Backlog Video Game Review #3: Far Cry 3
You can’t make Apocalypse Now with an MTV cast.
- Far Cry 3
- CLR [rating:4.0]
Release Date: November 29th, 2012 to March 7, 2013
Platform: Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
Genre: First-person shooter, action-adventure, open world
ESRB: M for Mature
As with every year, 2012 produced a large number of games to play, and not nearly enough time to play them all. As January is a month of limited releases from the industry, it’s a good time to take a moment and cover a few of the titles that were missed the first go around. Welcome to the ‘Backlog Review.’
‘All I wanna do is (BANG BANG BANG BANG!) and (KAA-CHING!) take your money,’ pouts M.I.A in Paper Planes, the soundtrack to Far Cry 3’s opening island montage. It sounds ominously like the marketing strategy for most first person-shooters. But the Far Cry series has proven to be a fierce and beguiling beast. A bright, ambitious first chapter. A darker, painfully real, malaria-blighted sequel. And now we have the concerto’s third movement, Far Cry 3. And what a rousing crescendo it is.
But it’s not without its flaws.
Back to that opening montage (BANG BANG BANG BANG!). Rook Island is the setting for our merry descent into madness. A paradise. Crestless turquoise oceans. Prehistoric mountains. Machete-proof jungle. The only stain on the vista are the protagonists.
You blink into the eyes of Jason Brody, a precocious, extreme-sporting, party boy from Santa Monica. He’s only a couple of bad trips away from island madness, but we don’t know that yet. Thankfully, Jason is slightly less repugnant than his entourage. They skydive, drink, fang four-wheelers, talk about drinking, brawl in nightclubs, flee the scene, make gaming’s earliest reference to Sambuca shots. They’re straight from the set of an MTV reality show. The kind of group you might envision if your only source of youth culture was The Hills, Real World, and Jersey Shore. And I have been preprogrammed to hate them.
It’s a shame because these scenes echo throughout the game, and are the sole motivation for Jason’s mission into the wild. In a campaign that lasts ten-hours (or more) they could’ve spent an extra ten minutes letting me know who these people were, so when they did get kidnapped, I actually felt like wading out into the heart of darkness to rescue the bastards. But I didn’t. Ubisoft went MTV when they should’ve gone, Stand By Me. Meaningful relationships between Jason and his friends (and siblings) were needed to propel the narrative into the bloodlust Totentanz it ultimately reaches. It guts the story of motivation. But Far Cry 3 isn’t really a plot driven narrative. It’s a character study – the situational unravelling of a privileged twenty-something into a cold, carnage-hungry warrior. It does this quite successfully on some levels, it’s even chilling on occasion, but each time his friends bob up in the story, their reactions, dialogue and the cliche fabric of their characters undoes the dark tone of the game. You can’t make Apocalypse Now with an MTV cast.
But then our window into Jason’s debauchery floats away, just a camera held in the palm of a psychotic pirate. We’re gagged. Caged. Waiting to be ransomed or sold into slavery. And the bungled tuning of Far Cry 3’s intro hits on a magnificent chord. We get our first look at Vaas, the pirate crazy and ruthless enough to lead a savage band of pirates. They’ve stolen Rook Island from the native, Rakyat tribe. He’s splendidly performed, a firecracker of a villain, elegantly cursive in his madness, and maniacal enough to leave you in a burning building instead of shooting you. His insanity takes on greater meaning as the game unfolds. Vaas becomes a mirror of your impending downward spiral, the end of a road Jason has already begun to walk. The game is filled with memorable and splendidly acted characters (excluding Jason’s friends and the two-dimensional natives). One of Far Cry 3’s minor villain’s, the Australian slave trader, Buck, is one of the best antagonists I’ve encountered in the digital realm. Where Vaas has a certain encompassing evil about him, an evil that could infect the whole island, Buck is a larrikin until you look at him the wrong way, and then he‘s liable to stab you with a broken bottle. His menace is directly focused on you, and you alone. That made him more terrifying somehow.
What follows your introduction to Vaas is one of the more tense, thrilling scenes I’ve encountered in gaming; the escape from the pirate camp. The death of Jason’s brother, Grant. And, at the mercy of Vaas, the bullet zipping gauntlet into the jungle, and your virgin kill, eye to eye.
