Far Cry 3 (PS3/Xbox 360/PC)
Sublime and satisfying shooter set in vast and stunningly-realised island network
The original Far Cry was an ambitious FPS set on a tropical island, populated by an assortment of goons and – controversially – a menagerie of mutants. After developer Crytek split from Ubisoft to work on a new series (Crysis), it seemed like the Far Cry franchise was destined to languish. However, with development taken on by Ubisoft Montreal, Far Cry 2 was a surprisingly solid entry, featuring a number of interesting mechanics such as dynamic fire, and day and night cycles. But all the good work was hampered by respawning enemy outposts, weak weaponry and the regular need to source malaria pills.
With Far Cry 3, all the groundwork has finally paid off. While its former developer narrows its focus with barely-concealed corridor environments in Crysis 2, Far Cry 3 encourages players to spread out and explore a vast island network. The landscape is stunningly realised with a diverse biosphere featuring jungles, clifftops, beaches and archipelagos. It’s such a wondrous place to traverse that it’s easy to forget the storyline, which is just as well as the linear narrative is completely at odds with the freedom afforded by the vast outdoor setting. For the most part, however, you can ignore the main story and bide your time on the many side missions.
Whereas its predecessor populated the land with psychotic denizens who’d chase down and hunt you as soon as they saw you, Far Cry 3 has a much fairer system whereby once an outpost is cleared, it turns friendly, giving you some breathing space. That’s not to say you’ll have an easy time of it as the emergent gameplay regularly throws up fights involving you, the warring factions and even the local wildlife. Tearing around the islands in vehicles, on foot or majestically soaring in a hang glider, there’s so much to see and do that it’s almost impossible to stay focused on your objectives.
From rabid dogs to tigers and komodo dragons, the diverse wildlife is brilliantly realised. Hunting is encouraged in order to craft larger backpacks, wallets and weapon holsters, a slightly disingenuous system which nevertheless makes for a satisfying distraction. Combat has been tweaked to make this one of the most satisfying shooters around. By tagging enemies using a camera, it’s possible to track their movement behind obstacles, empowering stealth as a genuinely viable tactic to clear out areas and complete missions. Like the leatherworking mechanic, it makes little sense but it works brilliantly. Weapons are powerful and satisfying to fire, and the different approaches afforded by flamethrowers, rifles and crossbows make each firefight a tantalising prospect. When plans go awry, rather than reloading and starting over, it’s tremendously satisfying to adapt to the new situation and beat the odds.
With so much to see and do, Far Cry 3 demonstrates how the most exciting gameplay can emerge when you give players the freedom to explore an atmospheric, thoughtfully constructed setting without forcing their hand. It’s a sublime sandbox world, much fairer than its predecessors and much more rewarding than the current crop of FPS games bothering the charts.