Up until just recently, I was completely jaded with the FPS genre. Most of the popular titles have come from the likes of Call of Duty and the Halo-verse, with only the occasional gem appearing to remind us there’s still solid competition out there (Bioshock being a prime example). I was a little late to the party, but Killzone and Resistance helped to pull me out of my slump, but as fun as they were, the experience they provided was more or less the same. This lead to the realization that shooters just weren’t going to cut it anymore, which was an incredibly tough pill to swallow. My earliest and fondest gaming memories are the direct result of Wolfenstein 3D, Doom, Heretic, Duke Nukem 3D… the list goes on. It seemed that all hope was lost…
…or was it?
I was never a fan of the Far Cry series. The action failed to evoke much excitement, and the plot and characters? I would have seen more diversity in a box of Saltines. Far Cry 1 and 2 weren’t awful, mind you, but they were average at best, offering nothing memorable for the time invested. Still, many critics had good things to say about them, so when Far Cry 3 was released with praise across the board, I ignored them and went on my merry way. It wasn’t long before people I knew and respected began to tell me it was one of the best games they’ve played in some time, and that’s when I began to listen. After hearing a bunch of intriguing details, I started to read the reviews and watch a bunch of gameplay vids. “Well, I guess I’m going to have to play this!” I was still concerned because of the first two games however, so I figured I’d wait for a price drop. Well, it dropped a whopping $40 on Amazon one week, so I bought it.
The verdict? Far Cry 3 is good. REAL good.
Things kick off with a bunch of 20-something friends on vacation. They party in Bankok to a montage backed by MIA’s Paper Planes, and things get even crazier on a daring skydiving adventure… and not because they’re jumping out of a plane. You land on a tropical island infested by pirates – no, not the overcoat and feathered cap wearing fiends you’re thinking of, you silly bastage – and just your luck, they specialize in slave trading. The leader of batshit-ville, Vaas, plans to extort your families and sell you into slavery anyway. Your holding cell is fairly primitive, so you and your brother bust out and make a run for it. Moments later, he’s ruthlessly murdered before your very eyes… and Vaas is amused. Inspired by his insanity, he leaves you alive just long enough to be hunted by his goons, but you manage to evade them and join the native resistance. Dennis, who knows the island inside and out, sees your arrival as a sign and enlists your aid. Why would you help him? Well, your other friends are still in captivity, and joining the locals will provide the necessary backing you need to get them out.
It’s a plain Jane premise, but it’s an in-depth and personal experience. You start as a timid man with little purpose in life, but when given a taste of the jungle, you slowly transition into a warrior. One of the most impressive aspects of the game is that this doesn’t just play out conceptually. No, if you want to run with the warrior moniker, you’re going to have to earn it… and really, that’s where most of the fun is.
Here’s the typical shoot-to-snooze formula – You get dropped on one side of the map, cut your way through a linear path and progress to the next level. Thankfully, Far Cry 3 busts out of this mold and offers a vast jungle playground to explore at your leisure. How does that translate? Well, if you believe the promo material, it’s ‘like Skyrim with guns’. Such a description is misleading, but there are some fortunate similarities. First and foremost, you don’t have to tackle any of the main story missions until you’re good and ready. Want to wander around and take on a bunch of bad guys to beef up your skill trees? Go right ahead. In fact, I highly encourage it.
Far Cry 3 is a sandbox come alive. Wildlife is diverse and not just strewn about to look pretty. Hunting them is actually one of the most important aspects of the game, because you need animal hides to craft items that will allow you carry as much artillery as possible. Running into a vast majority of the story missions without the ability to carry multiple weapons or the accompanying ammo is a bad idea, and you should craft a better wallet so you can hold more money as well. You’re one guy against an island teeming with pirates remember, so you’re going to want to get your hunting and crafting out of the way as soon as possible.
Animals are even more useful if you know how to use them. In this game, stealth is one of your best friends. Yes, you can go into most situations screaming death if that’s your thing, but remaining undetected will yield significantly more experience points (like, three times as much). A ton of pirate run outposts are spread across the island, and you can purify them with hot lead and claim them for yourself. Each stronghold you liberate will become another place where you can fast-travel to and stock up. You can go about this in numerous ways, but only one seems effective if you wish to remain unseen. You can attempt to sneak you way into the outpost and disable the alarm system, but your chances of pulling this off without attracting attention is slim at best. All it takes is for one guy to see you and shout at his buddies, and they’ll be running for the switch to call reinforcements… and you DON’T want that to happen. Your best bet is to hide in the foliage from 100 yards away, whip out your binoculars, and then ‘tag’ each and every enemy on your HUD so you can pick them off one-by-one. Don’t expect an easy battle each time, because the AI isn’t completely helpless. They’ll scramble to take cover, while a few grunts rush to close in on you. It’s tempting to get up and make a run for it, but then you’d be spotted. You could throw rocks to lead the pirates away from you, but why play it so riskily? No, pick someone off and slowly make your way to another vantage point. Once the enemies figure they won’t find you, take out your next target.
