Far Cry 3 is the most pleasantly sadistic game of the year. Hope you weren’t planning on getting much done this December, because this game is going to eat your free time.
Why is it sadistic? You start with nothing. You’ve got a machete, a pistol, an iPad and that’s pretty much it. Everything in the game is limited, right down to how much cash you can collect. Hell, you can’t even read the map at first.
Everything in the game dovetails: If you want more inventory slots (including being able to carry more than one gun at a time), you’ll have to go hunting. But in order to find out what game is where, you’ll need to free radio towers so you can look at the map, and also get guns for free, which is important since cash isn’t exactly easy to collect (and you’ll need to craft wallets to hold more of it anyway).
And in order to hunt in (relative) peace, you’ll need to clear out enemy outposts; otherwise, you’ll be fighting enemy patrols so often you’ll never get anything done. Once that’s done, you can start hunting, upgrade your weapons and ammo, and quite possibly get killed by wild animals, since most of them don’t like being shot.
Oh, did I mention that absolutely none of this is the main storyline, either? Yeah, you’ve got a lot to do.
It’s a bit more forgiving than it may at first sound: Within a few hours of gameplay, you’ll have enough inventory space to start kicking ass in earnest. But it creates a sense of relentless progression; as you take down outposts, open radio towers, and shotgun goats, you get a feeling of levelling up, even though you’re not actually levelling up: You only get XP for killing humans and finishing specific mission types. So if you want more skills…
The game itself is a lot of fun to play. Enemies are fairly easy to take down, especially if you use your digital camera to tag them so you can get a better sense of their movements. The game rewards being tactical in your approach and using silent takedowns; barging in guns blazing will get you killed, especially in the earlier sections. Similarly, the game’s ecosystem is shockingly well designed: Hunting is fun, but tough, and you may be fighting a tiger for your kill. The overall difficulty curve is surprisingly gentle considering the game makes you earn literally everything; even missions that restrict you to one weapon or a set of conditions are usually fairly easy to complete if you’re tactical about it.
It also gets out of its own way: Tutorials are short, text pop-ups that are entirely voluntary to read and the fast travel system is conveniently placed. After the first cutscene-heavy hour or so, you’ll largely be making your own decisions in a huge, lush, open world where you can go literally anywhere.
And you’ll want to: Graphically, the game is gorgeous, even on consoles. The animal animation in particular really stands out.
That said, there are some mechanics that take some getting used to. Archery is a pain in the ass at first, but absolutely crucial to learn for dropping somebody at a distance. And, honestly, once you unlock the special arrows, it gets funny quickly: Blowing up an enemy patrol in one shot never gets old.
Similarly, driving will wreck you more than once until you get the hang of using your left thumbstick to steer. But once you understand it, it becomes a lot easier to use it; the mechanic is solid, the controls are just a bit off.
If there’s a problem with the game, it’s really the story. First of all, it’s a bit questionable, on multiple levels, that some terrified frat-bro jackass would somehow be seen by a bunch of crusty islanders as their blood-spattered savior. The game tries to explain this away with the implication that the island is a bit mystical in nature, but come on. It doesn’t help that the guy goes from crapping his pants in terror to mercilessly stabbing his enemies through the heart pretty much the microsecond he gets a tattoo.
Secondly, the bad guys are way more compelling, and funny, than our hero. It comes off, sometimes, as almost a parody of the Conrad novels this is clearly meant to evoke. Vaas and his boss Hoyt are grade-A nutjobs and monstrous, but they’re also a lot more engaging and developed.
Fortunately, the game is so good you’re not going to care. There are animals to hunt, outposts to clear out, radio towers to free… Rook Island is well worth the $60 visit, provided you ignore your tour guide.