How far would you go to save your family and friends? What are you willing to become? That dark, insidious question is the driving force behind Far Cry 3 – Ubisoft’s latest open world title and the successor to 2008’s Far Cry 2. Though there’s plenty of action to be had here, this isn’t a game that glamorises killing. It’s a bleak and mature journey, driven by a stellar cast of characters. Its unpredictable story is designed to challenge players and when those credits start to roll, you’ll feel as though you’ve left an emotional weight behind you.
You play as Jason Brody – a stereotypical middle-class American on holiday with his brothers and friends. What starts as a picturesque adventure filled with water-skiing, skydiving and bar hopping though, quickly turns into a struggle for survival amidst the warring tribes. Beneath the beauty of your tropical destination, Rook Island, lies a seedy underbelly ruled over by a vicious and unstable pirate named Vaas. Vaas and his gang run human trafficking and drug rackets and see you and your friends as nothing more than a chance to make some quick cash in ransom. Without ruining too much of the incredible opening (which is banaynays by the way), you, and you alone, escape the clutches of Vaas and meet up with one of the rival tribes, the Rakyat. Seeing you as some sort of omen, signaling the fall of Vaas’ drug empire, the Rakyat look to you to turn the tides of battle.
As with most open word titles, much of the gameplay in Far Cry 3 is what you make of it. After the tutorial missions and a brief foray into gathering/hunting are behind you, you’re basically given free-range. Rook Island is a vast and dangerous place filled with secrets to uncover and varied landscapes to explore. A veritable playground of game styles ready to be experienced and exploited. The strength of Far Cry has always been in its open-ended approach. How you choose to tackle the action oriented obstacles is left solely to you. This third installment follows convention in strong suite and, thanks to some revised mechanics, the formula feels fresher than ever.
When you sadle up to a bandit camp, you can go at it with a direct assault, AK-47 in hand. Or you could wait till nightfall and sneak in for some stealthy machete assassinations. If creeping about the gaff isn’t your style, you can stand on a cliff top and rain Molotov cocktails. Or maybe you fancy being the hero Rook Island deserves. Well hang glide directly into a base and let rip with the C4 – the choice is yours. Every kill you make nets experience points which can be spent turning Jason into a better killer.
Little by little, the man who whimpered at the sight of blood begins to relish the slaughter and slowly turns into the savage beast the Rakyat need him to be. Transformation, sacrifice and loss of control are Far Cry 3’s most poignant themes. The closer you come to rescuing your friends, the further you distance yourself from them on an emotional level. While the narrative does contain a couple of cliched moments of action hero bravado and tribal mysticism, Jason’s quest to save his friends, and subsequent transformation into a vicious killer, is both believable and engaging.
I felt a genuine sense of compulsion to see the journey to its end and when some of the game’s more ‘loveable’ characters were caught up in scenes of peril, I was legitimately anxious. Enough really can’t be said about the quality of Far Cry 3’s characters – they’re some of the most well acted, well animated and believable personalities ever seen in a video game. They are also paramount in player connectivity. Ubisoft didn’t just arbitrarily hire a troop of actors with a solid voice and nothing else, it sourced theatrical professionals capable of channelling their performance into every facet of their being. Subtle facial animations. Nuanced gestures. That glint of insanity, burning behind the eyes. All are captured so perfectly, it’s almost unnerving.
None are greater and more chilling in this regard than the Far Cry 3 poster boy, Vaas. Every time he was on screen I found myself absolutely entranced. Vaas’ performance, while highly entertaining, actively drives you forward in your quest. You fear his insane outbursts, but you want to clash head to head so you can best him – a perfect villain. If there was an Oscar for acting in video games, Michael Mando (the actor who played Vaas) would take home the gold (as in gold statue – I know it doesn’t work like the Olympics.) This level of character authenticity gives the game a level of depth and tension seldom experienced.
Graphically, Far Cry 3 impresses on a number of levels. While I did encounter my fair share of technical problems, due mostly to the lack of optimisation for triple screen and SLI configurations, Rook Island is a beautifully rendered place. Lush jungles, vibrant coral reefs, insanely well animated characters. It all comes together perfectly. I’m yet to test the game on the highest of the high PC settings, but what I have experienced is one of the best looking packages I’ve seen in video games. Music also rates a special mention, as it seamlessly rises and fades with the on screen action. Subtle tribal vibes while you explore, blistering tempoed wubs while you fight.
Aside from the lack of graphical optimisation on PC, the only real misstep Far Cry 3 takes is with its multiplayer. Completely superfluous, both the deathmatch (or variations thereof) and co-op options can pretty much be discounted entirely. Neither retain the depth and charm of the single-player campaign and mimic the mechanics of much better games. They’re not broken or bad by any means but, in all honesty, why would you bother unlocking weapon add ons in Far Cry 3’s inferior variation of deathmatch when it’s more rewarding and much more fun in Call of Duty or Halo? There is some fun (possibly) to be had with the co-op mode, but its focus is on linear, high action set pieces rather than open world exploration and story. Basically, the multiplayer takes the game’s worst aspects and plays them against its greatest strengths. Baffling.
It should be pretty obvious by the tone of this review that I thoroughly enjoyed my time on Rook Island. It’s such a refreshing experience to play something with this level of narrative depth. You’ll experience a wild, open world, meet fascinating characters and sympathise with Jason Brody’s difficult situation.
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