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RPS GOTY Revisited: 2012's Far Cry 3 is better than the games it ended up influencing

Did I ever tell you what the definition of a video game is?

Look, I’m not saying Far Cry 3 is responsible for *gestures vaguely towards modern AAA games* but it’s definitely a prime suspect. If I was trying to connect a piece of red string from the middle of my evidence board (which would probably be a picture of the map screen from Assassin’s Creed Valhalla), I’m not sure I’d push a pin directly into Jason Brody’s face, but I’d definitely circle it in black Sharpie a few times. Basically, in the eleven years since its release, I’ve grown a bit suspicious of Far Cry 3’s lasting legacy.

And yet, in those halcyon days of 2012, we named it our game of the year. Although it’d be easy to simply say that decision was made a bit before my time here, I should probably admit that when reviewing the game for the blog I used to run when I was at university, I awarded it an equally prestigious (stop laughing at the back) 10/10. That almost seems ludicrous, doesn’t it? Far Cry 3? Game of the year? Surely not.

After spending a few hours revisiting the sunny shores of Rook Island, I was shocked to discover a game that feels surprisingly pure. Mechanically, I hasten to add. The actual act of playing Far Cry 3 in 2023 is still good fun, it’s the bits around it that are a bit ropey.

A leopard leaps at an enemy soldier in Far Cry 3, while a fellow enemy looks on, in the jungle.
Animals are a frequent occurance on Rook Island, attacking both the player and AI enemies. Leopards are particularly dangerous, gnawing at your arm before you even have a chance to spot them.

Let’s get those out of the way first - and where better to start than dude-bro protag Jason Brody himself? Look, he’s got the word bro right in his name. How droll. Right, how do I put this? Jason Brody was hateable enough a decade ago, but these days he just sort of feels… archaic. Even for a videogame character, the speed at which Jason goes from a timid party boy who can’t believe he’s just killed a guard while trying to escape from a pirate camp, to a psychopathic murderer who burns down an entire village without even making a quip is beyond parody. His skill tree is represented by a tattoo on his forearm. The whole “this island was struggling before the arrival of this white guy but he’s finally helped us turn the tide!” shtick leaves a bitter taste, too. Thankfully, Far Cry as a series quietly moved away from this in subsequent titles, but it still sucks here.

Like most games from the era, it’s starting to creak in places it was never meant to as well. Opening up the crafting menu, you’re met with a loading spinner as the game attempts to find Far Cry 3’s long-defunct online servers. Failing to locate them, it throws up a message you have to manually acknowledge. This only happens once per play session, but there’s a layer of the game that has simply vanished, and watching the game desperately try to find it, like Fry’s loyal dog Seymour in that one episode of Futurama, is weirdly sad. It’s ok, buddy. Maybe they’ll be back next time.

But, I’ve got to hand it to Far Cry 3, Rook Island is still a very fun place to sort of just mooch around in, finding your own fun as you go. It’s packed full of odds and ends to busy yourself with, but it’s noticeably quieter than anything else Ubisoft made in the years after its release. Clambering to the top of a crumbling radio tower (little platforming puzzles! Fun!) reveals maybe two? Three things to do? It provides something most open-world games lack these days. Space. Space to roam, space to experiment. After an introductory sequence, you’re sort of just left to your own devices. Go find some radio towers. Liberate some camps. Skin a dog to make a new wallet. Go paragliding. Start a fire and coo as it burns realistically across a grassy hillside. It’s a good laugh.

Vaas, the leader of a band of pirates, holds a gun against his own head

Despite being imitated countless times by both other developers, and even Ubisoft themselves, the Far Cry formula has never really been as good as it is here. It all feels very lean. Weapons are efficient. Stealth is simple but effective. Its upgrade system - the awful act of skinning dogs aside - is organic, letting the player improve their equipment whenever and however they choose to do so. I’m not saying it’s perfect, but it’s easy to see why it was so beloved back in the day. It’s fresh and exciting. An open-world game that sees empty space as an opportunity for self-guided play rather than a potential spot for an additional map marker.

So, yes. Far Cry 3 has largely held up, Jason Brody and his intolerable cohort aside. Vaas is still a great villain (even if, thanks to Better Call Saul, I see actor Michael Mando more clearly behind the performance than I did before), Rook Island is still a brilliant playground that is a joy to explore and the Far Cry formula is as compelling as it’s ever been since. Can the series ever reach this high again? It’s hard to say, but maybe it doesn't matter when the best Far Cry game already exists in Far Cry 3.

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