Complete freedom in a dangerous tropical island paradise is a succinct way to convey the essence of ‘Far Cry 3’. Released in 2012, Ubisoft’s game allows players to partake in a wonderful story-driven experience set in a beautiful colourful open world somewhere in the South Pacific. The story starts with several privileged American friends enjoying backpacker-style travel in Asia. They are rich, have a lot of time at their disposal, and are desperate to experience the wild and extraordinary—which they certainly get to do.
At first, the premise feels somewhat similar to that of Alex Garland’s great 1990s Generation X novel, The Beach. While partying in Thailand, the group hear of an amazing island that is well off the tourist trail and chart a plane to fly there. Once over their target destination, they skydive into the unknown before landing safely on one of the Rook Islands. There, it seems they have the opportunity to enjoy an authentic travel experience devoid of tourists.
Unfortunately, their initial euphoria quickly transforms into horror as they are attacked by blood-thirsty pirates and mercenaries. One member of the group is murdered; the rest are abducted, separated, and held for ransom by Vaas Montenegro, who happens to be one of the best antagonists in the history of video games.
From this point we are given control of our playable character. His name is Jason Brody and he is tethered in a bamboo cage, together with his elder brother, Grant. We watch helplessly as Vaas approaches and taunts the two of them, showing us his violent temperament and psychotic personality. The desperation of the situation and threatening monologue from Jason’s unhinged nemesis sets a dark and sinister tone to the start of the game.
The circumstances that develop during the brothers’ subsequent escape attempt initiate Jason’s descent into savagery, leading to a gradual transformation that sees him turn from a frightened entitled rich-kid to a remorseless hunter-killer. Throughout the game his overarching goal is to find his friends and brother, free them from captivity, and escape the islands. However, the journey presents many unexpected twists and turns, in addition to a wide variety of side adventures. These contribute to Jason’s discovery and embrace of his dark side, resulting in an inner battle which culminates in him having to make a choice with massive consequences.
In spite of the dramatic nature of the story, it is the Rook Islands themselves that are the real standout stars of ‘Far Cry 3’, particularly the first of the two we get to visit during the campaign. It is a stunning playground in which to immerse oneself and includes gorgeous locations, consisting of transparent tropical waters, white sand beaches, and jungle-covered mountains. Within this jaw-dropping natural environment are scattered isolated villages, Angkor-like ancient ruins, and long-abandoned Japanese military posts from World War Two. There are also pirate camps and huge vertigo-inducing radio towers.
The Rook Islands feel real, as if they exist somewhere in the world. They are imbued with fantastic lighting and subject to atmospheric weather effects. Thunderstorms and sudden heavy downpours can change the ambience of any given area within seconds, and the player can also enjoy the pleasantness of the sun’s reappearance as its rays filter through the trees and permeate the jungle canopy.
Sunsets are absolutely awe inspiring. From a precipitous mountain peak, vertiginous cliff, or idyllic beach, one can observe a picture-perfect sky gradually changing colour from orange to pink and then to a deep red hue, as the sun vanishes behind the horizon. As a result, at several points during the game I felt as if I was wandering around a blissful and relaxing vacation destination—until I heard the profanity-laden chatter of approaching pirates making their way through the surrounding jungle, or until I was suddenly attacked by a wild animal. It is precisely this juxtaposition of tranquil heavenly island paradise and the constant threat of danger that creates the unique experience of ‘Far Cry 3’.
There are a few areas of the islands that are safe havens from violence and danger. The first of these we are introduced to is the village of Amanaki, where we awake after the harrowing escape from our initial incarceration. Amanaki is the last bastion of the peaceful village island life that existed prior the Rook Islands’ takeover by pirates and mercenaries. It is quaint, and a comforting place to retreat to after whatever life-endangering encounters we may have confronted beyond its boundaries. It feels as though it belongs in the South Pacific, with its vibrant colours and endearing local chit-chat, which is conducive to creating the illusion that one is really spending time among a small local community on a tropical atoll.
Together with other oppressed islanders, the inhabitants of Amanaki put their faith in their spiritual leader Citra, and her traditional warriors. This group are locked in a losing battle to wrestle control of the islands back from Vaas and his puppet master, the despicably evil drug kingpin and human trafficker, Hoyt Volker. It is to this rebel cause that Jason lends his aid. Throughout the game he is tasked with various errands, ranging from the reactivation of radio towers, to the liberation of enemy-controlled outposts.
There is also a multitude of other scripted side quests to pursue, which include hunting down dangerous carnivores and retrieving a stash of diamonds from a ruined temple. Regardless of the goal Jason sets out to achieve, the missions rarely end up being dull because of the sheer number of ways they can be approached, and the astounding unpredictability of how things can play out.
To give an example, the player could be scoping out an enemy camp with the intention of meticulously planning how to go about deactivating its alarm system before stealthily executing its guards—when all of a sudden—a wild tiger roams into the fray and starts randomly attacking people.
The player remains in cover to watch how far the crazed animal gets. However, they themselves are set upon by a roving pack of rabid dogs, leaving no option but to make a run for it. They subsequently blunder into the camp—hotly pursued by the dogs—by which point, the aforementioned tiger is dead, but not before having killed half of the pirates, including one wielding a Molotov cocktail. The dropping of this incendiary results in a massive conflagration, which sets the surrounding buildings and vegetation ablaze. General chaos ensues; the remaining pirates disperse the dogs with their weapons, but two of them succumb to the spreading fire, leaving the player to dispose of the last one with a knife to the neck from behind. Voilà, the outpost has been liberated and the rebels move in.
