Far Cry 3 is the best gaming experience of the year, bar none.
The story follows Jason Brody, his brothers, his girlfriend, and a few of their privileged friends as they seek to have the time of their life out on an unmarked group of islands called the Rook Islands. The intro shows them having a blast dancing at nightclubs, cliff-diving off waterfalls, and even skydiving off a plane into the vast jungles below. However, this is all found footage as Jason watches the events from inside a cage. What follows is one of the strongest introductions to a character and story that I've ever seen in recent video games.
The character is named Vaas, a pirate who captures Jason and his friends and family in order to sell them off into slavery. The first few seconds you spend with Vaas are some of the most chilling and memorable in any video game. His unsettling monologue, his unpredictable mood swings, the mysterious scar across the side of his head, and the glassy, blank look in his eyes all point to two things: he's insane, and he won't hesitate to end you at a moment's notice. The rest of the game features similar moments with this nutcase, each more unsettling than the last, which creates a great, albeit vague, back story that makes the character tragic, yet unsympathetic at the same time. Though I wish they would've implemented Vaas just a little bit more in the story, he still makes himself known throughout the campaign.
The story picks up after Jason's brother Grant frees them from their cage and begins their escape from the camp they're in. After barely making it out alive while Vaas hunts him down, Jason winds up unconscious in a river and waking up in a strange village. With the help of the people who saved him, Jason must embark on a quest to save his younger brother Riley, his girlfriend Liza, and his best friends Daisy and Oliver from the clutches of the unstable Vaas and his mysterious boss named Hoyt.
Jason meets several of the other colorful residents of Rook Island along the way, including Vaas's sister Citra, who looks to end her brother's life with Jason's help. She and many others prove to be some of the most well-developed characters in any video game today. Combined with the excellent writing and narrative pacing, the story proves to be intense, chilling, and at times heartwarming.
The game follows standard First-Person Shooter gameplay, with a wide variety of control settings to suit your FPS playing style. It's executed well, and doesn't feel overdone or too simple. A wide variety of guns, explosives, and specialty weapons such as flamethrowers and bows, are available throughout the game either by purchase or by unlock.
Combined with this is an experience system. You gain experience points by defeating enemies in various ways, completing any of the numerous side missions found on the island, and completing challenge modes. These points go towards a skill tree that has three branches: Heron for exploration and crafting, Shark for combat and defense, and Spider for healing and stealth. For every level of experience, you get one skill point to be used on various perks, such as takedowns, adding more healing items, and even diving from a hang glider to kill someone and commandeer their vehicle. The variety with this system is impressive for a game primarily about shooting through enemy waves and getting to checkpoints for each mission.
Enemy encounters are random for the most part. Pirates can be seen driving around in patrols, spotting a rebel post, and randomly start shooting at them. You can either join the fight, or run away to other things. If you join, be prepared for a fight, as these are some of the most aggressive AI you'll ever encounter in a video game. Even on the easy difficulty setting, they can prove to be a demanding challenge. The only drawback is that for what they have in aggression, they lack in higher order thinking. Some enemies stay in open areas, and some flat-out charge you if they're close enough, even while you're pumping them full of bullets. However, this doesn't make them any less dangerous, as there are different types such as heavies and snipers, so be wary.
The true way to see pirates at their best is to try and take out their outposts. These places act as fast travel locations once unlocked, so they're a must when traveling the massive island. They also reduce enemy encounters in the surrounding area, so as to make traveling that much safer. There are several ways of going about taking an outpost, but by far the best is the stealth route, which nets the most XP and is a great challenge of strategy. Taking out alarms, snipers, and using animals to your advantage is essential here. You can take the all-guns-blazing route, but be prepared for tons of reinforcements to appear in waves as the alarms get set off. It all boils down to choice here.
The setting for the game is gorgeously detailed, from the jungles within, the beaches alongside the shoreline, and even the caves you'll periodically explore for collectibles. The only thing that's not animated is the water, though the detail on it is still sublime. All the different versions of the game run their graphics smoothly with only a few minor visual hiccups all across the board. I've only played the PS3 version extensively, and saw no noticeable framerate drops and only an occasional environmental rendering once or twice as the game tries to load the area you're entering, with no texture issues either. Other than that, you run the usual gamut of open world game glitches such as bodies randomly disappearing early in the game and the occasional floating animal or pirate. I've no comment on the Xbox 360 or PC versions as I haven't had a chance to play either of them, though I hear both run just as well.
Running across this jungle will have you running into a variety of creatures. Ignoring that some of them don't ever interact in real life, the animals do all sorts of things, from running in packs, feeding, and even seeing a tiger or leopard randomly appear to attack a group of deer. These animals can be hunted and skinned to craft upgrades for holsters, wallets, ammo and munitions pouches, and a larger backpack to hold more loot items that can be sold. Plants can also be harvested to create syringes with various effects. The most common is healing, but hunting, combat, and exploration syringes can all be crafted and used for various purposes.
The side quests include bounty missions, hunting missions to gain rare animal skins that enhance your equipment further, and even racing challenges to earn some quick cash and test your vehicle driving skills. These missions always net you some cash and experience, and are plentiful all across the island. There are also side quests that involve helping out the inhabitants of the islands with various tasks, with little repetition in between.
The multiplayer is divided into two groups: co-op and competitive. The co-op (which can be played both offline and online) has its own story set six months before the events of the campaign. You play as four mercenaries who get betrayed by their ship captain and are forced to become slaves to the pirates. The ship crashes, however, and the mercs decide they want to take revenge on their captain for his betrayal. The gameplay is the same as in the campaign, though the advantage of stealth is used to a lesser degree. Here, the game fares more like a traditional FPS game, with little exploration to be done. You have objectives, enemies to take down with various options and loadouts, and checkpoints you cross along the way. While those who enjoyed the campaign will miss the open-ended exploration, the co-op mode is still enjoyable for the story and intense action, even if the characters aren't as memorable as those from the single-player experience.
The competitive mode has typical multiplayer modes such as team deathmatch and domination which are immediately known among the online gaming community. A new mode, firestorm, has also been added into the mix. Two teams both try to infiltrate enemy camps and set their supplies on fire while also trying to defend their own camps. This mode is fun, intense, and makes strategizing that much more important. All the multiplayer modes shine as they utilize the excellent FPS gameplay to its fullest, and are filled with many skilled players. Plus, bonuses and battle cries also encourage teamwork more so than any other multiplayer mode I've ever played.
For all the things I've mentioned here, the only gripes I really have are the occasionally linear areas of some missions, which only allow for limited options in taking out a room, the occasional glitch, and the less-than-intelligent AI. However, these things should never take away from the excellent gameplay, amazing story, well-detailed graphics, memorable characters, and the all-around great multiplayer system, which includes probably the most extensive map editor I've ever seen. Do not pass up the opportunity to pick up this game. I guarantee it'll grip you and become a staple of your gaming collection within the first few seconds.