If there’s one thing Far Cry 3 does incredibly well, it’s give you a very detailed, open-ended game world that’s loaded up with so many optional objectives, collectibles and side missions that you’ll probably put the game’s main narrative on hold in favor of exploring. It’s a fantastic-looking first person shooter with a great combat system, and while the main story isn’t exactly Shakespeare, there’s enough interesting stuff going on to more than make up for it.

Far Cry 3 takes players to the tropical paradise of Rook Island, where Jason, a young 20-something vacationing in the South Pacific with his friends, is captured by a notorious pirate gang led by the violently insane Vaas. After losing his brother in an escape attempt, Jason is rescued by a man named Dennis, who brands Jason with a mysterious tattoo. Apparently, Jason has the hidden potential to become the legendary warrior that the local tribe, the Rakyat, have been waiting for, so it’s up to you to save your friends, free Rook Island from the pirates and most importantly, kill Vaas.

While Far Cry 3 may not have the same kind of gritty narrative that’s chock full of grim moral ambiguity like its predecessor, Far Cry 2, the adrenaline-fueled, action-packed adventure that Far Cry 3 offers instead is still entertaining. Each story mission has a nice mix of open-ended game play and scripted sequences that can be a lot of fun to play through, but when you’re crawling through ancient Chinese ruins trying to find a mythical artifact, hidden away centuries ago, or the leader of the Rakyat starts talking about how great a warrior you are, it can feel like Far Cry 3 is taking a few ideas from other popular action-adventures and trying to put a darker, edgier twist to them – and it can come across as a tad melodramatic as a result.

One of the most intriguing things about Rook Island is that it has a really complex ecosystem that feels active and alive. Throughout your travels, you’ll encounter flora and fauna of all shapes and sizes, from wild boars and leopards to birds of paradise. You’re just as likely to be killed by a tiger or a Komodo dragon as a gun-toting pirate or mercenary, and you’ll occasionally run into skirmishes between the Rakyat and pirate forces. As you progress through the game, you’ll get to see how your actions have an impact on this environment. The island starts out full of enemy-occupied outposts, and hacked radio towers make navigation difficult by shrouding large chunks of your in-game map. But as you liberate those towers and outposts, they’ll reveal the surrounding area and reduce the pirates’ influence in the region. It’s fascinating how you can directly affect Rook Island’s various warring factions, and there’s a certain level of satisfaction in watching how a region will transform from being loaded with hostile patrols to being full of civilians going about their life in peace, all because of you.

Liberating Rook Island is where Far Cry 3‘s impressive combat comes into play. Almost every engagement offers flexibility as to how you want to take out your opponents, and you’ll build up a large arsenal of customizable weapons provided you’ve spent some time unlocking radio towers and looting corpses and containers for cash. Every gun, such as shotguns, silenced pistols or flamethrowers, have their own uses in a firefight, depending on if you like fast-paced battles with lots of explosions and bullets or if you prefer something that lets you be more quiet and subtle. The game encourages stealth whenever possible, as you can get in over your head if you let your opponents call in reinforcements or if you don’t notice that armored heavy machine gunner marching up behind you, but it’s just as viable an option – and as much fun – to rush into a hostile outpost with a fully decked-out assault rifle and a rocket propelled grenade launcher and go nuts.

Far Cry 3 also introduces skill and crafting systems for improving your abilities and making equipment. Completing missions and killing enemies will grant you skill points to use on various perks that’ll increase your health, damage resistance or allow you to pull off nifty action hero moves, like being able to fire a gun while riding down a zipline or using an enemy as an impromptu human shield as you gun down his buddies with his own sidearm. The crafting system is oriented around making items to support you in your adventure. Most of the island’s animals can be killed and skinned to give you the materials to craft larger grenade or ammo pouches, and you’ll also forage for plants to make syringes that either heal you or give temporary bonuses, like detecting enemies or animals through walls. It may sound like busywork at first, but it’s actually fun to take a break from the main game to go hunting for deer or sharks so you can make a bigger backpack. Both the skill and crafting systems may not be as involved as other RPGs, and certain items and abilities will be locked depending on where you are in the story or what side quests you’ve completed, which is a good way of encouraging you to take time to explore the island if you want have the best stuff. It is possible to get through the game without having made every single item or picked up every skill, giving you some leeway in choosing the upgrades and abilities that you think will work best for you.

Far Cry 3 does have a few minor issues that could’ve used a bit more polish. Navigating the myriad of menus can be a pain for one, and occasionally the context-sensitive HUD has issues distinguishing whether you want to pick up a weapon or loot a corpse. Also, whatever behind the scenes mechanic controlling the random placement of NPCs can seem overeager to spawn enemies for you to encounter, leading to weird instances where you drive along an empty stretch of road only to watch as a truck-full of pirates materializes behind you. Thankfully, that happens so rarely that’s it’s more of a minor annoyance than anything else, but it can break the immersion slightly when it does.

If you need a break from the already content-heavy single player portion of the game, Far Cry 3 also has a robust multiplayer component with a Call of Duty-style style leveling system that’ll unlock new weapons, equipment, and ally-boosting abilities as you play. There are a handful of game modes that are team-based and focused on capturing objectives or getting the most points for your side, and the frantic firefights can really get your blood pumping as you and your team rush to capture a control point or set fire to the opposing team’s fuel depot.

Far Cry 3 also comes with a four player co-op mode, where you and a handful of friends can play through a side-narrative of four people seeking vengeance against a cruise liner captain that tried to sell them out to pirates. It’s much more linear than the single player game, but there’s a few nifty sequences encouraging friendly competition like racing around on 4-wheelers to see who can gather bomb parts the fastest. The multiplayer offerings aren’t as detailed as the single player campaign, but you’ll have as much fun fighting off waves of pirates with another person watching your back as you will playing solo.

Bottom Line: Far Cry 3‘s single player story may have its ups and downs, but it’s still an incredibly in-depth action experience. Its combat and open-ended gameplay is engaging and well-designed, and there are plenty of incentives to explore the game world to see what you can find. The multiplayer modes, while not as detailed, are a nice extra feature that’s just as enjoyable as the single player campaign.

Recommendation: Even if the story isn’t particularly captivating, Far Cry 3‘s a must-have for any shooter fan.

[rating=4.5]This review is based on the PC version of the game.

The multiplayer experience was based on the version of the game available at the time of the review.

Game: Far Cry 3
Genre: Shooter
Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
Publisher: Ubisoft
Platform(s): PC, PS3, Xbox 360
Available from: Amazon(US), GameStop(US), Amazon(UK), Play.com(UK)

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