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Far Cry 3: Benchmarks and Review
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Date: Dec 17, 2012
Section:Misc
Author: Joel Hruska
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The Graphics
If you've been itching for a game to showcase a new video card, or to rub in the faces of your friends, with their 2005-2006 Xbox 360s and PS3s, Far Cry 3 is that game. It eschews the space-gray corridors or military battlefields of other franchises for the lush tropical environments the Far Cry series is famous for, and the game absolutely shines. After years of cooling our heels as publishers delivered console titles for DirectX 9-era hardware, the game is a welcome breath of fresh air.

We've put together a comprehensive look at the game, from performance benchmarks to how it plays and whether or not it's worth your gaming dollar.

Graphics:
Far Cry 3 is an enormous, open-world game. Most reviews have focused on the graphics, and for good reason -- this game looks stunning. Foliage is beautifully rendered, the island environments are gorgeous, and the character modeling is some of the best we've ever seen.



The graphics artists that worked on Far Cry 3 outdid themselves. Even simple scenes (the screenshot below is from a drug-induced hallucination) are gorgeous. Stark, nearly monochromatic lighting is combined with a few bits of color and great texturing to create a memorable shot with minimal components.



The game, however, is absolutely capable of more. Feast your eyes.

 

There are, however, some issues with certain settings. The game offers three types of ambient occlusion -- SSAO, HBAO, and HDAO. Only one of these -- HDAO -- actually works properly. The other two produce extremely odd visual effects. We confirmed the bug on both GeForce and Radeon GPUs; the two brands handle the three settings the same way:


SSAO, HDAO, and HBAO shown from left to right. Only the middle image is rendered properly

SSAO gives the game a cell-shaded appearance, while HBAO is imprecise and overshadowed. The only way to turn ambient occlusion off is to edit the game's XML configuration file, and the setting will return to "On" if you change any of the other graphics options on the page.

Every now and then, an odd low-resolution texture pops up.



It's like Far Cry 1's ground textures hopped a bus to Far Cry 3. It's odd to see such a crappy texture popping out of otherwise beautiful landscape, but we suspect this is something that will be addressed in a future patch.
 
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Storyline & Gameplay
In Which I Attempt To Describe The Game's Plot Without Laughing
You play as Jason Brody whose post-collegiate achievements include wasting other people's money and being a hipster. According to the in-game Survivor Guide, Jason spent the last year going skydiving (6x), parasailing (2x), mountain climbing (4x), and snowboarding (7x) -- yet has held only odd jobs since college.


Our....hero

The game begins when you and a bunch of friends mistakenly skydive down to a pirate-infested island that's embroiled in a civil war. This is so contrived, it makes the Hostel movie entrapments seem like fine art. You're captured by an utterly insane, brilliantly acted pirate. Your capable killing machine of a brother breaks you out of pirate jail, helps you escape, and is promptly shot in the neck by Vaas, the aforementioned crazy.  

Jason charges out into the jungle, is nearly killed by the pirates, and tumbles into a river. You're eventually rescued by Dennis.

This is Dennis

The first part of the game is so kooky, I expected a cameo from John Locke from Lost. According to Dennis, you're deeply linked to the island, which has brought you here to fulfill a sacred destiny. The knowledge you need to rescue your friends and family can only be imparted through a series of mystic tataus (tattoos). Dennis gives you your first tatau, using techniques painstakingly learned from a recovering heroin addict with Parkinson's disease.

The problem with Far Cry 3 is that it's not much like the other games in the series. Far Cry was an FPS with lush tropical environments and a sci-fi plot. Far Cry 2 jettisoned the science fiction, moved to Africa, and went for a straight-up military story. Far Cry 3 takes a flying leap into mystical mumbo-jumbo and doesn't land very well at all.

One minute, you're terrified rich kid Jason Brody. Not long after, you're cold-blooded killer, Jason Brody. Your friends (as you rescue them) remark on the change, but you've got no control over the path your character takes. This is a problem that tends to plague video games; developers often confuse the observation of a transformation as essentially identical to guiding that transformation yourself. It isn't.


This doesn't help immersion. At all.

Somewhere around the thousandth pirate I ran over, I stopped caring. Unfortunately, Vaas, the amazingly great insane pirate that shows up in the game's introduction, isn't actually the main villain. Once he's gone, it's downhill from there.


Vaas isn't just crazy. Vaas is absolutely *insane.*

Which isn't to say that it's a bad game -- it's just got a weak plot. It's been called "Skyrim with guns," but there's rarely been a comparison less apt. Skyrim has a cast of hundreds (even if they share the same voices) and is built on moral choices that you do (or don't) make.

FC3's redemption is that it plays great on the small scale. Driving around ambushing enemies, taking on side missions, and sneaking through the foliage is a lot of fun. New vistas and areas are unlocked quickly, and the three skill trees give you customization options that favor your preferred method of attack.
 
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GPU Performance
We benchmarked Far Cry 3 on a Core i7-3770K with 8GB of DDR3-1600 RAM. We used AMD's Catalyst 12.11 beta drivers for measuring Team Red's performance, while Team Green was tested using the 306.97 driver set. We tested the game at "High" and "Ultra" presets at 1920x1080 with 4x MSAA, Enhanced Alpha to Coverage, and HDAO enabled.

