I’m trying to find the right metaphor to describe how Far Cry 3 exists as a sequel to Far Cry 2. ‘Neutered’ comes to mind, but I’ve never liked the sexual connotations of it. I think the best one I’ve come up with so far is that Far Cry 3 cleans many of the design choices that made Far Cry 2 sloppy, but ends up being sterile. But even that doesn’t quite catch what I’m trying to say, as I did have lots of fun with the game and ‘sterile’ seems too harsh a word. To be fair to Far Cry 3, the only other numbered sequel in the series was quite a departure from the previous one, so it’s only continuing the tradition. About the only consistent elements in the series has been that they’re all first-person shooters with dynamic combat that take place in open world, natural (as opposed to urban) environments.
To talk about Far Cry 3, we need to briefly talk about the divisive Far Cry 2. It’s a gorgeous game marred by a few problems, though two seem to be heavily agreed upon. The first is the constant respawning of enemies at checkpoints the player has already cleared. Though placed across the world in such a way as to give the game rhythm, they end up creating a syncopated mess. The other issue is stealth; enemies act as if they were equipped with cybernetic implants that let them spot you from incredible distances. What makes the game engaging is how willing it is to be antagonistic. Coupled with open battlefields, the faulty guns, fire propagation and bouts of malaria are unexpected points of chaos that make the game challenging in a way that few other games dare. While some people despise those features, it’s what makes the game unique and ambitious. Far Cry 3 does respond to the complaints, but in chasing accessibility, the multi-studio effort flagshipped by Ubisoft Montreal left behind its predecessor’s more daring characteristics.
The amount of enemies is dealt with by the implementation of a strategy game-esque area of control. The island is littered with ‘forts’ containing enemies that players are meant to clear out. Once conquered, a splotch of land on the map loses its red tinge, signifying that the area is safe to walk around without fear of being assaulted by humans. While it’s a relief not having to fight every minute and a half, the downside is that if a player systematically clears out the island like I did, an element of an excitement is lost. It’s a criticism that persists throughout the game.
The stealth has been adjusted in such a way that feels more systems driven, but thankfully also makes it a more viable approach. Players can get ridiculously close to human enemies without getting noticed, and the return of the rock throwing from previous Far Cry games allows for misdirection. When enemies are on alert, a semi-circle with an arrow fills up to signify opponent awareness and from which direction the spotter is approaching. As someone who enjoys quietly eliminating enemies, attacking from long range with a silenced sniper rifle or approaching the camp and quietly goring enemies with a knife were strategies that I was able to employ often. This is easily the best improvement made upon previous games. Unfortunately, that can’t be said of all the changes.
The fact that the faulty guns and malaria systems were dropped isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but they weren’t replaced by anything that was equally bold. The result is that combat becomes predictable. Enemies run a conventional gamut of long range snipers, medium range riflemen and pyro-technicians, melee range chargers and a heavy class whose armor soaks up a few more bullets. Conflicts are still wonderfully dynamic as the fire propagation caused by various weapons remains, broad arenas allow for greater player agency, the addition of aggressive animals that sometimes come out of nowhere and sometimes are released by player choice creates exciting bedlam, and on top of all that the inherently chaotic nature of open world games. The sound effects for the weapons are fantastic- from the loud crack of rifles that are appropriately loud to the airy swish of an arrow, giving fights a fittingly cacophonous symphony that made me turn off the music for most of the game. While Far Cry 3 won’t topple Halo as the epitome of this style of combat, it makes a strong enough attempt to remain interesting throughout the game’s length. While Far Cry 3’s strength is the freedom found in its open world, its often ignored in the main storyline quests.
The game’s narrative conceit is that players are placed in the shoes of Jason Brody- a hapless twenty-something whose vacation with brothers, girlfriend and friends goes terribly wrong. Jason and friends end up captured by pirates who split them up and plan to sell them into slavery. After a tutorial escape sequence, Jason is enlisted by the natives of the island as his interest of saving his friends lines up with theirs of ridding their home of pirates. Being a video game, the illusion of the unskilled Jason is almost immediately broken as any experienced player takes the reins of the character and starts making history as the island’s most infamous killer. While this dissonance between the game and the story is an unintentionally common trope in video games (so common that I wish someone would come up with a term for it), the game seems to highlight it by having Jason voice amazement at things plenty of video game players are familiar with. Grenade launchers? Seen ‘em. Collapsing buildings? I’ve played Battlefield. Flamethrowers? Far Cry 2 had a really fun one, actually. Without revealing anything, the game also ends with the tired decision of making killing a person a moral choice, as if after twenty hours of eradicating life on these islands I’m supposed to believe that my character cares.