Far Cry 3’s narrative begins on a surprisingly high note, seeing the prompt introduction of the player character, Jason Brody, while also introducing the first primary antagonist, the mentally warped Vaas. Crucially introduced also is the gameworld, Rook Island, which morphs into a character in its own right. It was the apparent joys characterizing that island which prompted Jason and his companions to vacation there, expecting only bliss – and meeting only with terrors. Privileged to the last, they possess skewed perceptions of life, and are seemingly incompatible with the horrifying situation within which they are placed – Jason especially so; here is no warrior or soldier, though almost impossibly, here is a man with the potential to become a warrior or soldier, at an exaggerated, unbelievable rate. The one man among the group who is already of soldier-like attributes is Jason’s brother, Grant, who is promptly slaughtered by Vaas in this opening – if this skilled fellow could not endure the perils of the jungle, what hope do Jason and his friends truly possess? How will they fight back against these hostilities? It is a compelling question, a question which inspires fear rather than hopefulness.
Vaas, with his abundance of insanity and discarding of empathy, is an especially dangerous foe, one not easily bested. His irrational, erratic nature, acting always without fear of consequence, transforms him into a singularly compelling villain, straddling the line between the cliched and the novel, though mostly adhering to uniqueness of depiction; he is a despicable sort, and having an antagonist like this introduced from the first imparts a considerable degree of narrative focus. Furthering this, even from his introduction Vaas is intimately associated with death, when regarding Grant’s ultimate fate; his very being, then, is connected to emotion and pathos. To discard the limitations of emotions and feelings, to best the maniacal Vaas, Jason must embrace the ways of the warrior, must associate himself with the fabled Rakyat tribe, denizens of Rook Island once possessive of considerable powers and sway, long dormant though never destroyed or forgotten, waiting to be revived by Jason.
Jason, plucky youth though he may be, has been burdened with lofty expectations – one brother has been slaughtered, and given the inherent bonds of fraternity and love, he must act to stave off further slaughtering, to stave off emotional and intellectual pains, to return to a world of relative normalcy, though that world becomes more and more distant as Jason becomes further imbued with the powers and the ways of the Rakyat, as he is seduced by their leader, the sexualized Citra, sister to Vaas, having long departed from him. She calms and reassures Jason, and while her physical presence in the narrative is never emphasized, as figure broadly she is perhaps most consequential to the narrative. In her being, too, is a strong evocation of emotion. While seemingly an ally, by the narrative’s conclusion I had grown to completely despise her, her temptations of power and immortality – she is a mere succubus, truly no better than Vaas, though their failings be of a different sort. In a manner, she seems the real antagonist.
The game is quick to open up, freedoms fast handed the player. Jason, after seeing Grant slaughtered, very nearly escaping Vaas’s clutches and his own death, is courted by a fellow named Dennis, a local of the island with connections to the Rakyat. Seeing Jason’s need for the powers attached to that group, he takes the youth under his wing, escorting Jason to a nearby village, small and quaint though uniquely beautiful. Here, in this opening hour, the entire first section of the map is made explorable, an almost overwhelming admission, as the map can be rather sprawling in size and scope, a largeness which is expertly conveyed by the game’s impressive draw distance, towering mountains visible in the distance always, existing in their beautiful greenness and lushness. Inevitably, the first task undertaken involves the ascending of various radio towers; reaching the summit of such a structure defogs the map, permitting exploration of a more focused sort. Climbing these towers, actually, is rather enjoyable, involving rather basic if immersive platforming, Jason going higher, ever higher, exhilarating sensations evoked.
After disabling these radio towers, traditionally the next action engaged in is the assaulting of outposts, existing in fair abundance, dispersed about the island, each peopled with considerable opposition. Beyond mere gameplay satisfactions, these assaults are encouraged in that, once seized, they provide opportunities for fast travel, a necessity as the environment can sometimes be tiresome to navigate, once the initial allure has worn off. But here is the formula, ascending the towers, seizing the outposts, engaging in rather trivial secondary objectives which are made accessible after a base takeover – that, and that alone, becomes the core loop outside of the central narrative missions, though rather elaborate crafting systems do result in some continued gameplay freshness.
The opening hours of the game can seem like one massive, protracted grind, principally when regarding those hunting and crafting systems; while occasionally elaborate, traditionally they are trivial, something which must be engaged in merely to have a viable chance in exploration and campaign missions. Escaping from Vaas – and achieving some slight assistance from Dennis – Jason is essentially powerless, weaponless, his only means of defense being a machete and a pistol. These lacks must be rectified, and instantly – ammunition carrying capacity is slight, while only a single weapon can be wielded at any one time; grenade carrying capacities are similarly restricted – chances of success, of the direct combatting and triumphing over Vaas, are almost non-existent. The actual way of remedying these lacks involves the mentioned hunting, each distinct animal having a predetermined usefulness – a shark may increase weapon carrying capacity, a boar a grenade pouch. Initially engaging, the tedious fast sets in – these systems are basic, and consequently rather unenjoyable, but they are intimately wrapped up in success, and must be engaged in.
