There is no denying that 2012 has been a busy year for Ubisoft, with the next installment of their flagship Assassin’s Creed series hitting shelves and their new IP ZombiU gracing Nintendo’s shiny new Wii U console. After the mad rush that is the fall release season, they have managed to sneak in one more high profile release with Far Cry 3. Coming four years after the well-received Far Cry 2, we are greeted with an entirely new story, cast of characters and a lush tropical setting. While the previous installments were a step forward for the open-world action genre, they were certainly not without their flaws. Thankfully, Far Cry 3 improves upon almost every aspect of the previous games in the series, and addresses some glaring issues in the process. Welcome to the jungle, my friend.

The story of Far Cry 3 has you filling the boots of naive party kid named Jason Brody, who is part of a group of young revelers who visit an island situated somewhere between the Indian and Pacific oceans. The setting seems idyllic for a nice vacation, however a growing conflict between the inhabitants of the island and well-armed gangs of pirates makes it quite the opposite. This becomes apparent within the first five minutes of the game, as a skydiving excursion goes awry and Jason and his brother fall into the hands of the pirates and their whacked-out leader, Vaas. After narrowly escaping with his life, and receiving the most basic of military training, Jason sets out into the hostile terrain to seek out and rescue his friends. From the outset, he befriends a friendly tribe of natives called the Rakyat, who outfit him with weapons and gear. They see Jason as being a “chosen one” of sorts, one who can help them end the bloody conflict with the pirates.

Far Cry 3 could have easily rested on the standard rescue mission plot, however the crux of the story is Jason’s own transformation from mild-mannered club kid to deadly warrior. His loyalty to his friends and the Rakyat tribe is genuine, and knowing the violent tendencies of the pirates lends a greater sense of urgency. However, as the game progresses, Jason’s focus shifts from simply finding his friends and more towards solving the greater conflict on the island. Killing Vaas becomes an obsession, while later endeavours have you taking on a maniacal warlord named Hoyt. Fueled by a growing bloodlust and the occasional drug-induced psychosis, Jason’s grip on reality begins to slip and we find his more primal side beginning to take over. The idea of a normal person being thrust into these extraordinary circumstances is compelling, but the ease with which Jason makes this transformation seems more than a little contrived. Regardless, it provides a fitting backdrop for the excellent gameplay that you will experience throughout.

While Far Cry 2 had you playing as a group of mercenaries, Far Cry 3 is a solo adventure that takes place in a vast, open world setting. While you have the freedom to explore the island as you please, the story missions guide you down a relatively linear path. Most missions involve travelling to a specific location, killing someone or acquiring an item and reporting back. While the missions do become repetitive after a while, you are afforded some freedom in how you approach each scenario. Save for a few missions that require a specific approach, you have the option to be stealthy or run in with your guns blazing, so the game does cater to your preferred style. Side quests have you performing tasks for money and experience points, while diversions like assassination missions and supply drop races provide a nice respite from the challenging story missions. Overall, the game is well structured and the brisk pace will ensure that you don’t get bored of alwys doing the same thing.

The gameplay style of Far Cry 3 has been described by many as “Skyrim with guns”, a comparison that only rings partially true. Both games are played in a first-person perspective, allow free roaming and give you the ability to take on side missions, but that’s where the similarities ended for me. Far Cry 3 is more of a fleshed out first-person shooter with stealth mechanics thrown in, making it more akin to a game like Just Cause 2. While following the story on its own will easily consume 20 hours, straying from the path to find hidden relics, letters and memory cards can easily consume dozens of hours. Also integral to the game are the radio towers and outposts scattered throughout the island. Climbing the rickety radio towers provide some truly exciting platforming, but doing so also unlocks new weapons and items. The outposts are camps that are inhabited by pirates, and clearing them out creates a new base that can be used as a fast-travel point, as well as a place to restock on weapons and ammunition.

While exploration is half the pleasure of the game, there is no escaping combat in Far Cry 3. The island is swarming with enemies who will attack you on sight, and the hostile wildlife creates a constant danger. Sneaking through the jungle is a good way to avoid detection from human opponents, but it leaves you vulnerable to animals such as tigers, bears and wild dogs, none of whom will hesitate to attack. The waters are equally dangers, with alligators and sharks waiting to sink their teeth into you. To give you a fighting chance, you have a variety of weapons at your disposal. The usual pistols, assault rifles, shotguns and sniper rifles are accounted for, while higher-powered weapons like rocket launchers and the bow round out your arsenal. The unquestionable highlight is the flamethrower, which you can use to roast you enemies and their surroundings. As you progress through the game, more weapons become available, and money gleaned from missions can be used to apply attachments and cosmetic enhancements.

While Far Cry 3 is a first-person shooter on the surface, there are some role-playing game elements that add depth to the gameplay. As you complete missions and objectives, you are awarded “Skill Points” that can be used to acquire new abilities. These range from new attacks to health power-ups, some of which are essential to surviving the later levels. The more skills you acquire, the more powerful you become, and these abilities are symbolized a series of tattoos on your left arm. Hunting and crafting are also integral to progression in the game, since you are not given infinite resources here. You can only carry a limited amount of cash, weapons and ammunition, so hunting and skinning animals allows you to craft bigger wallets, ammo pouches and weapon holsters. Likewise, the various plants found on the island can be combined to creates a variety of medicines and tinctures. Some of these replenish health, while others allow you to hunt better or last longer underwater. It’s a well thought out mechanic that adds a layer of complexity to the game.

