FarCry 3 PC Review
In an industry saturated with FPS games that do nothing different, FarCry 3 steps in with its open ended approach of gameplay.
Ubisoft have always been associated with 2 things, Tom Clancy and Far Cry. The Far Cry series has always been the prominent FPS title from the Publisher, alongside Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six series. It was with the first Far Cry back somewhere around 10 years ago however, that PC gaming had a big great shakeup, not really felt in the same way since the original Half Life on the PC. It was a time of great change, and Direct X 9 had been creeping into PC gamer's rigs for some time. The new Nvidia GeForce 6 series had made its way onto the market, and Far Cry would be the game to demand this new power. It comes as no surprise that the developers responsible for backing up and pushing this new graphical age was indeed, Crytek. Yes, the Crytek responsible for the fantastic looking Crysis and Crysis Warhead. Far Cry looked amazing back when it released, and it was the benchmark used for testing whether or not you had a gaming PC that was up to scratch for the next few years. The singleplayer was well received as a semi-open world approach to missions, where (like Crysis) the levels were open and approachable enough to accommodate various different play styles, something that carried on into the Crysis games where the progression was linear, but the environments allowed for a kind of exploration around the set pieces in place. Far Cry 2 was developed by Ubisoft's in-house developers however, and had a very different feel. Gone were the lush pacific jungles, and in place were african's savannahs and deserts, along with an open world game with a huge map to explore. The change was well received, but many felt the original Far Cry had made more of an impact with the way in which it established the series. So where does Far Cry 3 sit? Back in the Jungle styling of the first game, we see a Far Cry from the past return for the overall design of the game, and with the updated features of what you would expect from the team after Far Cry 2 (open world exploration, side missions etc.), along with lessons learned from 2.
Thankfully, it is a case of lessons learned from the previous game, and a lot of the problems that were existent in 2 are now completely fixed in 3. Story being the biggest complaint in 2, it felt as if there was a lack of engagement and interesting content in the story of 2, and it all felt like one long progression of raiding base after base, completing each objective slowly one by one, until you were throw into a second overworld map, where upon you realised the daunting truth that you were somewhere around 50% of the way through the game. It kind of dragged on truthfully. With a lack of interesting or memorable characters (the game would switch around the characters depending on who you chose to play as at the start), it wasn't a carefully crafted experience, and felt a bit cookie-cutter modular designed, where there was generic dialogue in place for each character to accommodate for all players choices, rather than carefully craft a singleplayer experience for everyone to experience the same. The world was beautiful, but the story and gameplay lacked a refined/polished feel since it was trying to do everything at once. Far Cry 3 is simply outstanding for story; especially writing. Vaas (the main antagonist), is one of the best designed and most well written characters, certainly at least in the past couple of years. The only 2 other antagonists that come to mind for being as memorable and as interesting are Andrew Ryan in Bioshock, and Cave Johnson in Portal 2, both coming from two stellar game development companies. Vaas has enough crazy and enough chaos to make it obvious he's the bad guy, but there's a disturbing amount of humanity in him, that it jumps from subtle social criticism, back to creating a nice canvas for his character to show his other less desirable qualities through. As for the main character and his companions, they are completely upstaged by Vaas the entire time throughout. There's perhaps a couple of parts where the main character enters some growing pains as a warrior, that shine a little to bring him back into the forefront, otherwise the game is aware throughout with its constant referral and focus on defeating Vaas, that he is the true star of the show. There are some moments of slightly awkward writing, that is only as noticeable as it is since the rest of the writing is of such high quality, that it does create a little shock and knocks you overboard when it does come around.
