My experience with the Far Cry series has been pretty limited. I played a tiny bit of Far Cry Instincts Predator on the 360, then a little more of Far Cry 2, and then most of Far Cry Primal. I have no real memory of Instincts, I sort of enjoyed 2 but ultimately found it too frustrating to get very far in, and I really enjoyed Primal’s unique setting and set of weapons but tired of its mission design and storytelling.
The reason I never played Far Cry 3, arguably the series’ critical zenith if you consider the quality of the games at the time they were released, is that the 360 port was said to be bad and I didn’t have a PC that could run it. I assumed it would get a port to the 8th gen consoles, but that didn’t end up happening until May 2018, with the release of Far Cry 3 classic edition. That was the version of the game I played, and I note that because some of my issues may relate to it being a sloppy port. It definitely has some bugs and technical issues, including a “water on camera” effect that persisted a few times well after I passed through a waterfall, quest markers that stayed on my minimap after quests were completed, some physics bugs, and other stuff like that. One of my main complaints is that holding the Y button to heal or put out fire often felt very unresponsive. If you caught on fire and pressed the Y button to early you might heal or you might do nothing, and in general the game seemed to ignore the heal command quite often, leading to frustrating deaths. I’ve read that this existed in the original game and I think that it might relate to your character’s animations (basically if your character is animating in some way, such as falling or vaulting over something, when you press the heal it won’t queue up the action even if you hold the button) but since this is a first person game it’s not always possible to tell when there’s some animation playing if you don’t see your body doing it. Whatever the issue it was frustrating and annoying but not gamebreaking.
I write that long preamble because I did not have a great time with Far Cry 3. The game starts with your character and his unlikable rich friends partying, in what turns out to be a video on your phone, replayed to you by your captors. You went skydiving on an island that’s apparently crawling with armed pirates and they’re holding you for ransom and intend to sell you into slavery. The whole slavery angle of the game is, frankly, ridiculous. Of course slavery still exists in the modern world, but this game postulates a slave trade where rich white people can not only be sold into slavery but sent as slaves to Western cities like New York. To the extent there is slavery in a place like New York it is of poor people without access to papers or the knowledge/language skills to access local help. You can’t sell rich white Americans as slaves for the Western world, and their value outside the Western world as slaves is rather limited as well. The game luridly hints at the sexual aspects of slavery but doesn’t get explicit about it because it doesn’t have the courage of its narrative convictions. It makes the topic feel both exploitative and pretty silly, which is not a great combination.
Of course this is a video game and it doesn’t need to be realistic, but the slavery stuff was just part of one of the major things that bothered me about this game, which is its complete disinterest in the actual inhabitants of the island. It cares about the troubles and tribulations of the white people, and everyone else is just backdrop. The game does have some characters who are island inhabitants but three of the major quest givers are all Americans of a sort and the characters who are not American are all truly awful in one way or another. Everyone in the game is stupid in a number of ways, the plot is full of coincidences and improbabilities, and I just did not care about anything that was happening. Even the game’s breakout character Vaas did not interest me. Getting captured over and over so that Vaas can monologue at me made me feel like I was playing an interactive movie where nothing I did actually mattered. Vaas’ repeated dumb attempts to kill Jason even after he knows what a dangerous threat Jason is just made him seem ineffectual and buffoonish, rather than formidable. You’re going to shoot your arch nemesis and throw him in a mass grave without even checking for blood or a pulse? Whatever happened to cutting your enemy’s head off and mounting it on the road as a warning to others? Do any of these villains even care about their craft?
Of course an open world shooter doesn’t need to have a good story to be a good game. Primal, with its characters who only have the rudiments of speech, barely even has a story. Looking at gameplay Far Cry 3 does fair much better than its clumsy attempts at storytelling. At first I was having a pretty good time. The tropical setting isn’t cutting edge anymore but it’s still attractive and at times even beautiful. Open world activities like hunting animals to upgrade your various carrying capacities, climbing towers to open up the map, and taking over outposts are all reasonably fun. I especially appreciated how after you cleared out an outpost the NPCs in the area would be friendly rather than enemies, which really made me feel like I was impacting the island in a way that most open world games don’t. The gunplay is mostly solid and progression is good at the outset of the game.
