Sunday, December 16, 2012

REVIEW - Far Cry 3.


Some some some I some I murder
Some I some I let go

All I wanna' do is (bang! bang! bang! bang!)
And a (kachik! ka-ching!)
And take your money
-Paper Planes, the song that plays for like 
ten seconds during the opening sequence.

Best douchebro ever.

I did not go into my time with Far Cry 3 very hyped.  I did not expect this - but...

Far Cry 3 is one of the best games of 2012.  It is - and I don't make this comparison lightly - this year's inFamous 2.  

That is to say Far Cry 3 might just be the most straight-up, reliably fun game I played this year. All its bullet points are ticked - great presentation, tech, and design - but the most important bit is that it's fun, fun, fun to play, all the way.  

Far too regularly, open-world games force the player into regular and repeated gameplay bottlenecks that force one to engage in activities they would sooner ignore.  Gameplay - little tidbits - added on top of a title's core mechanics which don't do the game that surrounds them justice, bores or frustrates the player, and leads to us walking away from a console in search of something fun to do. 

Like inFamous 2, Far Cry 3 does not suffer this.  Upon booting the game and opening your map, the player is greeted with an overflowing cornucopia of possible activities - races and shooting contests to win, enemy bases to attack, assassination contracts to carry out, wild beasts to hunt or just simple exploration - and not once in my thirty-plus hours with the title did I ever consider an objective only to decide against it. 

No matter what activity you would select - take a globe and spin it - wherever your finger lands, it will be fun.  It will be an activity you look forward to.  And, staggeringly, it maintains this quality for your entire time with the title.  

Which is around thirty hours, for the single player campaign.

This is one of those games you sit down with and poof the hours disappear.  This is a game that one can - and will - just play and play and play and play, because it never stops being fun.

Oh baby.  Let's break it down.

Check out the game's opening.
A shame that video doesn't show it all the way up to the title card, but trust me - it's phenomenal.

The game begins with what may be the best opening sequence of the year.  While not quite as gut-wrenchingly affecting as Mass Effect 3's, it achieves similar success in a few short minutes as opposed to an hour.

In this sequence, we watch a gorgeous cutscene only to realize partway through that this is actually the game engine running, and we can turn our head and look around.  Player-character Jason Brody is your run-of-the-mill North American douchebro.  Off on an upper-middle-class vacation with his similarly gorgeous and annoying friends and brothers, they are kidnapped by slaver pirates.

As Jason escapes this initial ordeal, we the player are hard-pressed not to form a connection with him.  He is scared shitless, whimpering "I can't do this!" - which is what ninety per cent of us would be saying in his place.  We too would be pissing our pants - and the combined voice work of Gianpaolo Venuta (Jason) and the sublime Michael Mando (Vaas) suck the player in to the game's reality and keep us there.

Once we're there - once we've made this connection with the player-character from that fixed, first-person perspective...  Once we've pissed in our virtual pants and dashed, screaming and gasping for breath through a gorgeous jungle as tracer rounds tear past, lighting up the bush around us... we're sold.

From there, every time you leap off a cliff, every time you loose an arrow, every time you take down an enemy, the action resonates with that deep, crucial feeling we had in its opening minutes.

We're engaged in the reality of Far Cry 3 - immersed - and from there, the game takes flight.


Jason begins his adventure with nothing more than a 1911 pistol, and a handful of bullets.  In order to hold more than one weapon, you must track, kill and skin animals to craft a better holster - sort of like an open-world first-person RPG where your base stats are always under your direct control.

Sick of only carrying twenty arrows?  Well, you'll need to defeat a man eating shark (with a bow), for only its skin is grand enough to craft the ultimate quiver.

Before long, you'll hone in on a style that works for you - only being able to hold four weapons makes you very choosy, and dictates aspects of your playstyle - and one discovers they've tailoring their experience without being conscious of it.  I favor a stealth-heavy approach, and so the compound bow never left my arsenal.  Excellent for silent takedowns at nearly any range and possessing a beautifully weighty, tactile feel, the bow was a constant companion, augmented by the reliable, indiscriminate killing authority of a light machine gun, and the discreet ultra-long-distance lethality of a silenced sniper rifle (Far Cry 3 lets you put a silencer on a Barrett .50 cal!).

Satisfaction is clearing out an entire paramilitary outpost from a quarter-mile away with such a weapon, picking off each soldier the moment the others turn their back, each in turn and perfectly efficient - like that opening scene in Enemy at the Gates - until finally two stand side by side, unaware that they are alone.  If one of them turn ninety degrees in any direction, the veil will fall - and so...

