Sandbox gaming is back! And whilst that statement feels like it makes sense, it actually doesn’t because sandbox gaming never really went anywhere unless you’re the sort of person who only plays games under 6 months old. The problem is that first person shooters have been both linear and restrictive recently, and Ubisoft Montreal‘s remedy to that is Far Cry 3, a game that gives you the tools and the means to wreak havoc on an
unsuspecting Island “paradise” (he lied.)
Click for a discussion on the graphics for the PC port
Do we talk about Far Cry 3
with regards to the Far Cry
universe that existed twice prior to this release? The franchise has two previous titles that, whilst losing relevance, still set a benchmark and tone – at least for me – that Far Cry 3
would have to answer for. This being a PC gaming magazine, let’s get this out of the way. When I started Far Cry 3,
I was blown away by the graphics. The detail and facial animation, and the softness and environment were beautiful, and things started off notably well. As soon as I got out of my pirate prison hell, however, and daylight crept over the horizon, the game started looking bad.
In fact, although I won’t digress too far into this, Far Cry 3
seems graphically worse than Far Cry 2 -
and although that in and of itself doesn’t make the game worse,
I’m sure it’s of notable relevance to you PC gamers out there who want to know about these sorts of things, so look at this
(on high/ultra.) I’m sorry fans, but I’m not going to not divulge the fact that this is indeed a console port caked in supplementary DirectX 11 effects. That’s just the truth. If you think I’m being nit-picky, you can look at this
to assure you I’m not. I wouldn’t even make such a big deal out of it if the game didn’t look completely different
to the promotional shots
that somehow forgot to mention the cheap background assets, horrible pop-in, and the fact that anything further than about 40 yards away looks terrible. What can I say, it caught me off-guard.
Now that’s out of the way, I will be trying to showcase the best visuals of Far Cry 3, because whilst I try to be honest, I’m not completely cruel.
As promised, things start off pretty. Meet Vaas.
Far Cry 3 has an air of psychotic created from the use of some brilliant voice acting, and some cutting edge facial mo-capping. Together, these two things bridge the gap between cinema and video-game, delivering a striking performance that genuinely sent some shivers down my spine. Vaas, the antagonist, has a sort of controlled insanity that makes everything you do between interactions with him feel like a holiday in Barbados. Getting your face chewed off by a Komodo Dragon is preferable to a conversation with Vaas, and this boldness of character (not to be confused with depth) is something that is consistent throughout the game.
From a drug addled doctor to an excitable and wholly unprofessional CIA agent that would sooner explode you than shake your hand, the characters of Far Cry 3 indeed far surpass those found in most first person shooters today. Whilst you could argue that characters aren’t necessarily important in games where “player shoot things that move,” Far Cry 3 carries across the RPG elements from the second that not only justify this mechanic, but make it central to the enjoyment. The game isn’t just about exploding Komodo Dragon’s with landmines (sorry PETA, but it’s fun), it also features a supplementary story bringing some luscious context to the action.
I’m here for the… fire… sale. I’ll pack my desk.
You play as Jason Brody, some young idiot who thought in 2012 you could just enjoy a holiday without being captured by pirates. Being a white male with a thick head of hair of yay-height, Vaas and his gnarly crew of tropical pirates see the value in capturing non-Homeland Brody and his friends, with view to selling them back to his parents. It soon becomes apparent that Vaas has no intention of actually releasing Brody and the others to saftey, so Brody and co attempt an escape, eventually setting him up for a survival adventure the likes of which has
never been seen before in a Far Cry game.
This time, however, instead of picking your playable character out of a set of Hollywood stereotypes (they save that for multiplayer), you’re stuck with non-Homeland Brody as you follow his adventure from his first kill to his last skin. Far Cry 3 is a much less realistic game than the prior installment, and by that I don’t mean it has 0 grav and instagib, I mean that the tone and dynamic is exhilarating and silly. The game is riddled with drug use references and old sexual cliches such as the classic “you want sucky sucky?” (a line that I think should be removed, not because it’s sexist so much as because it’s shit) as you traverse the various encampments and settlements that house the troubled natives.
Instead of a war between rival drug gangs, Far Cry 3 is centered around Vaas and better financed antagonists met as the story continues. This means that, whilst you can freely explore of your own volition, as you get further into the story, everything will start to feel slightly different around you. Far Cry 2 was like a job. You were something of a mercenary, and for much of the game, although there was a running story, the island was your playground. Things are different in Far Cry 3, and for neither better nor worse. At no point does the island feel like your playground, so much as you feel like the island is playing you. Before J. J. Abrams reaches out of my monitor and punches me in the face, let me explain.
