Far Cry 3 PC Review
German Studio Crytek started a really interesting movement in first person shooters when they released Far Cry back in 2004; compared to the style of then-upcoming id Software shooter Doom 3, Crytek's effort was about as different as you could get while staying in the same genre. id went to the darkest depths in a corridor-limited, horror-themed shooter, while Crytek brought FPS games out into the sunny glow of a tropical island, inviting players to attack the sandbox-based objectives how they wished. Crytek has since gone on to do the Crysis games that have had their own successes and failures, while Ubisoft, owner of the Far Cry property originally, has taken this franchise in its own direction entirely. Crytek has delivered some of the best visuals the video game world has seen, but their insistence on using mutants and aliens as enemies has drastically affected their style and stories of their games. Meanwhile, Ubisoft took the sandbox style and expanded it into a true open world in Far Cry 2, but the game was flawed enough that it was often more frustrating than fun. What I'm happy to report is that after years of wishing one of these "Cry" games could do everything I wanted all together at once, Ubisoft Montreal has pretty much delivered it in Far Cry 3.
The game starts off rather abruptly, with your character, Jason Brody, seeing footage of his ill-fated tropical vacation with his friends as he wakes up in a makeshift prison camp. You're on a somewhat-remote island in the South Pacific, and Jason, his two brothers and a few other friends came to this island for a bit of fun, but apparently no one warned them that one of the biggest human trafficking rings in the Pacific has made their base here. Jason must escape the camp and its insane leader, Vaas, and then start looking for his friends. During this, he meets some of the natives who inexplicably decide that this white dude just happens to be strong enough to be a part of the cool-tattoos club so that he can join their tribe. (Each time you add a new Skill Point, Jason gains a tattoo on his left arm, and the abilities they grant range from rather mundane conveniences to near-superhuman powers.) The game's theme centers around Jason deciding to do something with his life, but the calling he's found happens to be brutally killing mercenaries and wildlife by the dozens, which seems a little silly. More on this later.
After this action-packed, generally useful and exciting tutorial, the game opens up on a rather large island where Jason takes control of its radio towers and key installations and gives the control of all of this back to the natives, adding the locations of loot items to his map and giving himself more fast travel destinations. Oh sure, he's also looking for his friends and the main story missions go about all of that, but most of the game is spent doing all of this other stuff. That's assuming you don't beeline towards only the story missions, though, and let me be clear: you're not really getting the most out of this game if you only play the main missions. FC3's design certainly pushes you towards doing secondary things like freeing the island from the pirates, as you'll be going blind on your minimap if you don't take over the radio towers, and enemies will pile on you in many gunfights if you don't bother to recapture nearby outposts first.
Other optional missions will also have you helping out the island's natives, killing pirate minibosses, hunting rare animals, and collecting enough loot and cash to improve and upgrade your arsenal of weapons. To increasing your carrying capacity for weapons, ammo, and items, you'll have to craft bags and packs from the skins of much of the island's wildlife, and this turns into a rather exciting meta-game of its own. Little additions like shooting games, races, and combat exercises styled like Grand Theft Auto's Rampage missions are fun distractions that can net you cash and XP for more skill points, and there's even a surprisingly well-animated Hold-em Poker game you can play to make some in-game cash. (The poker AI is a little too eager to call your bets, however, making them a tad easy to beat once you figure it out.)
Luckily, enemy AI in firefights is at least a bit better, though, and while these guys aren't exactly the most tenacious of combatants, I did notice that underestimating their ability to find and chase you can lead to you getting killed. This is no more evident than when you're expected to clean out a camp of enemies so that you can take control of it, as any confirmed sighting of you will cause them to run and hit the alarm to trigger reinforcements. But you can hang back and snipe them with a suppressed rifle, and while they'll figure out the direction the shots are coming from - yes, even if you use a suppressor - they will never truly detect you unless they see you. So even as you keep moving around in the brush and picking them off one by one, all the way down to the last guy, he won't pull that alarm unless he actually gets a confirmed visual. It's a predictably exploitable AI, but the good part is that it's really pretty fun to actually figure out how to screw with enemies and outsmart them. The only strange thing about this is that some enemy camps have dogs, and these dogs inexplicably exhibit the same AI as their human counterparts. So if you plug a guy with a silent weapon from a distance, if a dog notices the dead body, it will figure out what direction your bullet came from, and go investigating in that direction. If my dogs in real life could do that, I'd send them out to go get jobs!
That's just one annoyance, however, and I generally found that sneaking around enemy camps and trying to kill every enemy without being noticed - which nets you a good chunk of bonus XP - is a blast. You're outnumbered, but you've got the instincts of a predator, or at least that's what the game's trying to convince you is happening. The illusion does work most of the time, especially when you start using Jason's eventual ability to do a variety of quick melee kills. You'll get to the point where you can take out a half-dozen mercenaries in a matter of seconds without even firing a single bullet.
What might be the most unique thing about Far Cry 3 is that it creates a connection to the guy whose head you're invading. I've said many times that in an FPS game, the gun your character is holding is usually the star of the story, but Ubisoft has fought back against that notion and has made Jason Brody the true protagonist - and that's something that most FPS developers either fail to do or don't try at all. Jason talks and responds to NPCs fairly naturally whenever it's appropriate, making him more believable than the mutes that you so often see in this genre, but he doesn't talk so much that you get sick of him. He's weak at first and strong later, making only a relative few key choices on his own that the player's not really in control of. Through some subtle and expressive first person animations, Jason tumbles and falls believably, feels just a little wobbly when climbing those rusty radio towers, panics when he's on fire, and brutally "fixes" injuries by snapping dislocated thumbs back into place or digging bullets out of his arm - either with pliers or, when driving, with his teeth so that the left hand can continue driving. (This seems to have been done simply so that you could believably maintain control of your car while still being able to treat injuries at the same time.)
