Far Cry 3 will unleash a wave of tropical insanity when it launches this week. VG247’s Dave Cook goes on a virtual holiday to hell and back to see if it’s any good.
“This is a place where the bullet and blade speak louder than the words, and where rigidly crafted judicial systems, police enforcement and human rights no longer apply. It’s every man for himself in a place ruled by trigger happy mercenaries and vicious wildlife, and here, you either adapt or you die.”
Open world games have been releasing thick and fast during the pre-holiday rush this year, but few of these digital expanses have impressed quite so much as the Rook Islands, home to the savage brutality of Far Cry 3’s ruthless pirates.
I have to point out straight away that Ubisoft’s island environment is massive, and as we only received our code from the publisher after the review embargo lifted, I’ve only managed to sink a good eight hours into the game. We’re not a review site after all, so please treat this piece as an early impressions affair.
Still, eight hours is still a long time, and when you start playing Far Cry 3 you will likely finish a long session, enter the map screen to admire your handiwork, and find that you’ve barely dented it. As such, the game’s value is without question.
It’s a game focused on raw, animal instinct, and what happens when you find yourself out of your comfort zone, forced to adjust to a place where the laws of common society are thousands of miles away.
This is a place where the bullet and blade speak louder than the words, and where rigidly crafted judicial systems, police enforcement and human rights no longer apply. It’s every man for himself in a place ruled by trigger happy mercenaries and vicious wildlife, and here, you either adapt or you die.
The game’s opening – in which protagonist Jason Brody and his thrill-seeking friends enjoy a booze, extreme sports and dubstep-filled holiday – shows a decadent and care-free existence, ending on an unsupervised parachute jump over the Rook Islands.
Next, you see Brody and his older brother Grant shackled inside a bamboo cage being goaded by the insane pirate general Vaas. His erratic behaviour and knee-jerk threats of violence towards Grant prompts pathetic whimpers from Brody, and it’s this vulnerability that makes Far Cry 3’s plot all the more striking.
I won’t spoil the events that lead up to Brody’s position as the game’s hero, and eventual leader of a resistance movement headed up by the island’s natives, the Rakyat, but as you complete the game’s core quest line, his transformation from weak city boy to hardened warrior is compelling.
You feel yourself taking the same journey as well, and that is something truly special indeed. At the outset, you realise that the island is vast and littered with hidden hazards at every turn, instilling a sense that you are always on the backfoot, dangerously under-equipped and facing impossible odds.
But as you take your first steps into the intimidating open world, get some blood on your hands and put a few quests behind you, the islands seem less threatening. Then the game puts you into harder and more gruelling situations to shatter your false sense of security. It’s learning curve management at its finest.
“Gunplay is weighted as you’d expect, so trigger-happy players should expect to miss a lot and as such, find themselves without ammo rather quickly. Discipline and precision are the watchwords here.”
By comparison Far Cry 2 nailed the survival vibe well, but at times felt like an all-out slog. Guns would frequently jam, road checkpoints were a constant annoyance, and the threat of malaria hung over your head to create sustained pressure. It was a draining yet beckoning experience that split opinions.
On the other hand Far Cry 3 feels more manageable without compromising its survival elements entirely, and that can’t have been an easy balance for Ubisoft to nail. Chances are that if you found fault with any element of Far Cry 2’s mechanics, they’ve most likely been remedied here.
Key to liberating the Rook Islands is to overthrow pirate outposts and disabling radio jammer towers dotted around the map. Outposts are teeming with mercs, so the stealth approach is always advised due to ammo being a rare commodity for most of your campaign.
Also, the sound of gunfire will see enemies descending on you within seconds, and trust me, you don’t want that. Instead you can use Brody’s digital camera to zoom in on an outpost from a safe distance and take photos. This highlights enemy positions on your HUD, helping you plan your attack.
From there you can silently crouch-walk your way into the outpost through any of the expertly crafted stealth routes – be it a discreet hole in a chain link fence, or concealed vantage point on a cliff-top – and take down guards silently with your machete. One bone of contention is that you cant initially drag bodies, so careful planning is required until you learn the skill.
You can also hurl rocks to manipulate guards into straying from their patrol routes. It doesn’t work every time, so it’s not a bankable strategy. Should you find yourself with no other option but to use the trigger, you can either opt for a silenced weapon, or go loud, prompting a skirmish in the process.
