Far Cry 3 sees the return of Ubisoft's shooter series with another open world epic set on a beautiful yet deadly tropical island. After playing through the opening sections of Far Cry 3, here are our thoughts so far on the gameplay changes, intriguing narrative and dynamic world of many dangers.
Far Cry 3 shifts the action from the African plains of the second game back to the lush tropical island setting of the early titles. Beautifully alluring on the surface, the crystal clear waters, golden sands and rich vegetation bely a constant sense of perilous danger. The player is thrust into another seemingly hopeless situation in which they must survive warring pirates, wild animals and sheer madness to get their one-way ticket out of paradise.
Life's a beach...
Far Cry 3 opens with a bang. MIA's song Paper Planes blasts out as a group of fresh-faced and attractive people having a seemingly fantastic time while on holiday on a tropical island. They skydive out of planes, party loudly and generally run about like there's no tomorrow. But like much in the world of Far Cry 3, things are not immediately as they seem.
The view pulls out and we realise that we are in fact watching the footage on a smartphone held by the sadistic but also rather enigmatic psychopath, Vaas. This genuinely intimidating monster is goading main character Jason Brody and his brother Grant, who are both trapped inside a wooden cage. After Vaas relents in his torment, Grant manages to break out of the cage, and then attempts to lead his wet-behind-the-ears brother out of the camp.
The ensuing stealth sequence involves carefully listening to the prompts from Grant, who has military training, or it means instant failure. Then, after Vaas shoots Grant in the head, you go it alone in a mad dash through the jungle trying to outrun an entire army of bloodthirsty pirates. It is a breathless opening that really sets the unsettling tone for events ahead.
Jason grows, one tattoo at a time
What is pleasing about the start of Far Cry 3 is that you immediately see the importance of Jason as a character. Compared to Grant's hero actions, Jason seems terrified by the entire experience, and understandably so. But his evolution as a 'reluctant hero' will really shape the story arc, particularly in terms of the tests the world will put him through as he seeks to save his lost friends.
The interesting aspect here is how the world responds as he changes. So often in shooters the main character just feels like a puppet, but you get the sense that developer Ubisoft Montreal really wants you to see that Jason is changing as the game unfurls, both mentally and physically. He gets a tattoo every time he learns a new skill or ability. This makes people around him more impressed or intimidated, showing how the island has become part of him, and him part of it.
Essentially, the core Far Cry gameplay remains the same. The game controls as a straightforward first-person shooter but with a big focus on tactics. It is entirely up to you how you approach each task - stealthy or assault, hidden or in plain sight - but all decisions have pluses and minuses. For example, you can use the environment to your advantage, such as releasing captured animals to run amok amongst enemies, but beware that such a tactic could also backfire on you.
Far Cry 2 was largely well received after its release in 2008, but there were complaints that its world was a chore to navigate, particularly between missions. Ubisoft Montreal has tried to address this issue with the Outpost system. Enemy pirates hold Outposts around the world, and taking control of these camps opens up a fast travel network that appears much easier and quicker to use than the bus system in Far Cry 2.
Taking Outposts spreads your area of influence, and so you will see your allies fill the area and merchants will be able to sell you better equipment. As you progress through the missions and the challenges get harder, this influence will become increasingly important. Far Cry 3 mixes cash purchases for guns, ammunition and other equipment with 'Crafting' - a system of gathering items from the world to make new supplies.
Different plants can be harvested from the world to make into health syringes and potions, while animals can be hunted and skinned to either sell or turn into carrying pouches. But Far Cry 3 exists in a dynamic world. Just as you may be stalking a pig or goat, a wild animal could also be hunting you. In this game, certainly, danger is never very far away and it will take more than just weapons to survive.
Far Cry 3 is shaping up as a polished, well designed and engaging open world shooter. Ubisoft Montreal has worked to address the shortcomings of the last game, while still offering the 'artist's palette' of strategic options that really sets Far Cry apart from the pack. But you get the sense that Far Cry 3 will really excel with its narrative, particularly in the way Jason Brody wades through the madness of the island and (possibly) emerges on the other side.
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Far Cry 3 will be released on PC, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 in Europe on November 30 and on December 5 in North America.