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★★✩✩✩

Far Cry 3

Ubisoft Montreal

Ubisoft

Released October 2012

For Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360

First person shooters have always been one of my favorite genres of video game. I grew up at a time when computing technology was just starting to meet the challenge of inexpensively rendering a shooter. As a kid, I was weaned on a generation of post-Doom titles, like Quake II, Counter Strike, and Team Fortress Classic, and for a time, the mere improvement of hardware was enough to keep the genre exciting. Each iteration of the first person shooter produced higher and higher graphical quality, and I didn’t spend much time lamenting that the gameplay and plot of Crysis was not many steps beyond that of Goldeneye 007.

For at least the past five years however, I have been unfazed by advances in graphics. I really could not care less if they get better from here on out — in some ways I even prefer the simplicity of a cel-shaded game like Borderlands to the polished sheen of Battlefield 3. I may draw a distinction between Halo and Halo 4, but do I draw one between Halo 4 and Halo Reach? If I do, it certainly isn’t one based on the aesthetics of the games.

At this point, every fan of the twitchy, reaction-time oriented gameplay of a first person shooter must be bored of being handed a rifle, a shotgun, and some heavy munitions, and being railroaded through predictable plots with lamely delivered dialogue. Why someone would buy the latest issue of Medal of Honor is as great a mystery to me as how EA Sports manages to profitably release a new Madden football game every year.

And so, it doesn’t take much novelty to make me fall in love with a shooter in this innovation-starved landscape. Take, for instance, 2008’s Left 4 Dead. By the numbers, there is little reason to hold it above any given shooter: it has four short campaigns and zero plot beyond “Zombies, run!” but in my heart I wouldn’t trade it for a dozen new releases. Its unique gameplay and sense of humor make it stand out in a way that most FPS’s don’t.

Thus, I went into Far Cry 3 with the highest of hopes. Advertised heavily as “Skyrim with guns,” Far Cry 3 promised the perfect fusion of FPS gameplay with open world sandbox design. Finally, a break from the standard formula! Sadly, it didn’t pan out.

You can forget the comparisons with Skyrim: Far Cry 3 is more akin to a version of Just Cause 2 that traded in its Crackdown-esque, over-the-top, arcade-y gameplay for a Red Dead Redemption style character-driven plot. It’s still a sandbox, but not the Skyrim sort. What missions exist outside of the main quest are one-offs, and most of them are the sort you’d find in Just Cause 2 — secure this outpost, climb this tower, etc. This isn’t a game with multiple, parallel story arcs, nor with meaningful choices to make on how you complete it — it’s a linear game that just happens to let you slack off in between missions.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I wouldn’t seriously mind if Ubisoft had merely created a more mature version of Just Cause 2. But in this case, they get neither the gameplay nor plot right.

You play as Jason Brody, a privileged, aimless, Millennial-cum-kidnapping-victim, losing his sanity as he battles pirate/slaver warlords to free his friends on a set of remote Southeast Asian islands. The ambience is dark and heavy, but Jason’s thought process is so thoroughly unrelatable that any sane person would struggle to connect with his character, and the ending of the game easily competes with Mass Effect 3 for worst of 2012. There are a few high points with the characters Vaas and Buck, but otherwise the game is wholly forgettable.

Meanwhile, the gameplay itself is nothing to write home about. You’ll look and feel badass as you play, but unless you have the misfortune of stumbling into a wild tiger, the game won’t be much of a challenge, and won’t feel different from most shooters. Far Cry 3 tries to differentiate itself by offering a skill tree you can level up through, but after putting in a couple points to get “Improved First Aid” (thus granting yourself an infinitely regenerating health bar), almost everything else is just for style. It’s not as if there is a Thief Jason, a Mage Jason, and a Fighter Jason — the young Brody does it all, and despite the game’s attempt at stealth gameplay, he usually does it all by running and gunning through waves of masked baddies.

The game does manage to get a lot of things right. The controls handled fine, minus a little trickiness in driving and some of the skills that get unlocked. I didn’t notice any bugs. I enjoyed the diversity of missions that it offered— some of them are a little obnoxious (escort missions on an island populated solely by crazy people were never going to be a pleasant affair), but Far Cry 3 does do a good job of delivering 20–25 hours of shooting without feeling repetitive. And of course, the graphics are amazing (though there are some serious issues with texture pop-in whenever Brody goes zip-lining).

But in the end, I see little reason to recommend this game as a good use of someone’s time or money. It belongs to a set of titles so indistinguishable that one’s gaming experience is complete after having played one only one.

Don’t buy this game. If you have $50 and are looking for something to put it towards, try low-expense index funds.