Great on gameplay, poor on story
The Far Cry series has come a long way since Jack Carver found himself trapped on a island with terrifying, Dr, Moreau-style beasts. After taking the franchise away from Crytek, Ubisoft Montreal pulled it out of its sci-fi roots and grounding it in reality as Far Cry 2 set the conflict within war torn parts of Africa. Far Cry 3 brings players back to the lush, tropical island paradise ruled by violent pirates who have terrified the natives into fearful compliance. Far Cry 3 is more than a serviceable shooter but is mired by some narrative stumbles, the most egregious offense is how it squanders the Apocalypse Now vibe that had been featured so prominently during its promotion.
Mechanically speaking, Far Cry 3 doesn't do much to set itself apart from previous games. Set within a large open world environment, the player is given free reign to approach objectives any way they wish and proper enemy tracking is achieved by tagging enemies through a camera. The story involve the plight of Jason Brody and has been captured alongside his friends by Vaas, a brilliantly portrayed maniac under the employ of a dangerous human trafficker. After breaking free from his captives, Jason begins a quest for revenge and allies with the island natives who call themselves the Rakyat while developing an affinity for the island's mysticism through his tatau (i.e., a standard skill tree). Jason's fight will ultimately inspire the Rakyat to do battle against their tormentors as story missions will have the hero disrupting pirate operations all over the island.
As a game, Far Cry 3 is no different from any other atypical open world shooter. The player is free to wander off at any time in order to complete side missions, bounties and special hunts that yield extra cash and other useful items. The island's animal inhabitants play a large role because their skins are used to craft gear that increase the number of items and weapons Jason keeps on hand. Crafting, be it equipment, medicine, combat boosters or special ammo, is mired by a clunky menu system that could do a better job with communicating what the player needs create items. It seems messier than it needs to be.
There are a dearth of guns to choose from that can either be purchased in stores or given out for free by disabling seventeen radio towers scattered all over the island, thus making the earning money mechanic pointless outside of refilling ammo and purchasing weapon mods. This pointlessness also extends to the practice of hunting animals. To expand his inventory and ammo capacity, Jason must collect a specific number of animal skins in order to craft the upgrades. After the final upgrade is obtained, there is no reason to hunt.You're welcome to collect animal skins and sell them for cash but many of them don't carry a large enough cash value that's worthy of the effort.
The listlessness I felt towards hunting and earning money is as result of Ubisoft giving the player too much freedom. Within the first few hours of the game, I deactivated all the radio towers on the main island and unlocked nearly all of the equipment upgrades and my reward was the feeling of being unfulfilled. I was initially happy with the amount of navigation freedom over a game like Assassin's Creed Brotherhood, a title that locked a number of Borgia towers behind Animus barriers. When looking at both games, however, Brotherhood's barriers gave me the drive and motivation to advance further knowing that I'd get those last few towers and satiate my OCD. Far Cry 3 lacks that motivation because there aren't as many barriers.
Anyway, back to the review. Getting around the island is accomplished either on foot, by car or by utilizing a fast travel system across pirate outposts that must first be cleared out. Liberating outposts ends up being the most rewarding aspect of the game because it lets the player off the leash. You might be thinking, "Don't the story missions allow you to play how you want?" The answer is: kinda. While there are some missions that allow you to approach the task or enemies through stealth or direct combat, others will force you into a strict stealth mode where detection leads to an automatic mission failure (which I greatly despise). This is especially troublesome because the stealth mechanic isn't all that compelling. Borrowing from the Dishonored school of stealth design, breaking the enemy's line of sight by hiding behind an object is more than enough to evade notice and getting a face full of bullets. As far as the pirate outposts are concerned, want to jump in with guns blazing? Go right ahead. When they become aware of your presence, they'll trigger an alarm that will summon waves of additional reinforcements. Otherwise disabling one alarm control box will shut down the outpost's entire security system. As fun as taking out foes with chain guns and setting the surrounding jungle on fire with molotovs can be, emptying out the camp through stealth can be incredibly fulfilling despite the rather blase stealth mechanic.
Far Cry 3's biggest misstep is the narrative and the poor treatment of Jason from spoiled rich kid to someone who has gone native. Based on what I saw at E3 and beyond, I was expecting a psychedelic-fueled Apocalypse Now adventure centering on Jason "losing" himself in the jungle all to the tune of Jefferson Airplane's "White Rabbit". Instead, Far Cry 3 is nothing more than Mighty Whitey Fantasy. Jason Brody, a young and attractive rich male, allies himself with the downtrodden Rakyat who somehow find themselves empowered to take on Vaas only after Jason allies with Citra, despite already having access to high powered weapons. Despite Jason's post-coital cry for leadership, the natives simply stand around and take potshots at nearby wildlife or pirates and show up only after an outpost has been liberated (making their existence even more pointless). Why not let them earn their independence and fight along Jason? Why fuel their status as second class citizens in the eye of Jason and the player? The story finds take an additional dive by tasking Jason with seeking out four compass pieces in order to track down an ancient knife as a means to appease his friend's captor (and suggested rapist), turning the game into a first person Tomb Raider.
The game fails to portray Jason Brody as a character surrounded by an unending circle of darkness, hatred and violence. Rather, he celebrates the "weapons free" nature of his experience. After acquiring a flame thrower from Agent Huntley, Jason fires off one liners such as "I love this gun!" or "This is so cool!" In the game's final act, landing on the main villain's island via a wingsuit is met with Jason's excited cry, "THIS IS AWESOME!" While escaping from Privateers, Wagner's "Ride of the Valkyries" blasts through the tv. Just before the end credits, Jason makes an emotional speech about the violence and anger inside of him and I don't buy it for a second. If you're looking for a game that does a great job presenting a character's descent into madness, depression and anger play Spec Ops.
Far Cry 3 can be a fun game despite my criticism. Having the freedom to engage the enemy outside of the story missions is a worth while experience as are piloting certain vehicles like jet skis and hang gliders (cars? not so much). Taking out the radio towers is interesting because each one is its own traversal puzzle. Fire-based weapons are fun for their ability to set the surrounding environment (and people) on fire. Watching wild animals attack their captors is quite hilarious.
The game is entertaining strictly for its gameplay merits. Don't come in expecting a really great story. There isn't one.