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Far Cry 3

“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”

So said Albert Einstein, and (less notably, but more pertinently to the topic at hand) Vaas Montenegro, Far Cry 3’s antagonist. Given that Far Cry 3 is the follow-up to one of the most divisive games of this generation, did Ubisoft Montreal heed their own warning?

FC3 Leopard
Not the face!

Following a game that is hated and loved in equally intense measure is an unenviable position to be in. Far Cry 3 is the younger sibling of such a game. Take any complaint about Far Cry 2 and there’ll be an equally vocal proponent of that very aspect of the game – respawning enemies are either a terrible curse or a delicious hostility; malaria and degrading weapons are either a mechanic too far or a wonderful coiled spring; the protagonist is either an amoral monster or an amoral monster.

Somewhere between a rock and a hard place, Ubisoft Montreal had to decide whether to address the many, much-debated faults and risk the wrath of Far Cry 2’s fans or to ignore the criticism and further disenchant a sizable group of players. Making this decision cannot have been easy, but the necessary switch in Lead Designer from Clint Hocking to Jamie Keen is a primer for the direction Far Cry 3 took.

Prepare yourself for the next sentence, it will either fill you with bright hope or bring about a terror that will chill you to the bone. Without reservation, every one of the major complaints levelled at Far Cry 2 has been addressed in its successor. Malaria and weapon jamming/degradation are gone, outposts are permanently taken over once cleared and enemy awareness has been toned down just enough to make stealth a viable option during combat sequences.

Beyond addressing complaints, there is a fundamental shift towards providing impetus for the player to explore Rook Island. Most notable are the Radio Towers that, once climbed, uncover the surrounding area on the map and unlock weapons at vendors. Taking over a hostile outpost decreases the influence of enemies in the area and adds another node to the fast travel network. Wanted missions posted on noticeboards earn money, and also provide hunting opportunities. Hunting animals, inside or outside of Wanted missions, provides crafting materials that increase inventory size. Crafting of consumable syringes, which have a wide variety of temporary boosts to character stats, requires the gathering of leaves from specific plants out in the world. There are also race missions and combat challenges spread across the vast island that yield money and experience points (another addition).

FC3 Stealth
Stealth is a viable option in Far Cry 3

If that extensive list wasn’t indication enough, Far Cry 3 creaks under the sheer weight of the number of different systems that the player interacts with. Outside of Ubisoft Montreal’s Assassin’s Creed series and Bethesda Softworks’ Elder Scrolls series no other game I’ve played has provided so many distractions from the main throughline of its story. It’s easy to see the benefit of letting oneself be distracted, at least enough so that restrictions of map and inventory are not a concern, and that makes the side activities generally more integral than those in Assassin’s Creed: Revelations, but they still sit heavy on Far Cry 3’s shoulders. This is most obviously apparent by the imposing amount of on-screen information launched at the player – there’s just too much scaffolding sitting between the player and the experience at the core of Far Cry 3.

Having casually mentioned the addition of experience points, it’s worth using them as a specific example. Experience points are earned for almost every action in the game and are spent in a skill tree that includes a variety of perks to the player’s stealth, combat and crafting abilities. A handful of the perks (specifically health boosts, silent running and takedown from above perks) are desirable and useful once obtained, but around half of the perks are entirely unnecessary. Shoot from a zipline? Double takedown from below? Decreased cooldown on turrets? The number of times these can be used in the game can be counted on one hand, nay one finger. Due to the staged unlock of the skill tree alongside story progression, I frequently found myself with a stockpile of 6 or 7 skill points and nothing that I wanted to unlock. The overwhelming question brought up by this less-than-integral experience system is ‘why is it even there in the first place?’

One way in which the experience system is integral is in the story. Each skill corresponds to a section of a tattoo, or “tatau”, that denotes the main character’s prowess as a warrior. The path walked by Jason, the twenty-something American protagonist, is from rich kid without a care in the world to rebel soldier with the ability to rescue both his captured friends and the native population from the merciless pirates that occupy and terrorise Rook Island. It’s easy to be concerned about the ‘white saviour’ trope that the story walks (knowingly, according to writer Jeffrey Yohalem), but the more obvious issue is the stark unlikeability of the privileged, self-indulgent and narcissistic holidaying protagonists. As Jason rescues his wannabe actress girlfriend from who knows what evils at the hands of her captors it was tough to stomach a conversation that turned into a lament over a missed audition that could have been her big Hollywood break – they are the most hateful characters I have ever encountered in a game.

FC3 Dickheads

Taking an unlikeable character and forcing the player to assess their part in the world could have been incredibly powerful. Sadly, here the glimpses of promise within Jason’s arc go completely unfulfilled. Twice during the story I couldn’t help but be swept up in the possibility of wondering to what lengths Jason – and by extension the player – would go to in order to save his friends; to what extent would Jason become unrecognisable to the very friends he wants to save? The end posed an incredibly pertinent question, but it felt entirely unearned due to an unforgivable reticence of the developer to commit to proper pacing and escalation of Jason’s fragile state of mind. Evoking Alice In Wonderland (explicitly) and Heart Of Darkness (implicitly) only serves to highlight the juxtaposition of the developer’s lofty aims in presenting a morally complex narrative that plays with psychological themes and the degree to which they fail to do so.