The cracks started showing before the game was half done though. There aren’t actually that many upgrades to hunt and even mostly going after targets of opportunity rather than seeking animals out I got all the upgrades that don’t require unique missions fairly easily. After that the animals just start being annoying. I know that there have been many words written about the Far Cry predators and their relentless assaults, QTE attacks, and ability to soak up bullets, but that doesn’t make it fun to be doing something and have a tiger maul you, attacking too quickly for you to heal up between and capable of shrugging off an entire clip of ammunition. It’s just irritating and frustrating. Also the driving in this game is awful. It reminded me of the terrible driving in Cyberpunk 2077, but without the motorcycles to make it tolerable. I never enjoy first person stealth and I didn’t enjoy it here (it’s too damned hard to keep track of where enemies are looking when you have such a limited field of view). The first person platforming is also pretty bad, especially on some of the later radio towers where you are expected to stay on tiny walkways that you can’t see your character’s feet to stay on or make difficult jumps with a jump button that suffers from the same inconsistency as the healing. I do enjoy first person platforming sometimes, but here it’s just annoying. Progression slows to a crawl later in the game and none of the late game guns feel like significant upgrades, while you can quickly have enough carrying capacity that you don’t need to worry about it if you make an effort to hunt the relevant animals when you’re close to them.
My biggest grip with Far Cry 3 wasn’t the general gameplay. It was the mission design. Ubisoft must employ the absolute worst mission designers of any major publisher. They’re just abysmal. The first few story missions are mostly okay as they introduce you to the game’s mechanics, but soon the game starts varying its story missions between hyper linear boring affairs and extremely frustrating difficulty spikes of one sort or another. There are a handful of missions in the game that stand out in a positive way (everyone talks up the mission where you burn the marijuana fields, and yeah, that was genuinely fun) but mostly they are either extremely forgettable or memorable for the wrong reasons. There’s a forced stealth mission where you steal an enemy uniform and I probably failed it a dozen times as the game gave me useless tool tips like “hide in the foliage” (it takes place in a cave with no plants) or “throw a rock to distract enemies” (this is the worst thing you can do in that mission; the actual winning strategy is just to wait around until the enemies wander off and you can easily sneak through.) I’m partly to blame for this because of my dislike of stealth and lack of patience, but the actual mission design is just “wait around for a bit while nothing happens and then the enemies will wander off” and that’s…extremely unfun. Thanks for designing a mission that even when played properly is a giant waste of time. Maybe if senior staff at Ubisoft spent more time listening to junior designers instead of abusing and sexually harassing them they could design fewer garbage tier quality missions. At the end of the uniform stealing mission a bad guy NPC encourages his henchmen to commit rape and then burns a nameless indigenous person alive to show what a cruel bastard he is, and it made the whole thing feel sordid, ugly, racist, and gross. The game’s final mission has a long turret section where you have to shoot RPG enemies who are so far away they’re smaller than ants and who can sometimes shoot you before they’re even within the turning radius of your gun. I got through this mission by memorizing the locations I had to shoot and it turned what was supposed to be a thrilling escape into a tedious chore, especially with the turret’s lack of accuracy at range. I could name a half dozen other missions I think are objectively bad.
It’s not just the mechanics of the missions that are annoying. There’s also a weird interlude where Far Cry 3 essentially becomes a first person Uncharted game except very mediocre. This drags on for like 20% of the game, where you’re raiding a bunch of ancient tombs, guarded by the same enemies you see in the rest of the game, solving some rudimentary puzzles, and doing even more bad platforming. The boss fights are mostly QTEs in backgrounds that are representative of your main character’s mental state rather than literal. I don’t think I actually know how many of the bosses died in the literal story of the game because what your character imagines he’s doing is different from what has actually happened. These kinds of weird digressions and hiding the literal reality make it hard to invest in the game’s plot in a meaningful way. I didn’t really like the story the game was telling, but the choices made in the missions that actually tell that story made it resonate even less for me.
Part of why I didn’t like Far Cry definitely comes down to how many Ubisoft formula games I’ve played, especially in the last few years. I’ve played all three Watch_Dogs games, every formulaic Assassin’s Creed title, and I even finished the much maligned but actually not that bad Immortals: Fenix Rising whose name I absolutely had to look up because it’s so generic. Far Cry 3 does a lot of the same things as those games but it lacks Watch_Dogs hacking gimmicks, Assassin’s Creed’s strong settings and twists on the formula (like the pirate stuff in AC IV or the gang stuff in Syndicate) or Immortal’s puzzle dungeons and exploration. Instead it has solid but unspectacular gun play and terrible platforming. Maybe at the time the formula felt a bit fresher (though this was not the first game to employ it) or the performances stood out more than they do today. Regardless, while I had intermittent fun with Far Cry 3 I can’t say that I enjoyed the game overall, and there were times when I even hated it. I’ll probably keep exploring the series to see if any of the later games resonate with me more, but for a game I was really anticipating this one felt like it brought nothing new to the table except the experience of watching a tiger shrug off enough ammo to take out a whole base of humans.