I have never been a big fan of sandbox games. I tend to either finish the main (and often lackluster) story without ever engaging in the side quests or just screwing around(Fallout 3), or I meander around the world for a few hours before getting bored and moving onto something more focused (Skyrim). Far Cry 3 is the first sandbox game to truly suck me in. Every time I saw a side quest, a hunting contract, or a radio tower, I felt compelled to drop whatever I was doing and go kill the specific pirate, hunt the tiger, or scale the disturbingly rickety cell tower instead. Somehow Far Cry 3 managed to push all of the little “100% completion” OCD buttons in me, and I loved it.
In Far Cry 3 you play as Jason Brody, a fratboy who has gone on vacation to an island in the South Pacific with his rich obnoxious friends, only to be kidnapped by some pirates led by a crazy man named Vaas for the express purpose of being sold into slavery. The opening is tense, stressful, and even a little bit scary. The intro plays like a punch to the face, and every other sandbox game that starts with a crappy, stiff set piece should take notes (Skyrim, I am glaring at you). While Jason sounds a lot like James Franco as Harry Osborn in the Spiderman movies (in a bad, douche-y way), any character given even a few minutes of screen time is interesting, well voice-acted, and beautifully animated. Dennis, Buck, Sam, talk about an ensemble cast of characters. One of the main antagonists, Vaas, is so well done that whenever he was on screen I kept comparing him to Heath Ledger's Joker in The Dark Knight in a good way.
The gameplay is really good, with no part being less than functional. Vehicles handle well and driving in the first person looks and feels cool, and the guns handle well and sound reasonable. The best part however, is the stealth. Aside from a few linear story missions, most objectives in Far Cry 3 can be approached from any angle. You can mark targets with your camera so you don't lose track of them, and you can get access to a compound bow pretty early on that is a lot of fun to use. The best part of stealth however, is Takedowns. Takedowns can be performed whenever you manage to surprise an enemy, either by sneaking up from behind, or jumping out in front of an enemy and hitting the melee button really fast. The game's skill tree also allows you to unlock additional Takedowns, such as a dropping Takedown (that works from almost any height) a knife-throw Takedown that allows you to silently kill another nearby enemy, and a grenade that involves removing all of the pins from some really unfortunate pirate's grenade belt and giving him a good hard shove towards the rest of his buddies. Eventually you will even be able to chain Takedowns, allowing you to move from one enemy to the next. Pulling off a long string of Takedowns makes you feel like a bad-ass, and the range at which you can activate them is pretty reasonable, and doesn't require you to be breathing down the target's neck.
The feeling of being a jungle badass is further enhanced by the surprisingly deep hunting and crafting system where you need to hunt and skin animals to upgrade your holsters, loot bag, and quiver, etc... Killing and skinning a tiger or a shark and then being able to do more awesome things is nice, but the crafting system can begin to feel a bit contrived and forced after awhile, and eventually I just stopped using it altogether after the game demanded that I acquire two shark skins to craft a wallet that could hold more than $4000. “Really Far Cry?” I said, shaking my head as I looked at the crafting interface “One shark isn't enough, you need two?” Minor logical inconsistencies aside, the crafting system did add a lot to the game, and having wild animals roaming around in the world certainly made things interesting. Getting attacked by a tiger or a komodo dragon was quite scary at times, and watching an angry tiger take out an entire pirate outpost never got old.
Although not as revolutionary as the last two Far Cry games, the graphics in Far Cry 3 are fairly pretty, with colorful plant life and terrain, and nice long draw distances. Unfortunately, the performance of the pc version left something to be desired. I had to set all the graphical settings to minimum and play the game at a resolution of 800x600 just to get a playable framerate on my laptop. While my laptop is getting on in years, Far Cry 3 is the first game aside from The Witcher 2 that I couldn't run at at least 1280x720. The problem with that, is that while the game looks nice, it doesn't look that nice. RAGE and Just Cause 2 both ran much more smoothly at 720p on my laptop, and Just Cause 2 was a bigger, more graphically impressive game then Far Cry 3, with a much bigger map and longer draw distances. Since Far Cry 3 is a multi-platform release, I have to put this down to optimization issues rather than the game being a Crysis-like system killer by nature. Aside from some minor performance gripes on low end computers, the PC version is great, with a plethora of graphical option in the menu, fully rebind-able keys, and a FoV slider that actually give you FoV values.
