Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Now Playing: Far Cry 3

Far Cry 3 is an open world first person shooter set on a chain of tropical islands. You play as Jason Brody (a bit of a prat, truth be told) who is kidnapped along with his friends by some nasty pirates to be held for ransom. Brody escapes and sets out to free his friends, along the way aiding the local rebels and discovering his true self...or something like that. The game is a stand-alone, so you can jump right into this one without playing the others in the series.

Prior to release, I saw Far Cry 3 described as ‘Skyrim with guns’. It’s a nice, marketable tag-line, but it’s also quite spot on - unfortunately, not in a good way. Because like Skyrim, FC3 is undeniably entertaining at times, but it’s also a rather shallow and superficial experience.

There was a lot I liked about Far Cry 2, yet it was a game plagued by some rather awful design choices. FC3 is undoubtedly a stronger game overall, as it fixes many of the issues which spoilt my enjoyment of its predecessor. But it also sadly casts aside many of the small, entertaining features of FC2, and I really can’t figure out why.

FC2 featured a range of wonderful (and sickeningly brutal) DIY surgery healing animations. These have been removed in favour of a generic ‘health syringe’. Why replace a cool, unique feature with something so incredibly bland? FC2 also featured a great in-game map which could be used at any time, even when driving. This has been replaced with a standard in-menu map. Not only is it ugly and irritating to use (having to keep exiting through the menu every time you use it) but it’s also rather buggy - often marking collectibles you’ve already picked up, or sometimes simply refusing to scroll and zoom.

FC2 had quite an interesting ‘buddy’ system for companion characters. This has been ripped out entirely. Why? It also handled the UI and target marking far better - the UI in FC3 is kind of chunky and distracting. FC3 also removes the weapon jamming/backfiring from FC2 which was always a nice little risk to using old, discarded weapons. So yeah, FC2 was far from a perfect game, but it did a lot of small things right which gave it a unique feel and flavour. Yet in FC3, pretty much all of these small, unique features have either been removed entirely or replaced with bland, generic versions instead.

Okay, so let’s look now at what FC3 has improved upon. First of all, it has a much better system for fast travel. Not everyone on the islands hates you. There are three factions at play - pirates/privateers who attack on sight, the rebels - who you can help and may help you in return, and civilians who just try to stay out of the line of fire. You can now secure and hold outposts for the rebels, unlocking new fast travel points and bonus missions. Enemies no longer re-spawn every time you turn your back.

FC3 also offers a greater variety of bonus missions and objectives. It also has a great first person ‘cover system’ whereby you automatically adjust your stance around objects to peek out and fire when you aim. It also, overall, has a more interesting and engaging main story and characters. The game also reminds me, funnily enough, of Assassins Creed, at least in the way you approach new areas of the map. You must find and climb a ‘high point’ (radio towers) which results in a sweeping vista of locations and unlocks the local map, revealing collectibles, outposts and missions.

Although there are a ton of bonus missions, these do grow repetitive over time. I can’t help but recall Skyrim once again when I said that sometimes ‘less is more’. There is a large quantity of content on offer here, but as a result, the high quality stuff is spread rather thin. For example, one side mission had me talk to a woman in a village who thought her husband was cheating on her. I then had to listen in on his conversation with another guy in a hut right across the street, and finally choose to talk to her again or to him. It took less than 2 minutes and I was done, leaving me wondering what the hell was the point of it all.

There are a lot of single missions like this that serve practically zero purpose. It leaves the entire game feeling rather watered down with a large quantity of shallow and largely meaningless content.

In addition to these single missions there are also hunting and bounty jobs. The bounty jobs are pretty much all the same aside from location. The hunting is a little more interesting because it ties into the gear upgrade system. On top of that, there are a ton of collectibles to find if you like that sort of thing, along with more bonus stuff like racing, poker and other mini-games. So there’s plenty to see and do, but there does become a point when it grows rather repetitive and tedious because there’s very little depth, quality or variety.

There’s an upgrade and skills system in the game, which is okay and does the job, although it’s relatively easy to max everything out, and once you do, hunting becomes totally pointless as does doing bonus missions for XP. And why is there an upgradable wallet? What is this, Zelda? I guess it was put in as a restriction to stop...actually I have no idea why. Weapons unlock for free as you take outposts, but you still have more money than you’d ever need just by picking up collectibles as you explore or from looting bodies. The weapon customisation is a nice feature, not just for attachments - I liked the cosmetic options too.

Enemy AI, like FC2, is decent enough. They take cover (usually), call for reinforcements, try to flank etc. Combat is fluid, fast and largely satisfying, particularly the bow. Although stealth has been made way too easy, as enemies can’t seem to spot you three feet away crouching in a patch of short grass. There’s a variety of stealth auto-kills, which with skills can be chained together to take down entire groups. It’s a little overpowered, but certainly fun.

I liked all the animals in the world. The first time a crocodile surprises you is a lot of fun, and sharks are always a concern when you’re swimming. Exploring the world is quite enjoyable and there’s lots to see - ancient ruins, shipwrecks etc. It really made me want a more in-depth survival / exploration game.

In terms of the story, the primary missions are mostly entertaining, some more than others - it’s a bit of a mixed bag. One of the primary antagonists - Vaas, is excellent. Probably one of the most memorable characters I’ve encountered in a game for a while, thanks to an excellent performance by the actor portraying him. It’s shame he doesn’t feature more, and it’s no surprise that a little over half way through the game, when he, shall we say, ceases to feature, that I began to lose patience and interest in the story.

I should also talk about the world itself because there’s something about it I just found a little ‘off’. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but it always felt rather ‘unnatural’ in a way the environment of FC2 didn’t. I’m not sure what it is, but it just wasn’t as immersive as the world of FC2. Being open world, the random nature of the AI and animals can also lead to some unintentionally hilarious situations. Watching people trying to escape an animal and running off a cliff, or watching a civilian couple get baffled by me parking in the road, only to stop, and then suddenly accelerate and drive straight into a lake to drown!

I sunk about 25 hours into FC3 and I didn’t see or do absolutely everything outside of the main story. By the time I reached the second large island, I’d largely lost interest and just raced through the remaining story missions to the end. I really don’t think the entire second island was really necessary, and maybe the game would have benefited by building a more focused / high quality campaign on the first island alone.

Despite all these gripes, however, Far Cry 3 was frequently entertaining, it made me laugh and it even made me jump at times. But it could also be very irritating and it ultimately became a bit of a chore to play. On top of that, it discarded so many of the small things which made FC2 unique, that there’s ultimately very little that is special about it.

Overall, Far Cry 3 is a solid, decent enough title, but I’d find it hard to really recommend it. For every step it took forward from FC2, it seems to take another two back.


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