I started this blog to voice my opinions about the artistic merits and disappointments of video games today. I'm Canadian, so for anyone reading outside the Canada, pardon the variance in spelling. To give you a general sense of my experience, I've been playing videogames for over seventeen years. My primary console is the Playstation 3, though I also own all Nintendo, Playstation and Xbox platforms, along with a Macintosh computer.
It's easy to look at Far Cry 3 and see another generic shooter, another power fantasy, another desolate open world. But if you spend any time with the game you'll realize there's more to this book than its cover. Player choice dominates the journey -- not in story, but in gameplay. With fluid shooting, RPG elements, and a well designed world, Far Cry 3 defies expectations and delivers a genuinely unique experience. To say the industry has an interest in shooters is putting lightly. But there's one conspicuous distinction in this title. This isn't just a shooter, it's your shooter.
The script isn't subtle: you are a warrior. It's going to tell you this more times than I had patience for, but with good reason. In this third instalment you, own these beautiful islands. Options are littered throughout the game, letting you accomplish any goal by any means necessary. Use guns, machetes, vehicles, the environment, use whatever you please. The world is your oyster.
The story revolves around Jason Brody, a naive college graduate who suffers enough to to pick up a gun and demand revenge. While travelling across the Pacific Islands, Jason and his friends are kidnapped by deranged pirate lord Vaas. Narrowly escaping his fate, Jason unites with the rebels of the islands to rescue his friends and liberate the islands from oppression.
Far Cry 3 immediately depicts its vision of empowerment in its skill system. Finding collectables, completing side missions, and clearing pirate encampments rewards you with experience that accumulates into skill points. These can be applied to three different skill trees which improve a selection of attributes, such as the potency of crafted medication or doubling the amount of flowers gathered from a single plant. Some even go as far as to grant you new attacks, allowing you more ways to execute foes, as quietly or as stylishly as you like. Unlike most games, you'll be able to fill out every branch of every tree, eventually giving you absolute control during your escapades.
Initially however, you'll only have a handgun and a blade. Weapons can be purchased at stores, but is completely unnecessary. New weapons are acquired at no charge, by scaling radio towers across the islands. These light platforming sections are a breeze, but may test your patience further in the game. As you unlock new islands, climbing the towers demands more precise platforming, something this game wasn't built for -- you'll find yourself jumping off a balcony more often than landing on it. Long bows, sniper rifles and flamethrowers, are but a few examples of the game's extensive armoury, each weapon unique in upgrades, statistics and sound design. Weapon upgrades will cost you a penny or two -- to be fair the currency has to have some worth. However, quantitative improvements are obtained by more enthralling means.
The lush scenery of the island has plenty of thrills to offer. But there are few things more intimidating than turning to a low growl to find a tiger stalking you. This is a threat you'll be willing to face. Capacity upgrades are crafted by collecting specific animal parts across the islands. These range from creatures as docile as deer, to as vicious as leopards. Each animal has its own distinct animations, behaviours, and attacks, forcing you to think on your feet at all times. You could be crouched in the grass silently inching closer to a deer, and have your leg bitten by Komodo dragon who decided to shadow your movement. It's these moment to moment encounters that shape the experience. Diving for treasure only to find bull sharks surrounding you is startling and offers a welcome challenge to an otherwise ordinary endeavour. Animals also make firefights more compelling, if they take place close to their nest. Some encampments even hold animals in cages, allowing chaos to ensue if you set them free. Watching an emu peck a pirate to death is spectacle you won't catch elsewhere.
Danger lurks in every corner of the islands by form of both man and beast. By taking out all the enemies at one of the game's many pirate encampments, you unlock the ability to fast travel there and also gain experience. An obvious move is to engage the enemy head on, but this isn't advised. If you haven't deactivated their alarms, reinforcements may be called in, leaving you with enemies so relentless, they may even resort to chasing you by helicopter. Silently clearing camps is most satisfying, netting you more experience if no alarms were rung, and even more if you weren't detected.
Enemies in the game are smart enough to spot you in their line of sight, flank, and take cover when attacked. But you do have the ability to toss a rock in any direction, a distraction that apparently no pirate can resist. Besides this asinine behaviour, enemies are still a challenge in numbers. They become even more difficult as the game progresses since they acquire body armours, new weapons, and armed vehicles.This calls for more attention to how you tackle groups of enemies, and encourages you to eliminate them in silence. But with the abilities you unlock this becomes a desirable effort. In time, you'll be able to silently execute multiple enemies by a single action, entering and leaving a situation without making a sound.
Using plants gathered on the islands, you can create syringes that range from restoring health to improving shooting skills. New recipes unlock with narrative progression but the most interesting concoctions are acquired by gathering collectibles scattered across the islands. Of course your most common fix will be to restore health, but there is an annoyance that couples with the action. Quick healing and quickly swapping weapons is mapped to the same button, the difference depends on whether it was held down. This can lead to some frustrating scenarios where you're in need of medication, but Jason feels that cycling through weapons takes priority.
Side missions are limited in variety, though are challenging enough to make each experience different. Aside from your typical open-world mini-games like poker and races, the game asks you to execute targets while adhering to specific conditions. When your target's a high ranking pirate, the game demands that you finish them by machete. Not much variance there. However, some side missions ask you to hunt animals within a certain time limit or with a specific weapon. Some of these hunting missions even ask you to prey on a variants of animals, beasts that are tougher and smarter than their relatives.
Now, you may've noticed that I've hardly spoke of the storyline. Right... About that...
Thematically, Far Cry 3 is a mess -- lost, confused, and suffering from its own insanity. Not far into the story, you'll realize the narrative doesn't know what it wants to express. One mission you're hallucinating as Vaas comments on your sociopathy, the next, Flight of the Valkyries plays as you gun down enemies. Inspired by works such as Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness, the game vainly attempts to make a comment on the insanity that accompanies the consumption of violence. But cringeworthy dialogue and a lack of cohesion prevents the story from affecting the player. You might recognize quotations from Lewis Caroll's Through the Looking Glass during the loading screens, and imagine the plot will make great use of the brilliant citations. Unfortunately that's your imagination -- the game's ambivalence proves them worthless.
From delinquent students to mad scientists, stereotypes fill the roles of characters in the game, often disposed of following a few conversations. Vaas being the game's antagonist and most fascinating character, is hardly developed at all. Beyond a monologue on insanity, he's used to deliver quick plot points and swear profusely. Jason himself will spew some lines that attempt to harmonize with the theme of madness, but they're so blatant and mundane that it makes you uncomfortable.
The art direction bleeds potential. Menus and loading screens are striking and resemble Rorschach tests, though fail in showing any cohesion with the plot. Don't get me wrong, there's some great moments in this game as far set pieces go. But that's all they are, set pieces, holding little value with the narrative. Even beautifully designed hallucinations are merely spectacles -- they make no comment on Jason's psychological state. It's sad to see the lost opportunity. How we could've been told an unconventional tale, attacking the player for their every sin. What you get instead is a theme and art style that lack any congruence with the adventure. However, the game is able to keep you on the edge of your seat the whole ride through because of its gripping gameplay.
Anyone looking for a fresh take on first person shooters should look no further. Far Cry 3 throws you into a unique environment with a great sense of progression, and a variety of objectives to complete at your leisure. It does have its imperfections with some anti-aliasing issues, but they aren't pronounced enough to cloud your enjoyment. If you're looking for a well defined, interesting story then I advise you to spend your time elsewhere. But however pedestrian the game's narrative may be, the gameplay makes for an experience you shouldn't overlook.