Overall, the gameplay in Far Cry 3 is up to the usual Ubisoft standard. The gunplay is immensely satisfying, while honing your skills at being stealthy and taking out enemies without alerting others is an absolute treat. The controls are simple to master and intuitively mapped, ensuring that those familiar with the FPS genre will be well serviced. One of the main problems with Far Cry 2 was the long and tedious travel times, which has been addressed with a better fast travel system here. That’s not to say that you won’t encounter long treks, but they are far less onerous here. The one major drawback, for me at least, was the vehicle handling. The island has a variety of both land and water vehicles, some of which handle poorly and are a nightmare to control. In most cases, I didn’t even bother with the vehicles and simply made the trek on foot. Having said that, two definite highlights were taking to the skies in a hang glider and speeding up your travels by using the ziplines found all over the island.

While Far Cry 3 offers a quality single-player experience, the same cannot be said for the multiplayer. While it competently pushes the need for teamwork and communication, it ultimately comes off as half-baked and tacked on. The co-operative multiplayer has you playing in a group of 2 to 4 players as you complete objectives and survive waves of enemies within a contained area. The key issue is that the maps feel confining, especially when compared to the vast open world of the campaign, and the waves of enemies will quickly overwhelm you. Playing with less than three players usually results in an endless cycle of death, and the cheap enemy AI doesn’t help matters. Snipers repeatedly respawn, hit detection is glitchy and the small area means that your tactical opportunities are limited. The competitive multiplayer modes are essentially the same capture and defend variants that we’ve seen in countless shooters, with killstreak rewards given for proficient gameplay. It’s nothing new or particularly exciting.

What struck me most about Far Cry 3 is the visual presentation, which is absolutely gorgeous at times. The tropical island setting is full of lush jungles, sandy beaches and expansive mountainscapes, making it a vibrant and lively setting. The small details such as sunlight peeking through the trees, the winds ruffling through the grass and the light glinting off the scope of your gun all combine to give you an unparalleled feeling of immersion  One mechanic that has carried over from the previous game is how fire plays into the gameplay, since using the flamethrower and explosives can set your surroundings ablaze. Seeing the hillside and forests go up in flames is perhaps where the graphics are most impressive, and the level of realism is striking to say the least. Character animations are also high quality, especially the various animals you encounter, and the only gripe would be that animations and environments can get repetitive. However, this is a very small complaint.

Ubisoft games are usually known for their quality voice acting and excellent soundtracks, and Far Cry 3 definitely upholds this standard. The performances from the entire voice cast are top-notch, with believable accents and each character conveying the right amount of emotion. The protagonist and his friends evoke a sense of desperation, while the villains sound effectively menacing, particularly Vaas and his henchmen. The dialogue is also reasonably well written, however it is common to hear the same dialogue lopping over long play sessions, especially the banter you overhear from the armed rebels. The soundtrack provides the perfect backdrop for the action, with thunderous, bombastic tunes playing during the action sequences balancing well with the ambient jungle beats you hear while exploring.

It’s typical of vast, open-world games to have their fair share of glitches and bugs, and Far Cry 3 is no exception. Throughout the thirty hours I played the game, I encountered a number of oddities, though thankfully the game-breaking bugs are rare. Enemies and wildlife clipping into the scenery, jittering corpses, floating AI friendlies and dialogue audio clipping are just a few of the glitches I found while playing through the game. One two occasions, I had to fast travel back and forth to reset a mission marker because the person I had to speak with was floating in mind-air, thus preventing me from interacting and progressing the mission. Thankfully, these issues amounted to mere annoyances rather than roadblocks that impacted my enjoyment of the game. They were noticeable, but not a serious hindrance.

When all is said and done, it would be hard to deride Far Cry 3 for its sense of scale and ambition. While there are some rough edges that players will notice, it is extremely successful in delivering an addictive, enjoyable and genuinely exciting gaming experience. While the multiplayer might be a fun distraction for some, the single-player campaign is really the star of the show. The strength ultimately lies in how the environment complements the gameplay, since you are afforded freedom to be as stealthy or as brazen as you like. The wealth of loot and collectibles scattered throughout also provides incentive to keep playing after the credits roll.  Whatever platform you choose to play it on, Far Cry 3 has emerged as one of the must-have games of 2012, and dare I say it, arguably the best game of the year.

Here’s the Rundown

+ Exciting first-person gameplay and tight combat mechanics.

+ Interesting protagonist and story arc adds a sense of urgency and purpose.

+ The lush, tropical environment is perfect for exploration and wreaking mayhem on your enemies

+ Stellar graphics, design and audio throughout the entire game.

- Lackluster competitive and co-operative multiplayer feels uninspired and tacked on.

- Vehicle handling is more frustrating than fun, making travelling on foot preferable.

- Noticeable bugs and glitches creep in at various points in the game.

9 and 9.5 represent the pinnacle of the genre, a game that defines what that genre should be about. These scores are for games that you not only feel would be worth your purchase, but you would actually try to convince your friends to buy them as well.

Far Cry 3 was developed by Ubisoft Montreal in coalition with other Ubisoft studios and published by Ubisoft. It was released on December 4, 2012 for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 at the MSRP of $59.99, and the PC at the  MSRP of $49.99. A copy of the game was provided by the publisher to RipTen for the purposes of review.