If what I have written thus far makes you want to play Far Cry 3, there are some thing that you should be warned about before purchasing: Far Cry 3 is dark. Really dark. Darker than Far Cry 2 dark, which is impressive considering the fact that Far Cry 2 was a game where you play as a malaria-afflicted mercenary hunting down an African warlord. Within the first ten minutes of the game, you have someone bleed out in your arms and it only gets darker from there. At one point you need to crawl out of a mass grave, in another you must torture someone, and at one point you even have one of your fingers cut off. One of the villains is a gay rapist, and the main antagonist is the leader of a slave ring. In addition to all of that, the “first aid” animations are pretty disturbing, as you set broken bones, bandage cuts, and remove bullets and pieces of shrapnel from your hands and arms. I am not a squeamish person, but at times Far Cry 3 made me feel rather uncomfortable.
No game is perfect, and I do have a few gripes with the core design of Far Cry 3. The UI suffers from being extremely cluttered, often overlaying icons over the world that were also displayed on the minimap and the main map, and served to confuse me more than anything else. Objectives and prompts to start the next story mission pop up every minute or so, and everything, including loot is displayed on your map. This isn't even useful loot, it's just boxes with a few dollars and some random crap that only serves as vendor trash that fill your inventory and may or may not contain an amusing text blurb. The developers have announced a patch for the PC version to reduce the UI clutter, but it has yet to arrive.
Speaking of player hand-holding, the game is also way too easy. The original Far Cry was a really difficult game where even on easy and normal difficulties you had to use all of your resources and planning skills to survive. I played Far Cry 3 on it's medium difficulty, and overall I found it to be too easy, which is saying something since I play most games on easy-medium difficulty. Even with no health upgrades you can take about fifteen seconds of assault rifle fire to the face without dying. The guns have almost no recoil as well, which serves to break immersion a bit near the start of the game when the scared, inexperienced protagonist can reload every gun really fast under fire, and fire them all with near perfect accuracy. On a whole different level of game breaking reside the silenced sniper rifles which are one-hit kills, make no noise, and have insanely long range. Why the designers even included them baffles me. In some ways Far Cry 3 is a missed opportunity, as I think it could have benefited from a much greater focus on surviving by making the guns less accurate, ammo harder to find, enemies more lethal, removing the fast travel mechanic, and possibly even adding a hunger and thirst mechanic where you need to hunt animals for sustenance and try to find clean water to survive.
I also have some minor complaints about the story, which for the most part is pretty good. The plot takes a turn for the stupid 2/3 of the way through, and while the game does have two different endings, the choice as to which is “good” and which is “bad” is pretty obvious, and it is once again a “pick your ending button” scenario. The game also has some issues with tone, being dark and depressing most of the time, which makes the references to Quentin Tarantino movies, Apocalypse Now, and Team America: World Police feel out of place. Some of the side quests fall into this trap as well, as getting a quest to hunt rabid dogs with a rocket launcher feels jarring compared to the serious tone of the rest of the story. The nature of you being a white guy who comes to an island and is better at everything then anyone else also has a lot of unfortunate implications for a lot of the game, although as the end gets closer the game does seem to deliberately invert a lot of the tropes that are seen in other works with a similar premise.
Far Cry 3 also ships with both competitive and cooperative multiplayer modes, although both feel tacked on and lackluster at best. I spent an hour and a half playing the co-op mode, and for the most part it was unfun and best. Poorly designed objectives, disabled fire propagation, hordes of stupid enemies spawning right in front of my face. It was glitchy, boring, repetitive and frustrating, and the voice acting of the co-op protagonists was truly atrocious. As a whole, the experience felt janky, like it had been thrown together at the absolute last minute. Multiplayer was even worse, with peer-to-peer hosting that resulted in laggy matches, and games that would suddenly end when the host ragequit. The maps are poorly designed, and you die very quickly which lead to you dying over and over again and having no idea what killed you. I saw observed multiple instances where people were endlessly falling and teleporting back up, and once were someone was teleporting around the map like Nightcrawler and knifing everyone to death. I even died a few times for no apparent reason, just collapsing on the ground with my death being listed as a suicide. Compared to the rock solid single player, the multiplayer is just embarrassing. After playing co-op, I had to put the game down for awhile, but I somehow convinced myself to pick it up again, and went shark hunting with a grenade launcher, which made things alright, sort-of.
Far Cry 3 is a really good game. It has some issues that hold it back from true greatness, but that shouldn't deter you from purchasing it. It took me around 15 hours to finish the single player, and that was with me rushing to finish the game as fast as possible, and skipping most of the sidequests. 100% completion would probably take at least 25 hours. The multiplayer is bad, but it shouldn't discourage you from playing Far Cry 3, as the single player has more then enough fun high quality content to justify the price of entry. I had fun with it, and it it definitely one of the best sand box games available. Calling it “Skyrim with guns” is unfair: it's actually a lot better then Skyrim in a lot of ways, such as having a world that actually feels alive. Far Cry 3 is available now on Xbox 360 and PS3 for $60, and PC for $50.