These opening hours, then, are characterized by a disruption and discarding of pacing, where once the pacing was brisk, exhilaration arising alongside Jasons’s escape from Vaas’s clutches. Actually acquiring these items can be an hours long process, monopolizing the player’s time – the game stumbles greatly here, hunting becoming a mere barrier to be overcome so that the narrative proper can be returned to, a frustrating admission. Some joys of crafting do persist, particularly when considering the abundance of plants which can be harvested, then employed to make various gameplay-enhancing syringes, like one which permits indefinite breathing under water, or a vastly improved movement speed. Bolstering the joys of exploration, these crafting systems make up for the failures characterizing the hunting systems.
Exploration makes up one pillar of gameplay, while the other primary pillar centers around open gunfights and their precise opposite – stealthy, predatorial approaches, both playstyles viable in many of the game’s various engagements – outposts can be seized with grenades and countless assault rifle magazines; or they can be attacked from some considerable distance, a silenced sniper rifle employed to evade detection, while violent takedown animations can be performed at close range, rarely alerting enemies in the near vicinity of the victim. Furthering gameplay depths, both approaches can be wedded together, resulting in an organic, adaptive nature – the gunplay and stealth systems are always lively, rarely repetitive, even as other aspects of the game design are characterized solely by repetition. Facilitating further player freedoms, the arsenal of weapons is fairly large, with pistols, assault rifles, sniper rifles and the like. While impressive – and boasting gorgeous weapon modelling – here is no creativity; everything is grounded, unoriginal, though this unoriginality does not dampen the joys of gunplay, joys which are actually heightened by the game’s customizability; scopes and silencers can be affixed to many weapons, while others can sport increased magazine sizes. Collectively, these weapon upgrade systems are very basic, but their inclusion is welcome, imparting a fair degree of depth; changing from one weapon type to the next can alter gameplay considerably.
Clinging also to believability, most enemies can be dispatched by a single headshot or two, though more massive, lumbering and armored opponents can endure far greater firepower without dropping, which transforms them into creatures menacing and threatening – some challenge is maintained, especially during the campaign missions, where manifold enemies are thrust upon the player. Stealth can be employed to overcome these seemingly insurmountable odds, though these systems fast show themselves as being broken – enemies are unfairly and cheaply perceptive, somehow capable of detecting a murdered ally even through walls or other structures. Once they have been alerted, meanwhile, true detection comes at a very rapid rate, even if Jason is situated at considerable remove from the pirates; countless and countless yards of distance mean nothing in this title, with its broken stealth; these systems must be grappled with, though when regarding their difficulties, success in the stealthy approaches is especially satisfying. A bow is present which greatly facilitates flexibilities in stealth, being completely silent, though even here is cheapness – one missed arrow alerts the enemies, and following that missed arrow is, again, nearly instantaneous detection. Frequently are frustrations.
Only heightening these frustrations is the fact that this stealthy approach is so highly incentivized. Every action or kill awards experience, the amount awarded fluctuating depending on the nature of the action. As illustration, there are the outposts. Seizing them with open gunfire awards a respectable amount of experience. But seizing the outpost completely undetected awards a full three times that amount, the developers clearly nudging the player in a specific direction, while greatly punishing those who do not adhere to it, those who enjoy the bombastic.
Experience distribution may be bizarre and restrictive, but the actual progression systems are rather compelling, many abilities very useful, though admittedly some have very little value, being highly situational in nature. Most crucial to success are the stealth takedown modifiers. Initially, Jason can only dispatch the enemy from behind, or just briefly after detection, plunging his blade through the unfortunate enemy’s breast. Towards the late game, though, various flexibilities are available; enemies can be dispatched from above, Jason leaping upon them at considerable elevation. In other instances, a throwing knife can be seized from the victim’s belt, and silently thrown at an enemy some distance away. Grenades can be manipulated, enemies felled from below, pistols employed – here is fair depth, greatly enhancing the gameplay, even outside of stealth. Those heavy enemies, so dangerous and menacing, can also be dispatched once a skill has been purchased. In commanding uniqueness, the purchasing of these abilities has a visual component, each item correlating to a tattoo inked on Jason’s arm, a direct reminder of his continued progress, his gradual giving over to the Rakyat. But beyond the mentioned takedowns, the more useful abilities include decreased fall damage, an increase in overall health, increased crafting resources, heightened speed when crouched – the late game is quite distinct from the early game, as should always be the case. And then exist the pointless abilities, included seemingly for fluff, to enlarge the skill trees. A perfect illustration is the ability to fire a pistol on a zipline, an ability which is useful maybe one time throughout the entire game, being highly situational. It is a mere barrier to unlocking another, greater skill, the trees existing in a highly linear fashion. These progression systems, though, parallel Jason’s growth as human – and monster.
