Game Review: Far Cry 3 [Xbox 360/PS3/PC]
Far Cry 3 was reviewed on the PC. A retail copy was used. The game was released on Xbox 360, PS3 and PC on 30th November.
I have a sort of love/hate relationship with the Far Cry series. On one hand, it stands for what I think is sadly missing from many shooters (games in general actually). It lets you tackle things your own way.
Want to sneak around in the bushes with silenced weapons, taking bad guys down one by one? Go ahead. Want to run in Rambo style and make your own Michael Bay movie? Knock yourself out. Want to kill a bunch of people, steal their jeep and drive it off a big cliff, whilst singing “Under the Sea” from The Little Mermaid as it plummets in to the ocean? Well, that’s a little strange, but still, feel free.
On the other hand, Far Cry 1 & 2 has had some serious AI issues and design choices that I really couldn’t get on with. I will explain more about that a bit further on, as unfortunately, they do rear their head in the third instalment.
The first Far Cry was developed by Crytek and released in 2004 on PC to critical acclaim. It has since been passed onto the Publishers at Ubisoft to develop it through their Montreal studio for the next two games, the series was also expanded to consoles.
The CryEngine used in the first game was pushed aside for Ubisoft’s Dunia engine. (Dunia meaning “world” in Arabic) Both engines established what is now a staple of Far Cry gameplay, a beautiful open world that gives the player a chance to approach objectives from different angles and allowing the use of different tactics to accomplish any given goal. For the most part this works really well and is a welcome relief from seeing a great big “follow” icon on another NPC as you move between cut scenes, only stopping to press “X” to save the world. Whilst I am touching on the game world, man oh man is it pretty, I mean really pretty. As with the second game, it steals the show graphically.
So does the third one alleviate problems found in the first two games? Well, yes and no.
“Have I ever told you about the meaning of insanity?”
By far my favourite thing about Far Cry 3 is the characters. I am sure you will already have heard people singing the praises of Michael Mando who plays Vaas, and I can tell you that in my opinion, he steals every single scene he is in. Vaas is now one of my all time favourite bad guys, right up there with Dr Doom and Darth Vader. He switches wonderfully between calm and collected, to adrenaline fuelled nutcase and delivers the surprisingly good dialogue perfectly.
This isn’t to say the rest of the cast are lacking, even the secondary characters are very nicely voiced. Faye Kingslee (Citra) and Mylène Dinh-Robic (Liza) are wonderful, as is the rest. It really can’t be emphasized enough what an amazing job Ubisoft have done gathering such a stellar cast. What’s even more impressive is that they have managed to do it without including the legend that is Nolan North. I think it’s almost bordering on illegal to make a game without him voicing something.
The story itself starts off with Jason Brody and his brother being held in a cage by Vaas, after some heroics by Jason’s army trained brother, the two are about to escape, only for his brother to be killed by Vaas. This sets up a revenge story that might seem shallow on the face of it, but it never comes across that way.
Jason earns the trust of the natives, the Rakyat, who also happen to be under the duress of Vaas and his pirates, they bestow some special tattoos on him which work as the games upgrade system. As things move on, Jason goes after his friends and remaining family, meeting more unhinged characters as he goes.
The game is split into two islands with the first making up about two thirds of the game. Up to the end of the first island, the story really holds together well, the last third of the game though, is a huge let down. I’ll try not to spoil too much here, but it boils down to a few things. Firstly, the second island is incredibly uninspiring, visually and in layout. It also means leaving behind the game’s best characters. It really is disappointing after about fifteen hours of gameplay that’s as enjoyable as anything I have played this year, to then move on to something that really, seems like they ran out of ideas, or maybe just wanted to stretch things a little bit to make the game longer. It’s not terrible by any means, but the quality is so much lower that it’s a little jarring, and for me, it does spoil things.
The story does end in a satisfactory matter, albeit rather abruptly, it doesn’t leave a bad taste in your mouth though. I actually felt some genuine sympathy for Brody’s girlfriend as he is a little crappy to her whilst he is trying to do his best “I got this” routine. If I felt compelled to complain about the story, it would be that it was fairly transparent, the dialogue, whilst good, leads you easily to some rather cliché places. I imagine most people will pick up exactly where certain characters are headed early on in the plot. You could say the same about most big budget films these days, so it’s not really that big of a deal.
A couple of the missions are accompanied by a great soundtrack, one near the end that will be instantly recognisable to anyone who has watched a war movie, one much earlier on which honestly I had never heard, but they both fit perfectly with the mission at hand. It’s a small thing, but I thought it worth a mention as it did bring a smile to my face. After all, it’s those little things which can make a good game, a great one.
“I’m sorry, have I failed to entertain you?”
At the start of a game, as you escape Vaas’s camp, Jason can be heard cursing and whimpering as you sneak past the guards, this gives weight to the fact that he is not a well oiled one man army, but just a regular person that is thrown in to an irregular situation. It’s nice to see the change gradually through the game, from him being almost completely clueless, to being someone who wouldn’t look out of place taking on the entire cast of The Expendables. A small thing, but again, it adds up.
