Far Cry 3 is a delightful and harsh tropical wonderland, crawling with wildlife and threatened by the pirates and drug runners that disrupt its peace. The troubled paradise you explore is colorful and wild, enticing you to investigate its ravines and discover new ways to enjoy the open-world playground sprawling in front of you. This is a game that ignites the desire to complete every last challenge and check out every last icon on your map. You gradually journey across the entirety of two sunny and sinful islands, hunting for rare game, speeding medicine to needy communities, and skinning sharks so that you might craft new wallets with their hides. Far Cry 3 is an excellent game, marred mainly by some irritating design elements and an inconsistent story that often defaults to generic "tribal" cliches to make an impact.
When the story leaves those cliches behind for deeper territory, however, it does manage to communicate ideas of substance. It takes many hours for its themes to come together in a coherent way--yet in certain aspects, the incoherence makes sense. As protagonist Jason Brody, your initial quest to rescue your friends from a chaotic and truly frightful pirate named Vaas turns into a personal journey blurred by drugs, and fueled by the desire to follow a new and exciting spiritual path. Those friends are too shallow for you to care much about them, which keeps the story at arm's length for a good half of the game. But his friends' shallowness ultimately allows Jason to take a guilt-free look inward, as he grows further mesmerized by the customs of the local Rakyat tribe that takes him under its wing. You might see the narrative curveballs coming after a while, but the trippy manner in which certain events unfold effectively blurs the lines between reality and Jason's occasionally drug-addled imagination.
Nonetheless, narrative oddities stand out. Some of Jason's friends are strangely unaffected by the horrors inflicted upon them. The game quickly glosses over an event that would make most of us emotional wrecks, making Jason's proclamations that the issue was harder to deal with than he expected ring hollow. Some moments seem made to be shocking for the sake of shock alone--not because they develop the world or its characters--but Far Cry 3 isn't so much about story as it is about its world, and the ways you exploit it for your own personal enjoyment. Story missions have you navigating caves and holding off enemies in modern shooter fashion, but out in the wild, you have an entire paradise to tame.
And it's that lush and menacing world that makes Far Cry 3 utterly enthralling. The game is big, certainly, but where
One consideration: you must be aware of an outpost's alarm. Should a pirate trigger it, reinforcements arrive in a matter of seconds, so you might want to sneak in and deactivate the alarm system. Or, you could snipe the individual alarms, though shooting one does not deactivate others. Caged leopards and bears can be freed with a single shot, granting you a temporary ally in your quest for vengeance. Consider using a C4 charge and luring a small group of pirates to an explosive demise, or using a flamethrower to char evil henchmen to a crisp. That same flamethrower can lay waste to vegetation and effectively create moats of fire that can keep combatants at bay. (Well, some combatants, anyway.) Near the end of the game, your foes can put up quite a fight, and be great in number, so Far Cry 3 doesn't just give you the tools to be creative; it ultimately demands you use them to survive.
You don't have to conduct your business so loudly and dramatically, however: Far Cry 3 gives you ample opportunity to be stealthy and sometimes outright requires it. Forced stealth, such as that seen in a later-game mission that fails you the moment you are discovered, isn't that enjoyable. Fortunately, sneaking about is usually a blast, because it pays off in a brutal takedown of your unsuspecting target. Such moments are even greater once you have earned certain powerful abilities, such as the one that allows you to assassinate a pirate and toss a blade into another's skull in a single, effortless move.
Liberating outposts is only one of many activities to pursue in Far Cry 3. To reveal more of the map and gain access to free weapons, you climb radio towers and hack their transmitters. The entire concept is clearly inspired by the Assassin's Creed series, and no wonder, considering both games were created by the same development studio. First-person platforming is a frequent frustration in shooters--but Far Cry 3 makes it a delight. The tower creaks and groans as you climb ladders, make a few well-timed leaps, grasp some ledges, and ultimately arrive at the pinnacle. After you make a few hardware adjustments to the transmitter, the camera zooms to several points of interest, and you can make a breathless descent to the ground via zip line.
There's so much more out there: hunting missions that give you a bow and arrow or a shotgun, perhaps, and send you after rare creatures. You can jump on an ATV or behind the wheel of a truck for a timed medicine run that showcases Far Cry 3's bouncy vehicles--and how they respond authentically to the bumpy terrain. Some challenges compare your performance to other players via the game's online leaderboards; others require you to murder a specific target using your knife. These activities are tied together in smart ways, with one task often leading you to another hunting challenge, a vehicle to race, or even a cave to investigate.