Thwip.

"What the-!"

Thwip.

Huge bonus XP for remaining undetected.


Far Cry 3, one should mention, does this delicious thing where it auto-saves your exact position as you approach an outpost.   Your tactics and plans will change dramatically depending on your angle of attack, so it's wonderful that it doesn't default to say, the road leading to the front door.  No, if you swim in to a base from the ocean and fail, you'll find yourself back in the water again with the same puzzle laid out before you.  If you wisely approach from the mountains overlooking a base, that's where you're restart, whipping out your digital camera to recon the site and mark targets.

A favorite example of mine had me scoping out a base and marking all the enemies within.  They were nearly all walking around at ground level, with a sniper on a short tower to the north.

I crept into base behind the sniper's tower, and as I was about to climb the stairs to introduce him to Mr. Knifey, I heard a tiger growl.

A tiger?  That could come in handy... so I open my crafting menu and use some torch ginger I gathered earlier to craft a Hunter's Instinct syringe, and jab myself in the chest with it.  My senses focus, and I can see the beast through the walls of a nearby building, just itching for freedom.

I swoop up from behind, nock an arrow and snap one into its cage.  By the time I'm back at the sniper's tower, all hell has broken loose.  The pirates are screaming and firing and dying, the sniper is about to take one of his lethal shots at the beast, but I tap R3 and Jason whooshes forward to clap one hand on his shoulder before, thup, driving the knife under his collarbone.

I sneak back down the stairs as the tiger tears through their ranks, and look up to see two pirates backpedalling around the corner, still firing at it.  I bring the bow to full tension, line up on the fellow furthest away and let it fly.  The other pirate, the last pirate, sees his friend die and turns his head - still walking backwards - to backtrack the flight of the arrow.

With his back to me he turns his head and - I swear - looks me in the eye as I tap R3, grab him by the shoulder and thup.

It plays so well.

One gleans a similarly fantastic - and totally different - story every time they attack an enemy base or attempt a story mission or execute an assassination contract.  Whether you go in guns blazing or on padded tiptoes, it's amazingly, constantly dynamic and fresh-feeling - a wonderful twisting soup of potential where all the rules feel so... intuitive, and reasonable.  Comfortable to play with.

When the stealth shatters and the game turns in to a teeth-gritting out-and-out firefight, it's a huge, rolicking, Michael Bay firefight.  When stealth and strategy are maintained, it's a slick, confident, predatory pleasure - and in either case, one that's never less than phenomenally well-presented.

At first driving the cars doesn't feel quite right, thanks to the first-person perspective.
Then, five hours later, you realize the game never taught you to drift around corners on dirt roads, but that's exactly what you're doing 'cause it just feels so natural.

It's a beauty where one can sometimes spy the trick of it - all these delightful little effects.  Far Cry 3 on PS3 is a title one regularly stops and marvels at, and it's not a game where you feel Ubisoft have savaged the console into submission - compromising the framerate and so gameplay. Instead, they created and chose a few elegant, efficient shaders and blooms and other tech terms I know not of, assembling a small but exquisite library of visual effects that approximate perfect.

They're not quite perfect - you can tell as you watch beams of light dancing through the trees - but it's so close that you can't help but gush.

The soundtrack is one of these lovely dynamic affairs we've grown accustomed to, picking up with heavy bass and thrumms when an enemy draws near or the action explodes into an all-out firefight, or gentle and beautiful as we weave our way through the jungle.

The story..?  It's okay.  It's fine.  Both endings kinda' suck, but the through-line of a run-of-the-mill North American douchebro becoming seduced by the sense of power and manhood he feels as he becomes a remorseless killing machine is... affecting.

Sure, after Spec Ops: The Line, it feels a bit contrived and self-indulgent for a game that so glorifies violence (such glorious violence!) to simultaneously warn of how monstrous it is, but that doesn't kill the message or damage the experience.

Jason Brody's journey - as ours would be, in his place - is one of self-discovery, and I was rather pleased that he wasn't entirely happy with what he finds.

Michael Mando as Vaas is a late-entry heavy contender for performance of the year.

Michael Mando absolutely steals the show here, as Vaas.  Sure, it's fun to be with Brody as he goes from sniveling pissant to a guy who says "gimmie the C4, I'll do it.  Hell yeah," but the fact of the matter is Mando steals every scene he's in.