Indeed, Jason embarks on a literal odyssey, showing considerable character development. Despite this growth – very apparent – rare is any sense of endearment; Jason is not likable, is not the everyman of sorts which would heighten immersion and player investment, but is instead sometimes irritating, having holdovers from his privileged existence. Still, he who once was powerless, who shunned violence, being crippled in seeing a brother felled – seeing this figure grow to actively delight in violence, to consider abandoning or even murdering his friends, is quite satisfying – some narrative engagement is present. But the swiftness with which he embraces violence is quite unbelievable. True, Jason was driven by altruistic motivations – rescue friends, brothers, and a lover – and this drive could bolster the speed of his growth, Jason tapping into reserves of power heretofore unknown, but this lack of believability is quite frustrating. But even with Jason’s descent into power-hungry madness, some vestiges of humanity remain – he can still feel, a fair degree of depth arising when considering this dichotomy.
Ultimate mission done, Citra advances upon Jason, imploring him to stay upon the island, where he will become a literal god, sole master of the island and all its inhabitants, a legend whose name shall be on the lips of all and for all time – total darkness can be embraced. Or, darkness can be sunned, a return to the light, a preservation of humanity, a viable option. This rift is actually advanced in the game’s conclusion – a morality decision is made, though frustratingly, it is of a completely black-and-white nature; I required no deliberation to make my final choice, as ambiguities were completely lacking. In a major failing, though, the depths of Jason’s character are merely superficial. Frequently quoting Lewis Carrol at regular intervals, lofty narrative ambitions are here present, efforts at poignancy and the literary advanced. But the game is never as self-important as it would like to be.
Rook Island remains technically beautiful, with very crisp lighting, vibrant green foliage overtaking all. Water effects are especially impressive, especially when regarding those not in stagnation – the subtle rippling of rivers imparts a certain tranquility, while sweet songbirds fill the air, and ancient turtles move slowly to and fro on the game’s many beaches. Being an island, understandably this water is central to the topography, oceans on all sides, though rivers are also navigable, extending far in land. Travelling in this manner is especially engrossing, when considering the inherent beauty of the landscapes. Despite the game’s environmental largeness, very few are the alterations from landmark to landmark – the jungle of the north is essentially the same as the jungle of the south, this repetition again incentivizing fast-travel. Save for a wingsuit unlocked in the late game, verticality and options of mobility are greatly lacking, a missed opportunity when considering the mountains and their towering nature; scaling them is an impossibility, frustrating as verticality directly equates to greater freedoms in gameplay. But aesthetically, a coherent vision shows itself, and the sense of place evoked is quite effective, even as the nature of the landscape is not novel.
A sense of time characterizes the island, conveying a sense of turmoil as existing even before the current conflicts, conveyed through clever environmental storytelling, with documents dating to World War II scattered about the island, while various wartime bunkers are explorable, suitably ancient. Despite this, though, the world can feel rather hollow, devoid of life, as random encounters are mostly lacking, the gameworld being static. Some efforts at injecting life are present, as with the periodic emergences of animals, but they cannot remedy this static environmental nature, fueling reliance on fast-travel – if some sort of miniature adventure were promised the player during map traversal, fast-travel would be unnecessary. But there again is the word: hollow. The technical and creative wonders of Rook Island cannot be truly marveled upon and admired given the frequent employ of fast travel, a system employed to offset the mundanity frequently characterizing map traversal.
Far Cry 3 suffers from a highly formulaic structure, embraced from the first and clung to through to the last – rare are any narrative or gameplay surprises, even as the play time can easily swell in excess of forty or so hours – the repetitious gradually yet totally sets in. The gameplay revolves around two central pillars – exploration and combat. If the mechanics of these systems were merely competent or uninspired, the game would fall flat, fail. But given the soundness and the impressiveness of these mechanics, their repetitive nature is tolerable. Driving, shooting, swimming, climbing, stalking about in the shadows, some considerable distance away from an unsuspecting enemy, planning a plan of attack like a true predator, imbued with absolute power – these are wonderful moments, moments which exist in perfect abundance. Guns are impactful and weighty, driving controls are tight, and the stealth systems are mostly rewarding, if occasionally cheap and frustrating – the game is carried by its gameplay systems, formulaic though they may be. The game’s narrative may never raise any poignant questions, inspire contemplation or even engage the player on any cerebral level. But ultimately, Far Cry 3 is a joy to play, consistently engrossing, dealing out joy and satisfaction at regular intervals. For many players, that acknowledgement is enough – here are great strengths. But a firm adherence to the tropes of the open-world genre – a destruction of player agency – prevents the title from soaring to the stratosphere.