If one were to be placed in the exact same scenario five additional times, it can be guaranteed that things would transpire in five different ways.
Before venturing into these dangerous situations, the player has the freedom to choose what tools and weapons to go with for an assault. The game features a system that allows one to create useful items, such as larger ammo pouches and various stimulants. Crafting things requires the hides of animals, which can be obtained through hunting, whereas stimulants can be concocted after gathering plants and flowers.
The focus on collecting and making special potions takes a step towards the taboo several times throughout the campaign. At one juncture, Jason accidentally inhales the spores of some mind-bending magic mushrooms, which leads to a spacey dream-like section of gameplay. After imbibing another suspicious mixture later in the story, he must battle a gigantic mythological monster through another haze of psychedelia. These segments make for some other-worldly gameplay and further enhance the sense of freedom that is the hallmark of ‘Far Cry 3’.
Away from the frenetic action and scripted story missions, the player is free to explore at will. There is a plethora of interesting places to stumble across and a vast array of sights to see. Just escaping to a quiet corner of the map to enjoy a spot of lagoon diving, spelunking in caves, or hiking through the jungle to reach a mysterious point of interest are rewarding experiences in themselves, and often provide a gallery of exquisite vistas. In addition, scattered throughout the islands are long-lost letters to discover and other artifacts and trinkets that tell of their dark history.
Exploring the game’s ancient ruins is particularly cathartic, and the ability to do so is one of the reasons for ‘Far Cry 3’s’ inclusion on Escape & Adventure’s select list of recommended digital adventures—given our focus on ancient history and archaeology. Although there aren’t a lot of them, the ruined temples and monuments that do exist are well visualised and quite realistic. One of the largest ruins can be reached by trooping along a ridge that rises all the way from a beach to its highland summit. The temple is situated in a serene area and the player will usually find it deserted. Upon passing through the sanctuary of its walls, one may feel they have discovered a hidden enclave lost to history. It is almost as if a part of ‘Tomb Raider’ has taken leave of its original home and transplanted itself into the world of ‘Far Cry 3’.
At certain times of the day, light filters through the stonework beautifully, creating a very atmospheric and peaceful place. Birdsong and the noise of insects from the surrounding jungle are the only things that can be heard. It feels good to take these occasional breaks from the action.
A main campaign mission has Jason venturing underground amidst a massive ancient monument, with the aim of retrieving a sacred knife. The locale would not feel out of place in an Indiana Jones film , with its brooding atmosphere, deadly pools of acid, and massive drop-offs. Sections like this, involving the traversal and exploration of mysterious ancient ruins, will certainly appeal to anyone with a love of other games that contain similar content, such as those of the ‘Uncharted’ series.
Upon emerging from the Rook Islands’ subterranean caves, we are usually greeted by a kaleidoscope of tropical colour, which is quite a transition from the muted palette of the caverns below. This contrast once again serves to highlight the freedom the player has at their disposal in terms of explorable locales.
The Rook islands are extensive, and to get around them efficiently ‘Far Cry 3’ offers a large number of options for the player to choose from. To start with, the basics of walking and running are complemented by a solid swimming mechanic that allows Jason to stealthily sneak up on his targets from below the surface or simply spend an enjoyable few minutes gliding with sea turtles.
Moving on to conventional land transportation, a wide variety of vehicles such as cars, trucks, and quad bikes can be commandeered at one’s convenience. Elsewhere, speedboats, gunboats, Jet Skis, and hang gliders are all available for use. The latter feel quite novel and are very useful, as they enable the player to see large swathes of land at once from a vertical vantage point. Moreover, it’s both exciting and liberating to jump from your airborne contraption from a great height and splash into an ocean full of tropical fish—less so if there turn out to be man-eating sharks present too.
Traveling in cars is a lot of fun and is made even more enjoyable because one can listen to a variety of radio stations while driving. There is a good selection of music that ranges from Hawaiian feel-good numbers to hard-hitting Latino beats. The songs add one more layer to the player’s immersion and complement the game’s excellent soundtrack, which features lyrically relevant and well-timed signature tracks from artists such as M.I.A. and Skrillex. The latter’s ‘Make it Bun Dem’ kicks in during an insane section of gameplay that involves using a flamethrower to torch marijuana fields and anybody unfortunate enough to get in the way. It feels like the perfect accompaniment to the action with its heavy bassline raging away in the background.
A story mission that includes blatant arson and death by flamethrower is only one example of ‘Far Cry 3’s’ dark subject matter, which features random murder, premeditated assassination, kidnapping, imprisonment, torture, human trafficking, prostitution, and even implied rape. Visual representations of these sombre themes include islanders strung up from palm trees and relatives shedding tears while stooped over a murdered loved one as they lament their loss. This ensures that the overall gaming experience is far from a lighthearted romp through the tropics, in spite of the heavenly setting and its lavish backdrops.
However, when all is said and done, there is just something about exploring the Rook Islands that tempts the player to keep returning for more, even after the completion of the game’s campaign. It probably has a lot to do with all the side quests, bounty hunting, and additional optional activities that can be cleared up after the main story concludes. There certainly seem to be almost unlimited opportunities for continued adventure in such an escapist paradise.
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