If you’re a fan of hating console ports, why not view the island from the sky?
Far Cry 3 might, arguably, oversimplify the Far Cry formula with its “press F to execute” and “press _ to _” notifications which never go away, and sure it added a load of fast travel (which didn’t require a bus, this time) and you no longer need to sleep and rest or capture safe houses, but it also added a whole lot more that makes it more fun than the prior installments. The island is practically a petting zoo with the worlds most dangerous animals, and if you thought it was fun to run around the three islands of Far Cry 2 with a hunting rifle, try it this time. Skinning is a central mechanic to the game, and whilst I found the entire thing completely tacked on and mostly a nuisance that seemed born of moving along the narrative at one single moment, it’s incredibly fun to kill, or be killed by, animals.
From getting chased by a leopard to being attacked by that crocodile you didn’t quite see, the overwhelming feeling of insecurity which never really goes away is a fantastic change in this entry that I welcome entirely. It’s awesome to watch animals chase down their prey, and roll around on the floor as they gnaw at enemies and friendly NPC’s. Everyone is hunting something in Far Cry 3, and it makes the “reality” of games like Skyrim look like a children’s petting zoo filled with taxidermy. Snakes, turtles, tigers, bears, goats, pigs, coyotes; you name it, they’re all here, and you’ll only ever spot them as they’re biting your face off or running at you from within the grass.
The aesthetic is fantastic, but the poor draw distance, texture resolution and geometric polycount really bugged me throughout.
Whilst the island is full of animals, it’s not full of much else. In fact, whilst the island has caves and tunnels and secrets, with some post-war weaponry scattered about the place, what could have been variation seems more like copy-paste settlements and generic bamboo huts. I’ve explored what I would assume to be most of the island, and there isn’t really any variation. A lot of it is marshland, and a lot more is quite featureless. Far Cry 2 fixed the problem by giving us three islands (which each felt around the same size as the island in Far Cry 3), but I suppose the designers felt that making everything a viable threat would liven things up and compensate for this. Whilst it’s true that running across the place is never a simple trawl, and it never feels like a chore as it in did in Far Cry 2, I really didn’t feel compelled to explore once I had worked out that… well… there isn’t really that much to see.
You could probably sit and write about three or four experiences you had in a 3 hour gaming session, such as raiding a beached vessel, or burning a drug field with a flame-thrower listening to a questionably produced Skrillex song with a Caribbean theme (shoot me), but these were all story missions and the entertainment I found from exploration was more in the form of liberating out-posts from the pirates and taking them over for my allies. Killing, or being killed. That is, however, endemic in the Far Cry formula.
Hunting in Far Cry 3 is about beaching boats and shooting animals with a machine gun. I love it.
New features include skinning, which is something non-Homeland Brody never gets used to. “Urgh, disguising” he says after slaughtering a village of pirates. I’m not nit-picking really, Ubisoft Montreal actually played with the character well. Jason “changes” in ways that his friends notice along the game. Understanding that before, he was both reserved and underwhelming, Jason breaks out of his civilized shell, into a Rambo-esque mad-man who those around him increasingly grow weary off. The developers played on this well, and whilst they didn’t invoke realistic character development, every narrative turn makes sense with regards to the story – and this is a genuine move forward for the franchise.
Skinning is required to increase the amount of loot, ammo, and money (among other things) that Jason can hold. It’s great in that it gives you a reason to go out and kill, but when a ‘rugged’ ammo pouch needs a different kind of leather to a ‘simple’ ammo pouch, it feels like they’re needlessly trying to waste my time. It’s cool that skinning has been implemented, but it’d be nicer if it were a bit more forgiving. It has depth, however, with the player having to create a quiver, or rocket pouch, for each type of ammo.
There’s also a skill tree which fills up astonishingly quickly. With three different “paths”, each focusing on different “traits”, you get to unlock skills such as the ability to loot double the amount of skin off an animal, or even the ability to stealth melee kill or jump on top of your targets. I found myself stocking up 6 skill points or more after relatively short play sessions, and there are about 12 skills per tree or so, so it doesn’t take very long to max it out. Likewise, if you wanted to, you could go out and skin every animal and create every add-on with equal haste. Do not do that though, because whilst they supplement the progression quite nicely, they’re also basically your only reason to go off the beaten track.
