Ages ago, I dreamed of island vacations. The zombie adventure “Dead Island” gave me second thoughts. “Far Cry 3” has convinced me the dream just might be a nightmare.
In the first-person shooter from Ubisoft, you play as Jason Brody, someone who thought Rock Island was a great place to enjoy sun, surf and clubs with friends and family. After an opening party-time cinematic, the good times end with everyone scattered, mostly in the hands of psychotic pirates who control much of the island.
After escaping from these thugs, you’re rescued by an easy-going guy named Dennis who’s a friend of the local islanders. He asks you to join their efforts to resist the pirates while you try to find and free your friends.
Even though you’ll spend a lot of time searching the vast open world for your friends, you’ll probably spend even more time laying the groundwork for their rescue by undermining the pirates’ control of the island. This can be done by liberating radio towers and pirate strongpoints. The towers unlock weapons that are provided by thankful islanders and reveal hidden portions of the map. Capturing a stronghold opens the surrounding area to allied islanders and unlocks a safe house, where you can purchase weapons and ammo.
You’ll also be offered a number of side quests, such as hunting pesky critters, eliminating thugs or running errands for off-kilter islanders. These and other activities earn you cash that enables you to buy new weapons or upgrade your current arsenal.
There’s plenty more you will need to upgrade in order to survive. As you gain experience, you increase your combat skills and health. You can also increase your ability to carry weapons, money, healing syringes and other items by hunting the island’s fauna. Different animals enable you to craft different pouches, belts and sacks. This is important because you can’t buy the big guns unless you’ve already made the big wallet. And you can’t deal with the bigger threats unless you make a bigger ammo pouch.
This is all wrapped into a story that’s packed with interesting twists and turns. It’s also filled with a large number of colorful characters, many of whom teeter on the brink of insanity. A few are comical, but most are sinister — including some who are downright disturbing.
The game and its story are actually divided into two parts. The first is dominated by the fight against the pirates who originally captured your party. This portion of the story also focuses on the native people, their struggles and their lore. In the second portion, the action moves to an adjoining island where you face a vicious slave trader and his mercenaries. The fights are more fierce and the challenges more difficult.
While the game has a “3” at the end of its title, it really doesn’t have much in common with its predecessor. In “Far Cry 2,” you played as a morally ambiguous mercenary in the middle of a nasty conflict in Africa. It also had a cumbersome driving system, enemies who had miraculously clear night vision and an annoying requirement that you find medication every so often to keep your wits about you.
Fortunately, in “Far Cry 3,” the game play, characters and story are far superior to those in the predecessor.
First, there’s no need to medicate yourself, so there’s no ticking time bomb threatening to interrupt the action. In addition, there are no hyper-vigilant super soldiers. Encounters are generally well balanced — though rarely easy. And while the setting is expansive open world, it’s easy to navigate because the driving system has been improved — primarily by adding a mini-map to the display. You can also fast-travel to the numerous safe houses very easily. Sure, neither of these elements is “realistic,” but they make the game so much more enjoyable to play.
Combat is handled very well. Since you’re a lone wolf taking on an entrenched foe, stealth is vital. Suppressed weapons, a swift blade and the ability to knock out enemy alarms are the keys to victory. Going in with guns blazing is almost certain to send you back to the loading screen. As a result, you quickly learn that planning your approach and prioritizing your victims are important.
The controls are very smooth and well mapped on the controller.
The graphics are pretty good. Most of the important characters are very detailed and well animated. However, some of the “extras” are a bit stiff and look virtually identical. The settings are good, but not great.
While “Far Cry 3” stacks up as one of the best games of the year, it’s definitely not for everyone. It does a lot to earn its mature rating. Of course there’s a lot of violence. Some of the subplots in the story are very intense and disturbing. There’s also an incredible amount of profanity as well as a couple of sex scenes. And one of the possible endings was graphic enough to make me weigh whether I should change my rating.
The game also offers online competition and an interesting co-op mode that supports as many as four players. In the co-op missions, you play as one of four scruffy crew members seeking to reclaim money from a treacherous ship captain. Each of the missions gives you a set of objectives and throws in a minigame to spice things up. The missions are somewhat lightweight, but a lot of fun.
Bottom line: “Far Cry 3” offers great game play, interesting characters and an intense — often disturbing — story. Be aware that there’s a reason for the “M” on the box.
Platforms: Xbox 360 (tested on), PlayStation 3, PC