Far Cry 3 review: Stunning shooter could be the year's best game
21st Nov 2012 | 17:00
"Go!" the native islander says to you. "Return to me once you have mastered the jungle." "Wait, what does that mean?" Jason Brody replies. It means, as you'll soon discover, 25 hours of death-rolling in a crocodile's maw and impaling unstable mercenaries with a sniper-sights-equipped bow and arrow.
It means 25 hours of mid-air assassinations following ripping hang glider rides. It means lurking after man-eating tigers in heavy undergrowth. It means moonlit buggy rides along water-lapped coasts. In
During that time, your in-game alter-ego Jason Brody turns from tourist to tribal warrior. After he and his college-chic friends skydive onto what looks, from the air at least, like a tropical paradise set deep in the Asian-Pacific - only to find a band of killer mercenaries waiting at the bottom - there's only one way he can get everyone out alive: become a killer himself.
Apt for a tale of wavering humanity, Rook Islands is the perfect place to lose yourself. A vast archipelago, it's crisscrossed with deep blue bodies of water and winding crystal streams; punched through with pitch black cave systems; chequered with verdant forestry and grassy plains (nicely flammable when the flamethrowers come a-knocking); lined by white sandy beaches; and also liberally scattered with forces both foe and friendly. In short, it's an epic tropical playground, exhilaratingly open from the off. Panoramic views from towering peaks, or indeed, one of the many hang gliders liberally perched atop them, attest to that.
Such scale, though, comes at a price: flickering, screen-tearing and stuttering framerates are sometimes hard to ignore. While a non-issue on PC's powerful enough, where the game looks predictably jaw-dropping, they're a distracting console bugbear. Don't let it put you off. Far Cry 3's ambition, scale and ideas far outweigh its technical wobbles.
Take the pursuits, of which there are literally dozens. The most fruitful involves scaling radio towers to reveal portions of map, each of the 18 a self-contained climbing puzzle. Some require balancing on rusty beams, others are launched onto by zip-line. There's more: you could take part in buggy races or knife-throwing contests; beat a time limit to deliver supplies; gamble over cards; collect bounties on wanted men; compete in leaderboard-enabled all-you-can-kill challenges; sell scavenged trinkets like passports and lighters; sniff out tombs hiding ancient relics (they're worth a little more); pick plants to make syringes of a medicinal, fireproof, or animal-repellent effect; hunt for secret letters found on the bodies of Japanese WWII pilots; intervene in whatever random event comes your way, say, an execution or roaming chain gang; or just make your own fun. (Chasing a herd of deer on a quad bike at sunset comes highly recommended.)
This is certainly not the bleak wilderness of Ubisoft's last epic free-roam,
You'll come to know this well through Path of the Hunter challenges. Starting off simple - kill the wild dogs that have been terrorising livestock- they end with you scouting powerful and even mythical beasts, like 'undying' bears, albino crocodiles, golden tigers and man-eating sharks (your guns won't function underwater, so you'll either have to lure it to land or smash it with a jet ski). In combat, animals are a welcome third party, an unpredictable agent of chaos, and brilliantly effective against enemy outposts. Thirty-six posts litter the island, and ridding them of occupants allows friendly forces to permanently set up shops, fast-travel stations and quest boards.
Of course, you could clear them using the smart stealth play, where a new detection meter offers crucial readability into the alert status of guards, enemy-marking with a digital camera lets you track through walls, and thrown rocks act as distraction devices - but it's always more fun to shoot the lock off a bear cage and watch its rampage. Animals inform the Rook Islands of both beauty and peril, a new diversity in sound, colour and life.
As well as the roaring, biting and snarling additions to the setting, it's less overt improvements that make
Even traversal's a riot thanks to jeeps, gunboats, trucks, and later, a squirrel suit-and-parachute combo which opens up new levels of breezy mobility - one quest involves 'extracting' from the highest bridge on the island, James Bond style. A commitment to the first-person perspective throughout is commendable. Ubisoft never take you out of the driving seat, even if that driving seat is tumbling down the edge of a mountain backwards then being death-rolled by a crocodile.
Sadly, this carefree spirit of adventure isn't always shared by the narrative, a downbeat and increasingly brutal saga starting with human trafficking and hallucinogens, incorporating a bit of amputation and forced sodomy, and topped off with troubling self-confrontation.
THE GOOD SIX SHOW
Most criminally, it needlessly flits between villains when the perfect one's in plain sight - on the front of the box, in fact - the anarchic mercenary Vaas. Actor Michael Mando gives an astonishing performance, combining trace elements of Batman's Joker and Saw's Jigsaw on multiple handfuls of Pro Plus, but a decision is made in the second half of the game that frustrates and disappoints. After a promising opening, casting you as holiday party hero saving girlfriends from burning buildings and spelunking after druggy mushrooms, the game abandons its six-friend, find-them-and-rescue them structure (essentially, each friend being a mission), and thereby it's fun.
You're given access to a second island once you've seen to business on the first, and its a weaker setting, wide open and desolate, meaner thanks to armoured professional soldiers replacing rag-tag mercenaries, and home to less compelling characters. Everything (and everyone) you love is on the first island, but you have to finish the game to get back there.
Some brutal difficulty spikes also spoil the party. There's a sea-sick-inducing speedboat chase with an uncontrollable turret, and a boat infiltration in open water where, given the lack of cover and abundance of enemies, stealth plays a back seat to hiding in a corner and hoping on-rushers get snagged on a piece of scenery long enough for you to heal. Springing a dozen enemies on you in packed confines is the very essence of unfair. There are also several excruciating escort missions - one through a mine-laden rice paddy field - and deaths even at the very end of set-pieces will make you restart at the beginning. In truth, Far Cry 3 doesn't end as well as it begins. But it doesn't matter. These flaws don't manage to ruin the sublime, multi-dozen-hour adventure built around them.
And when it ends you can pick up right where you left off and continue making marks on the island, spending skill points on techniques like takedown-chaining, quieter running and grenade executions, or dive into the map editor/sharer (nicely versatile, and now with AI bots, if not a huge departure from
From inventive modes like the two-phase Firefight (ignite the opposition's depot and call down a napalm strike, then race to capture a neutral radio tower) through unlockable team support like propane drops and mind-altering gas which turns both friend and foe into glowing-eyed demons, to a map rotation soon to be packed with typically ingenious user-made offerings, it's clear multiplayer has been given serious thought. Yet, thought alone doesn't distinguish it from the more mechanically sound triumvirate of
Better is a four-way co-op which swaps free-roaming for six half-hour missions. The linearity focuses, almost enforces, teamwork: battle cries buff allies' stats, syringes can be shared, enemies tagged and teammates revived (a necessity if you want anyone to lend a hand later).
Co-op is class-based too, meaning players can assume sniper, assault, grenadier or support roles and work in tandem. Levels are essentially corridors, but with persistent player unlocks, they're made to be replayed over and over for fresh weapons, attachments and perks native to the mode. Crescendo moments where you'll defend points from dogs and jeeps, repair getaway trains, and collect explosives to block chokepoints, are highlights requiring four players with their fingers on the pulse. Before playing it you'll wonder why Ubisoft didn't incorporate co-op into free-roam; after, you'll wonder why they didn't make more of it.
"Wait, what does that mean?", Jason Brody asks at the game's opening. Well, after a 25-hour story, five hours of co-op and a napalm strike in multiplayer, you'll know exactly what it means. Because, despite technical shortcomings on consoles and a disappointing final third,