Unfortunately, everything looks horrible at a distance.
A sad truth about Far Cry 3 is that the draw distance – even at best – means that everything at a distance looks irreparably bad. Whilst this isn’t game-breaking, it’s something that bugged me throughout the entire game and I couldn’t stop thinking “why is the texture resolution half as good as the 2008 release?” This isn’t a problem for those of you on consoles, but for those of you with super-computers, you won’t have your rig pushed very far here.
As with prior games, mapping out your surroundings is of paramount concern. Far Cry 3 is a core-shooter, and it’s not an easy shooter. You don’t have much health, and it doesn’t take much to die. In fact, take too many shots, and you’ll be chewing bullets our of your arm and spitting them over the edge of your boat, or wrapping up those burns with bandages as you run from the enemy into the trees. You mess up an infiltration and you’re likely done for. This is where Far Cry 3 redeems itself, and luckily it’s the most important thing. Good combat mechanics.
Each of the 25 weapons or so sound fantastic, and the recoil and hit detection seem superb. Playing the game with a limited HUD or no crosshair is a treat, especially as you run into a compound wielding a shotgun. Enemies react well to getting shot, and AI is both unpredictable and aggressive. Stealth is key too, with some of the story missions requiring you to kill without being seen once. Whilst this feel a little restrictive given the sand-box environment, they serve more as a tutorial on how to do it. You can buy silencers and sights for all your guns, or switch to the bow for silent kills albeit with limited ammo. Ammo is something of a treat in the game, too, and something they kept from prior installments. Although guns will never jam any more, you’ll have to loot enemies or take their weapons as ammunition runs out quite quickly.
Well, that saves me some ammunition.
Whilst combat is wholly entertaining, and feels a lot more ‘authentic’ than some other first person shooters on the market, the enemies are not. What’s that they say about the red-shirts on Star Trek? Well the same rule applies here. Basically every human enemy in Far Cry 3 is some generic looking guy in a red shirt. On the other hand, all of your allies are generic looking guys in blue shirts, so I guess it works both ways. This bugs me more than I suppose it should, because it really feels like on an entire, expansive island, there’d be more variation in kills than “guy in red shirt” and whatever animal wants to kill you. It also makes the whole thing feel really ‘gamey’ and breaks immersion.
The single player for Far Cry 3 has as many blemishes as it has redeeming factors though, and it is a genuinely fun shooter. The problem is, the island – whilst it’s a playground – is mediocre at best, and there isn’t a huge amount to find when you go out and explore. Because of this, some people will fall prey to sticking to the main missions, and these missions are as trigger-oriented and linear as in any other shooter on the market. I won’t lie, I felt the will to explore for around 3-4 hours of gameplay, but this is a much longer game than that, so whilst I could half-truth and tell you that as soon as I jumped in I explored for hours, it wouldn’t be fair to leave out the fact that I didn’t find much aside from some easter-egg statues you’re to hunt down as a sort of side-matter.
It’s awesome to glide over a contested area and watch the rival teams shoot-out as you fly above, only to be spotted and have them shoot at your glider, perhaps sending you tumbling to the floor, rolling around.
This isn’t even close to being the best sandbox experience on the market, and as a sand box, I don’t think it’s even as rewarding or interesting as Far Cry 2, but it is a solid shooter, even if the little innovations are hampered by some dodgy visuals and a mediocre island. Something I find inexcusable, however, is that the game looks no where nearly as polished as it does in the promotional screenshots. What are you playing at, Ubisoft? We’ve been starved of more open shooters for quite some time now, and because of that Far Cry 3 is like a hot bath after a long day of snow-boarding, but with regards to an installment of a franchise, and as it stands on its own, it’s just a fun, goofy shooter which has the Call of Duty demographic in its sights more-so than the Stalker or traditional PC gamer demographics.
Great characters, wonderful facial mo-capping and a wide variety of weapons and guns are hampered by a great aesthetic ruined by poor graphical fidelity and the constant reminder of the controls (“press F to ___”), as you kill the same generic enemies throughout the game. A few good steps in the right direction marred by a couple of steps back. It is however a great time in short bursts. Those of you new to Far Cry will have a whale of a time, but without sounding like a total PC elitist, it would be unfair not to mention that at times it felt like a shadow of what Far Cry 2 was on PC. Maybe that’s me being subjective, or maybe it’s true that PC releases really don’t come first any-more.