Far Cry 3 is the return of Ubisoft's open-world shooter series, famed for its stunning visuals and sandbox combat encounters. Returning to a similar tropical paradise seen in the original, this time round Ubisoft couples its established gunplay with a stronger, more dark and twisted narrative.
Far Cry's push for a stronger narrative sees an American group's trek through Asia take a nightmarish turn when the paradise island they're exploring is revealed to be a lawless domain populated with human traffickers, deadly pirates and the insane.
Enter Vaas - the unpredictable, unhinged villain who was the star of last year's reveal - who takes the group hostage and subjects them to a torturous existence. New protagonist Jason Brody escapes, but his ordeal is far from over; he must learn to survive in the harsh wilderness, deal with other personalities on the island vying for his attention, and cope with Vaas's persistent mind games.
Jason - an everyman that's a reflection of the player
Ubisoft boldly claims that Jason is a new type of protagonist for video games; an everyman that's thrown into an extraordinary situation and faces enormous pressures to survive against the odds.
Before his trek to the island, the hotheaded Jason is sure of his abilities and strengths, but his encounter with Vaas swiftly shatters his confidence and leaves him a broken man.
Players will observe Jason undergo extreme change throughout the game due to the pressures of surviving the island and its inhabitants, with Ubisoft claiming the person at the beginning and the end will be completely unrecognisable, both in his skills and personality.
This will be portrayed in a number of ways, from the familiar - improved abilities will be rewarded through an experience system - to the more abstract, such as how a tattoo on Jason's arm will evolve and grow with new symbols as story events and sidequests transpire, acting as a unique reflection for that individual player's progress and choices through the game.
Open-world gameplay returns - with a narrative twist
Far Cry 3 will use linear bubbles within an open-world structure to help deliver a complicated story and intense battle scenarios, with the two seamlessly merging into one another at any time.
While there are a series of story missions to complete, the player is also free to explore at will the island's spoils - from rusted shipwrecks to hunting for skins and belts that can be traded as part of the island's economy - as part of a free-roaming environment.
As a character, Vaas is not alone on this tropical paradise; there are multiple personalities, each with their own allegiances and prerogatives. One such example is a tribal leader at war with her brother Vaas, who aligns with Jason to teach him survival skills and ultimately seek revenge.
Like Vaas, each character has their own unstable spark that defines them. Furthermore, each one is said to represent an idea or theme, forming a dialogue that critiques philosophies and thinking in modern culture today, much in the same way that films like Apocalypse Now have.
Far Cry combat returns with chained attacks, animals and death from above
While the new approach to narrative has seen it driven to the forefront, the sandbox approach to combat of previous Far Cry games remains intact.
From long-ranged attacks with an explosive bow to close-range melee kills and traditional gunplay, each combat scenario offers multiple approaches. You can even employ the use of enemy vehicles and even set loose caged animals to help you gain the upper hand.
Melee attacks are now as stylish as they are silent and deadly, and can be deployed in mid-air to dispatch an enemy from above, or from below in the water, dragging them under the surface for a messy but silent and effective kill.
Such attacks can also be chained together too. For groups, a flick of the left analogue stick sees a melee attack jump swiftly to the next sentry, or if you fancy, you can pull a grenade pin from their pouch and kick them away to their impending doom, ideally taking out a few of their gun-toting friends as well.
While you can stage some elaborate attacks on enemy lines, if your cover is blown then the tables can dramatically turn. Enemies can deploy dogs to sniff you out, and use explosive cocktails to set fire to buildings and forests, with the resulting wildfire flushing you out of hiding as it spreads through the environment.
While procedural fire is a welcome returning feature from Far Cry 2, its most contentious elements - such as jamming weapons, malaria and a lack of fast travel - are confirmed to be pleasingly absent, showing that this time round Far Cry is placing the biggest bets on the narrative rather than novel mechanics.
Although strong gunplay and jaw-dropping visuals will undoubtedly entertain, if the bold approach to storytelling is effectively pulled off then the benefits will be huge, as such strong, established characters will be a breath of fresh air in a genre that puts brainless guns and glory first. Far Cry 3 is absolutely the shooter to watch for 2012.
> Far Cry 3 multiplayer preview
> Far Cry 3 four-player co-operative campaign revealed
Far Cry 3 will be available on Xbox 360, PS3 and PC on September 4 in North America and September 7 in Europe.