I am not going to compare Far Cry 3 to its predecessors. To try and intimate that there is a heritage it has to aspire to, given that both previous games were made by different sets of people with no consistent creative vision, is unfair to what the Far Cry series is becoming.
Similar to Final Fantasy the Far Cry trilogy looks to become one that, apart from the title and some common gameplay/character types, follows a unique vision in each installment.
In the case of FC3 it is about being as annoying as possible for as long as possible whilst stifling anything interesting the game might have had to offer, all while trouncing Call of Duty for linear hand-holding bullshit.
Make no mistake, the fidelity of the environments, the kick of the weapons and the invisible systems that underlie each encounter can lead to thrilling experiences (something that it shares with the other Far Crys - or should that be Far Cries?).
I experienced one of my favourite examples early on, watching two men on patrol jumping out of their jeep to take pot shots at dingoes, only to accidentally blow their own vehicle up, killing themselves and leaving the animals unharmed.
There were other such moments, like stumbling into a camp and having to murder everyone whilst everything burnt to the ground because of a loose Molotov cocktail, that may or may not have been thrown by me, falling into an ammunition pile. Another came after scoping out a base, taking the time to tag each of the guards, then following their patterns until I could take them out without the others noticing. I slowly sniped them from a hill, carefully picking my moments, until there was just one troublesome guy left who had parked himself out of line of sight. As I was adjusting my positioning for a better shot, a leopard ran out from the jungle and murdered him before slinking back from whence it came.
My problem is that every one of those experiences happened to me outside of the main storyline’s utterly constrained missions, and this damages the game because what seems like it should be the crux of the game experience is sidelined by the sometimes mediocre, sometimes downright awful nonsense that the development team decided was what you wanted.
It is almost as if the developers don’t have the confidence in what they have created on their game’s periphery, because every time you try and engage with that content the game will stop you with a message. ” Hey, remember you have a mission. Careful, you still haven’t gone on a mission, not sure if you noticed that pop-up from 5 seconds ago but here is a another one reminding you about that mission, it’s cool if you want to go do some exploring you know, but you know, like, that mission needs doing. Not important, I know, but oh! Will you look at this, another reminder about that mission. Not important or anything.”
Your screen will be barraged with this harassment constantly. The game bombards the player with reminders of what to do next, what they could be doing or what, because they aren’t doing what the game tells them, they are missing out on. There is no breathing space and all of the little things that could have made Far Cry 3 one of the best games of 2012, possibly the last five years, are stifled as a result.
It is as if Far Cry 3 has no respect for the player or itself.
This authorship over what we are told to like or care about, and not allowing the player to take the time to explore the world – which does feature some truly interesting places – means that I grew to resent all the moments I gone through. It’s like spending a wonderful evening with an attractive lady only to be taken back to her place for some tarmacking. (Warning: googling the adult definition of tarmacking will bring up some unpleasant imagery.)
And it goes on and on, finding new ways to stifle the exploration. The game unlocks constant quick travel points as you get to them so that you can skip swathes of content. Later it starts doing that with places you haven’t even been to yet, further denigrating the game’s exploratory nature.
Everything is also tagged, so if you’re searching for something just bring up the map and select the relevant icon. No need to search, no need to learn the terrain. It is as if Dark Souls never existed.
But what makes the core of the game so terrible?
The ‘main’ story is inundated with Quick Time Events, turret sequences and other pure on-rails moments that would not be out of place in Virtua Cop. That is topped off by unskippable cutscenes which are admittedly fantastically rendered but go on for too fucking long.
The amount of information thrown onscreen suggests a philosophy of the player being an idiot who has no way to find their way through a mission even when they are in the middle of pursuing that very objective.
The number of times I was reminded to sneak into an observation post, whilst I was sneaking into the observation post, became belligerent; partly because this particular pop-up included an audio cue similar to the sound made to warn me that I had been spotted by an enemy.
There is nothing emergent throughout the ‘core’ experience of Far Cry 3 and this becomes a drain on everything that happens. There are constant fail states if you deviate outside of the path created for you with no flexibility around your objectives. It is as if the game wouldn’t know to handle your choices even if it didn’t just smack a ‘game over’ in your face whenever you pushed its boundaries.
Far Cry 3 is by no means a bad game but it is one that is not adventurous either. It is happy to be better than its peers, such as Assassin’s Creed and Call of Duty, rather than something truly phenomenal – which some singular moments suggest it might have been.
The same can be said about its narrative; there are bits of writing where it feels as if the game is trying to break the fourth wall, or even make you question what you are playing. Boss battles that should be impossible to win but have you coming to with everyone around you dead, even though you were armed with a knife and heavily out-gunned, or a prison scene in which the televisions are showing imagery that could only be there for you, the gamer not the character, to let you know that this is only a series of digital illusions.
At least that is what some of the earlier scenes hint at. It unravels at the end with no real meaning delivered and the story remains undecided as to what it wants to be – a commentary on game violence or a celebration of it.
Finally, there is the Co-Op multiplayer that appears to have been made by an entirely different team of developers with the core engine tampered with (fire propagation doesn’t work the same way) and any fun that might have been derived replaced by heavily scripted encounters and a learning curve that spikes horribly all over the place. Awful only half describes it.
There are better open world games with RPG elements (Saints Row The Third, Dead Island), better games with stories about what might be the same topic Far Cry 3 was aiming for (Spec Ops: The Line), and there are games with cheaper thrills (COD 4: Modern Warfare must be going for less than a tenner now). As a result Far Cry 3 simply doesn’t have enough going for it to recommend to anyone short of those who have run out of other games to play.
Please note this review is based on the X360 version of Far Cry 3. A patch has been released for the PC version allowing the player to turn off a lot of the UI elements, but no patch is available for the consoles at this time. Also, the patch does not make the game fun to play, just less insipid.