If this method of dispatch is too ‘clean’ for you however, there are other options. Here’s where the wildlife becomes useful again – Are there tigers or komodo dragons lurking about? Perhaps a bear? String them along by throwing rocks in front of them – They’ll follow the sound to see what’s what… until they’re at the doorstep of the camp and realize an entire buffet is inside. Play your cards right, and these vicious beasts can do most of the work for you. Some camps even keep these animals locked in a cage… which you can easily shoot open from a distance. This makes your job all the more easy, and satisfying, too. Still, be cautious not to end up on the menu yourself. Stay in a single location long enough and you’re chow. Sometimes you’ll hear a growl and can make a run for it, but sometimes you won’t hear them until they’re breathing down your neck. You’ll have no choice but to defend yourself, which will blow your cover to nearby enemies at the same time. Play it slick by hiding in the water, and a crocodile will greet you with a toothy ‘hello’. Sometimes, other animals will cross the path of these predators, and that’s really the best distraction you can hope for, because they’ll go for whatever’s closest. Needless to say, be weary of your surroundings at all times. This includes keeping an eye on the plants around you, because they can be used to make inject-able health serums, among other temporary stat boosters.
But before you go all willy-nilly attacking outposts, hunting animals and picking flowers, you should climb as many radio towers as possible. For starters, it’s the only way to get a proper lay of the land. Each active tower acts as a signal jammer, so you need to platform your way up to the top and shut it down. After this is accomplished, you can see the immediate area on your map, which includes every topographical feature, not to mention vehicle and outpost locations. That not enough for ya? How about free weapons? Sure, you could buy any weapon you want in any given store… but you can unlock every weapon in the game just by climbing all the radio towers. All you should ever have to buy in Far Cry 3 is ammo. Anything more, and you’re doing it wrong. Period.
I mentioned you could fast-travel, but I’m not sure you’re going to want to. There’s a big selection of land vehicles at your disposal, but you can also hang-glide. If that’s not daring enough, you can glide off large cliffs with a wing-suit complete with parachute. Even the shark infested waters can be traversed with a small selection of watercraft. It’s all as fun as it sounds, believe me… especially since many of these vehicles have mounted turrets you can play with. Joygasm! Good times are guaranteed!
Far Cry 3 truly has it all, most surprising of all being an immersive campaign. As mentioned above, the devs aimed for something more than a simple ‘go here and destroy’ mission set. Each mission offers a unique experience that you’re likely to remember for some time to come. For example, there are a few missions where you’ll take drug induced journeys of spirituality… and let me tell you, they are AMAZE-BALLS! Hallucinations will mix visions of the past, present and future in a terrifying way, apparitions will mess with your mind, normally inanimate objects – such as cabins and trees – will move or convincing grow from the ground. I’m not one for hallucinogenic drugs, but I do appreciate how a mainstream developer are conveying them in a positive light. In the case of our main character, they reveal certain truths that influence a new way of thinking, which propels him to embrace fear instead of running from it. The more typical missions are just as memorable, too. You’ll use a vehicle mounted turret in high speed chases, or mini-guns from choppers in the sky. To step on the toes of one of the top dogs, you’ll burn pot fields down with a flame thrower. After acquiring an enemy uniform, you’ll feel your nerves shatter as you walk freely amongst the very people who are out to get you. It’s refreshing to take part in a FPS that experiments with a variety of gameplay types, especially since it does it all so well.
My only complaints are a bit on the nitpicky side. I’ll take aim at the ‘Skyrim with guns’ comparison again, because while Far Cry 3 is one of the most ambitious FPS’s of all time, it’s still lacking in one key area – Replay value. Skyrim hooks you with its diverse locales as well as its smorgasbord of interactive NPC’s, but most of the friendly folk in this game look and sound the same, so your encounters with them are fairly meaningless. Also, once you free all the outposts, climb all the radio towers and do all the side stuff, there’s no incentive to keep playing unless you feel like starting over (even though you can free-roam after you’ve won the game).
Lastly, the campaign is a little short… yet this isn’t a problem in the slightest. The game encourages you to free-roam so you can craft and beef up your skill tree – both of which are vital to your survival – so almost none of the side missions feel like filler. You’re not climbing towers or taking outposts for useless collectibles (although there’s plenty of stuff to find if you’re into that sort of thing), and hunting isn’t merely about obtaining Xbox Live gamer points or PSN trophies. No, each of these tasks will reward you with something significant, so everything you do in Far Cry 3 is integral to the overall experience. The devs have effectively blurred the line between its primary objectives and fluff, something which is hard to accomplish in any genre, let alone a FPS.
Minor quips aside, you should believe all the hype. Far Cry 3 is unquestionably one of the best games of 2012, if not one of the best shooters of this generation. The bar for the genre has been raised, and I can’t wait to see if Ubisoft can match or even exceed my expectations with Far Cry 4. Can’t wait that long? Don’t worry, because there’s a stand-alone DLC game that you’ll want… no, that you’ll NEED to play – Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon. An entirely different experience than the game it shares its title with, you’re transported into a balls-to-the-wall action-fest straight out of the 80’s. I’m playing it now, and it. Is. Amazing. I’ll post my thoughts on it soon enough, but here’s what you need to know right now – It parodies a bunch of 80’s action flicks. Michael Biehn (Kyle Reese from The Terminator, Hicks in Aliens, etc.) voices the main character. Everything is drenched in neon colors. The weapons are redonkulous. If you’re not excited about this, then you’re just not human.
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