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SummaryGoats and pirates in an artificial sandbox
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.
There are several smart ideas in the game I'd like to point out. While not really succeeding 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 feature would have made plenty of sense if the game didn't make it unnecessarily streamlined and easy.
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.
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.
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.
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 BadUbisoft Montreal's have certainly done a lot to popularize video games, and I like their generosity and serious intentions. However, sometimes I feel they make games specifically for those people who don't want to think or make any effort.
Excess of convenience is something that has ruined quite a few promising games for me. Thankfully, you do need to press different keys for Jason to perform different actions (I really don'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 is a solid enough 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.