Games / Reviews

Far Cry 3 Review (Xbox 360)

You see that shark over there in that water? You need its skin. To kill it, are you going to brave the waters to stab it or shoot it from afar? No, you’re going to skillfully throw C4 onto its back, blow it to little shark pieces and take what’s left to craft a wallet for yourself. Far Cry 3 is not only a game dripping with moments like this, but it’s one of the most immersive and totally absorbing titles that saw a release in 2012, and a remarkable improvement over the last entry in the series over four years ago.

fc3-image-1Far Cry 3 drops you into the shoes of Jason Brody – a partygoer taking a vacation on the tropical Rook Island who, along with his friends, gets kidnapped by a slave trading group led by the villainous pirate Vaas. From there, the tale expands to introduce mysterious tribes residing on the island, a mission to save your friends from certain death and a boss fight with a giant…demon. (No, Lost has not returned).

It sounds good, right? At the beginning of the game, it is just that. The threat posed by Vaas is real and believable, the plot feels somewhat at home and it’s hard to believe that just as you’re about to reach the halfway point, it descends into madness and outlandish territory. Once that point is reached, the tale takes a predictable turn, and drags on severely before the end is reached, hindering any progress it has made up until that point.

While Far Cry 3’s story is not one of the game’s strongest points, despite having significant potential to be its best, it’s in the other areas that the title truly shines, from the hunting and the choice of gameplay styles, to the replayability and the immersion. The result is the actual story element of the game’s story mode taking a backseat for the far superior, and more fun, side elements that one can partake in on Rook Island.

Every open-world game lives or dies depending on how detailed and ‘alive’ its environment is, and Far Cry 3 has a shining gem with Rook Island. Most of the world consists of green shrubbery, trees and water with settlements interspersed across the landscape, but no matter where you are or what you’re doing, the game truly draws you in. The attention to detail with Far Cry 3 is, for want of a better word, staggering.

fc3-image-4Why is Rook Island so absorbing? Because even in the most empty of areas, it still feels like there is something to do. Whether that involves standing stationary and observing the animals in the distance, or witnessing an enemy squad be ravished by a hungry leopard as you watch in hysterics, Far Cry 3 never leaves you feeling like there is nothing to do, and there’s a lot for you to be doing outside of murdering pirates.

Amongst the story mode, endless collectibles and involving game-world, Far Cry 3 is littered with side objectives to occupy your time not spent blowing up pirates. You can capture any of the enemy outposts scattered across the island, in any way you like whether stealthy or otherwise, or scale radio towers to reactivate them and gain free weapons as a reward. Or you can go hunting for a wide range of animal species, which Far Cry 3 excels at.

Rook Island has an animal population consisting of the friendly, the pointless and the downright vicious, and hunting any of them is as captivating as it should be. Waiting on a boat in the ocean to put an arrow through a shark’s eye fails to get boring, as does charging in to a pack of Cassowary and getting pecked to death as a consequence. Hunting is a pivotal part of the Far Cry 3 experience and that’s not just because it wields rewards that you need but because it’s just so enjoyable and fulfilling.

fc3-image-5As you hunt, kill and subsequently skin the animals you’ve taken the time to dispatch with, you can create new equipment for yourself to enhance your gameplay, such as bigger wallets to hold more money, bigger arrow quivers to hold more arrows and so forth. Not only does the crafting system give the hunting element of Far Cry 3 a purpose but, along with the character skill trees, adds RPG-esque elements that on the whole, make the game feel more robust.

On the subject of skill trees, Far Cry 3 has three separate skill tree segments that trade experience points – gained from killing enemies, completing missions and the like – for upgrades to increase Jason Brody’s badassery, from the ability to stealthily execute two enemies at once, to increased health and the ability to drop down onto an enemy from a zipwire and stick a knife through their throat (who doesn’t love doing that?).

While Far Cry 3’s character upgrade system is strong and rewarding, it is dependant on you continuing with the story. For example, further unlocks on each skill tree will be locked until you’ve passed a certain spot in the story, even if you’ve stored up a dam of experience points beforehand. While it’s understandable why Ubisoft would want you to play the story alongside the wealth of side objectives, making the unlock system and the campaign intertwined in such a way is a tad too restrictive, and frustrating given the story’s flawed nature.

fc3-image-6Putting that issue to the side, Far Cry 3 also contains a number of other objectives to complete besides the story missions and hunting. Scattered across the island are enemy outposts to take over however you see fit, radio towers to capture in order to complete the coverage of the island on your map and selected side missions dotted throughout the land.

