This fall season has seen the release of several high-profile first-person shooters in the latest instalments of the Halo and Call of Duty franchises. Both are likely to break sales records, but neither is a good indicator of where the FPS genre as a whole is heading.
In a future where player choice and agency will be of paramount importance, the largely linear experiences continually being delivered by these two franchises will seem increasingly constrained and archaic. The genre is ripe and ready for a shakeup.
Far Cry 3, one of the best games of the year, may just be the game that does it.
It may sound hyperbolic, but the game really is that good. Although it’s ostensibly the third entry in the series, Far Cry 3 is a brand new take with an entirely original story and participants. It propels the FPS concept forward in directions that have been tested in games such as last year’s Rage and even hinted at in the likes of Call of Duty and Halo, but which have never been done as well or as comprehensively.
The destination is a future where FPS games are set in giant open worlds that can be roamed at the player’s discretion. A well-crafted story with engaging characters lies at the heart of such a game, but its true beauty comes from a high level of agency afforded to the player where choices matter, and less a cramped and narrow storyline that is watched more than it is experienced. As the cherry on top, those choices come back to affect the main story in concrete ways. Put all that together and you have Far Cry 3 .
The game begins on a jovial note, with young Jason Brody and his friends partying it up in the Pacific paradise of the Rook Islands. One of them has just got his pilot’s license, so the gang is whooping it up with drinks, jet-skiing and skydiving.
The mood changes quickly as we cut from the festivities to Brody and his brother Grant helplessly chained up in a bamboo cage, where the psychopathic Vaas Montenegro is verbally torturing them. It’s clear that mohawked madman likes to play with his captives before he and his boss Hoyt Volker plan to ransom off back to the siblings’ wealthy parents.
But Grant is former military, so he’s able to engineer an escape for himself and his hapless brother. The duo creep quietly through Vaas’s camp and, just when they think they’ve made it, a bullet zings the elder Brody in the neck. A frazzled Jason cradles his dying brother in his arms as the villainous psycho taunts him: “Run Forrest, Run!” And the frenzied hunt is on.
The first few hours of Far Cry 3 are impeccably tense. The unskilled Brody is clearly a bewildered fish out of water, a fresh-faced co-ed with no business in the wilds of a tropical island, much less fleeing from a demented psychopath and his goons. Not only are the bad guys out to get him, so are the wild boars, tigers and bears inhabiting the island. It’s no wonder he’s scared out of his wits.
Fortunately, he comes across help in the form of a mysterious man named Dennis Rogers and the indigenous Rakyat people. The Rakyat are at odds with Volker’s invading forces, who want to use the island as their own private den of inequity, so Dennis offers to help Jason find and rescue his friends by giving him tips on how to survive the wilds and take on the villains. The innocent Brody thus begins a long journey, wherein he transforms from hunted into hunter.
Far Cry 3 is built around an archipelago of islands, with the main story taking place on two of the bigger ones. The islands are a giant open world, primed for exploration and discovery. Jason can get around by walking, but it’s often more fulfilling to jump in an abandoned jeep or idling jet ski, or even better, one of the hang gliders lying around.