Far Cry 3 is a game conflicted. One on hand, it attempts to expose the primitive desire for violence and show it to be the surest path to madness. On the other hand, it lets you straight up murder dozens of people in the most bloody entertaining fashion available. When the game drops the philosophical pretence, it’s the perfect example of the fun you can have with FPS games.
The game begins with what I assume is the annual meeting of the World’s Most Hate Inducing People. A group of YOLO-yelling, Jager-swilling morons crash onto an island controlled by psychopathic pirates and hilarity ensues. Wait, no, not hilarity. Torture for fun and casual murder and villainous speeches ensue, until our hero Jason Brody escapes the enemy camp and vows to save each and every one of his friends.
I know I need to tell you a little about the plot, just to be thorough, but every single cell in my gaming-addled mind is telling me to ignore it. The plot is flawed and distracting and leads to the most uninteresting parts of the game, only augmenting the experience through the new toys it gives you to play with elsewhere. The plot leads to forced stealth missions, game-restarting mission boundaries and QTEs in place of climactic boss battles. It brings with it deeply overused Alice in Wonderland references and the worrying insinuation that the natives of the island really needed a white man to solve all their problems, an imperialistic notion of white supremacy that permeates a lot of the story.
I don’t want to go on too much on that particular issue, but it does stand out as a cringeworthy practice for any modern game to indulge in. A civil war between the natives and the privateers of Vaas’s army is solved by a heterosexual white American male. He’s lifted up as a saviour of the natives, the only warrior with the skill and talent to save the island from the oppressing pirates. He’s so special and so unique that the leader of the natives cannot help but sleep with him. It’s borderline offensive.
I shouldn’t complain too much about the plot though. It does give us Vaas, my pick for most chilling nemesis in almost any medium. The motion-captured acting from Michael Mando makes every meeting with Vaas an unsettling experience, the very essence of a dangerous man teetering on the brink of insanity. He acts as a catalyst for the violence within Jason Brody, forcing him into further and further acts of cruelty and wanton carnage. Vaas is the sole saviour of the plot, in my eyes, and there comes a time in the game where he lessens in importance and the game suffers greatly for it.
The game though, the actual playing of the game, is fabulous. You’re gifted two islands to play in, two self-contained worlds of hunting and outposts and temples to explore. The geography never astounds, but remains consistently impressive. You’re not going to sit in awe of an exquisitely crafted mountain range, but the tropical climes and the tiny isolated ruins populating it are enough to keep you engaged, if not interested, in the islands you’ll side-quest and hunt your way across. There’s a sheer thrill in tracking a tiger through dense foliage, the possibility of sudden death a constant companion in tracking such dangerous game. It’s the verdant jungles and sudden cliffs that add to the experience, far more than the experience point gifts that hunting provides.
The hunting minigame actually worked as the first half of my experience with the game. To upgrade your ammo capacity and the size of your wallet, common and rare animals alike must fall to Brody’s incessant need for bigger pouches. There’s a game to be made that would consist entirely of this mini-game. There’s a compelling feedback loop here, a Skinner box crafted from albino tiger fur, that really shines. Unfortunately, any diligent player will run through these side-quests in an hour or two if they decide to go full throttle with it and the second island only provides more hunts, but no extra rewards.
The outposts dotted across the islands do respawn though, upon completion of the game. These were the only reason I pushed forward with the plot, such is the appeal of these self-contained murder puzzles. It’s a small military base that will invariably contain a series of alarms and patrolling foes that must be scoped out beforehand to achieve a perfect unseen run and the huge experience point boost that comes with it. The sheer satisfaction of planning a perfect assault would be unsurpassed, were it not for the greater satisfaction that comes from fixing a broken plan on the fly and still managing to remain unseen throughout.
Far Cry 3 is really the best game it can be when it forgets to be philosophical and focuses on being fun. Where the plot missions are turgid and infuriating, the side-quests work so well as to excuse the pretension and instant fail states found elsewhere. Frankly, I’d be happy if the story DLC for this game just focused on the outposts and hunting and just threw in some sort of flimsy, easily ignored plot. Speaking of which…