Welcome to the jungle.
Rook Island is a beautiful slice of tropical paradise nestled in the Pacific Ocean near the Malay archipelago. The island’s crystal-clear waters, lush emerald jungles and scenic sea-side vistas paint the picture of a sun-soaked retreat worthy of any honeymoon or chintzy postcard. Needless to say, when hard-partying twenty-something Jason Brody, his two brothers and their gang of friends go on a vacation to this island hideaway, none of them anticipated what would happen after a skydiving mishap sends the group of trust fund kids into the heart of a pirate infested nightmare masquerading under the sleepy beaches and idyllic ramshackle villages of Rook Island.
Far Cry 3 begins with our unwitting hero Jason Brody trapped in a cage with his brother Grant while the wonderfully psychotic leader of the group of pirates who captured you, Vaas, taunts you and hints that you and your friends are going to be sold into slavery. Grant, a former marine manages to free you from your cell and the two of you attempt to escape the pirate hideout. Needless to say, things don’t quite work out the way you planned and after an explosive introduction you’re thrown on a quest to rescue your friends and avenge the death of your brother at all costs.
Far Cry 3 is an open-world first person shooter with an unrivaled sense of scale. Many have described the game as “Skyrim with guns”, a comparison that is completely fair. The first thing you’ll notice when you take your first steps on your path to revenge is just how massive the world is. Scale any seaside cliff or dilapidated radio tower and you can easily see for miles all around you. Every island shantytown, abandoned World War II gun battery and distant mountain is completely free to explore and teeming with wildlife to hunt, outposts to liberate and hidden caverns to discover. In fact, with the dozens of side quests and treasure hunts Far Cry 3 offers, it’s extremely easy to neglect your main mission for hours simply exploring to discover all of the island’s hidden secrets.
As breathtaking as the world around you is, the game’s brilliant characters and masterful voice acting pull you into Jason Brody’s quest for vengeance just as easily as the game’s incredible visuals and massive scale. Vaas, the leader of the band of modern-day pirates is a drugged up psycho whose monologues are almost as incredible as those from Heath Ledger’s Joker in The Dark Knight. His insane rants and hair-trigger acts of wanton violence make for an explosive villain who easily ranks among the best to ever grace the medium. Likewise, the other characters who make up the various factions on the island are equally impressive with their dialog masterfully delivered. Not often have I played a first person shooter that truly made me care for the characters, but Far Cry 3 excels in making you care for the characters around you, and gives you an insight into the madness that plagues the power players on Rook Island.
It’s not uncommon for a game that tries to implement so many different things stumbles in the process offering a product that ends up squandering its potential with undercooked ideas and poor execution. Thankfully, Far Cry 3 manages to succeed in being a stellar open-world adventure as well as a top-notch first person shooter. Combat is always exciting and the variety of weapons is fantastic. Few things are as satisfying as raiding a pirate outpost unseen and using the excellent stealth takedown system to execute the unsuspecting scallywags before they can call for reinforcements. Knocking out these encampments is wholly optional, but when liberated these encampments become safe houses that you can freely quick travel to, complete with their own shops for stocking up on your ever-increasing arsenal of weapons. In addition to opening up safe houses, eliminating these outposts also cuts down on the number of enemy patrols in the area. Wipe out enough outposts and the island will be completely controlled by your allies, the fearsome Rook Island natives, the Rakyat.
As you progress through the world completing quests and knocking out enemy outposts, you’ll also find radio towers scattered throughout the world. These decrepit monoliths of steel need to be climbed and activated to reveal sections of the map, complete with the locations of plantlife you can harvest to craft syringes for healing, combat bonuses, and hunting buffs. Hunting also allows you to skin animals and use their hides to craft larger ammo packs, holsters, and quivers to carry more weapons and munitions. Hunting is exciting, as many of the island’s native creatures are extremely deadly, and it’s not at all uncommon for the hunter to quickly become the hunted when a raging bear or stealthy tiger come charging at you through the dense jungle.
Speaking of progression, as you complete quests and slay your enemies you gain experience which earns you skill points. These points can be spent in three skill trees manifested in a sleeve tattoo on your arm. These abilities grant you bonuses in stealth, weapons, and your physical abilities. While you may be tempted to use these points sparingly, you will easily earn enough of them by the end of the game to fully complete all skill trees, rendering you an unstoppable badass. My favorite skill bonus was a stealth takedown which allowed me to sneak up on my enemy, slash their throat, and then hurl their own knife into their nearest pal. Awesome abilities like this are common and seeing your character grow from a helpless rich kid to a trained killer is exciting and very rewarding.
As if these distractions weren’t enough, you can also take part in races around the island in a variety of vehicles including cars, jeeps, boats, and hang gliders. If you’re feeling lucky you can also make a trip to the seedier parts of Rook Island and rob the local pirates and privateers of their hard-stolen money in poker tournaments. It’s simply incredible just how much content the game’s main campaign offers, and it’s a very refreshing change of pace from the ten or less hour campaigns you can expect from most of today’s shooter heavyweights.
In all, it took me 35 hours to complete the main campaign, and even then I still had a handful of quests I hadn’t finished. Gamers looking for a shooter with plenty of meat on its bones will find a virtual smorgasbord of content in Far Cry 3.
In addition to the excellent single-player campaign, Far Cry 3 offers a full-featured online component complete with persistent character development, customizable load-outs, and a perk system that is comparable to Call of Duty and today’s other go-to online first person shooters. The game also features a full-featured map editor allowing players to create their own islands to take the online skirmishes to. Unfortunately, while the online firefights are competent, they don’t really stand out in any way and likely won’t replace your online shooter of choice. The vanilla domination, objective, and deathmatch game types are passable though, and if nothing else add some legs to the total package.
There is also a four-player online cooperative mode which pits four surly thugs against an army of pirates looking to recover a large sum of money the modern-day buccaneers swindled from them. The cooperative campaign is about six hours long and features some exciting firefights and a fun mix of objectives. Unfortunately, the paths are quite linear compared to the open nature of the single player campaign and the enemy AI isn’t quite as sharp, lending the co-op mode a very arcade-like feel. This isn’t a bad thing, but could be disappointing to those hoping to traverse the expanses of Rook Island with friends. Even still, the mode is especially challenging and can be great fun, easily overshadowing the online adversarial modes.
Overall, Far Cry 3 is easily the most impressive and well-rounded first person shooter I’ve played in years. The amazing campaign is captivating, and watching Jason Brody change from gun-shy rich kid to a trained killer, eventually embracing his inner predator is fascinating, and the story is exhilarating throughout with an explosive cast that really works to bring the adventure to life. With it’s unrivaled wealth of content and exceptional gameplay, Far Cry 3 could very well be the shooter to beat for the foreseeable future, earning it a perfect 5 sticks.
Final Verdict: 5/5
Available on: Xbox 360 (reviewed) PlayStation 3, PC ; Publisher: Ubisoft ; Developer: Ubisoft Montreal ; Players: 1-12 ; Released: Decmber 4, 2012 ; ESRB: M for Mature ; MSRP: $59.99
This review was based on a retail copy of Far Cry 3 for the Xbox 360.