As you progress further you are given experience for completing missions, capturing outposts, reactivating radio towers, and for giving pirates an unstable diet in sharp lead based objects. Once you get enough and level up, you are given a skill point to use over the three skill trees. In this case they are the tattoos you will receive. The heron, which is long ranged combat. The spider, stealthy type tactics, and the shark, which is your all guns blazing skills. You can only choose from a select few from any of the three trees to begin with. The only way to unlock more is to complete missions, this actually means that instead of choosing one path and sticking with it, pouring all your points in to it, you end up with all the skills, the only difference being that you just choose which ones you get first.
I’ll admit that I found this a little disappointing initially, I was hoping for more of a specialisation, ending with me being an expert in whichever skill set I had chosen, but the more I played I started to prefer having all the skills available to me. In the end it means you can just run to a safe house, swap some weapons out, change some attachments and play with a completely different approach using minimal effort.
The experience gain never feels like a grind at all, due to the fact that there are a lot of side missions to take on. These open up as you unlock radio towers, they are always clearly marked on the map for you to go after, and unlocking them fills in the information on the map.
This is one of the game’s weak points for me, I found it to be counterproductive to what is a very immersing and fairly dark story. The side quests range from things like marksmanship training (kind of like a duck hunt type thing), supply drops, which mean you need to race on a given vehicle to a set location in a short time, and a simple race, where you are given a vehicle and you follow flares to the finish, sometimes requiring you to change your mode of transport mid way through. They are done well enough but they just feel very disconnected from the main theme. It just doesn’t fit well. I understand the need to give people optional parts to the game, as is the norm these days, but there needs to be some effort to keep the tone of the game constant, in my eyes anyway.
I had no such issue with the radio towers though, they become harder to climb your way up the further you get in to the game, on achieving your goal you are treated to a little spin around the immediate area to show several points of interest, there is never any instant rush to continue with the story, so if you want to wander off in the jungle, then go for it.
If you do go off the beaten path, you will find that the pirates (and the Ubisoft launcher) are not the only things that will render your life much shorter, the islands are home to approximately forty species of animal. Anything from crocodiles and tigers to dogs and pigs. It really adds another dimension to the gameplay as you find yourself constantly whipping your view around scanning the undergrowth for any hostile creature, listening for any growl of discontent. I had one encounter where I killed what seemed like the entire crew of the Black Pearl, only to have my leg eaten off by a komodo dragon as I stood smugly admiring my work. It does give a more organic feel to the world, especially when you see the animals hunting each other.
As I mentioned earlier, experience you earn gives you skill points and thus allows you to gain new skills. The skills themselves are a mixed bag. Some are outright awesome new abilities, whilst others are minor upgrades that might mitigate some damage or extend the use of an item. Nothing on its own seems like a massive difference, but toward the end of the game, if you take a step back, you can really see the kind of badass Jason has been fashioned in to.
Definitely my favourite abilities are the takedowns. It starts off with a simple knife through the back, but then later on you can add to it, allowing Jason to grab the flailing pirates knife and throw it at some other target, it extends even further to letting you grab his sidearm and dispatch several goons that might be in range. There is also ledge takedowns for enemies above, this can be used to come up from the water and drag someone down to a watery doom.
They aren’t all that satisfying, passive upgrades like faster reloading and better weapon switching aren’t exactly exciting, but again, toward the end when it all adds up, it’s an empowering feeling compared to how things started off. I think they polished that aspect of the game about as well as you could want, the gunplay is spot on, the guns themselves feel great to fire, too many shooters don’t give the weapons a powerful feel (Doom 3 I am looking at you) and it’s something that I’ve always felt is important.
There aren’t that many to unlock however, I would have preferred a bit more of a choice, you can buy them or wait for them to become free by unlocking more radio towers. There are a few different types of weapons, you have LMGs, SMGs, assault rifles, sniper rifles, even a bow and arrow (which is really cool by the way). There is also a bit of customisation in the form of attachments and paint jobs. I won’t go in to it as it’s a very standard affair.
The other upgradable items are your pockets, yes you read that right. By roaming around and killing animals then skinning them, you can take their hide and make new ammo belts or wallets. You can upgrade each one several times before you are required to go on a special hunting side mission to kill a very rare animal for its hide. Most of the time it requires you to use a certain weapon which will be waiting at a drop point. This, unlike most of the side quests, fits in very neatly with the rest of the game.
“All Imperfection is easier to tolerate if served up in small doses.”