The gameplay is the most important thing however, that FC3 needs to prove. FC2 was fun for the first few hours, but lost focus after a while, getting distracted with its own distractions; the side-missions and such. FC3 manages to strike the perfect formula balance that such great games like Grand Theft Auto have always pioneered and kept at such high quality. Managing to keep the story missions long enough to hold interest, but cut into short brief chunks to allow the player to go off and explore in between them, FC3 allows the player to experience the story and explore the other areas the game has to offer at their own leisure. Entering a singleplayer mission will not require more than around 10-15 minutes for what I'd call the 'average' chunk, and you can separate these with nice rounds of raiding an enemy fortress, or spend it hunting and taking requests from a nearby job board. There's also the case of having to activate radio towers for the main village to call in supplies from other locations, allowing you to unlock more weapons for free (you'll never have to buy a new weapon again if you plan on activating radio towers). There's plenty on offer to distract you for a little while before taking on the next mission if you should so feel inclined to do. The biggest change that's occurred though, is that the game no longer feels barren. FC2 had the enormous problem of giving you this lush and detailed environment to explore, but with nothing to do in it besides drive around, walk around, or shoot animals with no purpose to doing so. With FC3's hunting request missions, relics to find and collect, different plants/herbs to harvest, animal hides to collect for upgrades, treasure to find, camps to raid, there's plenty to get lost in the world with. If none of those tickle your fancy, you can always just drive/walk around and hunt with no purpose, which is immense fun, especially thanks to the new stealth system.
If Metal Gear Solid invented the Stealth genre, Splinter Cell perfected it. One thing always missing from Far Cry games has been that inclusion of the great stealth mechanics from Splinter Cell. Walking around a jungle or the African savannah is prime cause for giving the player the option to use stealth. Up until now however, only solid objects have hidden you from enemy view; rocks, trees etc. Now however, you can use bushes and other foliage to mask you from enemy view, which is an all too welcome addition to the series. How frustrating it's been to hide in a bush in FC2, that you would think would hide you, only to have an enemy walk not even a few dozen feet away from you, and spot you. FC2 also allowed the enemy to see you from incredible distances, that you would not expect in real life, which meant that standing on a hill and marking an enemy base for invasion would have been a nightmare at times. You would stand on a hill with your scope, tagging ammo deposits and enemies, and one patrol guard would turn awkwardly and spot you, since neither distance nor foliage would conceal you. FC3 seems to nail the balance right with cover, using what feels like a very forgiving ray-casting system for enemy sight, the game allows you to stick your arm out a little from the bush and not be seen straight away, but a sight meter fills up alongside an arrow pointing towards that particular enemy, giving you time to correct your mistake. This occurs at distance as well, which is a more interesting and realistic portrayal of how enemy sight should unfold, unsure of what they're seeing, and having to perhaps stare a little longer to make out what/who it is. At close quarters though, any detection is lethal, and will result in instant engagement, whereby the only two options are to run, or lunge in with a knife takedown to keep things silent and yourself hidden.
Other features are things like customisable guns, which come in two forms; weapons attachments and weapon skins. Whilst the skins are purely for aesthetics, the attachments for the weapons do add something such as extra bullets in a clip, red dot sights, etc. If you haven't invested the time in repairing radio towers, then buying the weapons as well as buying the attachments will take a substantial amount more of your hard earned cash. The time spent chasing after radio towers will only be substituted with hunting treasure and acquiring hides instead, so the towers are your quickest way to get weapons. Speaking of hunting, the hides you acquire from animals are used to upgrade your equipment such as weapon holsters to hold extra weapons, ammo belt upgrades, bigger cash wallets, and so on. It is essential that you do this early on, especially on the higher difficulties, but thankfully most of the hides you need for the first tier of equipment upgrades can be found around the starting area, so most of these upgrades can be gained early on. The game doesn't do a lot of hand holding here, as it simply gives you the initial quick tutorial but then fails to highlight both the importance and technique to going about things like holding more weapons. 2 hours into the game and I was still only holding 1 main weapon, wondering why my other weapon slots were locked. Whether this is down to a failure on the game's part in highlighting this task more, or whether it was a case of the game's high quality of presentation and standards of gameplay distracting you and spurring you on to play and ignore the tutorials, that is something to be discerned.
