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Far Cry 3 review: Stunning shooter could be the year's best game

Small problems don't ruin open world sequel

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Ubisoft never take you out of the driving seat, even when tumbling down a mountain

Even traversal's a riot thanks to jeeps, gunboats, trucks, and later, a squirrel suit-and-parachute combo which opens up new levels of breezy mobility - one quest involves 'extracting' from the highest bridge on the island, James Bond style. A commitment to the first-person perspective throughout is commendable. Ubisoft never take you out of the driving seat, even if that driving seat is tumbling down the edge of a mountain backwards then being death-rolled by a crocodile.

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Sadly, this carefree spirit of adventure isn't always shared by the narrative, a downbeat and increasingly brutal saga starting with human trafficking and hallucinogens, incorporating a bit of amputation and forced sodomy, and topped off with troubling self-confrontation.

THE GOOD SIX SHOW

Most criminally, it needlessly flits between villains when the perfect one's in plain sight - on the front of the box, in fact - the anarchic mercenary Vaas. Actor Michael Mando gives an astonishing performance, combining trace elements of Batman's Joker and Saw's Jigsaw on multiple handfuls of Pro Plus, but a decision is made in the second half of the game that frustrates and disappoints. After a promising opening, casting you as holiday party hero saving girlfriends from burning buildings and spelunking after druggy mushrooms, the game abandons its six-friend, find-them-and-rescue them structure (essentially, each friend being a mission), and thereby it's fun.

You're given access to a second island once you've seen to business on the first, and its a weaker setting, wide open and desolate, meaner thanks to armoured professional soldiers replacing rag-tag mercenaries, and home to less compelling characters. Everything (and everyone) you love is on the first island, but you have to finish the game to get back there.

The game certainly doesn't end as well as it begins

Some brutal difficulty spikes also spoil the party. There's a sea-sick-inducing speedboat chase with an uncontrollable turret, and a boat infiltration in open water where, given the lack of cover and abundance of enemies, stealth plays a back seat to hiding in a corner and hoping on-rushers get snagged on a piece of scenery long enough for you to heal. Springing a dozen enemies on you in packed confines is the very essence of unfair. There are also several excruciating escort missions - one through a mine-laden rice paddy field - and deaths even at the very end of set-pieces will make you restart at the beginning. In truth, Far Cry 3 doesn't end as well as it begins. But it doesn't matter. These flaws don't manage to ruin the sublime, multi-dozen-hour adventure built around them.

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And when it ends you can pick up right where you left off and continue making marks on the island, spending skill points on techniques like takedown-chaining, quieter running and grenade executions, or dive into the map editor/sharer (nicely versatile, and now with AI bots, if not a huge departure from Far Cry 2). Or you could head into competitive multiplayer.

From inventive modes like the two-phase Firefight (ignite the opposition's depot and call down a napalm strike, then race to capture a neutral radio tower) through unlockable team support like propane drops and mind-altering gas which turns both friend and foe into glowing-eyed demons, to a map rotation soon to be packed with typically ingenious user-made offerings, it's clear multiplayer has been given serious thought. Yet, thought alone doesn't distinguish it from the more mechanically sound triumvirate of Call of Duty: Black Ops 2, Battlefield 3 and Halo 4, unless you're specifically after a scenery change. It's solid... but it's not perfect.

Better is a four-way co-op which swaps free-roaming for six half-hour missions. The linearity focuses, almost enforces, teamwork: battle cries buff allies' stats, syringes can be shared, enemies tagged and teammates revived (a necessity if you want anyone to lend a hand later).

Co-op is class-based too, meaning players can assume sniper, assault, grenadier or support roles and work in tandem. Levels are essentially corridors, but with persistent player unlocks, they're made to be replayed over and over for fresh weapons, attachments and perks native to the mode. Crescendo moments where you'll defend points from dogs and jeeps, repair getaway trains, and collect explosives to block chokepoints, are highlights requiring four players with their fingers on the pulse. Before playing it you'll wonder why Ubisoft didn't incorporate co-op into free-roam; after, you'll wonder why they didn't make more of it.

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"Wait, what does that mean?", Jason Brody asks at the game's opening. Well, after a 25-hour story, five hours of co-op and a napalm strike in multiplayer, you'll know exactly what it means. Because, despite technical shortcomings on consoles and a disappointing final third, Far Cry 3 remains one of this year's best games; an experience you have to sink your (bloody) teeth into.

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The verdict

Power through visual hitches and a strained finale to find a spirited, brilliant open-world gem packed with extreme pursuits, stunning scenery and hoards of savage animals - both man and beast alike.

  • Improves on the last game in every way
  • A 25-hour singleplayer packed with pursuits
  • Incredible sense of scale, and of fun
  • Four-player co-op is a quality diversion
  • Consoles suffer some technical difficulites
  • The finale disappoints
9.4
Format
Xbox 360
Developer
Ubisoft
Publisher
Ubisoft
Genre
FPS, Action

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