Review | 12/14/2012 at 2:40 PM

Far Cry 3 Co-Op Review

Punch a shark in the face. If you want.

Far Cry 3 is one of those rare games that everyone who plays it will have stories about. You know, the kind where something so out of left field happens in the midst of playing that you just HAVE to tell all your friends?

Here are two of mine:

En route to my next mission, I noticed a jet ski in the nearby river so I jumped on it. The river led to a waterfall and I decided that I would try to jump the jet ski off of it and catch massive air. I did. I soared gracefully through the air, dropping at least 50 feet onto a wooden bridge just as two heavily guarded vehicles passed by. The enemies barked their surprise, but I managed to take one of them out via an insta-kill machete takedown, pulled the pin on a grenade in his belt and kicked his lifeless body into the nearest jeep. The detonation took both vehicles out and most of his friends. I finished off the stragglers and continued on to my objective.

Another time, I was capturing an outpost as stealthily as I could. I picked off the guards with a variety of stealth takedowns and my bow and retreated to the nearest vantage point to set up shots from my sniper rifle to take out the remaining few guards. I lined up the last shot, pulled the trigger, then heard a growl behind me. I realized I wasn't the only one doing the stalking around these parts as a tiger mauled me. I sighed briefly, then grinned like an idiot as I reloaded my checkpoint.

Far Cry 3 is an open world shooter that expands upon many of the systems in its flawed predecessor. It tells the story of Jason, a thrill seeking twentysomething with a pack of douchebag friends who all get captured by a pirate named Vaas after a skydiving adventure in the fictional Rook Islands. After escaping imprisonment, Jason is thrust headlong into the power struggle of the island's natives and Vaas' pirates, given a magical tattoo (sorry, "Tatau") that grants him exceptional combat abilities, and given free run of the island.

The campaign, while containing some amazing missions and excellent setpieces, ultimately takes a backseat to simply exploring the island. Far Cry 3 is at its most fun when it's not trying to get you to advance the story, although torching marijuana fields with a flamethrower while a Skrillex-backed reggae track plays in the background is probably the best use of a song in a videogame since Kanye West's "Power" in Saints Row The Third.

As Jason explores the island, you'll notice that wildlife plays a key role in just about everything. For starters, you'll need to hunt those animals so you can craft various holsters, rucksacks and ammo slings, which increase the number of weapons you can carry at once, as well as the amount of ammo and number of explosives strapped to you. Oh, by the way, this means you'll eventually be hunting sharks. With a sniper rifle. You know, if you want.

Predators can make life difficult for you, but they also turn against the enemies. While discussing the game with Nick he told me about a time when a tiger ran rampant through an outpost he was trying to capture, doing almost all of the work for him.

You can also craft a variety of syringes from plant life you harvest. Simple healing items are easy to come by, but eventually you'll be able to craft ones that make you fireproof, see animals through foliage, or even become invincible temporarily. Jason's definitely not against recreational drug use.

Though you'll be shooting plenty of guys in the face with dozens of different weapons, the real star of Far Cry 3's combat is the takedown system. From stealth, you can instantly kill enemies with your machete. Eventually, you'll be able to chain takedowns together, grab a knife or pistol from your victim and take out another, and even plant a grenade on his corpse and punt him into a group of his friends. Like the ol' "death from above" move? You'll get that, and a "death from below" companion move to boot.

Eventually, you'll be the ultimate jungle predator, either through effective stealth, or superior firepower. It's your choice, and the ensuing chaos is beautiful.

Unfortunately, cooperative play is separated from the open world romp that makes up the campaign, but don't let that get you down - Far Cry 3's co-op offering is a fantastic addition to an already great game. Up to four players can play together online, and the console versions even get combo co-op, though your splitscreen partner will also need to have an Xbox Live Gold account on the 360.

The co-op is presented as a six-mission mini campaign. Our four heroes, Mikhail, Leonard, Tisha, and Callum have been wronged by the captain of the ship they were working on, and decide to go on a killing spree to get back the money he owes them. You'll get story beats via short cutscenes and dialogue from the characters as you complete tasks. I got an extremely strong Left 4 Dead vibe from the way everything is presented, but thankfully Far Cry 3 brings plenty of its own personality to the table.

Each mission is broken up into several segments - you'll begin by traversing to a location, clear all the enemies out and then have to complete various objectives, such as scavenging the environment to find rockets for a launcher, guard your allies as they carry explosive charges to take out a bridge, or stand your ground while protecting a generator. Following the completion of a segment, your XP will be tallied and you'll get the chance to equip any new unlocks or tweak your loadout a bit.

Did I say unlocks? That's right, your multiplayer unlockables and custom loadouts are also earned through co-op play. Earning new toys is always fun, and being able to tweak the loadout to suit your playstyle or complement your teammates is a welcome addition. If you're playing with random folks online, I'm not sure I'd recommend taking a stealth-oriented loadout, but a full team of bow-equipped predators is a total possibility with the right crew.

Two nice additions that encourage cooperative play are the Battle Cry and Booster systems. Battle cries are temporary buffs (improved movement speed, health regeneration, etc.) that are applied to every teammate in range, and Boosters are stronger buffs you can offer another player, but they consume syringes you find in the environment and are harder to come by. Managing both of these effectively definitely makes the harder battles a little easier to tackle, so being a good teammate is highly encouraged.

Another fun addition is a little bit of friendly competition - certain segments in the levels keep score between the players, whether it's a kill tally or points scored while racing ATVs carrying explosives. Whoever wins gets a nice little XP bonus.

What I really like about the co-op in Far Cry 3 is that it could probably hold its own as a separate game. With a good crew it'll probably take between 5 and 8 hours to finish the co-op content depending on difficulty. Hopefully the future holds more missions via DLC (that aren't restricted to the PS3 version).

I've been playing the PC version, which looks absolutely stunning and runs well on my mid-range hardware, but I've heard that environment pop-in and framerate issues are endemic to both the PS3 and 360 versions of the game. I've been assured that the console versions play just fine, but if you've got a PC that can run it, you'd almost be a fool not to go that route.

Far Cry 3 offers some of the best value I've seen in a retail game lately. That it's also a great game gives me a lot of hope for the future of the series - one that I'd almost written off after all of the problems I had with Far Cry 2. The solo campaign, though the storyline is patently ridiculous and borderline offensive in tone, is a real blast to play through and the co-op offers plenty of its own fun. Highly, highly recommended.

The Co-Optimus review of Far Cry 3 is based on the PC version of the game.