SummaryGoats and pirates, here I come!
The GoodThe mainstream tendency to genre-merging has become apparent in recent years. A "triple A" title today is no longer content with being just a good shooter, a good RPG, a good open-world game, etc. Every game wants to have it all. Whether this fashion is good or bad is a matter of debate, but I personally like the idea of having it all in one package. I want my shooters with RPG elements and I love sandbox gaming. So in this sense, I was excited by the mere concept of Far Cry 3 - though the example of Borderlands showed me I shouldn't jump with joy just because somebody decided to mix FPS and role-playing.
I feel disappointed, however, that so few people have given Xenus games the credit they deserve. Deep Shadows did fantastic work on combining free-roaming action and driving with FPS and RPG before that concept became mainstream. Far Cry 3 is in a way a lighter, more commercial, more easily accessible, more polished version of those games. In general, it is a typical modern game, for good and for bad. But even though I couldn't control my resentment to it from time to time, I can't deny I had loads of fun with it.
There are several smart ideas in the game I'd like to point out. While not succeeding on all fronts as an RPG, it does have a very cool integration of hunting and crafting into character growth. In the beginning of the game you can only carry one weapon, but this is not an arbitrary decision the game just wanted to impose on you. You can't carry more because you have nothing to put those weapons in, so you'll have to hunt animals and make weapon holders out of their skin. This applies to pretty much everything - you'll need larger wallets, ammo satchels, and other stuff. If you want drugs for healing or improving your combat performance you can collect herbs and make them yourself. This makes plenty of sense and contributes to the game's role-playing aspect, which also includes experience points awarded for everything you do and some useful skills you can learn.
Another good idea is the obfuscation of the map in unexplored areas and the necessity to clear it by climbing on radio towers. These climbing sequences have been taken from Assassin's Creed games and are generally fun, since each tower is composed out of light platforming elements involving ropes, ladders, and so on. I like it that at least they didn't open the whole map to you right in the beginning and you really feel like traveling to a hostile, unknown territory if you haven't done the radio tower sequence there.
Far Cry 3 certainly works well as an FPS. Weapon management and combat are satisfying, and using different means to dispose of the foes is always nice. I didn't care for the stealth aspect that much, but adding it was a clever idea, since simply exterminating hundreds of pirates one by one quickly gets tiresome. So you can hide in tall grass, try to go straight to your objective without anyone noticing you, perform sneaky takedowns, or simply take a heavy machine gun and do it the old-fashioned way. Above all, the gameplay is dynamic, changing gears as you do, without forcing anything down your throat.
The world of Far Cry 3 isn't the most beautiful open environment I have ever seen, but it is seamless, very large, homogeneous in style, and generally fun to explore. There are mountains, jungle, underground caves, decrepit settlements, mysterious tribal structures, and other things to find. I love the abundance of fauna and its importance to the gameplay. Leopards, komodo dragons, deer and other cool creatures populate this world. If you go for a swim in the crystal-clear sea you will see colorful jellyfish or escape from ferocious sharks.
One of the things I love most in a game are unique situations that happen only because of the way you choose to play it. You can also call it "messing around". I know that I'm having fun with a game when I spend half an hour pushing a boat over cliffs and down a waterfall just because I feel like doing so. Performing a bloody chained takedown on two peacefully camping pirates while three boars stare in disbelief and then trapping one of the animals with a mine so that he can contribute his skin to my backpack enhancement is my idea of having fun with video games. You can hop over the island and just have your adventures - violent or calm, dark or funny - on your own, without following any scripted events. This is the kind of freedom that only video games are able to supply, and this is something to value and appreciate.
Speaking of scripted events, they aren't bad at all. Main missions are uniformly solid, and many of them are exciting both gameplay-wise and as the driving force of the plot. There are all sorts of setpieces, be it quick-time events, sniping, rail-shooting, and so on. Such diverse main missions are great at breaking the inevitable repetitiveness of all those activities you can perform outside of the story. They clearly learned from GTA and that is a good thing.
