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.
Mix in a vast array of role-playing elements, and you have a fully featured single-player game that lasts upward of 35 hours or more, depending on how much you want to do. Kills earn you experience, which in turn earns you upgrades (such as more health bars) and new skills (kill an enemy from the ledge beneath). Corpses and chests can be looted for cash and saleable items; you then buy new weapons and maps, and can replenish ammo at safe houses. Out in the wild, you collect plant life of various kinds so that you can fill syringes with meds that heal you, make you less vulnerable, or enhance your senses.
Some of those enhancements make it easier to hunt wildlife, which is not only a fine pastime in itself, but also rewards you with skins and hides, which you cut from their corpses in properly squeamish fashion. Expect your quarry to put up a fight, though; tigers apparently don't enjoy being riddled with bullets and set on fire. Wild animals are more than just targets, however: they are also part of the world's ecology. Leopards attack boars, leaving behind their carcasses for you to loot, and scaring off the remainder of the herd. You might merrily waltz into a run-down shack seeking loot, only to have a couple of Komodo dragons wander in and sink their teeth into you. Such moments lend Far Cry 3 an air of unpredictability; you feel like anything could happen--and that whatever it is, you'll probably end up bleeding from it.
A game doesn't have to be great just because it gives you a lot to do, but Far Cry 3 is good at most everything it does. There are a wide variety of guns to shoot, and each weapon feels properly hefty and powerful. Vehicles are fun to drive, but feel just rickety enough to remind you that you're speeding through the jungle in a run-down jalopy, not zooming along a highway in a Ferrari. Various quirks can get you frustrated, though. Certain missions feature respawning enemies, which can put a damper on things, especially when you see a small crowd of pirates spawn in plain sight. Dying and respawning at a checkpoint to find all the enemies you killed still alive, yet all the ammo you used to shoot them depleted, is frustrating, as is the game's occasional failure to sense that you're holding down the button that heals you. A phone call that drives you to the next story mission might repeat again, and again, and again. Far Cry 3 is wonderful when it gives you free rein...but not always when it tries to direct the action.
On the PC, the online DRM can also be a hassle, as the game can crash should the servers go down, even while playing the offline campaign. But most of these annoyances are minor blights in a game that does so much, and does it so well. Far Cry 3 is an impressive piece of technology that showcases large portions of its landscape at once, though PC owners need a powerful system to enjoy the vistas at their most glorious. The rolling hills and stone temples invite you onward, yet this modern Eden is defaced by dilapidated shacks and military compounds. The difficulties of this spoiled promised land are reflected in the behaviors of its inhabitants. Vaas' unhinged rants, Buck's dismissive cruelty, and Dr. Earnhardt's hallucinogenic ramblings all speak to the troubles that cloud the sunny skies above.
Far Cry 3 rounds out a sizable and quality campaign with a series of cooperative missions that have up to four players shooting enemies and completing objectives. With only two players, certain encounters can get frustrating, and gunning down bullet-absorbing heavies can be a real slog. But when the action comes together, the impactful gunplay shines, even if the more-structured levels might have you missing the freedom of the open island. Competitive multiplayer doesn't feature many surprises during the course of the match, though the back-and-forth action of Firestorm mode, in which teams try to set fire to each others' supply depots while protecting their own, gives rise to tight battlefield tension.
Outside of matches, character progression is home to some intriguing twists to the usual array of expected features. One twist is decoding, in which you earn electronic objects (CDs, memory cards, etc.) after completing matches, and then decode them--an automated process that takes place over a few minutes or longer. Another is the battle cry, which provides a bonus (such as a health boost) to you and nearby teammates.
The good times are even further extended by Far Cry 3's impressive multiplayer map editor, which makes it relatively simple to bring your ideas to fruition. You could lose many hours to this one feature, let alone the game's other facets, all of which make this one of the most robust shooters on the market. Yet Far Cry 3's bigness isn't a detriment: you rarely feel that the game's size led to individual elements suffering from a lack of attention or detailing. Stretches of unpredictable exploration and free-form hunting alternate with challenging pirate confrontations, sometimes culminating with a rocket blast to the helicopter hounding you from above. This is an ambitious and finely tuned adventure that gets better and better as you play.