“I’m gonna need a faster card.” Those were my first thoughts in the opening scene of Far Cry 3, as an incredibly rendered antagonist Vaas taunted my caged playable character, Jason, and the protagonist’s older brother. Having recently had my once not-so-humble rig (dual GTX 480s, i7 X900 and 12GB of RAM) chastened by the Crysis 3 alpha on full settings, I knew a video-card upgrade was in order. But while I thought I could hold off until 2013 when Crysis 3 hits stores, it appears that the new game on the block to melt PCs is already here. The question of 2012 is this: “Can it run Far Cry 3?”
Unlike the usual tradition of porting to PC as an afterthought, Far Cry 3 has all the DirectX 11 trimmings on offer. Even when I dropped to medium settings for silky-smooth frame rate, Far Cry 3 still looked incredible; hell, when I had some DX11 lighting issues (reportedly set to be fixed with a day-zero patch) and had to revert to DirectX 9, the game was still stunning. If you’ve been hanging out for a reason to upgrade your PC, Far Cry 3 will reward that investment.
But back to that cage. Jason and his friends have been captured by insane pirate leader Vaas during an island-hopping vacation. At this early point of the game, Jason is understandably petrified, a shadow of the man he will be forced to become to survive the island and rescue his loved ones. What makes it an even ballsier character progression, for which Ubisoft Montreal deserves full respect, is the fact that even early on in the game, it’s clear that Jason begins to develop a certain attraction to the art of taking lives. On the surface, this is a unique point of difference as far as your average FPS narrative goes; beneath the surface, there’s a fascinating Cabin in the Woods-like questioning of Jason’s love of killing and the player’s love of the same. Papers could be written on this facet of Far Cry 3 alone, but that would be missing the point.
The point is that Ubisoft Montreal has set out to create the Skyrim of first-person shooters; which, for the most part, it nails. There’s so much to do in the world, and while not all of it will be appealing to every player, there’s bound to be more than a few distractions that will tempt you off the main path and into the wild. Driving off-road for the sake of it or hang-gliding off a mountain were just as rewarding for me as hunting both dangerous and harmless creatures, collecting flowers or lowering a pirate flag on an outpost and raising a friendly standard. Competitive types can have their names etched in stone in so-called Trials of the Rakyat: an etching that carries across to the games of your friends, should you secure pole position.
Hunting fauna and collecting flora is made all the more compelling because of how it ties into the gameplay. Plants can be used on the fly to create everything from syringe-laden medkits (which, granted, later become redundant with the right skill upgrades) to temporary buffs for longer swimming, animal spotting or dealing extra damage. I went out of my way to hunt down specific animals so I could use their pelts/skin for creating specific upgrades that drastically affected the way I played and looted. Animal by-products are essential for controlling how much loot and cash you can carry, as well as boosting ammo capacity by different types. As a lover of looting, these were essential steps for me. While hunting deer or goats for early upgrades may sound like a walk in the park, wait until you have to take on sharks for the higher-level kit.
Strangely, hunting animals for such upgrades was much more of a priority to me than using my easily earned XP on the three upgrade trees. My spare points often sat gathering dust as a bunch of the upgrades weren’t terribly exciting, beyond the essential additional health (I’m a run-and-gun player most of the time) and some super-classy takedown manoeuvres. Considering basically all weapons are available from the outset as long as you have the cash, it meant I could equally trick myself out with loud-and-proud or silent-but-deadly weapons as I saw fit. Having additional stealth takedown options became superfluous to using an upgraded bow that was silent as a whisper but the equivalent of an AWP in terms of stopping power.
In many ways, the upgrade trees were like pursuing the main quest: parts of the game I knew I was supposed to be most engaged with, but often fell by the wayside as I pursued things that were more appealing to my time on the archipelago. The main quest was so hit or miss it was heartbreaking, at times. Certain missions would be completely open, immersive and engaging in a way that is true to the Far Cry name. Others, though, involved hard-fail scenarios that forced me into a particular play style or path, while others still required me to run from point A to B to activate a cut-scene or quick-time-event boss fight.
