Far Cry 2 was more or less a disaster, full of boring, generic gameplay and enemies who respawned unrealistically at checkpoints. Far Cry 3 alleviates almost all of the ills of 2, and though it adds a few nuisances of its own, the good vastly outweighs the bad. Far Cry 3, while not the best game of 2012, is undeniably a great game, managing to be both immersive and fun to play (most of the time—more on that later) while telling an interesting story with surprisingly well-developed characters.
I didn’t expect to like any of the characters. How could I? The game begins with you and your friends partying it up and being the kind of generic douchebags that typically end up with reality shows, and I instantly hated everyone for being that same brand of annoying jagoff. This initial assessment faded for almost everyone (the male “friend” characters really are thoughtless, selfish douchebags), though it took a long, long time for me to warm up to the main character. The important thing is that I did, and the annoying characters quickly give way to far more interesting ones. There’s the doctor who’s constantly “sampling” the medicine, the fierce island priestess, and a number of other legitimately interesting characters who quickly shift the game’s focus away from your dumb friends.
The villains have a lot of potential, and I’ll give the game that. The problem is that Vaas, the guy on all the promotional artwork and probably the most potentially interesting character to come along in a long time, isn’t delved into nearly as much as he should be. Rather than pushing deeper into what makes him so unique in order to flesh him out, the game uses him almost solely for shock, putting him in situations where he gets the drop on the main character (because your character is an idiot who will get surprised from behind several times throughout the game). At one point in the story it’s mentioned that he was lured away with drugs and power by another character, and I thought for sure that a parallel would be drawn between him and the main character. After all, by this point in the game, the “good guys” were basically doing the exact same thing to my character, and the similarities had been hinted at earlier. This never developed into anything worthwhile, taking the typical “you handled everything better than him because you’re so awesome” lame videogame turn. Vaas had a lot of potential, but by turning him into a generic villain, he ended up being vastly underutilized in the grand scheme of things. That doesn’t take away from how interesting he still is, but it’s disappointing because the whole thing could have been much better.
General gameplay is a lot like Far Cry 2 in the sense that you’re given free rein to run around a large area pretty early on. The game is open-world, with linear sidequests and a linear main story, so you can go around discovering things and taking over bases (best of all, there’s no cheap respawning five minutes after you clear out a bunch of people like in 2) or delve into the more scripted quests. Taking over bases is undoubtedly one of the high points of the game; the base is officially captured once you’ve eliminated all enemies in the area, and there are a number of ways you can achieve this. Stealth earns you more experience so that you can acquire skills as they become available (they’re unlocked throughout the main storyline), and there are even numerous ways of stealthily taking out the enemy combatants—for example, many bases have animal cages that can be shot with a silenced weapon while hiding, unleashing the animal on your enemies. You can also “tag” your enemies, allowing you to see where they are behind walls, and pick them off one-by-one using either finishers or a silenced weapon. Of course, the option to forgo stealth and go in guns-blazing is also a viable approach, though if you’re spotted, enemies tend to call in reinforcements that make the whole thing more complicated. Naturally, this can be avoided by either shooting individual alarms or sneaking up to one and using it to turn them all off at once. Coming up with unique ways of approaching situations is one of the most entertaining parts of Far Cry 3, allowing the player a large amount of freedom without ever becoming unfocused because of it.
The main story, while less interesting than taking over bases, is also quite good. You quickly learn to kill and skin animals in order to carry more medicine and ammo, and it introduces other game mechanics such as leveling up and fast traveling well enough that you won’t ever be confused about how to do something. The story itself is quite good, building on the interesting characters to become surprisingly personal at times, though it does slow down to a crawl toward the middle. The whole thing starts off as saving friends, but as your character becomes more attached to the island and everyone is saved, the story veers away to the much more interesting themes of revenge and identity. At this point, everything in the game begins to really “click.” The missions in the game are largely scripted, especially toward the end, but this is rarely a good or bad thing. Really, it allows for some impressive scenes, though having your character’s freedom limited is a bit jarring at times. In one section, I tried to make a jump, only to hit an invisible barrier and fall to my death because that wasn’t the more-obvious jump that I was supposed to make. Sometimes your mission involves getting from point A to point B on the map, and if you take a path that the game hasn’t accounted for, it’ll assume that you’re way off course and reset your location. Some of these things are a bit annoying, but the game saves often enough to where they’re really only temporary inconveniences. Offsetting the more-scripted main quests are the sidequests; though they usually boil down to “do/kill so-and-so here with X weapon” (most of the sidequests are incredibly similar as far as the goals go), this does allow for a bit of creativity in how you approach it. For example, many quests involve killing “commanders” of small enemy groups with a knife. Whether you rush past his men and stab him before they have the opportunity to shoot or silently take his allies out one by one is up to you.
Honestly, between all of the quests, there’s only one that’s truly annoying. As part of this particular quest (which is part of the main story and unavoidable), you have to sneak into a base without killing anyone or being spotted. To call this quest annoying is to understate just how annoying it is. You have to throw rocks to distract guards, but they tend to react to rocks in a variety of ways so you’re never quite sure whether or not they’ll just turn around and see you the second you sneak out into the open. That’s not to say that there aren’t frustrating little elements to other quests, however—a guy came at me with a knife as part of the story, and I had three guns on me. Did I take one out and shoot him in the head? No. Instead, it turned into a knife-fighting QTE (quick-time event). There also the fact that your character is an absolute airhead who couldn’t spot a trap if his life depended on it. You’ll be shouting at him, going, “It’s a trap, you idiot! Why are you so stupid?” It’s frustrating to have such an idiot as a main character, even if he ends up being pretty likable toward the end.
There are some incredible missions balancing out the less-fun ones, though. One in particular is so incredibly satisfying and entertaining that it almost single-handedly makes up for the sneaking mission. In it, you take a flamethrower to several fields of marijuana, burning it all down. After awhile, enemies start coming out and can be picked off from a distance or killed by shooting explosive barrels (that also light the fields on fire). Toward the end you have to clear out a large group of people, then blow up a fleeing boat with a rocket-propelled grenade. Throughout this entire mission, some Skrillex song with vocals about fire is playing in the background; I’m not exactly one who enjoys dubstep/brostep in games because it seems like jumping on a popular bandwagon just to be culturally relevant at release, often to the detriment of the game once that trend has passed, but the combination of the music and burning down things with a flamethrower works. It just works.
The graphics are pretty, with lens flares and lots of colors everywhere. I mean, just look at the screenshots. This is a pretty game, period. It’s worth noting that you won’t spend the entire game drooling over the pretty visuals, however; the thing about graphics that make them such an ancillary concern is how the brain quickly adapts to make what you’re seeing “normal,” to the point where the prettiness of the game only lasts for so long. Fortunately, it’s also a fun game to play. There’s a bit too much motion blur for my tastes on the higher settings, but there are a lot of options for customization of the graphics that make that a non-issue.
The music is similarly great. In fact, I’d go so far to say that it’s the best game soundtrack of 2012; many modern games focus almost exclusively on style over substance, spending so much time and effort creating realistic orchestral flair (because nearly everything is orchestral now) that there’s no time to actually create memorable melodies. Far Cry 3 has several memorable melodies, however, that both fit the scene and linger in your memory long after you’ve last played.
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