Gunplay is weighted as you’d expect, so trigger-happy players should expect to miss a lot and as such, find themselves without ammo rather quickly. Discipline and precision are the watchwords here, but you also have to be quick before pirates call in reinforcements, so there is a real pressure to get the job done before backup arrives.
It feels annoyingly sluggish at first, but if the survival slant of the Far Cry series is what you stay for, then you’ll like the feeling of being a poorly-trained marksman out of your depth. Kills and objective completion will net you experience points however, and these can be spent to improve Brody’s skill-set.
“There is a real hunter-gatherer nature at play here. Slaying creatures, stockpiling plant-life, and searching for loot containers in rusted shacks and coves is endearing, and serves to underline the game’s primal undertones.”
Radio towers are unguarded, twisted constructs of rusting steel and wires that must be scaled and disabled to reveal more of the map and open up more side quests, courier missions and races. It’s the same as the vantage point mechanic as Assassin’s Creed, but scaling each tower becomes a puzzle in itself as you progress.
As each tower is disabled, supply routes to the island open up and stores will offer more items and gun attachments. Upping the ammo count or scope of a weapon can make all the difference when being set upon by packs of trained mercs, but these upgrades are costly.
Money can be found by patting down the bodies of dead pirates or selling trinkets located in storage boxes dotted around the map. Like ammo, cash is also relatively rare, and must be spent wisely, adding yet another layer of careful consideration into the mix.
Revealing more of the map also highlights the breeding ground for the island’s animal species, which is handy as wildlife is key to crafting new items. For example, you can fashion new gun holsters, money wallets or arrow quivers by hunting and skinning deer, rabid dogs, sharks and other vicious creatures.
Some species aren’t easily defeated, and can swarm you in great numbers. Predators are often heard before they are seen, prompting you to spin around on the spot, looking for a sign of where they’re lurking amid the dense undergrowth.
Comparatively, herbivores require a stealthy approach, as the slightest sound will see them scampering far out of reach. You will also need to gather plants to distil health syringes, animal repellent and other performance enhancers, and as such, there is much to consider at all times.
There is a real hunter-gatherer nature at play here. Slaying creatures, stockpiling plant-life, and searching for loot containers in rusted shacks and coves is endearing, and serves to underline the game’s primal undertones.
The plot itself is a dark affair but to delve too much into the motivation of the haywire Vaas and his relatively sane and methodical counterpart Hoyt would be to water down your quest for progression, so I’d rather not reveal too much of what I’ve seen so far.
What I will say is that although it starts as a simple quest to save your holiday-making friends and escape the island, Far Cry 3 turns into something bigger, and far-reaching, giving you a sense of place and purpose in a world gone horrible awry.
“What may feel like a hike across uninteresting land can quickly become an expedition into an abandoned World War II facility, or a resource-gathering mission in some derelict village.”
Even characters who should serve as comforting voices of reason come with darker, unpredictable motives and slivers of dementia. Take the erratic Dr. Earnhardt for example: he’s a man of science and methodology who should be dependable amidst the chaos, yet his drug abuse and hallucinations keep you uneasy.
All of this uncertainty and peril delivers a real, tangible atmosphere throughout Far Cry 3, along with a sense that you truly are out of your depth. Its well-crafted survival elements should be the catalyst that keeps you coming back for more, even if they can seen daunting at the outset.
Even if the Xbox 360 version fails to match the visuals seen in Ubisoft’s trailers – in fact, some areas and textures look dated, underlining just how long the game has been in development – the artistic direction, along with the density of the jungle environments are hard to fault.
No patch of land feels copy-pasted, no inch of coastline designed without real consideration towards the player. What may feel like a hike across uninteresting land can quickly become an expedition into an abandoned World War II facility, or a resource-gathering mission in some derelict village.
There is so much to see and do here, and it really goes to show that when crafted with care and an eye for smart design, any open world can become an immersing, atmospheric place that you believe in and enjoy returning to time and time again.
Far Cry 3’s Rook Islands may be savage and uncompromising, but they are up there with the best open worlds gaming has to offer, and I implore you to take a visit when the game launches from November 29th.
- This feature was written using a promotional copy of Far Cry 3 on Xbox 360 sent by Ubisoft’s UK team. VG247 did not attend a review event or receive any merchandise with their code.