FAR CRY 3 (2012) – UBISOFT MONTREAL
It’s quite difficult to accurately describe the mayhem that can occur in Far Cry 3, but I’ll give it a go – most games nowadays ease you into proceedings, taking about an hour to really to really get going. Within 30 minutes of starting Far Cry 3, I had been mauled to death by a Komodo Dragon and killed by smacking into a cliff whilst on a paraglider. Ubisoft’s Montreal’s open world adventure, released at the end of last year, is one of the recent highlights of the gaming world; a game which at it’s best is an enormously fun adventure through a gigantic sandbox world.
After a trip to the deserts of Africa in Far Cry 2, the third instalment returns the series to its original roots in a jungle environment, spread over several islands collectively known as the Rook Islands. The main story has you taking the role of one Jason Brody, a college graduate with a thirst for adventure who has come to the exotic paradise for a holiday with a group of friends. During a skydiving activity however, things take a sudden turn for the worse as Jason and his friends are captured by a gang of pirates, led by the psychotic Vaas Montenegro (the chap staring angrily at you on the box art and every single piece of promotional material for the game). Jason and his brother Grant manage to escape their prison cell, but upon exiting the camp Grant is shot dead by Vaas, and Jason is forced to flee into the jungle. He is taken in by a local group of native warriors called the Rakyat, who promise to wake Jason into a warrior who can tame the insanity of the jungle. From hereon in, it’s up to you to save Jason friend’s, take revenge on Vaas and escape the islands.
If you have been following this game over the past year, then you surely wouldn’t have failed to notice the emphasis Ubisoft put on the notion of ‘insanity’ – the idea is that everyone in the Rook Islands is meant to be off their rocker, and that as the game progresses Jason moves from being a shaken escapee to a calculating warrior. In execution, the story delivers a very mixed bag – some scenes and sequences are exceptional, and it is little coincidence that many of these are heavily linked to some of the antagonists you meet, including the Australian history lecturer Buck and especially Vaas, who thanks to a captivating performance by Micheal Mando (who did full motion capture for the character along with the voice) has earned his place amongst the best video games villains of recent times. Disappointingly however, these characters get a criminally short amount of screen time, which without giving too much away, absolutely cripples the flow of the story at around the halfway point. It also doesn’t help that Jason is not an endearing protagonist at all; rather than slowly losing grip on his sanity, he goes from being a timid kind of chap to a mass murdering bastard in no seconds flat, and all his friends are utter douchebags that you kind of wish you didn’t have to save. There are also several moments which just seem out of place; Jason randomly references things ranging from Quentin Tarantino and Indiana Jones films to Top Gear for no real reason. When the credits finally rolled, I couldn’t help but think that like in Far Cry 2, Ubisoft haven’t used their strongest assets anywhere near as much as they should have done.
On the gameplay front however, Ubisoft have pretty much nailed it. The second game had a lot of potential, but eventually devolved into very boring ‘go here, kill this, rinse and repeat’ missions for the two factions. Far Cry 3 removes this structure in favour of a much more narrative driven mission structure, and also unceremoniously throws away most of the other features from Far Cry 2 including the buddy system and weapon degradation. In its place though we get the game that Far Cry 2 should have been in the first place. Outside of the main story, Jason will find that the two enormous islands are plagued with pirates who have jammed communication signals, preventing him from seeing the full map. This brings into play one of the biggest and best elements of the game in the form of outposts. Dotted around the islands are over 30 encampments guarded by pirates, and Jason needs to remove all the enemies from the camp before Rakyat reinforcements can come and take over (mercifully, there are no re-spawning enemies anymore). The fun comes from the fact that you can approach this pretty much any way you like. You can go in all guns blazing and cause as many explosions as possible, or you sit back, analyse enemy movements through your binoculars (which will ‘tag’ enemies so they are ever present on your screen) and then enter the camp and sneak around popping a tribal knife in the back of any guard foolish enough not to notice you – or do a mixture of both. The game rewards you with extra experience if you can eliminate opposition without being seen of heard though, so getting used to stealth orientated guns quickly becomes desirable. The camps have been designed specifically to allow trial and error in your approach, and there is no one set way to do things. There is also an excellent level of interactivity on show – some camps have animals from native birds to wild tigers caged away which can be released with a well placed bullet and will then go after their captors (and you if you happen to get in the way). Sometimes, things just happen on their own – at one outpost, just as I was about to get going when a wild pack of dogs came along and wiped out the pirates for me. The outposts show off Far Cry 3 at its very best; sandbox gameplay where any approach is viable and most outcomes leave you with a smile on your face.
