The Far Cry series has both a fine pedigree and a couple of skeletons in the closet. While the original Far Cry was hailed as beacon of open-world gaming, Far Cry 2 was a bit of a flop – a wonderful, wide world to explore, sadly let down by a poor story and bad design. So, with Far Cry 3 returning to the tropical island setting of the original game, has the series returned to the greatness for which it was so renowned? Very much so.
Taking place on the idyllic tropical paradise of Rook Island, Far Cry 3 opens with a chronicle of good times – American tourist Jason Brody, his brothers and friends make the most of their holiday, taking in the sights, jet-skiing, drinking, dancing and tearing it up – until a fateful decision to skydive over Rook leads to their capture at the hands of pirate gang. It all goes downhill from there.
Captured by sadistic, insane pirate leader Vaas – a man so scary that even in game form you kind of want to get away from him – Jason is forced to step out of his hum-drum life and learn the ways of a warrior. Siding with the indigenous Rakyat tribe, which are fighting to free the island from the grip of the pirates, Jason – who initially reacts to the act of taking a life with utter terror – slowly becomes a consummate killer, learning the skills he needs to rescue is friends and family.
It is this journey that forms the central part of Far Cry 3 – and makes you question whether Jason himself is starting to lose his mind. After a quick tutorial level, FC3 dumps you in the depths of Rook Island's many forested regions with a machete and a pistol. With the help of the Rakyat, Jason must gradually free the island, completing side missions and advancing the story to learn new skills, be it the ability to multi-machete opponents, shoot straighter or run faster.
To do this you disable radio towers, in a similar vein to Assassin's Creed's synchronisation points, which reveals the considerable map, opening up areas for exploration, side missions and revealing the many collectable WW2-era letters, relics and loot dotting the island.
You can also take out pirate-held outposts, reducing their manpower in the immediate area and allowing you to fast-travel around the island – and unlike Far Cry 2, the cleared outposts don't come with endlessly respawning bad guys.
Thankfully there is plenty to do outside of the main campaign, and I would advise spreading the main missions about as you play, as it's all to easy to top off the storyline too quickly. Eventually Jason can become a tattooed, highly-skilled warrior – and it's a good thing too, as Rook is a very dangerous place. Apart from the pirates, the island is also home to any number of animal species, ranging from bears to tigers to giant birds, sharks and crocodiles – and they can make any simple mission into a crazed nightmare.
For example, after completing a mission which saw me quietly clearing a pirate base with my recurve bow – and feeling like Rambo – I accidentally triggered an alarm and decided to escape before the pirate's reinforcements arrived in a helicopter. Stealing a Jeep, I set off – before getting hit by a grenade, blown into a nearby river and landing on top of a crocodile, which promptly bit my arm off.
It's this insanity that makes Far Cry 3 so much fun – how you approach each mission is up to you, and the world around you adapts to what you do. Do you go in all-guns-blazing, or open the cages holding the white tiger in the middle of the pirate outpost and let the angry animal do the work for you?
Granted, the open-world nature of the game lends itself to bugs, and in my time I witnessed a field ablaze with blue fire, dancing corpses, a tiger drowning itself and an oil barrel flying like a bird – but that just adds to the fun and freedom the title does so well.
Outside of the singleplayer campaign, the game also offers a solid – if uninspiring – multiplayer, with all the usual modes. It's nothing special, and feels like it was tacked on at the last minute. There is also a co-operative campaign for up to four players, but this takes the form of a linear shooter, and doesn't really take advantage of the open-world setting. This is irritating, as the singleplayer could really do with a co-op mode – and from time to time seems to have been designed for one that was just never implemented. Nevertheless, the co-op is solid, fun stuff, despite its silly storyline and odd 'let's stop and race these jet-skis for no reason' moments.
Graphically Far Cry 3 looks lovely – after you've installed it to your Xbox's hard-drive. Running the game from the disk alone can result in extreme texture issues, considerable pop-in and other graphical oddities – some of which can take place even after you've installed it, however.
The score and voice acting is also top-notch, although the slightly electronic music can be a little out of place at times, as you stalk through the forest with a flamethrower, looking for a brown bear to toast, skin and turn into a loot rucksack.
Far Cry 3 is a brilliant game, and a resounding return to form for the series. The game's plot has enough strength to last the 15-25 hours of gameplay on offer, and though the co-op and multiplayer sections are weaker than they should be, there's more than enough replay value in a game as diverse as this.
Reviewed on Xbox 360