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Far Cry 3 (PlayStation 3) artwork

Far Cry 3 (PlayStation 3) review

"Far Cry 3 is a sublime open world shooter that attempts to tackle the cause of insanity in a meaningful way, with mixed success."

If thereís been a running theme to gaming in 2012 (aside from the usual parade of shooters and sequels) itís been the promise of unfettered insanity. Borderlands 2 cranked up the crazy; Slender pushed us to the outer limits of exquisite terror; Hotline Miami forced us to question our penchant for wanton bloodshed. Far Cry 3 is a fitting end to such a year. Sure, itís a shooter and a sequel. It also happens to offer a sublime open world experience that attempts to tackle the cause of insanity in a meaningful way. Quite how successful it is in such a lofty endeavour may well prove a long running point of contention.

Far Cry 3 asset

Jason Brody and friends will be familiar to anyone whoís seen an American horror movie: spoiled, vacuous, and utterly shocked when their hedonism and hubris lands them in trouble. This, in a roundabout way, is the setup for Far Cry 3, as an accident sees Brodyís posse kidnapped on Rook Island, a paradise in every way but for the murderous psychopathic pirates it counts as inhabitants.

Actually, the comparison to American horror movies isnít quite fair. While Brody and chums loosely fit this mould, theyíre better rounded than that. This is important, as the quest to save them is your motivation to get involved in the violent affairs of Rook Island. The whole game is buoyed by fine performances throughout, particularly from the villains of the piece. Vaas, the mentally unstable pirate leader, brims with caustic malevolence. The slimy, irrational Hoyt provides a figure of compelling hatred. Significantly, these are antagonists that you truly believe are capable of the most terrible atrocities. Far Cry 3 uses this to ask the question: what makes people become so unhinged that theyíll kill without a second thought?

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The environment provides much of the answer; Rook Island is a cruel, ruthless place. Almost anything that draws breath will attack you on sight, be it human or something larger, hairier, and full of teeth. Before he can take on the pirates, Brody must first learn to survive. This is where Far Cry 3 makes full use of its incredible environment. Open world games are often guilty of shoehorning in fetch quests and busywork simply to make them feel populated. Far Cry 3 avoids this by offering incentives for you to take advantage of Rook Islandís impressive eco-system. Hunting and gathering is not just an idle distraction. Most major upgrades, such as the ability to carry more weapons, are earned by sourcing the right materials. Thereís a weight limit on what you can carry, so being able to survive on the fly is often crucial.

Rook Island truly is full of sights to see. Beneath the facade of tropical paradise is a strong sense of history and culture, developed through lost letters and discarded memory cards, the words and memories of the local Rakyat people. As well as lush greenery and sparkling tides, youíll explore hidden caverns and the decaying hulks of shipwrecks. If it wasnít for the risk of a grisly death around every corner, this really would be the ideal holiday destination.

The Rakyat people are the ones who set you on the path to madness. Itís largely on their behalf that you attack pirate outposts to reclaim territory, something youíll spend a lot of time doing alongside the central story. Itís here, in the core gameplay, as Brody begins to unravel, that Far Cryís central theme begins to suffer the same fate. The story aims to meaningfully chart Brodyís fall from regular guy to cold-blooded killer. While admirable, the authenticity of this struggles to hold up in the face of the glorious violence placed at your disposal.

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Letís consider the gameplay first. Far Cry 3 truly lives up to its promise of letting you choose your own method of attack. Whether itís because of the scarcity of ammo or just the sheer number of adversaries you must face, stealth is generally encouraged. Storm in guns blazing and foes will raise the alarm, bringing a small army down on you. Most encampments contain a variety of stealth routes, allowing you to sneak in and make use of quiet melee attacks, silenced weapons, and diversionary tactics. You can also hang back and tag enemies with your camera, allowing you to track their positions on your HUD.

As you clear encampments and activate radio towers, trade to the island improves and better resources become available, making all-out attack more of an option. Panic is a powerful weapon in Far Cry 3. Fire throws a camp into disarray, and that outcome can in turn be used to herd enemies. Rook Islandís aggressive wildlife can work to your advantage; set a tiger loose and let it do the killing for you. You might load a jeep with C4 and drive it into camp, snipe enemies from a distance, launch a machete at a pirateís throat. While gunplay isnít weighted toward the trigger happy, the vast selection of lethal attacks makes for heady, visceral action. Therein lies the problem.

Such magnificent, entertaining violence makes it difficult to believe in Brodyís transformation. The game tries hard to explain his crumbling sanity as his skills and attitude change. Ultimately, this is Far Cry 3 working to justify turning Brody into the character it needs him to be. However far he is pushed, thereís no reasoning away the superlative brutality that is key to the gameplay. The gameís skill trees also try to chart Brodyís development, but many abilities, unlocked by gaining experience points from killing, just seem like common sense rather than signs of becoming a sadistic madman; any one of us would know to drag bodies out of sight to avoid detection, but here it must be unlocked.

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Itís truly commendable to see a major game trying to explore violence in a meaningful way, and its failure to do so barely impacts negatively on the gameplay. Itís just a shame that the two elements donít sit comfortably alongside one another, particularly since the revenge plot features an ending that, like so many these days, comes rather abruptly.

Thereís more to do in Far Cry 3 after the credits have rolled, though. Online multiplayer is present and correct, but unfortunately does not share the ambition of the main campaign. Gone is the open world, and in its place are uninspired, often cluttered maps that offer the opportunity to slaughter other players in over a handful of competitive modes. While such diversions might prove fun for a while, the gunplay was clearly never designed for such sustained action, and it simply canít compete with the heavy hitters of the slick online shooter world.

More promising is the cooperative play, which allows you to team with up to three friends to clear a number of objectives on Rook Island. With vehicles and wildlife in the mix, this can prove a great deal of lightweight fun. Although levels are still more linear than the main game, thereís plenty of opportunity to test their boundaries and invent your own mini challenges to compete in. Unfortunately that mode risks being hamstrung by the potential inability to form a full team. Going in just as a pair leaves you severely outnumbered, and every objective can soon turn into a tedious, frustrating grind.

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In the run up to release, Far Cry 3 made a lot of promises. For the most part, it lives up to that hype. Its beautiful open world rewards exploration and experimentation like no other, offering up a compelling adventure and violence that is frequently breathless and spectacular. To say its ambition is its downfall would place unwarranted emphasis on its minor shortcomings. While the thoughtful central theme fails to find its mark, youíre unlikely to care as you line up another machete decapitation. In a year filled with games offering a cocktail of violence and self-conscious commentary, Far Cry 3 does at least one of those better than any other.


space_dust's avatar
Staff review by David Owen (December 02, 2012)

David Owen is a freelance writer who also contributes to VG247, Eurogamer, IGN, and others. He likes Gitaroo Man more than is healthy.

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