Far Cry 3

FBT reviews Far Cry 3. Or 4, maybe 5 - I’m not sure.

*This is a playthrough review – there’s spoilers *

If you’ve played one FC you’ve played them all. You expect a sequel to not stray from the original, but Far Cry’s 4 and 5 (plus the spin-offs) have all followed FC3 down to the pixel - FC1 was the blueprint for 3 and no one talks about FC2. So is 3 the best Cry there is?

Jason, a slacker whose girlfriend Liza has grown tired of his man-child antics, is on an adrenaline-junkie holiday, cut short when they sky-dive over islands controlled by pirates; their very psychotic boss, Vaas, decides to ransom then sell them into slavery. Can Jase save his friends and prove to Liza he’s da man? Nope, it’s Jase’s big brother who breaks him out. As I’m thinking ‘why aren’t we playing big bro?’ he’s killed and Vaas makes Jase run into the jungle for the sport of his dogs. This was not in the holiday brochure.

One of the biggest issues with the similarly themed Tomb Raider (2013) was that cut-scene Lara constantly asserts she must rescue her friends, then we ignore them and gad about chasing dreamcatchers and exploring tombs. But FC3 neatly sidesteps the free-roam vs main mission conflict by establishing Vaas as very dangerous - and Jase as a wet sop. Escaping by falling into a river, Jase is picked up by Dennis, a drifter who joined the Rakyat, the indigenous people Vaas is rounding up to sell as slaves. No match for the pirates, Jase agrees to help the Rakyat regroup in return for helping rescue his friends, including little bro Riley. And whinging Liza too, if we must. It just takes the pressure off knowing the friends are beyond reach and more realistic than a preppy city-slicker suddenly going Rambo.

Although the tropical island is huge, this is no RPG. About the only on-going side-mission you’ll encounter is Hurk, an idiot straight out of Trump’s ‘Merica. He’s either a fun diversion or an irritant depending on how you take to him, but Ubisoft love Hurk; he’s the series’ own Claptrap. Or maybe they just can’t be bothered to scrub him out of the code each time they do a reskin … I mean sequel. There’s a few ‘find my daughter’ random quests, timed delivery distractions and the odd collectable or crate but that’s about it. FC3 is a rich and detailed world but a lean game, and all the better for it. Most of the areas you find are abandoned, showing the pirates’ impact; we’re a long way from the gentrified Starbucks of Jase’s world.

The pirates roam - either on foot or in vehicles – and make very short work of Jase, leading you to run for your life early on, but often you’ll just run into more problems. Furry problems usually, ranging from pack hunters like Dogs, easily irritated Cassowaries and Bears who have a mean temper and a meaner right hook. There’s also big cats … there’s nothing more upsetting than setting up a sniper spot then turning to see a Tiger giving that little shimmy, about to pounce. There’s Boars, snakes, Komodo Dragons and the coast is patrolled by marauding Bull sharks, but the real ‘oh come on!’ is the Crocodiles. Being dragged into the water and put in a deathroll isn’t something you forget and even when you’re being chased by a dozen pirates you’ll still desperately scan the water before leaping to maybe-safety. A few times I saw animals get pinched by crocs. Predators can be fended off with some nifty button mashing but you’re not Tarzan, it’s more Jase of the Jungle; getting mauled is par for the course. Better learn those skills quick sharp.

While weapons and items can be upgraded or crafted as usual, the level-ups are a nice, nature-orientated skill-tree. ‘Spider’ is ambush and hunting, ‘Shark’ is strength and brutality while ‘Heron’ is about speed and planning – each level up gets Jase a new ‘tatau’; a tattoo that marks Jase’s warrior status and gives him cool tattoo sleeve. The largest XP is gained from comms towers and outposts. The towers are locked to a frequency only the pirates can use, so you have to reach the top and remove the scrambler. They’re sort-of puzzles, each with a different route and opportunity to fall off. They reveal the map and local shops can now trade – rewarding you with a weapon for unlocking their tower. You can only manage four weapons but you’ll need them for the outposts; driving out the Pirates means Rakyat take over the area, plus you get a fast-travel spot, a shop and a nice XP bump – especially if you can do it unseen. Good luck with that.

Alarms can be shut off completely by hand if you sneak into the outpost or taken out one at a time with gunfire, but even using a silenced sniper 200yards away at night from a bush they still spot you. Ducking behind something will break their line of sight but they have remarkably good visualisation skills – and they’re incredible shots. Occasionally they’ll have dangerous animals caged which you can snipe open as a distraction – once a tiger took out an entire camp; I was waiting to pick off the survivors but it killed all of them. Then I shot it for its fur. The outposts are all different and you can attack any way you like – until you fire a shot and they see you somehow. Those pirates must kill it at Where’s Wally. Claiming an outpost also unlocks big game hunts and missions to kill pirates using only a knife. Jase has a digital camera, which he can use to zoom in and tag enemies; thinning down bodyguards before sneaking in for a stealth kill is awesome.

