This year the Far Cry travel agency has moved on from war torn third world Africa to a pirate infested tropical island. If you are familiar with the previous Far Cry games you know what to expect - a large sandbox environment, a gritty adult storyline and guns.... lots of them. This year ups the ante yet again with some really impressive graphics and gameplay, kind of a cross between Call of Duty and Skyrim. If you want a game you can get lost in for hours at a time this is a must buy.
The single player game puts you in the character of Jason Brody, an American tourist captured by pirates on a far from deserted Carribean Island. Unfortunately these are not the one legged parrot obsessed pirates of Treasure Island but the gun toting, drug dealing type who are led by a psychotic nut case intent on killing you and your friends. At the begining of the story you escape from the pirates and begin your oddysey to rescue your friends and get your revenge.
You have a hell of a lot of options in this game, from following through the story line by rescuing your friends, to simple exploration and mayhem. As you explore the island you can unlock the jamming signals on radio towers to uncover more of the map and reveal hidden secrets (an idea taken straight from Assassins Creed). There are numerous side missions to keep you occupied as well as some slightly surreal challenges. The side missions vary from well written story based quests to simple objectives like go kill this particular guy, or this particular animal. Where as the challenges involve things like running races or target shooting. These challenges seem a lot tougher than the other missions and take you out of the total immersion of the story somewhat - surely you have more important things to worry about than competing in athletics competitions. But they do give the game further longevity as there is even a mechanic which compares your scores with the online community and lets you show off your skills.
The basic game play uses first person shooter controls and the game engine most closely resembles Call of Duty both in look and feel. You start with some basic weapons but soon build up a more impressive arsenal, being able to buy mods for existing guns or unlocking new guns in the shops as the game goes on. Combat looks and sounds very realistic and each gun has its own attributes. Early in the game the main question is which guns to take with you as you can only carry a few at a time. You increase carrying capacity and other equipment using the crafting rules. These are quite simple to use as it automatically tells you what resources you need to build things like more weapons holsters and backpacks. Then its simply a matter of going hunting, finding the animal you need, killing it and skinning it in order to build what you want. Medicine and performance boosting drugs are created the same way by collecting plants. This is a really nice mechanic which again gives you extra options and allows you to decide your own actions. My only criticism of it would be that it can be a little artificial (for example restricting the amount of money you can pick up by the size of your wallet) but it does work quite well to force your character to develop gradually.
The other way you improve your character is by learning skills, which are represented by the tribal tattoos you can choose throughout the game. Each set of skills has its own skill tree and you can pick new skills as you gain experience. Again, a nice way of giving you more options to develop what you want.
Throughout the game the graphics are truely stunning with beautifully rendered 3D environments to run about in. There are so many places to explore and look at that even without a whole bunch of machete wielding pirates it would still be a fun place to visit. There are various towns and buildings scattered across the island, ruined temples, old World War Two fortifications, hidden caves, sunken ships, you name it its probably out there somewhere. Among these locations there are relics and other treasures to collect which gives a great deal of variety if you want to go out and explore. The story also involves numerous colourful characters you get to meet and talk to, all with very good voice acting and very distinct appearance.
Its worth noting here that this game is an 18 Certificate and more than others really needs to be. The story plays out like some sort of violent action film with plenty of gore, bad language and sexual references. There are also occasions when you take various mind altering drugs which mess with your camera visuals as your character trips out, very cleverly done although hardly an anti-drugs advert. In other words these are adult themes being explored in this game so no matter how much your son or daughter nags don't buy them this game for Christmas unless they are old enough.
Beyond the single player game there are two other main ways to play Far Cry 3. The multiplayer really does remind me of Call of Duty with the style of play and the skill sets you can choose from. It is however a lot more accessible and the weapons you start with are not all that bad. As with other first person multiplayer games the action is frantic and deadly with teams fighting it out over a variety of maps. What is different is that any player can revive one of his team mates to get him back in the action and deny the other team points. The maps resemble different parts of the island but in general, like Call of Duty they are quite small and claustophobic. There is little possibility of camping but at the same time you do tend to get enemies running up behind you a lot. If you like this sort of frantic fast paced game play you will no doubt enjoy this multiplayer option. My only criticism would be that as this is not the focus of the game there are always going to be a limited selection of weapons to choose from, and there are no options to choose your characters appearance. So while this is a very good multiplayer game to include as an extra it is hard to compare it to other games where this is the main focus of the game.
What is suprisingly good is the online co-op play which has its own unique storyline and selection of characters to choose from. Each character is very unique and entertaining in their own right, and you can choose a preffered character or be allocated one at the start of the game. You then play alongside the other players in a variety of scripted missions fighting across the island in a plot to gain revenge against the captain of your cruise ship who sold you out to the pirates. Just like the multiplayer you can select weapon load outs and skills and help your team mates by healing them. What is so good about this is that it doesn't feel like a cheap add on to the main game but is a well thought out and well written game in its own right.
So, with all that in mind are there any bad points? Well to start with the AI is not the smartest I've ever seen, especially for a first person shooter. The pirates are complete idiots, and you mow them down like the bad guys in a Rambo movie. Its still great fun but I would have prefered more intelligent adversaries in the single player game. Secondly there are still a few bugs cropping up here and there - arrows freezing in mid flight or pirates blowing themselves up before you've even got near. Hopefully this sort of thing will be cleared up within a patch or two, and its not enough to ruin your enjoyment of the game. Finally, and this may be a personal gripe but the animals on the island seem to be a lot tougher than the pirates. While this may be intentional it can be anti-climactic to complete a mission only to be savaged by a random emu with a grudge.
So why not try a holiday on Rook Island this year? It has a warm tropical climate, beautiful scenery and lots to do. Of course the occasional machete wielding pirate, man eating shark or enraged drug baron may make you think twice, but thats what travel insurance is for. I highly reccomend buying a copy of Far Cry 3 and getting away from it all this Christmas.