Poor old Jason. Unfortunately for him, fortune doesn't seem to go hand in hand with common sense. While on an adventure holiday with his friends, all of whom are every bit as rich as they are unlikeable, the group make the decision to go skydiving over a remote, tropical island paradise. Unfortunately for them, they apparently hadn't bothered looking into what was going on the island below, or they'd know it was in the process of being ravaged by a running battle between the island's native population, and a bunch of pirates. Eventually touching down on the island, the group soon find themselves captured by a group of said bloodthirsty pirates - although it's worth bearing in mind these are pirates more along the Somalian lines, rather than the "yarr" variety.
And after a brief intro cutscene recapping the group's "adventures", the game opens at night on the island, with Jason and his older brother Grant tied to the bars of a makeshift cage, where Vaas, the leader of the pirate gang, has come to torment them. Threatening to kill them, Vaas plans to extort their obviously rich parents for ransom money, before selling Jason, and his friends into slavery. What follows is a brief tutorial section, where you somehow manage to escape from the camp, before falling off a bridge, and waking up in the house of a man named Dennis, who moved to the island long ago. Explaining the on going battle between the islanders and the pirates, Jason is recruited into the island's native tribe, the Rakyat, by way of a warrior tattoo, which seemingly grants him special powers. Imbued by his new sense of purpose, and with his magical tattoo on his side, Jason sets off on a quest to rescue the island from pirates, and save his friends in the progress.
A first person shooter, set on a tropical island, Far Cry 3 quickly opens itself up once the somewhat weird introduction gets out the way, with an entire island for you to explore as and when you want. A game that prides itself on its freedom choices, if you want to, you can choose to simply have next to nothing to do with the main story, as you explore the secrets the island has to offer for hours on end. Surrounded by white sands and clear blue water, the island in Far Cry has seemingly had its own long history, with ancient temples, tombs, and even WW2 pillboxes scattered around the island - kind of like Jersey, but with better weather, and more things to do.
Starting with a map that only shows a few sparsely scattered icons that represent the island's key structures, you'll mostly be on your own as you head into what's apparently uncharted territory. With the ability to set a handy waypoint using the map (which at least gives you an as-the-crow-flies idea of where you're meant to be heading), it's then up to you to discover the island's secrets, and help to reclaim it. Reactivating the radio towers is a good place to start as it'll fill your map with buildings and items of note in the surrounding area - but if you really want to claim the island back, you'll need to take the base camps. Swarming with enemies, storming a base camp is effectively a case of becoming a one man army - you'll need to get in, and kill everyone, without giving them chance to raise the alarm and call in reinforcements. Manage it, and just as you're tending to your wounds, catching your breath, and trying to stem the bleeding, a car full of Rakyat will trundle into the base, to finish securing the area. It's nice to know they've got your back when you need them...
With an island that's so utterly huge to make your way around, though, getting from A to B has the potential to be a little bit of an annoyance - but there have been a few concessions here. Firstly, you'll be able to fast travel between various points on the map at the press of a button, letting you save time, and potential frustration. Choose to do things your own way though, and there's certainly plenty of choices at your fingertips. Whether you're borrowing a 4x4, pinching a quad bike, swooping through the tree tops on a hang glider, or simply riding off into the sunset on a jet ski, you're certainly never short of vehicles to choose from - even if some of them are a little bit weaker than we'd have hoped. Somewhat counter-intuitively, with little in the way of proper roads, you'll often find the game's jeep simply isn't appropriate for off road adventuring, whilst the quad bike has a nasty tendency to explode should you land too harshly.
Should you choose to go the long way round, though, there's still plenty to keep you on your toes. As you make your way around the island, you'll often come across groups of Rakyat warriors patrolling, or guarding key points on the island. Every now and then, a pirate patrol will happen to stumble across your Rakyat friends, and a sporadic gun battle will break out. Unfortunately, though, your Rakyat friends don't always appear to be on the same page. On more than one occasion, we've been strolling past a group of Rakyat guarding a bridge, only to hear a honk of a horn on the horizon, as another group of Rakyat in a jeep sped towards us, and ploughed straight through their fellow warrior friends. With no love lost, they didn't even slow down to apologise. Guess it must have been some sort of internal tiff.