Staying on the topic of distractions, the graphics are simply outstanding. My gaming rig that I built around 4/5 years ago, with a dual core e8400 and only a modest 460gtx, is able to run the game on the highest settings at around 25fps comfortably, with a slight dip at times of intense action or during cutscenes, where it dips to around 10-15. I'm prepared to take the FPS hit however, and it should be a good sign that the graphics play on the highest even on a modest rig, but I did have to turn off anti-aliasing (smooths jagged edges) and I used the lowest quality of ambient occlusion (there are 3 options). The game on consoles look pretty good, a slight bit of texture popup at times, a bit choppy during intense moments of gameplay, but generally looks good and is doing great for two consoles that are both ageing quite a bit these days. The PC on DX11 however, is a completely different beast. There are genuinely moments in the game, where I can't tell if I'm playing a game or watching a film. The night time looks ok, but the real graphics are seen in the daytime. With lush gradients of aqua/blues in the ocean, and the perfect amount of motion blur alongside all the other fancy post processing effects, there are brief moments where the game does look like a postcard. There was one particular moment where my jaw basically dropped, which was when the light shafts were coming in through a cluster of tree leaves, and hitting the leaf of a plant of which I was standing under, and the green of the leaf was a paler more translucent green than the others around me because the sun on the other side was lightening the underside. Then the rocks on the floor were all filled with light shadowing from ambient occlusion, and the textures were crisp and detailed, the colour of light green was on the underside of the gun being the reflected light off the grass on the floor and just... the entire scene was beautiful, and you will see this often on the PC version. What's great though, is how FC3 manages to maintain this beauty in motion as it does in these moments of brief pause.
The multiplayer and map editor are quite different this time around. The multiplayer is unique for a game of this type, where the end of matches is played out with a taunt; either positive (mercy) or negative (execution) for the winner. There are also things like the tattoo editor, and even loadouts this time around. The MP experience as a whole is fun, maps are diverse and interesting, and if those aren't good enough for you then you can always try out other people's maps online for a whole bunch of unlimited creative locations to choose from. That brings me to the map editor of course, where on the whole it's fun, but there is one thing that seems to be missing from the editor that wasn't before; vehicles. No longer can MP matches have vehicles in them, which means that if you want to take your maps online, you'd better make them without vehicles, or else they won't appear when you start the match. Same goes for a.i, which was a terrible disappointment. After searching through the game files, coming across the ability to put bears, tigers, and sharks in your maps, the first thought that comes into your head is to put down 20 of each down in a small boxed arena and go online to fight them with your friends. This isn't the case sadly, and as far as testing shows, you can only play with these assets alone in your map. This was a big selling point of FC unfortunately, and being able to race around your own race track map that you built with your friends was something that was a staple of previous FC games; at least from a community point of view. The sound design is excellent, as it always has been in the series. Animals can be heard as the underlying soundtrack to the game, with brief moments of action, tension, and the soundtrack placed on top. The game seems to have gone for a more dubstep inspired soundtrack this time, compared to the African theme present in the last game. To FC3's credit however, it doesn't feel like a cash in of a popular recent trend, and has actually helped give the game a fresh treatment and something unique. Voice acting is of the highest quality, and yet again; Vaas dominates this area.
Overall FC3 is an excellent game, and definitely worth your attention. In an industry saturated with FPS games that do nothing different, FC steps in with its open ended approach of gameplay, mixing stealth, action, and exploration, and this time with the addition of some interesting upgrade/hunting/gathering mechanics to stop the old formula from getting stale. Alongside some of the best graphics available in a game, great voice acting and writing, this is easily a contender for game of the year. The map editor, which whilst lacking some features and in other areas waving a taste of them in front of you before refusing you those as final features, is still a fully functional map editor. Let's remember, that most games lack any kind of map editor, so yes, whilst vehicles and a.i are off limits for you and your friends, these are still present to play with on your own, and it's not as if you have nothing to play with excluding those features. Easily the best FPS of this year (excluding perhaps Dishonored), and yes that includes Halo 4. Even without the frills and the gameplay, Far Cry 3 remains true to the atmosphere of every Far Cry game before it, which is that even if the gameplay was removed, it's still just fun to walk around and enjoy the graphics and the atmosphere.
Indie Game Developer, Machinimist, Musician and Writer.
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