Review: Far Cry 3

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How do you follow up a game like Far Cry 2? It was a huge improvement over the original in many ways, including encounter design, AI, and gunplay, and a hugely different experience in terms of map design and progression. The answer, apparently, was to give the third installment a similarly transformative treatment, adding weapon customization, crafting, hunting, races, challenges, and more bells and whistles than you can imagine. And while that makes a terribly engrossing game for gribbly people like me, the bizarre story and emphasis on distractions over directions hold it back from the heights of 2.

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Jason Brody and his friends are living the high life in a tropical paradise, hang-gliding, jet-skiing, and sky diving on a post-grad destination vacation. All that ends when they run afoul of murderous human traffickers led by vibrant psychopath Vaas Montenegro, who fully intends to ransom them off if he doesn’t snap and kill them first. Jason and his older brother Grant make a break for it, which ends with Grant bleeding out from the neck and Jason drowning in a river. He’s rescued by the Rakyat, a rag-tag group of immigrants and islanders fighting back against Vaas and his pirates, and promptly inducted into their spiritual war.

This doesn’t really paint the full picture of what Far Cry 3 is about, because Far Cry 3 isn’t entirely sure what Far Cry 3 is about. On the surface it’s about Jason’s transformation from trust-fund douchebag to tribal warlord, which comes out in individual scenes but not the overall narrative. The game vacillates wildly between darkly funny and just plain dark, with a mission about getting high as fuck while burning poppy farms and then a mission about beating a rapist to death in his rape dungeon. There are elements of white savior syndrome, commentaries on capitalism, an actual vision quest where you slay a giant monster, and some hilariously out-of-place sex scenes. While much of this madness makes for fun setpieces on its own, it never gels into a coherent narrative and the more unfortunate parts really drag the whole thing down.

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The real tragedy in this is how brilliant characters like Vaas are wasted without a real story to exist in. Every scene with Vaas is pure gold, his manic dominance commanding every situation and leaving both Jason and the player unsure of just how safe they are at any given time. However, he’s only the villain of the first half of the game, and while the second antagonist is great in his own right he never matches the same heights as Vaas. The supporting cast you’ll meet is similarly fantastic in concept and presentation, with voice acting and animations that blow away anything to be found in Far Cry 2’s weirdly rushed, staccato performances.

Far Cry 3 is a game that should be about the characters, but instead busies you with collecting herbs and boar hides. The open world of 2 has been massively expanded to two fully-realized islands, replete with towns, strongholds, wildlife, landmarks, and more. This gives you plenty of territory to battle baddies and hunt for loot, but the emphasis is far heavier on the latter than the former. Your first step will always be to climb the now-ubiquitous radio towers to unlock sections of the map, then scour the area for collectibles and new hides to craft inventory-expanding gear. Cash will get you permanent access to new weapons and attachments but they need to be unlocked via radio tower first. Oh, and there’s an entire skill tree of passive bonuses, takedowns, and conveniences to fill up with XP earned from combat and collecting junk.

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Like I mentioned, this playground of menial tasks and distractions appeals to me because I like ticking off lists to 100%, but it’s undeniably a dilution of the clean designs of Far Cry 2. There you had plenty of missions with side objectives to focus on, with diamond hunting and assassinations as something to do on the way to the next job. Here the McGuffin hunting is the job, with story missions almost a diversion from collecting nigh-infinite junk. It’s not really an improvement when you consider how solid the shooting is, with expertly-modeled weapons and meaty, satisfying effects on all of them. Your options are also wide-open, from stealthy melee takedowns to LMG rampages to sniper assaults to mad bombing sprees. Taking down outposts is one of the highlights of the game, but in an ironic reversal from 2, once you clear an outpost it and the surrounding area are perfectly safe with no more firefights to enjoy.

For completionists and collectors, Far Cry 3 is a wild playground of possibilities. You can hunt for relics in old World War II ruins, stalk a bear through the underbrush, and then rack dune buggies all the way back to town. Every activity earns you something useful, either for finding more loot or making the admittedly challenging combat more manageable. If the story could tie it all together it would stand as a more complete product, but as it is it leans heavily on its collecting and combat. With how strong those elements are that leaves Far Cry 3 as a solid open-world action game, just one that lacks the focus you might be looking for.

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