Soon after, we meet Dennis, an honorary Rakyat who guides you along the warrior path. It’s here that the weakness of the plot is most apparent. Dennis is giving Jason a tribal tattoo. Why? Because you’re a warrior, Jason. Am, I? Oh yes, you’re going to take back the island from the pirates and save the Rakyat. Why me? I don’t know. A prophecy or something. Okay… Annnnnd, we’re off. Immediately Far Cry 3 get’s a classic case of, what I like to call, ‘I’ll just stand over here’ syndrome. In open world games the inhabitants are always going to ask a lot of you. In games like GTA, it works. Nico gets hired to do criminal acts in a city crawling with trigger happy police. There’s a reason people come to him for their dirty work. But on Rook Island, where the only law is Darwinian and everyone’s armed to the teeth, why are they coming to a green, terrified kid with their problems? This is best illustrated by your first mission as the island’s savior. ‘I need you to climb up and reactivate all our radio towers’, says Dennis, ‘I’ll just stand over here.’ It feels like I’m being had. I felt the same way every time I took a stronghold and the Rakyat warriors would cruise in, heavily armed, after the last pirate was dead. I couldn’t help but think, ‘Where the hell were you guys?’
You start the game with a limited loadout and a wallet that can only hold so much cash. It gives you a reason to explore the island’s vast milage, hunting and knife-killing and performing side missions. Doing so gives you cash, animal skins, and the bonuses you need to increase your arsenal and hone your warrior skills. You can also craft medicine and other aides from the island’s plants. While the side missions are not particularly inspired Rook Island offers enough variety to keep you pegging through the brush for hours. In a game that really is massive nothing feels half done, and that’s an achievement.
The island itself looks gorgeous. Distances grey out on consoles but that’s hardly the fault of the developers – a seven year old xbox can only do so much. It’s a good map. Not the greatest (Red Dead Redemption’s microcosm of America and Mexico holds that title). It consists almost solely of jungle and shanty town and, unlike Red Dead, it’s impossible to know where you are just by looking around. Unlike the love-it-or-hate-it gritty realism of Far Cry 2’s Africa, Far Cry 3 adds fast travel and a liberal amount of outposts. But it’s not the jungle itself that is the star of Rook, but what’s lingering in its shadows. I squealed with delicious horror the first time I saw a pair of Komodo dragons slither out from the undergrowth to tear the flesh from my bones. I haven’t seen a game do wildlife any better. Sharks. Tigers. Snakes. Boars. Deer. Crocodiles. Albino Crocodiles. Bears. It’s a menagerie of animalia. And there’s thousands of the critters.
One of the great things about Far Cry 2 was the freedom it gave players. You could survey and plan your attacks on enemy outposts. Far Cry 3 expands on this. Here’s how I took an outpost near Spine Ridge: I hang glide to an overlook above the camp. Scan the scene with my binoculars. Two snipers. Four troops. Two heavies. I crouch down, stealthy, and slide down the hill. Sneak through a hole in the fence. Two troops are chatting just ahead. If they trigger the alarm another carload of Pirates will rock up. I take down the first guy; machete to the neck. I pull the knife from his pocket and throw it into the other guys neck. Extra XP. DING! I’ve leveled up. I shut off the alarm. Creep back into the undergrowth. I shoot the bolt off a tiger cage with a silenced pistol. Stripy orange death runs amuck in the camp. In the resulting furor, and from a safe distance, I take out the snipers. The tiger has taken out two troops. I run around the back of a motor garage. Stab a heavy through the chink in his armor (a skill I’ve just acquired). Steal his flame thrower. The tiger has taken out another trooper. I light the place up. Buildings. Palm trees. Grass. Holy moley, the tiger’s on fire. I shoot the last guard with an assault rifle. The heavy doesn’t make it out of the flames. OUTPOST CAPTURED. A truck full of the native Rakyat tribe rock up in their jeep. ‘If you really want to help the island, try checking out the bulletin board,’ he says. Where the hell were you guys?
The multiplayer is competent but its nothing we haven’t seen before. And the co-op campaign is okay if you’re only interested in killing more pirates. They don’t do anything wrong but… well, there’s nothing more to say really. They’re serviceable and just as much fun as any other run-and-gun.
Far Cry 3 is a great game. It’s vast. Often dark. Well thought out. Endlessly enjoyable. Is it Beethoven’s ninth? No, the vapid protagonists bring it down a few pegs. It’s more of a Symphony and Metallica.
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