When this game came on sale for $30 on Steam, I had some sort of itch to play this game. It was my birthday recently, and I decided to spend some of that money on some games, Far Cry 3 included. After all, who could argue with playing Giantbomb's Almost-Game-of-the-Year? Now that I'm about halfway through, I decided to jot down some things I've noticed about the game.
I never touched Far Cry 2, but I have played a little bit of the first Far Cry just to get a sense of what the games are fundamentally about. It seemed cool, but then I had other games to play, and the original Far Cry just seemed too dated to hold my interest. It still looks nice for a 9-year-old game. (Though, I think Half Life 2 looks a bit better.) I'll probably go back to it some day, but Far Cry 3 is without discussion superior in every way.
Now, I really like open world games in general. They give me the power to do a multitude of things within the game's rules and still allow me to tell my own story. In Far Cry 3, I was able to craft the story of a man who shot an enemy truck driver in the face, leading to the truck flipping over, killing the passenger, and exploding, all from a single bullet, and just before a tiger ran up to me and chased me to an enemy stronghold and wiped out half the guards there before succumbing to a Molotov. The story continues from there, and open world games like Far Cry 3 allow me to tell my own personal experience that I feel is so rewarding.
Not that the game's own story seems to be any good so far. While the game sure opens strong, the rest of it feels pretty flat. There's the ever-present character dissonance, like in many games of late, where it takes little time for the character you play as to go from "I've never held a gun in my life." to "most efficient mass murderer in history," but that is the least of the story's problems. The goal is to rescue all of your friends and get off the island, but it feels like every time you're one step closer to meeting that end you get a cutscene that mostly just affirms celebration of game progression through the game without any meaningful story progression of character development. I rescued one guy, and all I ever got out of saving him was something along the lines of, "Great, man! Keep going!" It's not doing anything for me. Vaas is great, though, and I'd hate to see if his character is ruined in the end or not. (Do not tell me. I will find out myself.)
I've also heard talk about the game being kind of racist, and I came into the mindset that there was a particular scene that was offensive, or something along those lines, but the problems are actually intertwined into the story's themes. There's a list of sidequests known as "Story Quests" (confusing, right?) which are basically "fetch some things for me because you are, like, the chosen one." It's amazing how the islanders are in awe at the magical bullshit you are supposedly able to possess, and they use that knowledge to use you for their petty grievances like taking photographs of dead people, spying on husbands, and confirming the existence of aliens. Are the islanders really that pathetic that some obnoxious white kid can crash land into the island and put the mystical native magic to better use than any of the natives. They practically revere him as some kind of hero that will deliver them out of the darkness. This is the "Noble Savage" trope in all its non-subverted pureness. I would like to hope that the racism implied in Far Cry 3 is due to incompetency in the writing and not a reflection of the writer's actual views.
So the story is disappointing, to say the least, but after hearing discussion on the Bombcast and elsewhere I wasn't at all surprised. I did expect great gameplay, however, and in that regard I wasn't let down at all. The shooting feels great as it should in all FPS games, but where the game really shines is your ability to take out dudes however you want. I could go in guns blazing, snipe enemies from afar and watch as they freak out over nothing, or stab dudes in the face and neck up close and personal. Whichever gun or method I choose, it's always fun to kill dudes. Sometimes, random events in the world happen, such as firefights between pirates and animals or natives, and things like that help make the island feel like a living world. The AI is kind of dumb in spots, but it makes up for it in being really dumb in others. I watched as an AI buddy walked into a burning gas tank and died while another affirmed how awesome of a person he was until he stupidly walked into the tank and burned to death himself. There are plenty of ridiculous AI moments like that, so don't worry. Climbing radio towers is also pretty fun for something that sounds so mundane, and the game does a great job of making the rusty, dilapidated radio towers feel like they will collapse at any minute as they creak in the wind and fall apart. Reaching the top sets off a new and exciting adventure every time, as you view your newly sighted lands just waiting to be explored.
And boy, how awesome exploring is. While there's basically only one environment (jungle) the island's terrain is full of interesting little nooks and crannies that surprise at every turn. There are treacherous roads that aren't marked on the map to drive on, mountains to climb, rivers to swim across, waterfalls to jump off, and caves, caves everywhere, to search for relics. A few spots even include massive vertical craters with water at the bottom, and they look awesome. It also helps that the game looks incredible on PC, where you can best appreciate the game's smallest details. There are all sorts of animals on the island including deer, pigs, tapirs, cassowaries, bears, and the infamous tigers. What deer and bears are doing in the same tropical world as cassowaries and tapirs is beyond my understanding, but coming across these animals is pretty cool nonetheless. Sometimes, the animals will even help you out, such as tigers and bears destroying enemy camps at short notice. Some animals are encountered all the time while others, such as the snake and the crocodile, appear so infrequently that when they manage to jump out and bite my arm out of nowhere it frightens me every time.
The crafting is pretty interesting, as it's mainly a system implemented to keep you from unlocking all the good stuff early on. It only takes animal skins to craft better gear, so I spent the first few hours exploring the island looking for animals to kill, and within little time I had some pretty badass gear with me. It seems kind of cheap that you can get the best equipment in the game pretty early, but that's balanced out by the massive amount of enemies who want you dead as well as the fact that you are not a bullet sponge.
The other system in related regards is the skill tree. There are three different trees you can spec in, and they mainly boil down into Ranger, Tank, and Stealth classes. It doesn't take long for you to level up, and you can get some pretty cool skills, such as jumping on dudes to their deaths and throwing an enemy's knife at another enemy after you took him down. You can unlock every skill in the game, which I feel is kind of lame in an age where you can have interesting character builds that play in totally different ways (like Borderlands) but that probably isn't the focus of the game. I have gotten to the point where I've basically unlocked every skill that I care about already and am just waiting for the rest to unlock, which is lame especially given that you can acquire every skill eventually.
I haven't made it to the second island yet, but what I have seen so far has been a mainly positive experience. It's just really fun to shoot stuff in this game, and the freedom it allows you to do whatever is amazing. I've had a great time with the game so far; however, I also feel that the best of times are behind me as I mainly prepare to finish the game. I can't think of a way that the second island could shake things up a bit, as I imagine I will be doing the same stuff over again. Everything I've heard about the squandered potential of this game is a total bummer. That said, I will be excited to continue stabbing dudes, exploring islands, and laughing at AI comedy, right after the halftime show is over.