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Far Cry 3 (PS3 Review)

The ultimate vacation

The Far Cry series is somewhat unique in that it has no continuous timeline to speak of. Instead, brand new storylines and locations are offered up with each subsequent instalment. Not many sequels make this distinction but it allows developer Ubisoft Montreal to take the series in different directions without being confined to the laws of continuity. The results are that Far Cry 3 is easily the best game in the series to date.

Players assume the role of 25-year-old Jason Brody who is vacationing with his friends in the South Pacific. Things go wrong when the group is captured by slave-trading pirates during a skydiving trip, but Jason is able to make a fortunate escape with help from the local Rakyat tribe. Believing they have found a saviour to overthrow the pirate's tyranny, the Rakyat set Jason upon the Path of the Warrior: a rite of passage that will teach him to hunt, forage, and develop the skills required to rescue his friends from slavery. 

The story is effective in the way it keeps your goals clearly defined, but you'll be able to tackle these missions at your own leisure. If you've become accustomed to today's era of super-soldier protagonists however, you'll likely find Jason's evolution to be a stretch. The game hints Jason is a daredevil and his overnight confidence is helped by some intense tribal hallucinogens, but it's hard to suspend your disbelief when paragliding  into a pirate camp, driving off a cliff, or punching a great white shark square in the face (yes, I'm serious).

It's also odd that the Rakyat would see some rich white kid from California as their local hero. Character growth is always a good thing, but I never latched on to the story as much as I wanted to. Luckily all of this does little to dampen the experience. Far Cry 3's first-person, open-world gameplay is its main draw and messing around on Rook Island might be the most fun I've had with a sandbox world, period.

Before you know it you'll be engaged in whatever thrill-seeking activity you can find. Hunting man-eating animals, ziplining across chasms, diving into hidden caves to search for ancient relics; there's practically a smorgasbord of activity begging to be explored. Progress the main story to the halfway mark and you'll unlock a second island of equal size and scope.

Nearly all of these distractions grant Jason benefits, but even if they didn't they'd still be satisfying endeavours. Scaling radio towers, for example, allows you to map out the immediate area, highlight landmarks, and open additional missions. However, each tower's dilapidated condition means climbing one becomes a puzzle as you carefully navigate your way to the top. Metal creaks and platforms sway in the wind as you jump across gaps and scramble up ledges, creating a thrilling sense of vertigo. After you reach the summit and disable communications, you can zipline down the powerlines in an instant, commandeer a conveniently placed vehicle and be on your way. It's simple and rewarding.

If you're looking to upgrade your arsenal, then the hunting and crafting system is another pleasant diversion. Jason can use animal pelts to craft pouches which increases his carrying-capacity for weapons, ammunition, health and money, and the game encourages you to pursue these upgrades by initially limiting you to a single gun and restricted inventory. Perhaps it needn't have done so though, as gunning down a charging tiger or Komodo dragon is exhilarating stuff. It's not a deep system, but hunting creatures that act so naturally within the game world is a refreshing change from regular fetch quests that you'll rarely get tired of it.

Even with all the opportunities Rook Island affords, the clear standout are the pirate camps. Pirates tend to patrol main areas, but you can make traversal easier by taking out the enemies in a camp and claiming it for your own. Doing so lowers pirate influence and allows the Rakyat to move in and provide you with additional tasks. Here my preferred method usually involved approaching from a distance, marking enemy locations on the HUD, firing off a few preliminary shots with a silenced rifle and then finishing the job with a combination of lethal takedowns. Stealth generally increases your chances of success and will net you more experience, but you could just as easily attach some C4 to a paraglider, swoop from a cliff face and bail out at the last second, detonator in hand. The choice is yours.

The experience gained from story and side missions will unlock you more weapons and perks, and the game world responds by giving you added reasons to use them. Setting explosives on main roads and alarm boxes can deter pirate reinforcements, caged animals can be released onto their unsuspecting captors with a well-placed shot, and starting fires from a distance with a flare gun or flame arrows create useful diversions. Your tactics can often compliment the landscape too; a beachside camp might be open to a stealthy underwater approach, whereas a heavily-wooded area allows for more effective use of fire.

Far Cry 3 does have one notable issue though and it's the lack of endgame content for its single player. Upon completion of the main story you can revisit unfinished missions but the map is mostly devoid of enemies. With no new game plus, starting over means you'll lose every weapon and upgrade you've acquired, whereas not starting over means you'll be an unstoppable killing-machine with practically nothing to do. Granted there are a few mini-games and score-based trials that remain playable, but unfortunately they don't measure up to the core experience of the base game.

A new addition to the series is a four player co-op which features a short campaign unrelated to Jason's story. It's a mostly linear affair and lacks the open-world magic of the main story, but the co-op strikes a nice balance between story-driven game play and pitting you against your friends in various point scoring challenges.

Far Cry 3 also includes an online mulitplayer with the usual game types and customisation you'd come to expect, plus a few extras. The new Firestorm match feels right at home in the Far Cry universe, and an extensive map editor should increase the online life of the game considerably. Hit detection occasionally feels touch-and-go, but the gunplay is otherwise solid and the scripted end-game celebrations between teams (which can be assigned in your load out) will undoubtedly get a few laughs.

Overall, Far Cry 3 is game which has a very obvious vibe of player-choice reverberating through it. The opportunities available are simply too numerous to list, but half the fun is discovering them through your own experimentation. It's perhaps best summarised during a scene where Jason is chastised for not treating his overall mission with the seriousness it deserves.

"You think almost being killed or sold into slavery is fun!?" a support character angrily demands. Jason avoids the question but it doesn't matter. Given the wealth of freedom and excitement Far Cry 3 consistently offered me, I already knew his answer.

9.25

PS3 - Xbox 360 - PC

Concept: Become a tribal warrior (with guns) as you seek to overthrow an island of pirates and reclaim your friends.

Graphics: Rook Island is breathtakingly beautiful and full of life. Some trippy scenes involving hallucinogens are equally impressive.

Sound: The emphasis on dub step seems like an odd choice but suits the tone quite well during shoot-outs. Michael Mando's performance as pirate leader Vaas is simply outstanding.

Entertainment: Some storyline missions could have been less linear, but the emphasis on freedom here is otherwise unmatched; this is open-world gaming at its best.

Playability: Shooting is tight and responsive and takedowns are effortless. Driving will demand increased focus though; expect to unintentionally drive off a cliff from time to time.

Replay Value: Moderate.

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