After a few fun tutorial missions, Dennis discovers one of the friends has escaped. It’s Daisy, big bro’s girlfriend, recovered by a doctor who makes recreational drugs for the pirates and enjoys his work too much. Beneath his house is a flooded cave with an old boat Daisy decides to fix up for them to escape on. It’s here you bring back rescued friends, have flashbacks and fall out with Liza, who’s the next rescue mission. I’d expect her to be the final prize, but we get her out the way early, in a great mission that Jase completely f’s up. Still, Liza sees how focused Jase has become and changes her tune. Thing is, Liza’s got some competition.

Dennis invites us to meet the Queen of the Rakyat, Citra; she’s unconvinced Jase will stop Vaas, but she’s willing to give him a chance – and some terrifically powerful hallucinogens to help him see his true spiritual path. While Liza represents a safe, structured life, Citra is passionate, primal; it’s not hard to see why Jase starts to waver. The whole game is filled with believable characters; Dennis is a nice guy but it becomes subtly apparent he’s merely tolerated by the Rakyat, not part of the tribe as he’d like to believe. But just as Citra’s body language and attitude is alluring, Vaas is terrifying; it’s not his raving that puts you on edge, it’s when he’s calm – there’s something in his eyes, his poise that just makes you uneasy. The inhabitants are as believable as the island. Which for Jase, is becoming home.

While the friends finish up the boat and bang on about getting back to civilisation, Jase is unsure; but is it the island life or is he enjoying the killing a little too much? He says his actions are necessary but after a while that excuse rings hollow – Dennis discovers one of our pals, Oliver is about to be shipped off. It’s a typical rescue mission, but we really see how … effective Jase has become. Both Liza and Oliver’s missions end with a chase where Jase explosively deals with the Pirates, but whereas Liza’s mission was a mess, in Oliver’s escape, Jase is Liam Neeson. He’s getting good at this and after Citra I’m a lot less inclined to care about this bunch of entitled brats. But saving Keith is possibly the highlight of the game.

It turns out that Vaas isn’t the boss. He actually answers to Hoyt, a drug and slave peddler with his own private army on a nearby island. Hoyt sold Keith to Buck, a sadist who’s keeping him as a pet. When Jase mutters “I’m gonna kill that motherfucker” after a Buck encounter, you really want him to. This game keeps turning out top-notch bastards; whereas Vaas might snap at any second, Buck wants to make you snap. Walking around with an open shirt showing his Iggy Pop physique and chest ink, he re-enacts abusing Keith just to see Jase in pain too. He sends us off to explore long-lost tombs (Tomb Raider, this is how you do it) to find a lost Rakyat knife, and they’re great missions; but the real treat is Buck and Jase’s scenes together. It’s a critical turning point for Jase; he begins answering back (not that Buck appricates it - “I should cane you for that, I really should. But I won’t. I’ll cane Keith instead. Now then,”) and when Jase’s rage boils over, you’re up for it. Buck underestimated Jase; he’s gonna kill that motherfucker.

As Jase delivers a shattered Keith to the gang, he discovers little bro Riley was killed trying to escape. With no one left to save, the gang agree to leave, but Jase refuses, much to Liza’s teary annoyance. Whatever. Instead, Jase gets high with Citra again and re-enacts the legend of how the Rakyat were born - by killing a huge demon. As far as OTT mini-bosses go, this one is epic enough to let slide, partly because the final scenes intercut with Jase and Citra having sex. Now that’s an incentive to get through a staged boss fight. It turns out we were doing it in front of the entire Rakyat tribe too. Who da man! Afterwards, Citra asks us to kill Vaas, who happens to be her brother, and free the Rakyat so we can be together. Jase excitedly agrees. Okay, I excitedly agree.

This is it, come on Vaas, I’m gonna kill you then sleep with your sister. It’s a trippy, rage-fuelled fight but finally, Vaas is down for good. And so is the game. Shame it’s nowhere near over yet. Jase wants to prove his worth to Citra and get revenge for Riley by taking out Hoyt too. A pointless subplot featuring a CIA guy ends with him giving us a lift to Hoyt’s personal island. I’m coming for you Hoyt! Then I’m doing the sex again!

Except, I’m not. Hoyt’s island is largely the same, but rather than ramshackle villages and forests, it’s open grasslands and fortified bases – and tougher mercs. The entire game essentially resets; I just had druggy sex with a queen and killed a Pirate Lord, and now I’m running shrieking from the mercs like the brat I was at the start? All that momentum, emotion is dropped. I’m no longer da man. Damn.

