps do a great job of carrying the main game's aesthetic into the world of online competition. Even more impressive is the game's co-op feature, a six-chapter semi-plot-based epic in which four players team up to battle hordes of pirates. I was stunned after completing the main game to discover that the co-op mode offered what is essentially another game's worth of content in an incredibly well-designed series of missions. It's one of the most robust "bonus" modes I've ever seen, and I'm amazed that the devs didn't try to sell a beefed-up version as a standalone game, seeing as it's already half the size of Left 4 Dead.
While my feelings towards Far Cry 3 are overwhelmingly positive, there are some downsides.
The scenery may be gorgeous, but the Xbox 360 I played it on obviously wasn't fully up to rendering large-scale battles in these kinds of environments, so framerate issues pop up from time to time. Likewise, while the game world may look good from ground level, any time I tried to hang glide, I was faced with muddy visuals and absurd amounts of pop-in. Also, every time I glanced down I was greeted by a field of green Xs, proof that the developers have forgotten to include a third flat bitmap to represent treetops viewed from above or below.
It's also important to stress how rough the story is. What should be a relatively simple tale of vengeance gets bogged down in the developers' pretensions of grandeur. They seem to imagine their game about shooting flare guns while sliding down ziplines has something profound to say about human nature. The villains are never really as scary as they should be—especially Vaas, who's way worse at killing people than one would think he would be. While the plot starts out on shaky ground, it really takes a nosedive as it moves into the second half as poorly-drawn characters still manage to act against their known traits, and it all builds to a climax that's offensively stupid, stupidly offensive, or probably both.
Minor technical glitches and a dud of a plot can't keep Far Cry 3's exceptional parts from shining through, though. The freeform combat, gorgeous locations, and excellent multiplayer are strong, and Far Cry 3 does a fantastic job of putting the player in the middle of a lawless, chaotic world and letting them get up to whatever they please. Yes, video games are capable of achieving much more than Far Cry 3 does, but it makes a persuasive argument that there's nothing wrong with a guilty pleasure now and again—especially when it's as slickly presented as this is.
Disclosures: This game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the Xbox 360. Approximately 35 hours of play was devoted to single-player modes (completed 1 time) and 6 hours of play in multiplayer modes.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game contains blood and gore, intense violence, nudity, strong language, strong sexual content, use of drugs. Parents, keep your children as far from this game as is feasible by the size of your house and its distance from the nearest video game store. There's the constant brutal violence, the positive depiction of drug use, the drunks and smokers, the offescreen rape… No matter what it is you don't want your children seeing in a game, you can find it here.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing: The game is pretty good at providing accessibility for the hard of hearing—there are easy means of putting enemies on your minimap, and onscreen markers the let you know when bullets are being fired at you. The one big problem is animal attacks—every animal in the game lets out a growl/roar/hiss before attacking, and without that warning you're not going to know they're there until you've had a bite taken out of you. So be vigilant! Also, dialogue is subtitled, but incidental comments during combat are not.