Review: Far Cry 3 – everything but the writing

I recently finished Far Cry 3. I’ve been very keen to write a review for it, but wanted to see the ending before I wrote anything. Because I have a lot of things to say about the writing, plot and how that plays into the game design, I thought I might split the review into two. This post is mostly about the presentation and basic gameplay, and will be almost entirely spoiler-free. The next post will be about that other stuff and will be spoiler-tastic.

I have no time for your word-feast!

Should you buy and play Far Cry 3? Most definitely. It’s an open world game that takes all the good things from Far Cry 2, improves them and tries to overcome the shortcomings.

If you like exploring, free-flow stealth and pyrotechnic action, you’ll like Far Cry 3.

How’s it look?

Lovely sunset on the beach.
Lovely sunset on the beach.

Amazing. They’ve captured a tropical island perfectly, from the way soft, dappled sunlight glows through the jungle canopy, to the little splashes of water as you’re jetskiing about, and beautiful orange fireballs when you blow something up. The fire is as great as it was in Far Cry 2. The animals look great, the humans are amazing, varied and display subtle and detailed emotions in cutscenes. They’ve put a lot of attention into the details of the world. Although you only really visit two islands, you can feel the geographical differences between them and it doesn’t feel too samey.

Occasionally, the long draw distance glitches out, but it’s far from a show-stopper. I only had one graphics crash in 25 hours, and that was mostly because a dude stood on a landmine at the same time a grenade was going off, so his body catapulted into the stratosphere and made the graphics engine sad.

And sound?

The sound is great. Explosions boom. Guns sound realistic and varied. The voice acting is amazing across the entire cast, with bad guy Vaas the standout. Your protagonist, Jason Brody, is voiced and I actually appreciated it. A voiceless protagonist a la Gordon Freeman would have taken a lot of the life and nuance out of the game.

Jason Brody's friends
Jason Brody’s friends. Given the chance, only the right side of the room would be rescued.

Music for normal gameplay is okay, but the ones chosen for specific missions are inspired. There’s a lot of what the kids probably call dubstep, which may raise some hackles if you’re a drama queen, but I love love loved the Skrillex and Damian Marley song playing during a mission where you burn down a drug farm. The song choice in one of the final missions almost rivalled Saints Row 3’s “We Need a Hero” music choice, both in awesomeness and making a very, very important narrative point.



Enough of the exteriors, how about gameplay?

Far Cry 3 is an open-world game. There’s basically no loading screens, and you do everything in the first-person perspective. The basic story is that you and your friends are rich thrill-seekers who happen to skydive down onto a very unfriendly tropical island. You and your friends get captured by slave traders lead by the insane Vaas. You have to escape and try to save your friends with the help of the local Rakyat tribe, led by the attractive and powerful Citra.

Warrior queen of hotness, Citra
Warrior queen of hotness, Citra

By doing missions the Rakyat will add to your arm tattoo, which helps you level up with special abilities. That’s the basic deal.

To do this there are story missions, but there is a lot of free-form open world adventuring. Like previous open-world games like GTA or Saints Row 3, there is a territory mechanic for you to expand your empire. You need to find and scale rickety radio towers to disable jammers so you can see more of the environment on your map. This leads to some nice, minimal jumping puzzles.

If you capture enemy camps, the surrounding area is owned by the Rakyat, and thus safe for you to travel in. Capturing camps is quite fun: you can just walk in, guns blazing and blow everyone up. You can find a nice perch far away and snipe everyone to death. But more interestingly, you can try for a stealthy attack. Using a variety of tricks up your sleeve (including the age-old “throw a rock to distract a guard”) you can silently stab your way through a camp before anyone notices or sounds the alarm. Doing so can net you more experience (and hence more tricks up your sleeve as you level up). It also requires the most skill.

I loved capturing enemy camps. You can free hungry caged beasts to cause havoc. You can start fires to distract bad guys or herd them in a particular way. You can rig a place with land mines and explosives. Or you can just slowly pick off guards. There’s a lot of emergent chaos to this. Sometimes I’ve been sitting on a hill, spotting my enemies and planning a way in when suddenly a leopard wanders into the camp and attacks everyone. Or maybe I’m sneaking up on the outside perimeter when a truck full of bad guys drive past and spot me. It’s great fun and not punishingly random.

Swamps have never been so pretty.
Swamps have never been so pretty.

Far Cry 3 also has a bunch of the missions you expect in an open world game: find random collectibles hidden about the place, do races or time-trials (presented as “get the medicine to the villager in time”), narratively disjoint “fight a wave of dudes with these weapons at your disposal”, as well time-wasters like sniper training, knife-throwing competitions or Texas Hold-em poker. These things are okay, but you can mostly avoid them if you like. Doing some of them gives you access to syringes (aka potions), special weapons or tattoos. There’s a bunch of interesting caves, temples and World War II ruins. The place feels lived-in and is interesting to explore.

There’s co-op gameplay, but I haven’t tried that. I think it’s mostly base attacks, which could be fun with a buddy.

The final word…?

It’s a great game. Well presented and pretty fun. It’d be a reasonably solid recommendation just on that. But for me, the most interesting thing they did was with the story. But I have too much to say about that. Until next time, let me leave you with some screenshots and my favourite story from the game.

So I was out hunting, trying to get Tapir hides to make my backpack bigger. There was an enemy patrol nearby, so I had to be stealthy. I’m lining up a shot, wondering for a second if I was morally okay with hunting defenceless Tapir in a video game. Suddenly there’s a hiss and growl behind me and a goddamn Komodo dragon bites my arm. I kick him off and plug him full of pistol bullets. The enemy patrol hear the shots and lose their minds, driving jeeps over hills and into trees to chase me down. I run through the trees, taking shots at my pursuers and running past a cool little shrine next to a river. I figured the bad guys wouldn’t chase me if I crossed the river. I ran towards the shore… into the waiting mouth of a crocodile.

Far Cry 3
Far Cry 3 – the knifening

The crocodile grabs me and starts the death roll. I’m splashing around under the water, my vision blurry and chaotic, desperately trying to stab this beast in the head via quick-time events. The patrol just laugh at my plight and wander away. I barely managed to survive the crocodile attack and dragged myself back on the shore. I waited for the patrol to clear out and I made my way south, avoiding all Tapirs and patrols. I was low on health and fairly shell-shocked, but I figured I’d be okay if I could just find a camp. As I paced through the jungle, my spider sense was tingling. I turned around and saw a bloody Bengal tiger stalking me. Before I had time to try scare it off with a hand grenade, it charged me and ripped me apart.

That’s the chaos of Far Cry 3.