Throw in solid voice acting for the main characters, decent lip sync, and a lot of close encounters with the villains and other unique personalities on the island, and all of this combines to help the player give a damn about Jason, even if it's still a little tough to believe how quickly he's learning to outsmart and slaughter trained mercenaries. At the same time, the segmented health system and ability to bandage yourself back to full allows you to play without having to stop to search for medkits or syringes constantly, but it also doesn't let you just duck behind cover and sit idly for a few seconds in order to regenerate fully.
Far Cry 3 does try to give players the chance to save freely without letting players make things too easy by abusing the save system. You can quickly save your progress in one click from the main menu when not on a story mission, but the game doesn't seem to do a full save of the gamestate, as when you load the game you'll pop up at the nearest friendly outpost, not right where you left off. And you can't save during the main story missions; instead, you'll have to rely on the checkpoint-based saving that is instituted only during these parts of the game. It can be a slightly frustrating system that changes the rules on you for arbitrary reasons, but overall I have to say that after just having reviewed Hitman: Absolution, well, it could be worse. I still wish I could save freely, however, and have the full gamestate saved every time.
So, let's get onto the subject of Jason Brody himself. It's hard to tell from the game itself since you so rarely see outside Jason's own view, but Ubisoft Montreal did design him to look like the standard action game protagonist. You know what I'm talking about - American white male, brown hair, six feet, athletic build, maybe a bit of facial hair, who's usually not a trained killer at first, as he only begins his life of massacring bad guys about ten minutes after the player hits "Start Game". I could go on about how too many games fall into this, and yes, Ubisoft does, too, but because you so rarely even see your character's face - Ubisoft even decided to put one of the game's villains, Vaas, as the primary focus of the front cover - they get a pass on this one, even though they're definitely guilty of perpetuating this all-too-familiar trope anyway.
Even beyond the appearance of the main character and the look of the box, the good old standby action game tropes developers have been relying on for years are finally starting to wear thin, even with gamers who don't pay attention much to these things. Ubisoft Montreal is still using a few too many of them, but when I'm playing Far Cry 3, I totally understand why they made it the way they did. As someone who's been playing these games for two decades, I still love a good FPS with satisfying action and an extra element to make things interesting - which in this case would be the open world and RPG systems for increasing carrying capacity, adding cool additional skills, and upgrading weapons. What I am thankful to see is that even the developers themselves are starting to realize that they need to start abandoning the tried and true FPS formula that has fueled billions in sales but left gamers feeling fatigued over the years. Ubisoft hasn't subverted this formula entirely yet in Far Cry 3 and probably won't be convincing anyone that's long been sick of the genre to jump back in, but at this point, I'm fine with baby steps.
From a multiplayer standpoint, Far Cry 3 offers quite a bit, but they still feel a little bit like afterthoughts. There's a four-player online cooperative mode done in the style of CoD Zombies or Left 4 Dead, but with mercs as your enemies rather than the undead. Sadly, though, it just lacks the charm and inventiveness seen in games that dedicated more of their budgets and resources to making similar modes. And there's a competitive gametype as well, complete with an external editor on PC you can use to create your own maps. These modes will probably serve to be more of a distraction than the main course, as they're just not quite as satisfying or addictive as more serious online-oriented games like Call of Duty - or even something like Mass Effect 3's surprisingly good online cooperative mode.
On PC, Far Cry 3 does a good job scaling up and down, and the visuals that it delivers are quite impressive. I was able to play the game acceptably on my Lenovo Ideapad Y580 laptop with a Core i3 CPU and relatively weak GT555M video card, and on my main desktop PC - a Core i7 950 overclocked to 4GHz and an MSI 660Ti video card - the game challenged the hardware pretty well and the island, its vistas and its deep, dark interiors looked gorgeous as a result. The only issue I saw was the occasional blurry texture, which stood out because most of the rest of the game has excellent texture quality that vastly exceeds what the consoles can handle. I also couldn't crank up the detail to maximum and maintain 60fps at the highest settings on my 660Ti, but backing down a few settings got me to that 60fps mark pretty easily. The game supports Eyefinity/Nvidia Surround resolutions properly with appropriate FOV adjustments and a centered, non-stretched HUD, while the mouse-and-keyboard controls worked flawlessly for me, and I appreciated being able to turn off mouse smoothing entirely.
Far Cry 3 gets so many things right about why we play first person shooters, that I really am having a hard time knocking it too much for the few things it gets wrong. What's important is that it's violent and satisfying while being acutely aware of the spectacle that it and other FPS games have become over the years. The freedom afforded to the player in this wide-open island allows for some surprisingly interesting emergent gameplay, and it gives the developers a good excuse to pump out some impressive visuals as well. The multiplayer isn't much to sing about, but Far Cry has always primarily been about the solo experience, and in this third main entry in the series, Ubisoft Montreal has combined together everything I've loved about these games over the years. You're probably already a bit worn out from a full holiday season of great games and Ubisoft's latest effort feels just a bit late, coming in early December, but what I can say is that this game is almost surely worth your money and time to explore. And hey, props to Ubisoft once again for releasing a AAA game on PC for only $50 instead of what's become the $60 norm - I wouldn't bother with the optional $60 Deluxe Edition that is being offered, as the content is just not worth the cash. But do check Far Cry 3 once your holiday AAA blockbuster fatigue has worn off, as it's a treat for nearly any fan of action games.
Disclaimer: This review is based on a final PC version supplied by Valve over Steam.