The narrative is further compromised by the way story missions are presented. Far Cry 3 is notable for the freedom it gives the player to explore and traverse the large, open world. Within missions, however, the ability to save is disabled and you’ll likely stumble unawares into a “DO NOT LEAVE THE MISSION AREA” warning. Time limits, escort missions and even an instant fail stealth mission are also low points for a game that otherwise allows so much in the way of player choice. The most noticeable problems are the narrow corridors, scripted enemy spawn points and QTE-heavy traversal and combat sequences – in several parts of the game I honestly felt more like I was playing Call Of Duty than Far Cry. There’s nothing wrong with that style of first-person shooter, but constantly veering between the two robs the game of it’s identity.

That said, when the story puts the player in large environments with the time and space to stretch their creative muscles it really is pitch-perfect. One sequence requires Jason to infiltrate an enemy base and take out three generals in the private army he is aiming to neuter, recovering information from them in the process. The environment offers a wealth of possibility, with any and every player’s whim catered for. I planned to take out a few key personnel from the cliffs above, dry ski down the hillside before masquerading amongst the remaining soldiers to get close enough to the generals to dispose of them and nab the all important list. Needless to say, halfway through my carefully considered plot it all unravelled and I was forced to fight my way out, employing all manner of explosives to create chaos and carnage, and ultimately launching myself from the top of the enemy base and using my wingsuit to escape.

The same freedom to roam and experiment can be found outside of missions. Being attacked by animals is a frequent occurrence, but so are the opportunities to use the wildlife against your foes. Outposts almost always provide such opportunities, but they don’t require player action to initiate. More than once I stumbled across a group of pirates fending off an attack by Komodo dragons or a tiger. On one occasion I was greeted (upon arrival at an outpost) by an immediate notification that I had cleared the enemies silently. I would have had no idea who or what did my hard work for me but for the swish of a tail in the undergrowth as my anonymous guardian angel slinked away.

FC3 Fire
Fire. F-f-f-f-f-f-f-ire! F-IRE! FIRE!

These are the moments of Far Cry 3 that make the game sing. Though not as hostile as the savannah of Far Cry 2, the jungle feels alive with wildlife, pirates, rebels and possibility. Most importantly, the world appears to exist and develop with or without player interaction. Perversely that actually means that the impact of a given player action resonates more noticeably. Fire, wildlife and enemies can be controlled and manipulated only in so far as your inputs are restrained. Take too much pleasure in the awesome power of your flamethrower and you’ll soon find Jason on fire and in trouble; a more tempered approach can leave an entire enemy encampment in disarray and you without a scratch.

It should be said that there are many other excellent aspects of the game. Far Cry 3 is truly a visual feast; I played the PC version and it is the most graphically impressive game I have ever seen. I spent many incredible hours wandering the beautiful Rook Island to enjoy the scenery, exploring caves and ruined World War II buildings. The almost Uncharted-style climbing required to do this is fun and avoids the usual problems with platforming in a first-person perspective. Dialogue and acting are fantastic, and are deserving of a better story to lift them to their true heights. A few of the characters, too, are memorable; most notable in this are the primary antagonist Vass Montenegro, sadistic contract killer Buck and undercover CIA asset Sam Becker. Vass has several genuinely unsettling monologues throughout the game and presents an enigmatic, almost Joker-esque villain. It’s unfortunate that more time isn’t spent exploring the parallels and differences between this monstrous, egotistical sociopath and Jason as it would undoubtedly have lent more development to Jason as a character and potentially have provided more weight to the moral quandary that the story touches upon, but never lives up to.

It’s clear that the directed approach to the experience of playing Far Cry 3 was a counter-point to the criticism of its predecessor being aimless, and Ubisoft Montreal have been wildly successful to that end. It’s also great that the heart of the gameplay has remained intact – shooting in Far Cry 3 is unrivalled outside of, perhaps, Battlefield. Unfortunately it’s tough not to feel that, in order to reign in the unbridled hostility and provide a sturdier structure to the narrative, Ubisoft Montreal have pulled the rope a little too tight and starved Far Cry 3 of the air it needs to breathe.


  1. Great review, I personally lean a little more negatively towards the game but somehow the majority of the review (which comes across as mostly positive) resonates with my experience.

  2. I felt the review erred more towards the negative, myself. Good review though, and everything written was fair point. I’m finding that I’m really enjoying the game so far, despite any faults, but I am a little worried it’ll soon run out of steam.

  3. Thanks very much for the comments.

    I felt I was being pretty negative when writing the review, so I’m glad that you picked up on some of the positive side, Mike. It’s a game that ended up on my list of highlights for last year, but I couldn’t help being a little disappointed when I compare it to FC2.

    Thanks again for the feedback.

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