Clearing outposts is only one part of the puzzle however, as scattered around the islands are communication towers which Jason must scale in order to unblock the controls. These towers take the form of mini platforming activities, and gradually get trickier as the game progresses. For the most part they are easy enough to get through, but as with all first person games jumping around is an awkward business. When you get to the top, unjamming the tower will play a short cinematic showing areas of interest in the local area, will allow you to see the map, and will also unlock new weapons for you to pick up for free at the local gun store. It also offers the chance to see some of the ridiculous vistas of the island, complete with a sense of vertigo as the towers gently sway in the breeze.
The distractions don’t stop there though – Jason can also spend his time on the island hunting an extraordinary amount of flora and fauna which can then be used to craft bigger item pouches and special medicinal syringes which can improve aim and make you fireproof for a short while amongst other effects. There are races on quad bikes and jet ski’s to compete in, special ‘Wanted’ targets to take out for extra cash, several collectibles including Rakyat relics and Japanese WWII letters to find (which actually show up on the map unlike the exhaustive search for diamonds in Far Cry 2), games of poker to play, and some of the inhabitants of the island will have favours to ask of you. Additionally, you can compete in Trials Of The Rakyat, a selection of scenarios where you must quickly and uniquely take out pirates to score points, which get tallied up against your friends on a leaderboard in game (the high scoring player has their gamertag painted onto a rock, which is a nice touch). There’s plenty of things to keep you occupied for over 30 hours, and that’s not including the time that you will probably spend just messing around on the island, paragliding for no reason other than to see the enormous islands or seeing if you can swim through the shark infested waters without becoming lunch.
There’s one final gameplay element that Ubisoft have done much work to improve – multiplayer. Playing Far Cry 2 online was a laborious and unfair proposition, requiring you to amass unthinkable amounts of XP to level up…providing you could get into a game in the first place. It’s been replaced with a multiplayer suite inevitably influenced by Call Of Duty, complete with levels of customisation that we have all become accustomed to. There are still no dedicated servers, but the gameplay seems more fluid and balanced than last time out, with a few new features including team boosting ‘battle cries’ that raise accuracy and health regeneration for a few seconds, and killstreak perks which include a hallucinogenic gas that can be dropped on enemies so they can’t tell friend from foe. There is also a separate co-op story mode, set six months before the story of the main game, to get involved in. When it was first showed at E3 it looked buggy as hell, but in the final product those wrinkles have been smoothed out. Up to four players can take part in six chapters which sees a group of four individuals, including the most stereotypical and completely uninterpretable Scotsman I have ever witnessed, looking to get revenge on a ship captain who left them for dead on the islands. It can be very hard; even in normal mode enemies come streaming at you from all corners, but it is a solid addition nevertheless. Finally, the ever impressive map editor makes a welcome return for anyone who wants their own hand crafted slice of madness.
With all the chatter about possible new gen systems coming out, Far Cry 3 is a timely reminder of what sort of graphics the current consoles can produce. It’s a staggeringly beautiful game, one that continues to impress long after you put down the controller. It’s genuinely difficult to pick out my favourite parts of the world as even the most inconsequential of vacated huts lying halfway up a mountain just seem in place. It suffers from ever so slight hitches of loading on the Xbox 360 version, but it is a small price to pay for such overall splendour. The best work has been put into cut-scenes, where Ubisoft have made the most of motion capture technology to allow their characters to deliver some excellent performances – it’s not quite on a par with LA Noire or Halo 4, but it’s more than good enough.
The soundtrack to Far Cry 3 is quite bizarre; a strange mix of tribal beats and dubstep that shouldn’t work, but somehow does- the atmospheric music never feels out of place which is the crucial factor. You also get a handful of licensed tracks to listen to on the car stereo which are mostly Pacific inspired hula songs, and in arguably the two best set-pieces of the game, the contrasting sounds of Skrillex and Wagners ‘Ride Of The Valkyries’ make themselves heard. It’s unexpected and eclectic to say the least. The highly questionable voice acting of Far Cry 2 is also now mostly a thing of the past, although you will quickly tire of the native pirates soundbites complaining about venereal diseases.
I was living in anticipation of Far Cry 3 for quite a long time, and overall I found myself pleasantly surprised. It’s a much better game than its predecessor, and more to the point it’s one of the most fun and enjoyable games that I played last year full stop. Ubisoft Montreal have created a gorgeous world, and filled it with plenty of stuff to do – all they need to do now is create a storyline that remains more consistent throughout for Far Cry 4, and they will have my full and undivided attention.