Far Cry 3 arrives later this year, bringing more bullet-ridden body-counts on a lush tropical island. Ubisoft Montreal hopes to foster team-based co-operation and gasoline-soaked carnage in the game's multiplayer, which includes two new mode types.
Following a diversion to Africa for Far Cry 2 in 2008, the third game in Ubisoft's popular first-person shooter series returns to the tropical island setting of the original title, this time located somewhere at the intersection of the Indian and Pacific Oceans.
Typically focused more on its single player experience, lead developer Ubisoft Montreal hopes that Far Cry 3 will also keep players gripped beyond the main campaign with a suite of multiplayer modes offering slight twists on the perennial favourites, while also encouraging players to work together as a team.
Team work, 'battle cry' and psyche gas
For Far Cry 3, Ubisoft Montreal has taken the tact of various other recent online shooters in attempting to expand the team-based play so it goes beyond just the fact that "you don't shoot your colleagues". Similarly to the ambitious but rather flawed Brink, Far Cry 3 does not give XP and perks solely for kills, but instead rewards you for being a happy helper via Team Support Points (TSP), an in-game bonus system that favours co-operation over carnage.
The studio has stripped away a medic class and instead made it so that everyone can revive everyone else. This strategy is intended to encourage people to help out stricken teammates (backed up by the down-not-dead system which we will discuss below) and ensure teammates stay in the fight. An interesting mechanic is the 'battle cry', which involves players boosting anyone within hearing distance of the 'cry' with bonus items, such as more health, ammo or speed. The battle crier doesn't get the bonuses themselves, but they do get awarded TSP for the selfless act.
Hoping to further push players towards co-operation, Ubisoft has made it so that the biggest and baddest perks are only accessible via Team Support Points. So, if you want to cause some serious damage, you have help out those less skilled than yourself. The carrot is that there are some pretty cool perks available, particularly psyche gas, which makes all the other team go mental, stripping away their visual aids designating who is friend and who is foe, as well as removing friendly fire, so they can kill each other by accident.
Domination and down-not-dead
In Far Cry 3, you take a side in the war of two militias, one with a penchant for red clothing, and the other favouring blue. We played Domination on the Sub Pen map, a dockyard area featuring two rusted old submarines next to a compound leading up to a small village area. As with previous Far Cry titles, the gaming world is a visual treat; from the crystal clear waters around the mottled brown decay of the subs, right up to the sun soaked beach huts spattered with blood.
Domination plays very much by the numbers, as the two teams must capture and hold a series of points until they have overwhelmed the opposition. The map is fun to play, while the weapons are solid and the audio deserves particular praise, as clear commands constantly draw your attention to the action. The focus on teamwork takes a while to really click, but you will soon find yourself more often working with teammates than going off as a lone wolf. However, things are rather complicated by the down-not-dead system.
Should you be close to death, you can hammer a button to slow down your demise, while also calling people over to revive you (as denoted by an audio cry and flashing icon on the excellent mini-map). A nice feature is that people can send you messages to say they are coming (earning TSP in the process), but we found all too often that the system got in the way of the action. When in down-not-dead, the view gets a red tinge and you have to either see a 'kill cam' of who downed you, or just watch yourself desperately calling for assistance.
After a while, we found ourselves just letting the meter run down in order to get straight back into the action, rather than waiting for someone to make the effort to revive us. Overall, it felt like the system lacked a little bit of balance in between favouring teamwork and also ensuring that the action runs quickly and smoothly. After all, nobody really enjoys watching themselves die slowly on the ground.
Enter the Firestorm - gasoline thrills the radio star
Another mode we played showed potentially more promise than Domination. Firestorm is a take on King of the Hill, which features a simple mechanic ensuring it feels fresh and new. Each team has a set of two gasoline barrels positioned around the map, and the initial goal is to reach the opposing barrels and then set them on fire. This involves a short sequence rolling out the barrel, tipping a pool of gas and then lighting it. While doing this, you are locked in and so vulnerable to being killed, meaning the entire process must be repeated.
Once both of one team's barrels are ignited, there is a state called Firestorm, in which half the map is on fire. The trick here is that everyone then has to rush over to a satellite radio in the middle of the map. The team that caused the Firestorm must capture and hold the radio to call in a plane filled with gasoline to shower fiery hell over the opposition. But the defending team must take the radio to request a plane filled with water to douse the blaze, thus resetting the game and putting the barrels back into play (should no one get the gasoline plane activated before the timer runs out, then it is a draw).
The excellent thing about Firestorm is that it creates an almighty battle, as everyone heads over to the radio from all corners of the map in the hope of calling in the plane. We played the mode on a map featuring a ruined temple in its centre, and this soon became an intense flash point - a really nice mechanic. Alongside the core multiplayer modes, Ubisoft has also confirmed that the map editor will return for Far Cry 3, offering players the opportunity to create their own maps using a set of simple tools.
Far Cry is always going to be a shooter that majors on its single player adventure, a somewhat rarity these days. Far Cry 2 had its flaws, but the 20+ hour campaign featuring innovative tactical gameplay and jaw dropping visuals was a real treat for solo players. The real challenge, though, will be whether the online game has enough in the locker to retain people's interest beyond the initial flurry of matches after launch, but Ubisoft Montreal clearly hopes that the little twists in Far Cry 3 will make things interesting, and there are certainly plenty of things to praise in what we have seen.
Far Cry 3 will be released on PC, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 on September 4 in North America and September 6 in Europe.