Sunday, October 26, 2014

Game Review - Far Cry 3 (Xbox 360, 2012)

I recently started watching Arrow, the tv show based on Green Arrow from the DC universe.  One of the reasons I enjoy the show is the character's backstory - harrowing experiences on an isolated island transform a trust fund baby into a vigilante hero of the masses.  It makes for some pretty exciting flashbacks.

The basic premise of Far Cry 3 follows a similar narrative.  A band of pirates abducts a group of twentysomethings vacationing near a remote island.  The protagonist abandons his humanity and becomes a cold-hearted killer to save those he loves.

While the story is built on a solid foundation and the gameplay is very well polished, a few annoyances stop the game from being truly top-tier.

Let's start with the story.  Far Cry 3 suffers from an unfortunately common problem in gaming, where the story starts strong but fizzles a bit in the later acts.  The script is generally pretty good, and the voice actors do a great job of bringing life to their characters, but I found I wasn't invested in the story by the end.

I think that mostly has to do with the fact that there are some fantastic characters and a compelling conflict early on, but as the plot progresses, those are replaced by story elements that pale in comparison.  I was excited to see where it was going, but I was let down by where it ended up.

To make matters worse, I think the story should end a couple missions before it actually does.  There's a sequence at the end that really feels tacked on and detracts from overall plot significantly.  It was simply unnecessary and disappointing.

That said, it does feature one of the most memorable characters I've ever encountered in a game, so playing through the story still has a lot of value.

The gameplay has a very similar vibe - a few disappointing design choices sting a little more because it's generally very well executed.

Far Cry 3 is played from the first-person perspective, but it doesn't feel like your stereotypical first person shooter (like the world's Call of Duties).  Instead, the game emphasizes stealth augmented by RPG-style skill trees.

Honestly, I think that's the game's biggest strength.  You're generally better off sneaking around silently eliminating enemies than running in with the biggest guns available, especially on harder difficulty settings.  It makes for a more strategic gameplay experience.

It's a lot of fun stalking guards and waiting for the right time to strike, and the skill system enhances the entertainment.  There are three skill trees, essentially focusing on combat, survival, and stealth, and you collect skill points by earning XP for killing enemies or completing objectives.  I found many of the skills to be borderline worthless, as they only applied in one or two instances, but planning the customization of my character was still enjoyable, and some of the skills had a pretty significant impact on how I approached encounters.

Sadly, this emphasis on stealth was also the cause of one of the game's sore spots: most missions encourage stealthy approaches by having wide areas and observable movement patterns.  Near the end of the game, however, you're forced into a few big firefights in close quarters (as far as I could tell; maybe I just couldn't figure out how to stealth my way through these sequences).

It's like the majority of the game prepared me for one play style but then punished me for focusing on it.

Fortunately, the main quest line is just one piece of the game's content.  Among the other ways to keep yourself occupied are sidequests (ranging from hunting missions to executing specific targets to searching for objects in a given area), timed challenges that allow you to compare your high scores to your friends', and generally exploring the gorgeous open world of these remote islands.

While some of these excursions can get a little tedious - there are, for example, some platforming sections, which is always a bad idea in games where you can't see your character's feet, and traveling from one objective to another can be frustratingly long at times - it's overall a nice diversity of in-game tasks.

The game also has an appropriate level of challenge - higher difficulty settings can get quite hard near the end of the game, but even the easiest setting isn't a cakewalk.  It's pretty generous with checkpoints, though, so you never lose much progress if you make a mistake.  There seemed to be the right balance of difficulty (to make me feel like I'd accomplished something) and forgiveness (to keep me from getting overly frustrated).

All in all, Far Cry 3 is a fun game good for well over 15 hours of entertainment (and much more if you're looking to complete all the side content).  It trails off a bit in the latter half and has a few bouts with general dullness, but it kept me reasonably well entertained.  I'd happily recommend it to anyone looking for a good first-person adventure.

My Rating: 8/10 - great.

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