The action kicks off in a fairly lighthearted fashion as you, your brothers and your mates are enjoying a booze and adrenalin fueled tropical island holiday on remote Rook island.
The game depicts your crew drinking on the beach, hang-gliding, para-sailing and enjoying various other holiday activities. However, things change rapidly in a rather sinister way. As the stunning intro finishes you find you have been kidnapped by a horde of vicious pirates and clearly these guys are looking to extort a healthy ransom for your safe return.
Next, you are tied up in a bamboo cage alongside your older brother while being terrorized by one of the gang leaders, a total nut case known as Vaas. Luckily your older brother’s army training comes in handy. He whacks a guard and helps you make the big bid for freedom. Sadly though your brother gets killed in the process and you find you are desperately lurching off into the bush dodging a hail of bullets, as Vaas’ goons lumber after you.
From here the game pans out quickly. You are befriended by a tribe of rebels who have been trying to retake Rook island from the cartel and these guys help teach you the ways of a warrior and jungle survivalist. The timing and nature of this help is a bit convenient in terms of the narrative. The way you receive help at the exact moment when you are literally at death’s door, feels like too much of a coincidence. That said, it would be a mighty short game if you just died then and there, so it is just as well you are saved from the reaper at the eleventh hour.
On this point, the way you so quickly transform from gun shy civilian to hardened killing machine, also pushes the boundaries credibility wise, but the process is such fun you will find you are happy to go along with it. It is also interesting to observe how Jason, the character you play, goes from being a bit of a wimp to one man assault force. At first you are very timid and not sure what to do next. Rescue and escape seem like they are your only goals.
Before long you are reveling in your skills, as you battle Vaas and the cartel. Along the way you meet a cavalcade of oddball characters and this is one of Far Cry 3’s strong points, as there really are some fascinating folks to meet.
In particular Vaas is a truly evocative villain, the sort of guy you will love to hate. He looks and behaves like a sociopath plucked from the jungles of Vietnam, as portrayed in the celluloid epic, Apocalypse Now. Indeed, if we had to pick one cinematic excursion that most aptly sums up the mood in Far Cry 3, Francis Ford Coppola’s film would fit the bill better than any other.
Far Cry 3 gets you comfortable with the geography of the island, as you are actively encouraged to search for rare relics, hunt, explore and engage in skirmishes with the pirates. The game ramps up very gradually, teaching you the various skills you need to know in a number of successive missions. You must learn to harness the resources on the island to help you survive and become a better warrior. There are different flowers and herbs you can collect and these can be used to heal or help you in a variety of interesting ways. You also get to hunt the local fauna.
In this vein animal liberationists may not be impressed with the game though, as you expand your weapon and inventory slots primarily by killing local critters and then fashioning bags, pouches and holsters out of their carcasses. It is a little grisly having to regularly skin local animals (Jason often makes comments suggesting he isn’t enjoying this either, which is quite amusing). That said the system works quite well, in that it helps you slowly expand your weapon and gear carrying abilities. You gradually become more powerful, as you learn new leather crafting techniques and can fashion better gear.
The combat action is intense and varied. You can get your thrills in stand up machine gun battles, sneak about in the grass going for an acrobatic, stealthy knife kill, or load up your sniper rifle and decimate a pirate base from afar. There are also other cool weapons like flame throwers, mines, grenades and even rocket launchers. Or, if you are channeling the great road warrior Mad Max’s spirit, you can simply jump behind the wheel of the beat up old cars lying about and simply mow down pirate scum where they stand.
The game even has neat touches like the way certain explosives can set off a wild fire that will drive enemies out into the open, making it easy to dispatch them with a few well timed shots.
The extremely varied and at times bloody combat is a real plus here. You will have to ensure that you are out of sight and undetected a lot of the time, as full frontal assaults with all guns blazing can often see you outgunned and overwhelmed.
As well as getting better weapons you can also develop new combat skills. Far Cry 3’s character development system revolves around your ability to acquire tribal wisdom and this is measured by the ritualistic tattoos you can acquire. As you learn new combat, survival or stealth tricks, you get new symbols tattooed onto your arm. This system gives you choice and you gain new skills by earning experience points. It is a simple yet well worn and workable “carrot and stick” approach. At first, you won’t seem to make much progress, but before long you will be able to perform some of the cooler moves, like stealthy acrobatic dagger wielding take downs.
Far Cry 3 isn’t just about combat either. You can meet your island rebel mates for a quick game of poker, go hunting, swim with sharks, compete in knife throwing events or even join a buggy racing league. Each sub-game is great fun and adds to the feeling that you are a part of a broader social milieu.
So while Far Cry 3 has plenty of variety, oozes atmosphere and is a compelling adventure, the game is not perfect. There are a few foibles and probably one of the most significant of these is the multiplayer element. This lacks any sense of originality and the environment doesn't lend itself as well to team play as a more urban area. It is often too open and the stealth elements just don’t come into play when battling human foes. Multiplayer mode is still fun and there is the usual variety of objectives, but Far Cry 3 is much stronger and more innovative as a single player experience.
Also, the game is a little bewildering to play at first. The menu and inventory system, with its dependence on knowledge upgrades, isn’t very intuitive initially. The way Far Cry 3 forces you to hunt animals to make pouches, complicates things, as does the at times constrictive monetary system. This limits your “spend” to the size of your wallet, preventing you from buying cooler toys early on. Once you craft a bigger wallet you can then carry more money and thus have the budget to buy more expensive guns. To us it seems illogical. Wouldn’t your first goal on the island be to buy a bigger wallet from the natives? This would solve your budgetary problems immediately as you could then carry more money and thus immediately buy better guns.
That said the inventory and monetary systems achieve their goal, which is to pace you when it comes to new trinkets. Once you crack the game open a little, have more carrying capacity and have a larger wallet, you can then buy more toys and the game becomes more enjoyable to play.
Far Cry3 is delightfully open in its structure and at first you will find it a little overwhelming with regards to what you should be doing next. The map will be bristling with option icons and it won’t be obvious which will best suit your goals. You just have to be patient and pretty much have a go at everything on offer before you work out what your long term aims are.
For all of these incredibly minor concerns, Far Cry 3 is a truly superb adventure. It has a more compelling story than most shooters, there are plenty of fun activities on offer and Rook island is so stunning to behold, you’d be happy to live there if it wasn’t for the brutish buccaneers you are lumbered with as neighbors.
Reviewed on the Xbox 360.