But the roaming Rakyat are the least of your worries. In Far Cry 3, the other natives of the island - the animals - will give you every bit as much trouble as any enemy. From sharks, to tapirs, goats and tigers, there's a surprisingly varied amount wildlife on the island - it's just a shame so much of the game seems to revolve around you killing them. From specific missions that ask you to go and kill a rare animal, to the countless times you'll be attacked by dogs or warthogs while making your way around the island, at too many times, Far Cry 3 feels more like a hunting simulator than an open world adventure. There's far, far too much emphasis put on killing animals - if you even want to increase the amount of weapons, ammo, grenades, or health packs you can carry, you'll have to go and slaughter some animal to take their skin to build a bigger pouch. And like so much else in Far Cry, the skinning of animals has been designed purely for shock value - taking your knife out, and drawing it down the front of the fresh carcass, blood will fly everywhere (although your knife thankfully doesn't cut the animal open, or leave a mark), before you lift a piece of meat from out of nowhere and put it in your bag. It doesn't help that most of the animals you'll have to kill are herbivores, that wouldn't bother you otherwise. If it attacks you first, at least you can say you're acting in self defence. Instead, you'll be killing things in cold blood. On at least a few occasions, we've managed to just be lucky, as an animal dives at us, and we've seen it just in time to move, only for it to effectively end up hurling itself off the cliff, but that simply isn't possible with a lot of animals. Hunting games have their own niche genre - and it's sad to see Far Cry try to become one.
And then there's the stealth. Sadly, a large part of Far Cry 3 focuses on being as quiet as humanly possible - whether you're having to stay in the shadows and pick guards off one by one when approaching a base camp, or even worse, having to stay undetected in one of the story missions, as you attempt to reach the radio room on an abandoned ship, the stealth in Far Cry is equal parts annoying and unnecessary. Armed only with a seemingly unlimited supply of rocks (you have guns too, but you can't use them, or you'll tip the guards off), this one mission asks you to kill several guards, and retrieve a number of pass codes, without being seen. But far from taking place in a series of narrow corridors, this mission is set on a beach. With only a few rocks to hide behind, you'll have to sheepishly make your way from one rock to the next, before frantically chucking stones in an attempt to distract the guards while you sneak up behind them. Of course, this is easier said than done. When they hear the noise the rock makes, they'll instinctively turn around and investigate, but they'll only stay turned around for a certain length of time. Seeing as you'll undoubtedly be quite a way away (thanks to the lack of things to hide behind), this leaves you having to keep chucking rocks as you're approaching the guard. And then one of three things will happen. Either a) you'll reach the guard, and be 'treated' to a gory animation of you sticking a knife through his chest, b) the guard will veer in front of your targeting reticule, and you'll clonk him in the back of a head with the stone (which sadly, doesn't knock him out, but only makes him angrier), or c) you'll wait too long, the guard will turn around, and in your panic, you'll press the wrong button and accidentally drop a grenade, before frantically trying to squat away from it as quick as your doubled up legs will carry you. Sigh.
The bolted-on co-op mode is a disappointment, too - rather than letting you explore the island with a friend in tow, you're left playing through a separate co-op story as an equally unlikeable bunch of tourists. The only problem is, it only supports two players in split-screen, yet has obviously been designed for four players. Throwing endless streams of enemies at you, with checkpoints that are so far apart they may as well not bother, the co-op mode was one of the things we were looking forward to about Far Cry 3 - but it turned out to not be worth the effort.
While the game undoubtedly offers you plenty to do, whether you'll ever see everything the island has to offer depends entirely on your patience. Hunting for collectables may be all well and good, but there has to be something to tie it all together - and the thing, in this case, that ties it all together is frustrating, and at times, outright dull. There's always something trying to kill you - sharks in the sea, dogs in the woods, and passing pirate patrols in both, with a few bullets being all that stands between you and an untimely death. With far too much emphasis on stealth, hunting, and unnecessary violence/swearing, seemingly purely for the shock factor, Far Cry 3 is a disappointment.
Format Reviewed: Xbox 360