Even better is the fact that, unlike GTA, these missions make complete sense story-wise. What I don't like in open-world games is the frequent necessity to engage in meaningless filler missions. In GTA you had to forget about whatever motivation your protagonist had for setting the plot in motion and participate in arcade-style racing or kill people you don't care about so that other people you also don't care about will magically enable a tiny step towards game completion. In other games there might be equally annoying stuff such as performing stupid quests for a faction to increase your reputation or whatever. I was glad to discover that Far Cry 3 had very little of those nuisances. The plot is tight and you do logical things that help you rescue your friends. There is no unnecessary "fat" in the structure of the missions, and that makes the game enjoyable simply as a plot-driven FPS.
The story is surprisingly good. We are not talking award-winning literature here, but as far as video game plots go, this is above average. At least I was interested to find out how it all ended. There are dramatic fully first-person cutscenes and generally good writing accompanied by convincing voice acting. In particular, the actor who did Vaas succeeded in recreating a spine-chilling psychopath whose appearance in the intro masterfully sets the tone of the game. Yes, sometimes the story slips into corny musings bordering on flat moralizing, but I was ready for that after playing Assassin's Creed II, and it works much better here with an intimate modern-day cast. There are no cheap plot twists and the story has focus, gradually building up suspense until the fairly original ending.
The BadI generally like and respect Ubisoft Montreal's work, but there is one thing I don't like in their games: excess of convenience. They simply cater to the player too much. Thankfully, you do need to press different keys for Jason to perform different actions this time (I really didn't like the on-rails acrobatics of Assassin's Creed games), so you shouldn't worry about Far Cry 3 not functioning like a normal FPS. However, it still lets you overpower yourself way too easily, eliminating the sense of danger that was essential for its premise. Compare this to Xenus, a game of a similar genre that made you work hard and where the sense of reward was overwhelming. You have all the ingredients of modern game design here: low difficulty level, comfortable fast travel, objects placed at your feet just when you need them, map pointers for literally everything, etc., sometimes driven ad absurdum: loot chests and valuable plants, for example, are highlighted and marked on your map. What's the point of searching for things if the game tells you exactly where they are?
This kind of approach borders on condescending and certainly leads to ridiculous situations resembling legitimized cheating. Worse is the fact you don't need to cheat because the game is so easy anyway. There is a lot to do, but every time it is absolutely clear what you need to do and how to do it. When I want to immerse myself in a hostile exotic world I don't need "activity" reminders or cheerful advices such as "you can now buy flamethrowers in any store!" popping up every minute. I want to explore, adapt to the world, and learn what to do by myself, thank you very much.
Visual design is uneven. Some of the graphics are haphazardly done, with certain elements being almost ugly. In particular, I found those bitmap horizons awful. Every time I climbed a tower and wanted to enjoy the view those fake blurry mountains and stationary clouds spoiled it all. There seem to be no weather effects and in general the game's visuals have something sterile and unpleasant in them. Artistic inspiration is clearly lacking, which further affects immersion in a negative way. Maybe I was spoiled by Dishonored, but the contrast between that game's beauty and the negligence of Far Cry 3 was almost jarring. The game's world is also quite repetitive - there are interesting locations, but overall it's just a big jungle and not much else.
Far Cry 3 works well as an open-world shooter, but lacks depth as an RPG. You can't talk to any NPCs, character growth is mostly restricted to skills and perks, and side quests are uniformly bland. I enjoyed very much chatting with characters in Xenus games and the communication restrictions of Far Cry 3 made the entire role-playing aspect seem more shallow.
The Bottom LineAnnoying modern-day design issues aside, Far Cry 3 is a pretty cool game after all. You can nitpick about this or that but it's hard to deny that the game takes you on a great ride. It doesn't have much class and certainly doesn't put anything new on the table, but in terms of sheer volume and fun, it delivers in spades.