Our benchmark was a lengthy drive around the island, with pauses to hop out and fight various enemies that spawned along the way. Far Cry 3 randomly generates encounters as you explore; so we repeated the test multiple times on each card to ensure our frame rates were representative of the game's performance.



Far Cry 3 tolerates a low frame rate exceptionally well; the GTX 660's 28 fps is absolutely playable. The 7950 is significantly faster than the GTX 660, but the GTX 670 is the fastest card at High Detail. The Radeon 7950 seems to suffer from more texture pop-in than the GeForce cards, but that could be a problem on the software end. High detail levels with AA, AF, and DX11 are no problem.



At ultra-high detail, the GTX 660 starts to stagger a bit. This is most easily remedied by turning down water and shadow rendering a notch. Our benchmark path takes us past the open ocean and across a beach.

Given the way ambient occlusion is handled in game, we opted to test performance with that feature disabled via profile editing. Both the 7950 and the GTX 670 pick up a few frames here as a result.



Turning AO off improves game performance enough that the option to play without it really ought to be included. While we're on the topic of questionable design decisions, can we talk about the fact that buying the game on Steam forces you to install Uplay?

If I wanted to use Ubisoft's online store, I'd have bought the game through Ubisoft. Steam is nothing but a launch tool, it literally can't detect if the game executable is running, unless UPlay is. Talk about annoying.
 
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Nitpicks, Conclusion
There are enough issues and immersion-breaking flaws in FC3 that I decided to wrap them into their own section.

The Map:
In real life, a map is something you draw to help you find things. In Far Cry 3, as you escape from Vaas' slave camp, you find a paper map and shove it in your pocket. This document literally fails at providing the most basic function of a map, as shown below:



You unlock new areas by climbing radio towers and removing jammers. Somehow this enables the Magic Paper Map to tell you where you are. Unjamming radio towers also gets you free guns. Why? Who cares?

Shop keepers all communicate via these towers, but don't worry, there are "Self service" ammo stations in every safe house.

Crafting:
You make new items for hauling garbage loot via leather you gather from animals. That's fine. But whoever built this portion of the game apparently has no idea what leather actually is. Here's a great example:



According to Far Cry 3, Jason has just skinned the boar. If you're wondering why Jason 1)  Appears to be holding a giant handful of intestines and 2) The boar is definitely wearing its skin, you're apparently smarter than Far Cry's animation team. What Jason actually does is gut the animal in question. Instead of throwing the viscera away, he shoves them in his rucksack, remarking on how disgusting the process is.

No kidding.

I don't hunt, but I know people who do. Responses ranged from "That looks like entrails," to "Why is he putting the pig heart in his bag?"

Normally I couldn't care less about whether or not a game accurately models leather skinning, but if you're going to go to the trouble of animating and modeling the process, you really ought to get it right. Alternately, this could've been a hilarious joke to punch home just how little Jason knows about living in a primitive society. You don't make deer leather out of deer intestines, and you certainly don't shove them in your knapsack along with the ammo and medical supplies.

This one gets better. Do you want a new holster? You need pig leather. Need a new ammo pouch? That's dog leather. How about a new flame thrower fuel bag? Better find goat leather. Apparently no one told the game developers that while different leathers are absolutely better suited to different tasks, subdividing crafting in this fashion is infuriating.


Not boar. Not buffalo. MUST BE GOAT

Lots of games limit the number of weapons you can carry -- this one limits the number of everything, including dollar bills. It's nearly impossible to build up a stash of useful items in the beginning.  If you have the wrong kind of leather, for example, you can't craft a larger rucksack. Time to throw away the extra leaves (a leaf and a boar skin take up the same amount of inventory space -- go figure).

The Really Insulting Humor:
My final nitpick is that whoever wrote the manual for this game really isn't funny. Here's a few samples:



It's one thing to throw in a few pithy statements or ironic observations. This is something different. Virtually every single entry contains a comment or two like the ones above. Individually, a few of them come off as clever or a bit humorous. Collectively, they're pretty damn racist, misogynistic, and Eurocentric. My sense of humor is both irreverent and pretty black, but this wore thin, fast.

A Worthy Buy -- If You Like Its Style
I don't much care for Far Cry 3. The open-world elements, exploration, and small-scale missions are all well-executed and the game is beautifully rendered, but the plot is dull, the characters are flat, and the humor, crafting, and weapon systems drive me batty.

Far Cry 3 does some really sexy things. If you're looking for a first-person shooter that doesn't take much thinking and showcases how awesome games can look, than this is a great purchase. There are tons of side missions and opportunities to explore the island; the game shines when it comes to picking up your weapon and trotting off in search of adventure. Radeon and GeForce cards both run the game well, and once Ubisoft patches up some of the lingering issues, it'll be that much stronger a product.

  • Great open-world exploration
  • Amazing graphics
  • Excellent sound effects
  • Vaas, the insane pirate, steals the show
  • The Manual / Survivor Guide. Seriously. 
  • Plot is boring, contrived, uninteresting
  • Some graphical bugs need fixing


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