November was a great month for first-person shooter fans.
First they were treated to epic sci-fi action blockbuster Halo 4. Then came the more grounded, military action of Call of Duty: Black Ops II which delivered the best single-player campaign that franchise has seen in years and raised the bar for multiplayer even higher.
Lastly came Far Cry 3, a wickedly entertaining first-person role-playing game which manages to carve an original spot for itself unique within the crowded first-person shooter market.
Far Cry 3 is an amazing mix of open-world exploration and kick ass action. It's not one of those games where you whizz through the single-player campaign in ten hours or so. It’s more similar to Red Dead Redemption or Fallout 3 than Call of Duty and it’ll be easy for many gamers to spend 60 - 100 hours exploring the game's beautiful tropical setting, completing side quests and evolving the main character.
Players take on the role of Jason Brody, a young American taken hostage after he and his mates just happened to skydive into the South Pacific’s Rook Island, where an ongoing civil war is currently being engineered by criminal leader Vaas.
Vaas is a very nasty piece of work who gets extremely ticked off when Jason escapes his confines.
Some pretty heavy themes are introduced into the game immediately around human trafficking and ransoming of hostages. Jason also faces a major personal tragedy very early on and the game makes a point of emphasizing his transformation from sheltered frat boy to a Rambo-esque slaughter machine.
The tone is a little uneven – it seems at times like developers Ubisoft Montreal are trying to get you to take it seriously, which is difficult. I wasn’t too fussed with any tonal issues or developer goals that weren’t fully realised, however, as the game is just so damn fun.
Rook Island is the greatest aspect of Far Cry 3. Exploring the massive, beautiful Pacific island provides hours upon hours of fun. It’s teeming with all sorts of exotic animals, from Siberian tigers to Komodo dragons to angry cassowarys. Most of them will attack you; all of them can be killed and their skins put to use.
There’s also a large range of flora to be harvested for your needs as part of a robust crafting system and an interesting skill progression system which ties in to an evolving tattoo on Jason’s arm. Yep, it’s just as weird as that sounds.
Rook Island is huge and getting around it on foot is very time-consuming. Fortunately, in addition to quick-travel map points, there are a range of different modes of transport to help get Jason from A to B. The most enjoyable are hang gliders, jet skis and wingsuits.
Driving cars and jeeps around can be a little annoying. The physics aren’t great, but they never seem to be in these sorts of games. Slamming through a pirate’s roadblock while driving at top speed away from would-be kidnappers can be a thrill though.
In addition to the main storyline, there are numerous objectives across Rook Island you can complete.
To reveal sections of the map, you need to climb to the top of radio towers and hack them. It’s hard to explain why this is so satisfying, but it really is. Enemy camps are littered over the island, each of which can be taken over to expand your territory. There are 34 in total and most of them are defended differently with varying surrounding landscapes, making each a unique challenge.
One of my favourite ways of eliminating a small gang of baddies is by unleashing a wild animal on them. If there happens to be a tiger or bear caged in their base, a well-placed, silenced bullet will unleash it on its captors. Awesomeness ensues.
The AI is not always great. The bad guys are victim to the insane nonchalance which effects bad guys in all stealth games - even if they've been injured by you, they'll only look around for you for a short while before forgetting about it and going back to their post. With their back turned. Always with their back turned.
Enemies of the same type all look exactly the same as each other and are voiced by the same actor, with a fairly limited range of dialogue, which is unfortunate.
It was a pleasant surprise to hear a lot of Kiwi accents in the game, however. Many of the friendly characters are some sort of Polynesians, some of whom speak with distinctly New Zealand accents. I was stoked the first time I heard one let out a cheerful "Kia Ora brother".
The single-player campaign is a mixed bag. At times I was sitting forward in my seat, grinning from ear to ear and loving the hell out of it. At others, it's a little tiresome. Overall there is a nicely unique feel to the game, with a kind of punkish quality I really enjoy. There’s not many games which emulate the effects of magic mushrooms or insanity like Far Cry 3 does, or have anything like some of its stylish thrills.
In one mission, for example, Jason has to take a flamethrower to some baddies' large cocoa plantations. As you approach the area, Skrillex featuring Damian Marley's 'Make It Bun Dem' kicks in. It plays on loop for the rest of the mission as Jason yells with joy while burning drugs and killing gangsters. It's mint.
There are a lot of run-and-gun style missions you have to complete to get through the game. Most encounters with gangs of bad guys give the option of blasting through all guns blazing, or carefully planning it out and getting through largely unnoticed. The latter of these methods is far more rewarding.
In terms of multiplayer, the competitive modes are a bit of fun but I won’t be playing them for long. Just as the driving mechanics of Far Cry 3 aren’t great when compared to a driving simulator, the competitive first-person shooter mechanics can’t compete with the likes of Call of Duty, Battlefield or Halo. Firestorm mode is a unique objective game mode which is a nice novelty, however, and the inclusion of a map editor could mean extra longevity for the multiplayer modes if a solid online community is formed.
Co-op is a lot more successful. It’s a Left 4 Dead-esque romp in locked off sections of the map with quick, fun objectives to complete.
Single-player mode is definitely where the game shines. While the story is a little up and down, it’s wonderfully original, and ultimately a small part of the Rook Island experience. It’s easy to lose hours upon hours to Far Cry 3’s addictive gameplay and get a hell of a lot of value from the game in the process.
Four and a half stars.
Far Cry 3
:: Publisher: Ubisoft
:: Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
:: Format: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC
:: Rating: R16