If there is one thing in the Far Cry series that always leaves me wanting to kick puppies, it’s the damned AI. The first game was possibly the worst, as soon as you shot someone in a compound, whether with a silenced gun or not, everyone seemed to instantly know where you were and could hit you through 100ft of thick jungle. The second game cleared it up a fair bit, making the AI work together really nicely, trying to flank your position. That was of course, until they got in to any vehicle. It was as if someone was removing a seasoned tactical soldier and replacing him with Sloth from The Goonies. They would just drive their jeep right in to any obstacle next to you and sit there with their foot on the accelerator. If you were in a jeep, same thing, they would just sit there while you emptied a magazine in to them. That one thing caused me to hate the game, that’s how much bad AI spoils games for me.
Far Cry 3 for the most part, avoids these issues. They still aren’t too bright at times. They still pull up right next to you whilst in cars, allowing you to make a messy pincushion out of them. The real problem is when you choose to go all Sam Fisher on them. To be clear, there are a few different types of enemy, you have snipers, guys that throw Molotov cocktails, big heavy guys that wear armour and guys that just have a machete. Now, any of the guys with a gun, no problem. If you snipe from a spot in the bushes and they see someone go down, they shout a warning to one another and they take cover, great right? So then Mr Machete guy ruins it all by charging your position, no matter where you are, or how well you are hidden, even if you have a silenced sniper rifle, he will come right for you, and once he finds you, which he will, everyone then knows where you are.
This might sound a bit pernickety, but it really irritates me. It’s like they are all endowed with Daredevil’s sound sensing radar. In fairness, there are very few games that get AI down well, It just makes me wonder how much time gets spent on this in development, I would love to be there for the discussion just once. Thankfully though it’s only that one type of enemy, so if you take them out first, it will generally work a lot better.
“With a little help from my friends.”
Since we are talking about things that bother me, I will get on to the multiplayer. There are both co-op and competitive multiplayer modes. Co-op is a four man affair, it starts you off with a little cut scene explaining the situation and introducing the characters, it’s not too bad actually, it’s a fairly cliché bunch and the story isn’t terribly interesting, but it does enough to move it along. The gameplay consists of objectives to meet and waves of enemies to defeat. The objectives range from protecting something to placing bombs, which one of you will have to carry. It has a very big L4D vibe to it, you can revive fallen team mates, give each other special boosts and there are ammo caches to use. Unfortunately it’s nowhere near as good as Valve’s zombie basher. It might keep you occupied for an hour or so if you have some friends to play it with, just don’t expect anything too special.
The multiplayer is actually quite decent, though if you have played any recent online shooter, this will be nothing new, your usual unlock progression and levelling system, the same game types as always. Deathmatch, domination etc. There are a couple of things I found noteworthy, the killcam for example shows the trajectory of the bullets that killed you and gives you a limited amount of time to be revived. The revival can only happen once per life, but it does offer a bit more of a team element. Speaking of which, there are also some battle cries. These basically give your team mates a buff for a limited time, things like extra health or better hip fire accuracy. It’s nice to see multiplayer being driven toward team play, but unless you’re playing with some friends, it’s unlikely to be used much.
There are even some killstreak rewards to go for too (starting to sound familiar?), again, nothing out of the ordinary things like UAV and some air strikes. One I did like drops a barrel that forms a cloud that makes it impossible to distinguish friend from foe. The maps are well made and seem to be balanced perfectly without offering an advantage depending on spawn location. The hit detection was good but do remember, it’s all client side detection as there are no dedicated servers. Yes that’s right, Ubisoft apparently thought the best way to go was to use a peer 2 peer system for PC. This also means that despite whatever assurances they may have made about any anti-cheat, there will essentially be nothing to stop anyone using hacks. If you ever played MW2 or MW3 on PC, you will know what to expect.
If I was judging the game solely on the online part, I would be telling you to give it a miss. It’s not terrible, but it doesn’t do anything that isn’t done a lot better by another franchise.
One other thing I just want to mention quickly. Since it is the PC version I reviewed, I feel duty bound to mention the performance issues. Now bear in mind that I am running this on a very high end PC (Intel i7 3770K 4.6ghz / 16GB RAM / 2x GTX680 SLI) and I still cannot set everything to maximum without issues. The MSAA absolutely destroys your frame rate. I had to turn it down to x2 to keep it stable, x4 was playable, but I prefer something over a constant 60FPS. You will need a relatively decent PC to get things running on maximum, (not counting MSAA) including a DX11 compatible graphics card.
I would like to think it’s just bad optimisation at this point with MSAA, but I had the exact same experience with Hitman Absolution. Anything above x2 would cause more of a drop than I am comfortable with. There may be some of you that are willing to play through this, if you can then great, I just wanted you to go in forewarned.
Far Cry 3 is easily worth a purchase for the single player alone, the online part may not be anything special, but you can just think of it as a bonus. It’s not perfect and it does have some annoyances that don’t seem to have been fixed throughout the series, but one thing is for sure, this is by far the best one. If you have some spare cash before Christmas rolls up, you could do a lot worse than spending the 15-25 hours this game will take you to finish, running around the jungle with some of the most superbly voiced and realised characters in a game this year.