Like the natural world it sets out to emulate so well, Far Cry 3 is beautiful and deadly. Way back in the days of first-person shooters like Doom, one worried only about strafing through drab labyrinthine corridors; in this pinnacle of the open-world FPS genre, it’s the beauty of the environment itself that will do you in. Marvel at the verdant textures of Rook Island and it won’t be long before armed pirates and mercenaries crash through those detailed leaves and kill you. Lose your breath at the way the sun reflects across the watery ceiling of a cenote and your character may drown, a cinderblock wrapped around his ankle courtesy of a psychopathic drug addict. The scope of the twin islands that make up this open-world quest is so intimidatingly large that, as you whip through the air above it in your wingsuit, you may forget to deploy your parachute. As you sight down your composite bow at the slick, orange fur of a tiger, one predator to another, you may find yourself unable to set loose your arrow—or you might be set upon by a bear, a dingo, a cassowary, or some other native beast. Don’t call it survival horror, as mindless as Dead Island; instead, call it survival delight. Whereas the similarly open-world Just Cause 2 plays up carnage and stunts, Far Cry 3 stresses the consequences of violence—the sort of game Spec Ops: The Line wanted to be, hallucinations and all.
Unlike most resilient and often monosyllabic action heroes, Jason Brody begins as a victim: a tourist whose family and friends are enslaved after a poorly planned skydiving adventure. The stakes are set early on, as his older brother—the army-trained one—is killed by the pirate’s ringleader, Vaas. Brody’s mind only continues to deteriorate from there, thanks to a series of hallucinatory drugs (and tatau, or tattoos) given to him by the native warriors, who would use him as a symbol (or martyr) to reclaim the island. While saving his friends and escaping is ostensibly the main quest, doing so—especially given the early difficulty spikes—is nearly impossible without tackling the rich and varied side content. Hunting and skinning animals yields the material necessary to craft additional weapon holsters and ammo pouches; infiltrating and liberating pirate outposts not only reduces the number of random patrols, but gives Jason the experience needed to learn essential skills, like the ability to chain together melee kills, to fire one-handed from a zip-line, or to hold his breath longer. Scoutwork pays as well: Climbing to the top of each radio tower not only maps out the surrounding terrain (and identifies the hidden artifacts below), but unlocks new weapons from grateful entrepreneurs. Every action serves to unleash Brody’s inner Rambo, so while the gameplay is clearly broken into these distinct parts, a la Assassin’s Creed, the game itself feels like one intense battle.
Less compelling is the co-operative campaign, which, as with Left 4 Dead, is split into six 40-minute chapters that chronicle the attempts of four passengers to revenge themselves on the man attempting to sell them into slavery. There’s no exploration or sense of wonder here, just a grind through familiar terrain and a series of loose objectives that often amount to “Defend this location for X minutes” or “Carry this dynamite; defend the person carrying it.” (Occasionally, you’ll compete with your partners to see who can snipe the most enemies, or deliver the most explosives to a roadblock the fastest; that’s at least different.) The competitive multiplayer isn’t all that distinguished either—basic modes like free-for-all and zone control—and is filled with frustrating glitches, like the horrendous collision detection between players. Leveling up in single-player is contiguous and rewarding; doing so in multiplayer is segmented and arduous, though at least perks, load-outs, and mods (which for some reason must be decrypted, one by one, in real time) can be managed over the Internet.
Even ignoring the messy, all-but-necessary-in-this-day-and-age multiplayer, the single-player campaign is a worth-every-penny 25 hours. Far Cry 3 is as addictive as any of the drugs grown on Rook Island, as entertaining as any Indiana Jones film (what with the flooding boats, burning buildings, mushroom-filled caverns, and sulfurous underground temples), and, thanks to the freedom of control, the sort of safe thrill-seeking that poor Jason Brody only wishes he’d stayed home to experience.