He's a jungle-bred psychopath - he's who Jason could be, if he loses much more of his mind - but we love him.  A constant cat-and-mouse villain, catching and failing to kill you repeatedly, until he disappears around two-thirds of the way through the game to be replaced by (what's meant to be) an even greater menace in the form of slaver boss Hoyt Volker.


Hoyt's voice work is similarly high-caliber, and there are two reasonable reasons for him taking over Villain #1 duties from Vaas; his paramilitary troops are a far greater threat than Vaas's pirates, the better for late-game challenges, and the middle-aged slaver is meant to represent what will become of Jason Brody if he continues down the road of taking what he wants at the expense of morality, but...

He's no Vaas.  After spending sixty per cent of the game fearing and loving Vaas, of watching Michael Mando chew up the scenery and delivering one of the standout performances of the year, Hoyt is... boring in comparison.  They try to make him charming, but he feels like a fop when compared to his predecessor.  I get the why of Hoyt's presence, but it's less successful than it should be, and stands in the shadow of Mando's charming nutcase.

I. Love. This. Bow.

Far Cry 3 is a... well, surprising accomplishment.  Crysis and then Ubisoft have each tried before - and failed - in turn to crack the popular market with their open-world, choice-heavy first-person shooters (with Far Cry and Far Cry 2, respectively), which were high-minded, but not very comfortable or fun games to play.  Here, they have nothing but success heaped on success.

That's a beautiful thing, for the record.  A sprawling, open-world first person shooter that's a pleasure to explore, dotted with objectives and tasks that the player really can approach however they want - one that is eminently playable and comfortable to engage with - with a crazy assortment of customizable real-world weapons and abilities.

The action is furious, the stealth is excellent, and... all the little touches just push it towards perfect.  Like the game's slick animations - and the takedowns!  I've barely touched on the takedowns!  Unlockable takedowns where you grab a guy, knife him, pull the pin on his grenade and kick him into a bunch of his friends.  Takedowns where you hold the body up to protect yourself from gunfire while you yank his sidearm and land headshots on the others.

Glorious are the takedowns.  Tasked with assassinating a particular pirate with a knife, you sneak behind a foursome of armed goons and mark them.  As the VIP nears one guard while the others have their line of sight broken, it's almost a Pavlovian response.  A tasty moment.

You slip out of the bushes and tap R3.  Jason Brody whooshes forward to grab the guard by the shoulder and thup sink the knife in.  The VIP, standing so near, hears it and turns as you tap R2.  Jason reaches down for the dead man's blade while he's still on his feet, and whips it into the target's head.

Duck down, turn around, back into the jungle.

Boats and jetskis and jeeps and buggies and hang gliders parachutes and wingsuits!

This game is like a fist-sized cut diamond.  Hold it up to the light.  Turn it.  Examine every part.

Beautiful fun.  Huge fun.  Luxurious fun.  From every angle.

5 comments:

  1. Great review, Chance. I'm really looking forward to playing this (and MP3, and finishing ME3?) over Christmas, if I have time.

    My only question: I've heard that the framerate can be pretty choppy at times on PS3, compared to PC. I have a gaming PC that's pretty capable, but I'd rather play on PS3... but not if the experience is sub-par compared to PC.

    On PS3, I can play on the big screen, with surround sound. On PC, I'm limited to my 15" monitor. It's a balancing test - but what do you say? Is the PS3 framerate drop only in cutscenes, or only in certain sequences, or what? I'd really rather not mar the experience, but I don't want to play through and be thinking of what might have been, either.

    ReplyDelete
  2. The framerate was really only apparent to me when I first booted the game - I think I mentioned it in a dev diary - but after two minutes with the game, I forgot I'd ever thought about it and just got absorbed.

    Far Cry 3 on PS3 is a gorgeous, fun time. On PC I'm sure it's a wholly different beast and a big leap in presentation, but - comparing it to everything else I've played on PS3 - I have no complaints regarding its tech or performance.

    Oh, except a thing where the game would freeze at the first load - but that stopped happening after a patch the other day.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I gotta say, the review turned the game from something that isn't even on my radar to the first thing I buy with any GameStop gift cards I receive for Christmas. Or, you know, just with -money- after Christmas.

    Basically I'm saying I really want this game now and I'm going to buy it.

    I assume it's a fully condensed experience, so not playing Far Cry 1 or 2 won't affect the enjoyment?

    ReplyDelete
  4. Precisely - Far Cry 3 is its own stand-alone story.

    ReplyDelete