The aforementioned side missions in Far Cry 3 were fundamentally a good idea on paper to those who enjoy the prospect of collecting meaningless items inexplicably lost in an area of land for equally meaningless natives. Unfortunately those people are sure to be in the minority. Ubisoft’s implementation of side missions involves little more than ‘collect and deposit’ missions that, unfortunately, are amongst the game’s weakest elements and certainly inferior to the rest of the game.

Besides a beautiful and impressive game world, fantastic hunting mechanics and engaging gameplay, Far Cry 3 also benefits from a simple, easy-to-get-accustomed-to control scheme that won’t feel out of place to fans of other FPS heavyweights but also won’t feel too similar. Players can crouch, sprint, slide, zipwire and even fly across Rook Island as they see fit and it will all be done in a first-person view, to terrific effect.

fc3-image-7Far Cry 3, like its predecessor, simply refuses to show you anything other than what’s happening in front of your character at any given time, and its insistence on being first-person the majority of the time ultimately adds to the game’s immersion. Besides, driving the various vehicles types across the island and witnessing an enemy colliding with your bumper head-on never fails to become tiresome, and it’s made that much better because of the FPS-always viewpoint.

As well as immersing the player into the experience with how the game is viewed, Far Cry 3 also gives you choices in how you complete objectives. You could simply run in with your guns blazing and chance your luck that way, or hang back and play stealthily by picking off your enemies one-by-one until there’s nobody left to stalk. Whichever way you go is satisfying enough but it’s in playing the stealthy way that the maximum amount of enjoyment is had.

Far Cry 3’s stealth mechanics are responsive enough to the player that it ultimately becomes the best way to experience the game. While the enemy AI is sometimes a little too stupid that it detracts from the atmosphere, tagging your foes and subsequently dividing them from their squad to rip out their throats is a lot more engaging than playing like Rambo, and it feels like that is the way Ubisoft ultimately intended for you to play Far Cry 3, although it’s not compulsory. Player choice is always a welcome thing and Ubisoft have implemented it quite well into their title.

While you’re skinning tigers, slashing throats, flying across the island and throwing molotovs at unsuspecting pirates, Far Cry 3 gives you spectacular graphics to please your eyes at every point. Rook Island itself is rendered fantastically and is easily one of the finest looking open-world environments from this current generation of games, even if the draw-distances are rather poor and ugly to look at from afar.

fc3-image-3One thing that’s striking about Far Cry 3 is just how distracting a game it can be because of how good it looks. There will often be times when you’re doing something else, like hunting wildlife, when you’ll emerge over a hill or come to the edge of a cliff and the stunning scenery will capture your interest from whatever it was that you were originally doing. Not many games can confess to being able to grab a hold of you in the way Far Cry 3 does and it’s a testament to its graphical prowess that it can do that at any given moment.

As well as boasting spectacular visuals, Far Cry 3 can also add excellent audio to its lengthy list of achievements. Not only do the various voice actors do an acceptable job of bringing their respective characters to life but the music that kicks in at given opportunities during the game adds the necessary atmosphere to specific scenes. While there is the occasional blast of booming, bombastic music, Far Cry 3’s soundtrack mostly consists of tracks that feel true to the nature of the game, as well as an excellently-timed bout of Skrillex playing over a certain mission you won’t forget!

It’s no secret that what Ubisoft have managed to do in regards to improving on the lacklustre Far Cry 2 goes beyond the call of duty, but despite the game being a joy to play and excellently produced, it still has a wide range of problems that are difficult to contend with. As well as an arguably poor story that forms the backbone of the game’s singleplayer portion, Far Cry 3 also suffers from slight repetition in capturing the many enemy outposts littered across Rook Island.

fc3-image-8All across Rook Island are dozens of outposts that you need to take over and subsequently capture in order to get yourself free weapons and fast-travel points for quicker navigation. Taking them over simply involves killing all the enemies within the perimeter however you like. Unfortunately, while they are somewhat exciting to capture at first, the novelty quickly wears off after you’ve taken over five, and then ten of them. Also, while unlocking fast-travel points is absolutely necessary, what happens as a result is frustrating.

