For me, the interesting parts of the Far Cry series generally involved emergence, or the interplay between a number of different subsystems within the overall game world. It’s therefore a surprise to be so completely immersed in Far Cry 3’s bizarre, somewhat psychedelic narrative in a series where I’ve traditionally not given any kind of thought to the story (besides cursing malaria under my breath every five seconds).
Where Far Cry 2 was Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, Far Cry 3 more explicitly aligns itself with Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, with a heavy emphasis on being thrown out of the normal into a strange, almost dream-like, highly threatening world. This digital landscape doesn’t feel quite as all-out hostile as war-torn Africa — no more bloody respawning enemies, for instance, once you clear outposts properly; no weapon-jamming; no sodding malaria — but there’s still an unsettling sense of the psychotropic in just about every aspect of this tropical paradise, despite its ostensible grounding in reality.
Some of this is comes heavily from the player character, Jason Brody, who is so much more than a nameless, faceless slate; he speaks, he sobs with fear, he emotes as best he can from a first-person viewpoint. He and your kidnapped hostage friends – the ‘normals’ in this metaphor – are contrasted against the crazies who inhabit the island, from the insane but oddly charismatic antagonist Vaas to your tribal allies, who — while they’re friendly, or at least not hostile — still give off an intense vibe of being on the absolute wrong side of sane. A sensation that permeates the experience as a whole, really.
That’s not to say that the emergent gameplay/narrative highs of FC3’s predecessor have taken a back seat to more scripted storytelling. Certainly, you can have an immense amount of fun just wandering around the island, doing side jobs, climbing radio towers, collecting stuff, or just generally getting into fights and operating within the game’s systems.
At one point while hunting for pigs, I ran across a boar being attacked by two rabid dogs. Creeping around the grass to get a better angle on my targets, I’m startled by a deer bursting through the foliage, followed by two pirates who are apparently hunting it. Everything continues to escalate until I’m surrounded by corpses and the burning hunks of vehicles and, yes, the remains of the pig I was originally after, which I promptly skin and turn into a bag.
Sure, that’s a very minor kind of story. But the thing is that these kinds of coincidences just keep happening all the time. When you’re not in a story-mandated mission or something, there’s a high chance of a bunch of systems collapsing in on one another like extremely interesting dominos. Komodo dragons lazily stumbling into guard patrols; pitched battles between islanders on jeeps and pirates as you drive on by, resulting in distant explosions. And the beauty of all of it is that it works.
Part of this is the streamlining of a bunch of combat-related systems, particularly stealth; it’s easy to know when you’ve been spotted, it’s easy to break line-of-sight, and so predator-style gameplay where you pick off mooks one-by-one because far easier – and far more fun – to perform. But mostly it’s just the fact that the game’s controls are fluid; they do what you want, when you want. It would be one thing if these complex emergent situations resulted in frustrating gameplay, but it simply doesn’t. Everything just flows, from straight-out combat, to stealth, to driving, back to an XP-based skill unlock system that works out a lot better than it sounds.
Heck, the only thing that I’m really down on is the exasperatingly repetitive dubstep music that kicks in whenever you’re in combat. Wub-wub-wub-wub…