Eventually, having enrolled in Hoyt’s mercenary intern scheme to get closer to him I discover Riley is alive - and I’ve been ordered to torture him about the whereabouts of this Jason guy … It’s true that FC3 does prick at some of FPS and RPG’s established tropes; not just Jase’s story and how a character can shrug off the acts we commit in a shooter, but little nods like Buck appearing like a convenient quest-giver, or the CIA merc who disappears after our cutscene and Jase mutters “where’d he go” – very meta. But FC3 isn’t as smart as it thinks it is. The Riley torture scene thinks it’s a brilliant commentary on CoD’s more distasteful sequences but it’s not because Riley agrees to it to keep up the pretence. It would have said something if we realised with horror Jase had become so unhinged that beating his little bro wasn’t a big deal, but Jase hates himself for it; FC3 was sold on the idea that it explores what a FPS would really do to someone but that’s simply not true and it’s glaringly obvious in the final scene - we make a moral choice, not Jase. Having offed Hoyt, who was a huge disappointment after Vaas and Buck (they really should have had their own sitcom), our ex-friends are nowhere to be found. Pirates? Nope, Citra. She has one final test - Jase has to literally cut all ties to his past life.

I get that Citra might be thinking if I’m willing to go through all that to save them I might want to return to my friends one day, but to leave the final choice to me doesn’t work. I’d stay with Citra, but I’m not gonna slaughter my friends and I never saw Jase become blinded enough to do it either. He's traumatised but not insane. Second, all of Jase’s darkness came out of the extreme situation not a belief, so if the game thinks it’s provided enough evidence that Jase’s devolved to this extent then he should do it not me; let me watch in shock as I realise how far he’s fallen. It goes back to the Riley sequence; the game thinks it’s being devious forcing us into obviously amoral situations but it’s not because I shouldn’t have a choice. I didn't go through what Jase did.

Worst of all, the game punishes you for choosing Citra, who reveals a pretty extreme plan to bring the Rakyat back to glory, while saving Liza is a disappointing non-ending that conflicts with Citra's true intentions - she claims she loves Jase if you pick Liza, but the 'Citra' ending is not exactly loving. That's two separate narratives, two different worlds.

It’s also an uncomfortable moment to watch how animalistic the Rakyat are; they’re all cheering as I hold the knife. This is off. The Rakyat might be ‘primitive’ but they’re not prehistoric; a sacrifice? Citra is welcome to believe in old legends of the Rakyat's mystical birth, but this display, and Citra's later act are outdated and bordering on racist. We just spent the entire game saving 1940's WB Cartoon-style savages? I’m surprised they don’t have bones through their noses and cauldrons for us to cook the friends in.

But, FC3 started to cave in on itself before this. The game creates this amazing dynamic between Vaas and Jase; losing him causes FC3 to slip into the generic when it could have gone in so many ways. We needed to know Vaas better. His extreme actions against the Rakyat are explained by Citra mumbling about Hoyt ‘poisoning his mind’ with drugs; hang on love, you keep doping me with hallucinogens then raping me; if we'd interacted more, if Vaas warned us about her true motivations, revealed an obsession with bringing back the Rakyat ‘warrior’ it all would have had much more impact; we recognise she’s dangerous, but not insane and there’s no hints – at least none we believe, since the few clues come from Vaas. It could have worked if we’d just seen the signs and Jase and Vaas’s relationship should have been so much more than ‘I killed you/I escaped’ - Vaas makes at least five serious attempts on Jase’s life but he always survives which drives Vaas mad – well, madder. He even shoots Jase point blank, but the bullet was deflected by a lighter; which Vaas had put in his pocket earlier. That’s no coincidence and there are implications of something otherworldly going on; the Tatau magically appears on Jase as you level up, his hallucinations give him tangible foresight and Dennis remarks that Citra is a Goddess; had it all been Citra’s spiritual doing rather than half-baked machinations, that she had some mystical power then Far Cry 3 could have been a trippy game that challenged the shooter norm, explaining if not satirising much of what we just accept when shooting. We just needed more Vaas, as insane as that sounds.

FC3’s loading screens are populated with quotes from Alice In Wonderland, implying more dream-like fantasy, but it’s not. Instead of down the rabbit hole FC3 heads into a dead end, and the irony of the FC series is in FC3’s best moment – where Vaas claims the definition of insanity is repeating the same event and expecting a different outcome; then repeats it over and over; that is the entire Far Cry series – everything you experience in FC3 is the structure of every other FC game; the series has turned reskin into an art-form, but FC3’s story and characters make it stunningly original and fascinating; it's easily one of the best open-world games of all time - until you reach Hoyt’s island. Then it’s one Far Cry too many. Quit after killing Vaas and it’s an extraordinary experience. All hail king Jason.

2012 | developer Ubisoft Montreal | Publisher Ubisoft

Platforms; Win (Steam/Uplay), X360, PS3