For a reason unbeknownst to those not residing at Ubisoft HQ, once you’ve captured an enemy outpost, you will no longer encounter random enemy patrols within the area the outpost covered. It’s not much of a concern at first as you can simply move to another area to get killing again but once the number of outposts continues to deplete, it begins to make the island feel empty and barren when you’re exploring outside of missions, and it’s something that has a profound effect on how the game plays. The problem could’ve been fixed by having the pirates retake the outposts at random intervals, but as it currently stands, it’s a concern that isn’t easily ignored.

On top of the repetitive nature of the outposts and detrimental effect they have on the game, Far Cry 3 also suffers from occasionally poor AI. You know the drill by now: enemies walking blindly into your bullets; standing in fire; and generally acting as though any semblance of intelligence they had was left at the loading screen. It can also be a concern during stealth play as the enemies can often act so imbecilic that they will fail to notice you slitting one of their friend’s throats merely yards in front of them, removing from the finely-crafted nature of the game’s stealth mechanics. It’s not an occurrence that happens all the time, but enough to be noticeable.

fc3-image-9On top of the game’s very lengthy singleplayer offering (it could easily give you 30-40 hours of enjoyment), Far Cry 3 also features a rather extensive multiplayer component where players can team up in traditional Team Deathmatch, Capture the Flag etc modes. The multiplayer also features playlists containing maps created by the community, as well as a co-op segment that allows four players to form a group and progress through six individual missions. It all sounds great in theory, right? Don’t get your hopes up, because that’s where the good ends.

For Far Cry 3’s multiplayer offering, Ubisoft chose to adopt a Call of Duty-esque nature that’s hard to miss. For instance, the game has loadouts, perk-like upgrades, experience points, a familiar ranking system and even things resembling killstreaks. The similarities extend to the game playing the same way, with you running around the map getting kills and getting killed in equal frequency. It’s just unfortunate that during the process of capturing the CoD essence, Ubisoft failed to ensure that their own multiplayer plays or even functions to an acceptable standard.

The multiplayer in Far Cry 3 is just packed to the rafters full of problems. The most noticeable problem of them all are the frankly atrocious servers. I’m not sure if they were just suffering due to the Christmas rush when I played it but they regularly stop working, give extraordinary amounts of lag during games and that is even if you manage to progress through the very flaky matchmaking that will either take a millennia to put you in a match or have you there in seconds.

Navigating through the server issues wouldn’t be as big of a problem if the pay-off at the other end was worth it, but it isn’t. Even during a stable match, Far Cry 3 simply doesn’t feel original. It feels too similar to other FPS heavyweights but nowhere near as fluid or responsive as them. It’s also unfortunate that its co-op offering is really not worth bothering with as each mission is more of the same each time, and being able to play each level relies on the matchmaking putting you there, or having a party of friends, as you are unable to play the co-op campaign by yourself.

fc3-image-10Perhaps one of the multiplayer’s few saving graces is the return of the brilliant map editor that first made an appearance in Far Cry 2. You can create maps of any variety you like, with the ability to edit the terrain, weather, foliage and feel in any way you desire. Creating a decent map is not for the faint-hearted, and it will take a long time, but the sheer wealth of options available is enough to make it stand out amongst the other titles that offer similar features. Unfortunately, despite offering so much, Far Cry 3’s map editor also has a selection of problems to contend with.

Arguably the biggest problem with the map editor is that what is the point of spending so much time crafting the finest map you can think of if the community is so small that there’s a strong chance it’ll never get played, and that the matchmaking would even make it easy at that? Also, the frankly ludicrous removal of vehicles from multiplayer means that any map that contains vehicles is not able to be played in the multiplayer, and if it’s even remotely resembling large without vehicles, it won’t play well as a result. What could have been one of Far Cry 3’s shining accomplishments merely twinkles due to a series of issues that needn’t have been there to hinder it.

Rook Island is a joy to experience for yourself. What Ubisoft have created with Far Cry 3 is nothing short of mesmerising, captivating, interesting, exciting and a dozen more words ending with ‘ing’. The game drags you in from the moment you start playing and refuses to let you go until you’ve conquered your hundredth shark, thousandth enemy and flown across the map for the twentieth time.

While it’s mostly a joyful ride during the singleplayer, the multiplayer component is severely lacking and feels rushed compared to the far, far superior offline mode. However, if you set aside the failings of the online compartment and focus solely on the achievements of the offline, you have a game that is oozing with atmosphere and one that Ubisoft should be proud of having in their catalogue. Now stop reading and get back to hunting those bears before night falls!

 

Rating: 8.4/10

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