In continuation of the Far Cry series it’s time to look at Far Cry 3. The previous two games in the series both managed to be very different games whilst also managing to retain a degree of continuity, Far Cry 3 is both an exception to this rule whilst simultaneously reinforcing it. Far Cry 3 is to Far Cry 2 what a Big Mac is to a burger: all the pieces are similar but one feels distinctly more commercial and artificial. This is not a pre-judgement by any stretch, trust me on that, but it is merely a statement that Far Cry 3 manages to not be Far Cry 2, for better or for worse.
Many of the trends in game play mechanics that Far Cry 2 introduced carry on through into Far Cry 3. There is an open world, where completing side missions will provide weapon unlocks and other perks, the collectible system is expanded to the nth degree with a considerable amount of roaming around necessary and the general open world sandbox game play that was part of what made Far Cry 2 so compelling is present. Gone however are the respawning checkpoints, instead outposts are cleared out which will in turn clear out the vast majority of enemy presence in the surrounding area. I can see why this was done, the respawning checkpoints made getting around in Far Cry 2 difficult… but that was exactly the point. The point of the respawning checkpoints was to avoid player complacency, so that no matter how powerful they felt they would always have a sense of risk in even the simplest mission, it operated to maintain the hostility of the environment towards the player, fitting into the overall theme.
Far Cry 3 operates on a different theme to the second game with the player assisting the Rebels (good guys) against the invading mercenary forces (bad guys). This is yet another attempt at a post-colonial plot, however it is nowhere near as well constructed as its predecessor, yes that had the advantage of recycling an existing story but still Far Cry 3 struggles. The conflict is too transparent, too black and white. The combination of the white-man, his corrupted local warlord and the vicious hand of the market into an amorphous blob of “baddie” is a complex message portrayed with all of the elegance of a potato shape stamp. The “Rebels” as well suffer the same semantic fate, existing as the Oriental answer to the “baddie” Occident: a people steeped in absurd traditions barely comprehensible to the westerner and fuelled by drugs and chants. The player character is intended to be a westerner of such distaste that no even the intended western audience can tolerate him, however this same intolerable fool is transformed from the Occidental extreme to the Oriental extreme. The intention of Far Cry 3’s plot and setting is, I believe, very much along the lines of Edward Said’s Orientalism, however the point was lost when it stopped being a parody. Perhaps the author’s intentions were good: make clear the ridiculousness of the still pervasive post-colonial Orientalist attitude that in making a parody so absurd that it can only be a critique, but I feel that the audience was wrong. Far Cry 2 managed to convey much of what it did through having game play that cemented the theme and plot of the game: the portrayal of central Africa, with its complex multi-actor conflicts and post-colonial hangups was made more real by breaking weapons, respawning checkpoints and malaria. Far Cry 3 has missed this point because the game play supports the simplified world-view that the audience of such a game want, whilst the narrative wants to deal with issues of far greater complexity. The literary equivalent would be writing a critique of post-colonialism with the reading age and understanding of a 5 year old.
The game play then: which is to most intents and purposes an expanded but sanitised version of its predecessor. The weapon upgrade system has borrowed a great deal from more popular, dare I say it, simpler games within the genre. Much of the game feels this way, for example the weapon breaking is now gone and once a weapon is picked up from an enemy that variant is unlocked permanently. I’d like to say that Far Cry 3 is bad because it shoe-horned in Assassin’s Creed game play elements, but I can’t as I am unable bring myself to sit through the utterly dull unskippable cutscenes, especially when the first person and actually compelling Dishonoured exists. Either way, the game play in Far Cry 3 becomes a map clearing operation, moving between exploration points, without any real danger once the local outpost has been cleared. In a significant twist of irony, in pulling respawning checkpoints out of Far Cry 3 in order to satisfy a certain under-educated demographic Ubisoft managed to turn Far Cry 3 into a glorified “walking simulator”, a genre that the same demographic loathe and vomit proverbial bile on whenever and wherever they can. The open world game play of this sort is fairly entertaining, the sandbox nature is certainly freeing for the player and it’s quite possible to avoid the pitfalls of boring island fever by ignoring the outposts completely. What you won’t be able to do is get to the other half of the map, which is locked behind story missions which are a whole rant of their own.
The story missions in Far Cry 2 were not entirely different from the side missions, they were a certain geographic space with an objective and the rest was up to you. Far Cry 3 decided to pull its story missions from the hand-holding single player bullcrap that CoD and Battlefield have made so prevalent. They are the single most in-the-moment frustrating thing about the game, as much as I have qualms about many of the deep-seated issues in the game it was the story missions that drove rage-quits. There is no choice, no option and no freedom. The player is either following a very tight corridor (ironically carved through the open terrain) or is literally forced into an on-the-rails vehicle section. Game difficulty becomes a farce at this point, as given the choice of attack angles and methods the hardest difficulty is an interesting challenge in the sandbox, but in the story missions it becomes an irritating retry festival of irritation as the limited health and specified weapon sets ensure rapid death every time. I’m not complaining that the game is too hard, I’m complaining that these frankly awful story missions don’t belong in the game at all. It’s like giving someone a cake but only allowing them to eat the jam from between the layers, with a very specific and ill-suited chopstick. It is this odd combination of two very different game design theories that generates much of the real-time frustration and I assure you that if Far Cry 3 had existed only as its story missions I would be lambasting it into the ground.
In general though, once you’ve looked past the deep-seated issues with the narrative and avoided the awful on-rails story missions Far Cry 3 is a lot of fun, it’s a ridiculous sandbox playground with the occasional cat turd buried in it. There’s also the slight issue of Uplay which is a requirement, and due to being fairly new, you’ll need a reasonably powerful PC running Windows. This is far from a toaster game, and to be fair if you have the hardware to run Far Cry 3 then you probably already know it. In short, I think the game can be picked up pretty cheap nowadays, £15.00 (approx $23.00) on Steam.
Far Cry 3 on Steam: