This is one amazing piece of software. Seldom have I seen a game where mostly every aspect is done so competently. Whether it be shooting, driving vehicles, hunting, stealth, A.I. or presentation, it excels at pretty much everything it sets out to do and combines all of these elements so seamlessly together that it leads to an incredibly immersive, tense experience and a game that's an outright blast to play from start to finish.
Farcry 3 places you in the shoes of Jason Brody, who has been kidnapped alongside his friends while on vacation on Rook Island to be sold into slavery by pirates. Jason escapes, his friends do not, and he sets out on a quest of self-discovery and vengeance to be able to get them back. That's pretty much all you need to know about the story and what the game's about and to say anymore would spoil a slightly above average narrative that's nevertheless well told with interesting, well-fleshed out characters (Vaas is awesome....Kefka has some competition). It's nothing extraordinary but it does the job and while it's not even close to the best cinema and literature have to offer, it does constitute one of the better efforts that gaming gives these days.
Gameplay consists of three main components: shooting/stealth, looting/selling, and hunting/crafting. It's very S.T.A.L.K.E.R.-ish in this respect and gives it more of an RPG flavor. Jason starts out very limited in what he can carry (barely any weapons, ammo, mines, c4, etc.) and it's required to venture out into the wilderness to gather animal skins and plants to create bigger pouches and also ingredients to formulate potions for syringes that hold a variety of effects. The early stages of the game really necessitate doing this as running into enemies and even the less dangerous animals can lead to an early demise very easily. Many may find this an annoyance but I find it enforces consideration of action while also allowing the player become familiar with game mechanics and world. This is made easier as the game world is HUGE and there is plenty of space to move around in to hide and experiment. This game is simply massive, and it's all open for the exploring from the get go with a few exceptions. The main objective (aside from story missions) are to deactivate towers a la Assassin's Creed which will reveal more of the map. From there you can clean up pirate camps, take on side missions, or do whatever you want to do.
And the game makes sure to supply you with a large selection of destructive toys at your disposal to be able to do so. From pistols to assault rifles, sub-machine guns, shotguns, rocket launchers, sniper rifles, mines, molotovs, or my favorite...the bow, choose your poison. They each have their unique purpose and are all different enough to warrant experimentation and mostly all can have attachments such as silencers, scopes, or extended magazines, to name a few. Killing of all types gains experience. Experience affords skill points which allow new abilities to becoming unlocked, abilities such as multiple take-downs, swimming faster or deeper, reloading while viewing through the scope, healing quicker, etc. Jason evolves in capability throughout and you pick these abilities based on your preferred playstyle (the heron, the shark, and the spider-stealth, aggressive, and another I can't remember). Farcry 3 also gives a large assortment of vehicles to get around in such as hang gliders, jeeps, buggies, jet-skis, assault boats, and a particular item of fast travel obtained later on that is just AWESOME. Don't want to bother trekking long distances? Fast travel clear across the map to and from any enemy outpost you've cleared.
But you'll more than likely want to drive or hump it because everything is so enjoyable and there's something happening over the next corner or a new place to explore. The combat is intense and visceral, not only because the weapons modelling is well done but also because the enemy A.I., for the most part, knows what it's doing. I find it astonishing that A.I. could be so good in such a vast environment but it is. Enemies run from cover to cover and hide, flank, and will jump away from grenades. They use grenades and molotovs and will pursue you relentlessly. And their reactions are believable as well. For example, if they witness a friend being taken down by an obvious sniper, they'll all immediately scatter in different directions and yell "Sniper!!", running to find cover based on the direction they thought the shot came from. If they find a body they'll go investigate it and then spread out to search. It certainly has its moments of stupidity like pirates driving into rivers and drowning, but all in all it does the job. And I find the vehicles to be a blast to drive. They feel just right to control and unlike many other games feel like they're actually on the road instead of just skimming above it.
As I said in the first paragraph, one of the main things Farcry 3 does so well is immerse you in its world. Everything feels alive, and this is due to a variety of factors. Firstly, I've always found first person shooters never to be truly first person. Mostly all FPSes I've played in the past have had a "head camera on a stick" feel to them. Ubisoft has done an excellent job of making the player feel like they're in a virtual body that exists in the world and I find it lends a enormous sense of connection to playing the character and being in the environment. This is all accomplished through first person animations of his actions. When he jumps over a fence, you see his legs vault over. When you climb a ledge, you see his arms pull him up. Getting into a car has him move as if in a body instead of a simple camera moving there. Healing shows him actually doing physical actions on his body (wrapping wounds with bandages, digging out bullets with a knife). When animals attack they grip onto Brody's virtual limbs. You get the idea. THIS is true first person gaming if I've ever seen it. Crysis and Mirror's Edge did it as well but IMO not as good as here.
Secondly, the world is 100% dynamic. Reason being is that it has its own ecologic system at play with many different animals that have their own behavior and present different threats. There's also two opposing factions (pirates and rebels) that frequently get into engagements. Animals will attack pirates and each other and oftentimes throw themselves into the middle of a firefight. Refreshingly, it does not at all feel like Jason is the center of the world. You can hear things such as gunfight going on from far away (often with panicked screams giving an indication of to the situation...."It's a tiger!!! S***, shoot it!!"), or animals fighting. Entire camps can be cleared from a bear all of a sudden coming out of the wilderness to attack the enemy, just as you're ready to execute your plan. It's a perfect recipe for emergent game-play and it's constantly happening....nothing is predictable on Rook Island. Everything is so random it never becomes boring and it's quite easy to be pulled off the main quest to see what that sound is over the hill, which may lead you to doing a side mission that'll last for 15 minutes.
All of this would be lessened if the presentation wasn't there to hold it up, but it is. I upgraded my rig just for this and am running it on a 3.4 Ghz, 8 gigs, GTX 670 4 gigs running Windows 7. It's on ultra and it is beautiful. I still think modded Crysis looks better, but Farcry 3 is surely no slouch in the visual department. There are a few bland textures here and there and pop-in when using the hang glider but that's to be expected with a game of this size. While the visuals are decent, it's the sound that I find truly impressive. Guns sound hefty and powerful. Sniper shots crack and reverberate a few seconds in the air and vehicles sound like the squeaky old clunkers they are. Jason grunts with exertion while climbing and huffs and puffs while sprinting. The voice acting is superb as is the pirate chatter in and out of combat (pretty humorous as well). The overall sound design only compliments the feeling of the world being alive and the feeling of you really being in it.
As much praise I can lay at Farcry 3's feet, there are some negatives I can think of. I'm editing this part, (12/27/12), as at this point patches have come out that have remedied a few of these issues when this review was initially written, and also to add some general observations after more extensive time with the game.
On the technical side:
-quests sometimes restart if something is not done in the proper order that the game is expecting, and oftentimes scripted events fail to trigger.
-you can't save anywhere, it's all checkpoint based though the saving is very smartly done and almost never becomes a problem.
-selling looted items has to be done one at a time instead of in groups which becomes tedious and cumbersome.
-when reassigning buttons in the controls, the game carries these specific assignments to other saves. So if two people have different keyboard configs in two separate game files, they have to change them back from the other's save file in the config menu each time they load their own game.
-I've had some texture problems and it has crashed once.
-A.I. is inconsistent, though I still maintain for how big the game is it's more than adequate.
And some general gameplay gripes:
-it all looks the same. I know it's in the tropics, but I live on Maui and I can attest to you that it's not all palm trees and grass everywhere. There's large expanses of desert drylands. Deep dark rain forests with enormous ceilings. Huge lava fields. I must say, as big as Farcry 3's scope is, it's a disappointment that there's not more variety in its environments.
-the early game is better than the late. Reason being is that hunting and looting becomes pointless once everything is upgraded and all the weapons are unlocked. Once that happens, all the incentive to explore is largely diminished. They should have found a way to keep both just as important near the end as they were in the beginning. Perhaps loot that didn't just translate into money but increased Brody's skill set or weapon capabilities.
Despite the above, the positives far outweigh the negatives. I have to admit, I don't like Ubisoft. I find many of their business practices detestable and think they've fallen far from their heyday, but I'd be lying if I said that Farcry 3 hasn't restored some faith in them and in my eyes has proven they still have some serious talent under their belt. It is an very well done open world FPS, to me the best in years that encompasses and executes everything that makes such games so enjoyable almost flawlessly. If you're a fan of open world games in any way, then you owe it to yourself to play this.