Immersion appears to be a difficult thing to achieve in a first-person shooter for most developers. Either that, or developers just throw in the single-player as a side-thought to what is essentially a multiplayer-focused shooter. Ironic, given that the whole idea of this perspective is that you see the world directly through your character’s eyes.
Thank God for Far Cry 3 then.
Ubisoft’s third outing of its open-world exotic shooter is the best yet, restoring the tight plotline and personality that went missing in the savannahs of Far Cry 2, while introducing a sense of the world being your playground a la Just Cause 2. There is violence and combat in abundance, but interspersing this with cliff-jumping, paragliding, goat-gutting and treasure-hunting makes for one of the best single-player FPS experiences of recent years.
Far Cry 3 starts in cinematic fashion. After a brief montage of you – a freewheeling American backpacker dude called Jason – and his admittedly annoying group of friends enjoying their tropical holiday. Just as all the woo-hooing, YEAH-ing and middle-finger-pointing begins to grate, the camera pans out to show that the images are from your camera, which is in the hands of a sadistic pirate called Vas. You and your brother have been captured, your friends are missing, and it’s up to you two to escape.
The early stages of the game give you a good idea of Far Cry 3‘s mechanics. As you slide down slopes, climb rocks and dive into waters, Jason’s hands are visible throughout, giving an added level of tactility to the game. Through the way they’re visually utilised, these digital limbs become an effective extension of the player’s body, giving the game a kind of immersion rarely seen in the genre.
Despite the fact that Jason seems to have chosen a stereotypical bunch of backpacker bellends as his friends, the storyline is emotionally involving. This is thanks to a soundtrack that’s always in-sync with on-screen events, with the music swelling when you tell your brother’s girlfriend that he got killed as you tried to escape, and becoming pointed and tense during stealth sequences. Furthermore, all the secondary characters are larger than life. From the psychedelic doctor, to the rebel leader Dennis, to the brilliantly maniacal pirate Vas, Far Cry 3 is a game with big personality.
Aside from finding your buddies, you also become a key player in the civil conflict on the island between the indigenous Rakyat tribesmen and Vas’s pirates. As such, there are countless side missions, assassinations and delivery missions for you to make. The game has a territory system too, so capturing radio towers and taking out enemy outposts has long-term effects on the social geography of the island, as you fight to reclaim it for the locals.
Jason himself starts out as probably the most cowardly hero in videogame history, we relate to him as it’s probably the way any one of us would react in the situation (minus the genocide-level kill count). As the game progresses however, and he becomes an increasingly confident and lethal killer, you begin to question his sanity. Of course, this doesn’t stop you from rampaging around the island slaughtering sharks and sniping pirates, but it’s a convincing and original form of character development.
True to the current trend, Far Cry 3 has enforced an RPG-style levelling and looting system. As you level up, you can spend points in one of three skill trees, which give you such abilities as jumping knife attacks, better underwater breathing, and improved foraging skills. That’s right, videogaming’s burgeoning obsession with the simple, pastoral life spreads to FC 3 too, allowing you to skin animals to improve you capacities at holding various items, and harvest plants to concoct various performance-enhancing substances.
For all its brilliance, Far Cry 3 does have its flaws. The PS3 version of the game suffers from some nasty pop-in seizures, ruining one particularly psychedelic sequence early on in the game. The AI also leaves a bit to be desired, as enemies seem to think that by running straight at you, you’ll drop your gun and run, or that you’ll run straight back at them (which is always an option with the satisfying sprinting knife attack). When the gun-toting goons in a game are no more intelligent than the rabid dogs that populate it, it’s a little disconcerting.
Most people won’t buy this game for the multiplayer, but for me it’s a refreshing change from the overly arcadey and unbalanced offering in Modern Warfare 3. The game modes are pretty standard fare, including Team Deathmatch, Domination, and Firestorm modes, as well as a reasonably in-depth co-op component. The multiplayer encourages teamwork, allowing players to spot enemies, revive their friends, and utter Battle Cries, which boost teammates’ stats in specific areas. The levelling system is what you’d expect from multiplayer, with the added bonus of daily and weekly challenges for players to complete, offering bonus XP for killing a player from a zipline or other similar frolics.
A grossly underused element in most online-enabled shooters is the option of split-screen, which is present here. It’s implemented particularly well, as whoever you’re playing with at home can log in with their own account and work on their own character, rather than just become an anonymous +1 with no long-term goals to achieve. There is no noteworthy slowdown or drop in quality when doing this, making this the best implementation of split-screen online functionality I’ve seen on consoles.
Far Cry 3 is a much-needed addition to a genre that’s been stagnating in recent years. Where Far Cry 2 created a beautiful but lifeless sandbox world, Far Cry 3 is vibrant, wild, and teeming with activity. It’s the kind of game which encourages wanders through the wilderness, as you’re sure to stumble upon something unexpected along the way. It also takes some innovative steps to show that an FPS can tell a strong story while not sacrificing gripping action and a sense of free-roaming adventure.
If you fancy taking a holiday from the war-torn modern-day/near-future locales of the big first-person shooters out there, then Far Cry 3’s Rook Island should be your destination of choice. Just be mindful of the rabid dogs, sharks and psychopathic pirates…