Just barely making a 2012 release is Ubisoft Montreal's Far Cry 3, a massive game that was delayed over the summer to allow for some final tweaking. Was it worth the wait? Far Cry 3 represents the end of the holiday game rush, so how does it fare pitted against this season's biggest players?
Far Cry 3 is the follow-up to 2008's well-received Far Cry 2. Aside from sharing a name and tropical locale, the two games don't have much in common. In fact, Far Cry 3 is almost nothing like its predecessor.
But that's OK. For one, you won't need to have played any of the other Far Cry games to have an idea of what's happening in Far Cry 3, as there's absolutely no narrative carryover whatsoever. Come to think of it, why even keep the name?
Anyway, Far Cry 3 is a beautifully massive game and is quietly one of 2012's best. It begins with one of the most gripping -- albeit utterly disturbing -- openings in recent memory and sets the tone for a wild ride that's peppered with a fair amount of gut-wrenching storytelling and action sequences.
Players assume the role of Jason, a young twentysomething who -- along with his brothers and a group of friends -- gets abducted while skydiving on vacation. Their captor is Vaas, a maniacal renegade whose only ambition seems to be that of chaos. The fantastically portrayed villain leads a group of rebels on Rook Island -- a place that's rattled by violent clashes among sects that inhabit the land.
Looking beyond the fact that Jason has absolutely no prior weapon or combat training but can seemingly pull off some pretty nasty maneuvering, Far Cry 3 is an open-world triumph that channels the best elements of games like Red Dead Redemption, Just Cause 2, and Assassin's Creed. The game's overall performance and frame rate (I played on Xbox 360) can get choppy at times, and it's safe to say that graphically speaking Far Cry 3 is only at best, an average experience. Nonplayable characters look pretty muddy, and there isn't a terrible amount of diversity among enemy models.
The menu system is also a section of Far Cry 3 that I wish were laid out better. It's too layered for quick access and requires too many button presses to navigate.
But all that is overshadowed by the sheer amount of play time Far Cry 3 offers. In addition to the game's story missions, there are side quests evenly laid throughout that will force Jason to fight wild animals, sneak up on lethal enemies, and race cars.
Far Cry 3 doesn't rewrite first-person-shooter RPGs, but it approaches leveling up in a fresh way. Players must seek out upgrades to items (like the ability to carry multiple weapons, more ammo, etc.) and ingredients to make serums by searching the land for animal skins and plant samples.
It's a bit rough around the edges, but ultimately Far Cry 3 closes 2012 on an excellent note, easily making it one of the year's best.
Following right on the heels of Black Ops 2, Halo 4, Assassin's Creed III, and a cartload of brand-new Wii U games, it's easy for Far Cry 3 to get lost in the holiday season shuffle. That's a shame, because it's open-ended and joyfully chaotic in the way none of those other games is. While it may not deserve the lavish praise coming from some circles of the gamerati, there are a lot of good ideas here, and enough free-form entertainment to get you through an extended holiday break.
Forgive the rare foray into game-speak, but Far Cry 3 sits firmly between open-world pacing of Skyrim and the self-directed jungle action of Just Cause 2 -- less ambitious than the former, more so than the latter. But what it does manage to accomplish with a few square miles of lush tropical greenery is impressive. The game smartly works to your personal tastes, whether you're looking for a run-and-gun action game, a stick-to-the-shadows stealth game, or an obsessive series of collection quests to find plants and animals and craft them into useful items, while wheeling and dealing with the island's merchants.
This is one of those rare successful examples of setting-as-character (although it's a busy year for that; I'd argue that Assassin's Creed III, with its detailed colonial New England, takes a similar approach). The hills, valleys, cliffs, and caves of the jungle are often your main antagonist, and the local wildlife, from tigers to goats to sharks, are more than happy to hunt and eat each other, whether you choose to get involved or not. For a game about pirates, frat boys, and tribal tattoos, it's a pretty evolved ecosystem.
Of course, it helps that the throwaway story and grating performances leave you with little to focus on besides the tropical scenery. Painfully earnest, devoid of any real sense of drama, the script left me rooting for the pirates who have kidnapped the protagonist's friends and killed his brother -- at least they're about something, as opposed to the faceless hero, who seems to be stuck in a kind of anesthetized Keanu Reeves "whoa..." reaction to everything.
That's too bad, because the game itself is an impressive technological success, and a good deal of fun once you slog through a handful of missions and can upgrade your pitiful equipment to hold more guns, money, and items (example: the mysterious starter wallet that can hold exactly $1,000, and not a penny more -- there's apparently no local cashier who will give you a ten for two fives). It's an odd juxtaposition, with the jungle and animals feeling more lifelike than the wooden human characters, but worth a visit if you're willing to forgo logic and go along for the ride.