Far Cry 3
We’ve all played brilliant games that feel slightly cobbled together. As if the programmers have thrown a bunch of cogs, springs and dials in a box and somehow it’s formed an immaculately precise Swiss grandfather clock accurate to one billionth of a nanosecond. Far Cry 3 feels a bit like this. Some games sneak up on us and we’re not aware of its greatness, or even of its presence, until it reaches review stage and is awarded a cluster of accolades and high praise. From Software’s Demon Souls is a great example; plucked from the void of nondescript, generic looking titles, it somehow managed to bottle lightning and perform above and beyond the call of expectation. D3’s Puzzle Quest was another and, to a lesser extent, so was Telltale’s story-driven masterpiece The Walking Dead.
Far Cry 3 should not fall into this category. For one it is made by Ubisoft, one of the largest and well-respected game publishers in the world; it’s also a sequel to a hugely popular and well-received franchise. Far Cry 3 should not be surprising me with bottled lightning, it should be waxing my thumbs with tried and tested mechanics and challenging my patience with a “like the last one, but with betterer stuff” ideology. But here I find myself, squatting in the bush, planning an assault on a herd of wild boar, with the view to making an even roomier quiver, wondering what happened since the African savannah. Quite a lot as it turns out.
Set in two expansive sub-tropical Australasian islands, the narrative is based around the vapid existence of Jason Brody who finds himself and his friends about to be sold into slavery by crazed drug smugglers and people traffickers. Don’t worry, it gets worse. Upon escaping you join a desperate band of indigenous islanders led by Citra, a self imposed demi-goddess and spiritual leader of the rebellion. Our hero begins his quest to save his chums and liberate the islands while falling deeper and deeper into a state of nonsense-induced lunacy and blood-addled madness. It would feel daft if it wasn’t all so wonderfully camp.
Overacted stereotypes ham up the above average script and, as the story unfolds, we begin to see what the writers are pecking at. The dawning of adult responsibility in a cruel world (not the vacuous beaches and neon clubs of Santa Monica) is certainly a different approach to, what is essentially, an open world FPS game. It’s handled clumsily with aspirations of grandeur but fails to be clever enough to encapsulate the social commentary it fritters around. The good news for the humble gamer is that none of this matters; there’s too much fun to be had on the islands to worry about dull things like ‘responsibility’ and ‘plot’.
In one section I was preparing an insurrection on an enemy encampment for a stronger foothold in the southern island. I had planted landmines around half of the exits and began attracting a guard’s attention by chipping stones around one of the mines. As he edged nearer an enemy truck startled a herd of buffalo who charged headlong into my freshly laid minefield. The detonation engulfed the entire area in a fireball the size of Mercury, funnelling me towards the, now very aware of my presence, guards. The explosion had inadvertently released a caged tiger who was in the middle of ripping an enemy sniper to pieces and drawing the fire of his alarmed, and probably terrified, fellow guardsmen. This gave me just enough time to make a fleeting escape under a hail of rockets and gunshots into an open field and an unsighted hole in the ground. I was cold, wet, 300ft underground and vey badly hurt but glad for the opportunity to try it all out again.
I’ll use C4 next time.
The idiocy of Far Cry 3 is utterly untenable but at the same time supremely funny. Watching a group of natives being chased around a beach by a leopard will be one of many cherished memories I will take away from this game. Bizarre occurrences that have splashed and splattered the polished veneer of Far Cry 3 are unexpected and quite delightful. After I’ve struggled to capture yet another enemy encampment, a truck of friendly rebels will pootle up in a battered truck and tell you that there’s much more to do – despite doing absolutely nothing themselves, for some reason, made me chuckle every single time it happened. It’s incredible how much charm is worth to me when I play videogames.
As the island blossomed before my eyes I felt compelled, not pestered, to explore its reaches. Exploration is one of the trickiest elements to implement appealingly in a game. The land must feel wild and untamed, but rewarding and satisfying. It needs to be justified beyond simply looking pretty and having some loot at the end. Skulking through catacombs and Second World War architecture has an odd satisfaction to it, made tense by the ever present wildlife and rogue patrol.
Slowly I fell into a rhythm of unlocking areas, liberating encampments, hunting rare animals and generally having a great time exploring a wonderfully crafted game world. The plains of war torn Africa were breathtakingly realised, but exploration, along with the endlessly re-spawning enemy checkpoints, felt hugely aloof and slowed play down to a crawl at times. Ubisoft has been careful not to waste players’ time in Far Cry 3; every action, regardless of how much fun it is, is always rewarded with a perk, some experience points or the occasional drop of loot.
Experience systems usually spell trouble for me. I worry that the slow dribble of points has been shoehorned in either a) because CoD 4 did it and that game sold tons or b) because the developers needed to distract the player from the awful, awful gameplay. Thankfully, Far Cry 3 was so enthusiastically compelling that I barely even noticed I was leveling up; equally I barely even noticed that the sun had set, I was still dressed in pyjamas and I’d not eaten in four days.
Far Cry 3’s gripping nature is spawned from its solid shooting mechanic and robust enemy AI. Troops scatter and flank forcing you to dissolve into the long grass and silently garrotte them with knives or drop them with well placed arrows. Straight combat is tight and intense with fire fights usually not lasting longer than a few minutes leaving you breathless and impatient for more.
To call Far Cry 3 groundbreaking would not be fair towards its true motivations. At no point do you feel like Ubisoft has broken through into a glorious new genre, after all, you’re still shooting at guys down iron sights and completing moronic fetch quests for the locals. What the team has done, however, is blend together some of the finer points of the genre and corrected the mistakes of its previous titles. It feels lush to play, a pleasure really and not at all a guilty one.
Despite being hampered by a well meaning, but ultimately interfering, plot, Far Cry 3 has evolved into a decadent, playful and exciting title. Be it quality programming, dumb luck or a mixture of them both, the game plunges you into a thick, gloopy world of sugary gameplay, shimmering visuals, intoxicating audio as well as a great deal more. It’s long, stupid and buckets of fun – just what you need to burn away the winter blues.