Far Cry 3: Classic Edition Xbox One Front Cover

UbiSoft’s open world formula – with the most familiar and overused elements being towers revealing environments strewn with various collectables, represented by bewildering arrays of icons on map screens – has been the basis of their games ever since the first Assassin’s Creed, though it was hugely refined in the second Assassin’s Creed title and arguably reached its peak in Far Cry 3.

Though filled with stuff to do, the tasks and collectables in these open world games often feel like busywork, there for the sake of box-ticking and to claim that their games are stuffed with content. As the worlds became bigger, so too did the volume of tasks and objects become overwhelming and feel ever more pointless; Far Cry 3 seems to hit the sweet spot in terms of its size and scope, though it still has a number of weaknesses in the basic design.

Jason Brody and his friends are high-flying, spoilt rich kids, travelling to far flung, exotic places seeking thrills and partying as hard as they can. They end up on the wrong island, in the midst of a dangerous political situation – with ruthless, violent mercenaries and ex-military types lording it over the oppressed natives; things get nasty very, very quickly when they’re all kidnapped and separated – and Jason is somehow roped in to rescue his pals, as well as assist the local tribespeople to take back what is rightfully theirs. Over the course of the story, he looks to retrieve his friends one by one, as well as take on and take down the vicious, cruel warlords who rule the island without mercy.

First things first: the ‘Classic Edition’ is a remaster of the 2012 original, but – just as I saw with UbiSoft’s remaster/repackaging of the second Assassin’s Creed game and its two follow-ups (Assassin’s Creed: The Ezio Collection) – nothing seems to have actually been done to bring the game up to date except a resolution and frame rate bump. Not only that, but it seems that multiplayer options have actually been removed, making this even less of a complete package than the original game. Jason Brody is a dull protagonist, he and his friends are complete assholes (though they don’t deserve the sometimes horrific events they go through) and the scripted missions can be incredibly frustrating, not to mention unbelievably boring considering the entertainment that can be had by just roaming the game’s beautiful islands and making your own, improvised fun.

Far Cry 3: Classic Edition Screenshot

It’s not all bad though; Far Cry 3, for better or worse, really set the standards for the modern Far Cry experience – building on the lighter framework in Far Cry 2. It’s got such a varied toybox for just letting you retake outposts from mercenaries that it’s a disappointment once you’ve completed them – scoping out the outpost from afar, taking out alarms, using silenced weapons and perhaps even letting wild animals loose to take down enemies for you…none of that ever gets old. Of course, if you want to approach the outpost with rocket launchers and flamethrowers just to cause maximum havoc as you retake it, then that’s something you can do too. The choice is yours.

Recapturing outposts may be the most memorable and fun activity in the game but it’s far from being the only side activity that’s on offer. Hunting animals, finding valuables and relics, puzzling out how to reach the top of towers, delivering medical supplies or even engaging in crazy, explosively trained monkeys on side quests are just a selection of the activities you can occupy yourself with. All across a beautiful tropical island, with lots of wildlife (most of which you can slay and craft into fancy new equipment bags). The emergent events and side activities really are the best part of the game by far.

The main campaign – though it features a charismatic villain or two, with Vaas being the most memorable here, perhaps even the most memorable villain in the entire series – is dreadfully dull by comparison, with stages far too reliant on protecting and escorting dumb AI characters or reaching certain scripted points in very specific ways…it’s such a shame that your character progression and general play is characterised by the fact that you get better and better at being able to improvise, yet the main storyline shuts you down and forces you down specific paths or solutions far too often. Boss battles are rote and boring, the final few missions are an absolute disaster of pre-determined events and the game suffers from a massive problem of having unskippable in-game cutscenes and dialogue – which you’ll sometimes see and hear over and over again, if you fail a mission for not doing exactly what it wants you to do at any given time. This is especially egregious when you have to replay sections that feature horrific violence or events; on example of this features one particular character having gone through repeated sexual assault that’s thankfully never shown, but heavily implied – and then, very quickly after in the narrative, just completely forgotten. The nastiness of the story sits poorly alongside the gratuitously fun chaos and light-hearted humour of the game’s improvisational toolbox, with some ludonarrative dissonance – particularly glaring late in the game when Jason’s abilities are so varied and powerful – being inevitable when the cutscenes or quick-time events take over. There’s also a slightly uncomfortable ‘white saviour’ element to the story that didn’t sit right with me.

Far Cry 3: Classic Edition Screenshot

It’s such a shame that the main campaign has to try so hard to he compelling with all of these forced moments of extreme violence or ‘mature’ content, because the rest of the game, which just allows you to make your own entertainment, is gloriously insane fun and genuinely never gets old. Though many of the mechanics have been streamlined and improved – even added to – in more recent Far Cry games, they still work here, albeit without many of the more modern refinements you may expect if you’ve played beyond Far Cry 3.

It’s a fantastic, compelling toolbox of a game that is at its best when it sets you free to explore and accomplish your own goals in your own time, but definitely at its worst during a story in which you’re forced to listen to endless characters – who absolutely love the sound of their own voices – go on about destiny, power and other crap that the writers clearly believe is saying much more than it actually does. That’s been a problem with the Far Cry series for a long time of course – it’s not just Far Cry 3 that’s guilty of this – but it’s a shame that there isn’t less focus on the campaign and more freedom to just mess about; this is, however, a balance that does get redressed a little as the series goes on, thankfully. You can of course ignore the annoying campaign missions entirely, or at least for a very long time, if you so wish – there really is a lot to keep yourself occupied with on the islands. Don’t get me wrong – Far Cry 3 is excellent, but it really is let down by a story that tries so damn hard to be edgy, with its sex and violence being pushed to the extreme in some cases – but is definitely much more enjoyable when you’re left to your own, often explosive, devices.

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