The Far Cry franchise has come a long way since the release of Crytek’s original back in 2004. The series has seen a shift in focus as well as developers since its debut, losing some of its luster. Far Cry 3 attempts to remedy that by maintaining the open-world element from the previous game and also bringing it back to a setting similar to the original, resulting in a lush tropical island with plenty to do and explore. It won’t be long before you realize that this is a game that does everything it can to make sure you’re having a good time. Luckily for us, it succeeds more often than not.
Set on the mysterious Rook Island, the game stars Jason Brody, who has made his way to the island with his friends during their vacation. It isn’t long before they are captured and held for ransom by a large group of pirates who have taken control of the island. Jason escapes, meets with a group of rebels and finds himself in the middle of a power struggle between them and the pirates, all while attempting to save his friends. He comes across many side characters along the way, but his goal remains singular throughout.
Right from the start, it becomes painfully clear that Jason is meant to become an archetypal everyman to the people of Rook Island, but it’s hard to take his side when his character progression never seems clear. He’s just not a likable hero, and even when he takes the side of those in need, you just find it hard to sympathize with him. The other characters are mostly forgettable, but Vaas, the leader of the pirates and one of the main villains, is one of the most memorable antagonists to come along in quite some time. Despite his presence in some of the game’s best scenes, this tale falls flat in almost every way, and by the end you’re left wondering what the writers were even thinking. It’s a story that’s all potential and no payoff.
The actual story missions provide you with a nice variety of activities, each of which taking you all over the island in search of your friends. Most of the missions throughout Jason’s story are complete with unpredictable moments — some scripted, some random — and contain a nice taste of what to expect from the rest of the game. Once you reach the last set of missions, however, it devolves into a shooting gallery and loses focus on what made the earlier parts of the game so enjoyable. The shooting mechanics are great, but by that point it feels less like Far Cry and more like Call of Duty. These parts are solid, but lacking when compared to everything the game was building up until that point.
If you look past the poorly-written story and some disappointing missions, you’re left with a game that is chock-full of opportunities, many of which are excellently executed. Open worlds can be hit or miss; you either provide the player with good reason to explore or they end up getting bored within the first few hours, struggling to find a reason to continue playing. Far Cry 3 excels at making sure you know just what you can do and why you should do it, giving you plenty of content from the start, including things that I thought would be more of a chore than anything.
Once you finish the opening mission as well as a few brief tutorial sections, you find yourself free to roam around the island to do as you please. From there, you are introduced to many things all at once, and all of them are a blast. One of the main draws is the hunting, which is necessary in order to craft new item, money or ammo pouches. The hunting is fun and often intense, and in true Far Cry fashion, you can approach different animals and situations however you choose. It wasn’t long before I found myself relying most on the bow for a lot of my hunting expeditions, leading to some of the game’s most enjoyable moments (including some surprising encounters with a few tigers).
Making more of the island easier to explore are the radio towers, which act just like viewpoints from the Assassin’s Creed series. You are tasked to climb a large tower, activate it, and a part of the map becomes viewable, giving you a chance to see just what else you can do in that particular area. These are surprisingly fun to tackle as they provide you with some well-designed platforming puzzles and do so in a first-person shooter, a genre that has never been well-liked for its forced platforming. And each one of the eighteen radio towers is different in some way, making sure you’re always on the top of your game when attempting to climb them.
As part of the ongoing conflict on Rook Island, you have to worry about pirates. Thankfully, there are bases you can take over that eliminate the enemy threat in that area. The bases are a blast, allowing you to focus on stealth if you so choose. The stealth in Far Cry 3 is excellent and, like with the hunting, you are given many options in terms of how to approach each base. Once a base has been cleared out, you free the area of pirates and can use that base as a fast travel point. At each base that you clear you can access a store that allows you purchase new weapons, ammo, and upgrade weapons to fit your needs. Fast traveling to these locations is handy when you’re in a tight situation and desperately need ammo or a different gun, so taking over bases became less of an optional activity and more of a major goal during my playthrough.
Like almost every video game released in the past two years, Jason gains experience and can level up as he completes missions, kills enemies, and does other activities on the island. You are then presented with three skill trees that you can spend your experience points on: one focused on long-ranged weapons, one on stealth and one on healing and head-on assaults. You’ll often find yourself sticking with one or two of the three trees in order to customize your character based on your play style, but all provide a nice variety of new abilities that keep you hooked on gaining more experience.
There is so much more to Far Cry 3 that would be impossible to cover, but all of it adds to the game’s variety, including special hunting missions, sniper challenges, race events, tons of collectibles, and more. Not only that, but the mere act of exploring the island is always fun and always leads to plenty of surprises. You never know when you’ll stumble onto a hang glider or find a pirate base only to discover it’s been raided by tigers that are on fire for some reason. Even if you get bored with one part of the game or another, there will always be something for you to do, even if it’s something you least expect.
Sadly, it’s not a perfect tropical vacation. The game is visually stunning, but the console versions are lacking in many respects. For one, the framerate is often iffy at best. There were certain missions near the end of the game that suffered as a result of the game’s bad performance, making them hard to enjoy. They weren’t difficult missions, but when a game can’t keep up with the action on the screen it can be frustrating. Not only that, but there is plenty of roughness around the edges when it otherwise looks almost flawless on PC. The console version is fine if you can deal with these issues, but it’s hard not to be disappointed by them.
Far Cry 3 is like controlled chaos in video game form. The game goes out of its way to make sure you’re always presented with something fun to do. The story is weak and it all begins to fall apart during the last third of the game, but it’s not hard to overlook those problems and see just how much amazing content you have at your disposal. Even if you’re tired of everything the game provides (or have done it all), just being able to explore the island and run into ridiculous and out of control situations is enough to make this a must-own title for anyone with a pulse.
Pros: Fantastic open-world to explore, the many mechanics at work are all superb, you’ll never run out of fun things to do
Cons: Awful story, missions lose focus near the end of the game, plenty of technical issues on the console versions