Oh, yes, there are quick-time events in Far Cry 3—granted, not often—and they’re as ill-fitting as they’ve ever been on PC. Mashing the spacebar or attempting to perfectly time mouse-button prompts that don’t ever change is hardly challenging, and still feels like an odd thing to do on a keyboard. The main quest was, much like antagonist Vaas (whose portrayal by actor Michael Mando is nothing short of amazing), a bipolar experience. On one side there’s a wealth of engaging, well-written moments and evidence of Ubisoft Montreal achieving the nigh-impossible of cleverly grounding the many insane facets of the storyline all bolstered by terrific mo-cap performances. On the other side there’s some sloppy (or illogically missing) dialogue, sporadic absent plot logic and occasional weird stuff that feels too left-field, even for a game that’s all about tumbling down an insane rabbit hole.
But where the embedded narrative falls short, the emergent narrative shines. At the end of my 10-odd-hour campaign run, I was hungry for more Far Cry 3 because of the story in which I was actively and accidentally engaged. There were countless times where Far Cry 3 blew me away with how clever the sum of its parts really are. One instance was a mission where I was racing between points, the clock ticking down, only to be slowed by aggressive roaming cassowaries whose turf my shortcut had led me to. Dodging and weaving, I fired from the hip as they attempted to cut me off from my dash to a nearby jeep, precious seconds lost in my man-on-bird altercation.
Another instance had me (surprisingly) emotionally connecting with a caged bear after emancipating a pirate-controlled outpost. I felt pity on it and set it free, only to look on in bemused horror as it attacked the friendly soldiers who came to occupy the camp. I couldn’t bring myself to open fire on the beast, even after he tore apart two friendlies, but that didn’t stop me from taking his pelt when he finally fell; waste not, want not (bears were bloody hard to come by in my play-through).
It wasn’t just combat with animals that was exciting, either. Whether stalking foes, performing stealthy takedowns or going in guns blazing, Far Cry 3’s cinematic combat is a top notch and compelling experience. Enemy AI does a decent job of working as a group to take you down—throwing grenades, flanking, blindfiring and sliding into cover—it’s just a shame their intelligence is mostly neutered by the early warning HUD indicator that points in the direction they’re watching/attacking from. It would have been nice to have the option to turn that off. Furthermore, it would have been great to turn down the music volume to complement the otherwise wholly immersive soundscape. Far Cry 3 is a game best played with a decent surround sound setup or, better still, headphones; but as great as the music was, it did become a tad overbearing during combat scenarios.
One of the most impressive feats of Far Cry 3 is the attention to detail across the board; a neat touch that adds to the overall immersion. Trees sway in the wind, individual grass blades are everywhere and the sheer variety in environments is mind-blowing given the near absence of loading times. Granted, I did have some issues with frame-rate stutters between invisible loading times, but it had magically fixed itself about halfway through the game. Jason’s mystical and ever-expanding left-arm tattoo is a nice touch, particularly given that players can individualise it by choosing specific upgrades, and the way the wounded protagonist would self-heal by ripping a slug out of his arm with his teeth while driving had me nodding in respect. Furthermore, the automated cover system is both intuitive and practical in a way that keeps the action flowing when you’re on the move, and makes clever allowances for leaning over or around objects when you’re playing it stealthy.
Unfortunately, due to international time differences, I was unable to test out the multiplayer or cooperative portions of the game — despite trying to find matches on multiple occasions — but that may have been a blessing in disguise given the lack of dedicated server support. Suffice it to say, multiplayer hasn’t been taken into account for this review.
Far Cry 3 is a haunting experience, in a very good way. It’s a damn shame the main campaign didn’t live up to the potential of what was teased and the sporadic appearance of sloppy anti-Far Cry linear levels jarred with what the game achieves when at its emergent best. Faults aside, Far Cry 3 is an open-world shooter that’s not to be missed, and a dish that’s beautifully served on PC.