When it comes to previews, a lot of publishers want to control the message. "You can only go here." "You can only do that." "You can't talk about this." Not Ubisoft. To show off Far Cry 3, the company invited us over, handed us a controller and basically said, "You have four hours. Go to town." So we did.
An open-world adventure set on a tropical island, Far Cry 3 is constantly tempting the player with options. There are the story missions. There are side missions. There is hunting. There are radio towers to secure. There are evil bad guy hideouts to clear out. And of course, there's a hang glider. It wouldn't be Far Cry if there wasn't a hang glider available for use, allowing you to survey the beautiful vistas from on high.
Before the game opens up, though, it makes no bones about showing you exactly how brutal this "tropical paradise" can be. As the player, you're dropped into the role of Jason, a 20-something guy who's on vacation with his friends. As M.I.A.'s "Paper Planes" plays in the background, we're treated to a highlight reel of the past few days as the group parties hard. One of the final sequences shows Jason skydiving before the view shifts to show him and his brother tied up in a makeshift cage.
It turns out the video was being played on Jason's phone and watched by Vaas, your captor. In truth, captor is a bit of an understatement. As sadistic as they come, Vaas is a mohawked S.o.B. who gets just as much enjoyment out of torturing his hostages as he does from collecting their ransom. The developers have done an excellent job of ensuring that you'll despise Vaas and everything he stands for by the end of the tutorial level.
After escaping, you wake up in a local town where Dennis, another foreign transplant, explains the situation. The islanders lived a relatively peaceful life until Vaas and his band of pirates came to town. The newcomers have taken over most of the island, pushed the natives back into limited enclaves, and they make their money by kidnapping tourists. Although you don't know how to fight, Dennis thrusts you into the unwanted role of hero, telling you that the only way to rescue your friends is to eliminate Vaas.
At this point, the game offers up two more introductory missions that explain the radio towers and the hunting mechanic. When the game starts, the map is completely blocked from view. This is because Vaas' men have jammed the towers. You're still free to go anywhere you please, but you won't have any idea of the terrain, roads, etc. If you make your way to a tower, scale it and remove the jammer, that section of the map is revealed. As a bonus, the local gun shop gets restocked, and you'll usually get a free gun for your trouble.
Hunting in Far Cry 3 is how the game implements its crafting mechanic. Need more bag space? Kill the appropriate animals, skin them and then craft an upgraded bag. This same idea extends to medicine and other stat-boosting items, but instead of hunting animals, you need to track down specific plant types. You can probably see how using the radio towers to reveal the map is helpful. One of the items highlighted on the map are animal habitats. Recipes for crafting unlock as you progress through the game, so you don't have immediate access to everything.
What's telling about Far Cry 3 is how each of the options layer on top of one another. You may find yourself wanting to expand your bag space, so you go hunting. It's easier to hunt with a gun than a knife, but firing a weapon has the potential to alert nearby pirates. If they hear a gunshot, they'll come running. If they spot you, they'll attack.
It's also worth noting that animals in Far Cry 3 have their own distinct AI. The weaker creatures will generally run, but stronger predators such as tigers and bears aren't really that impressed by a guy with a gun. When out in the wild, you need to keep an eye out for the predators, but that doesn't mean you can't use them to turn things to your advantage. Leading a pissed-off predator into a pirate camp can make for a useful distraction — or it might just end up making things more dangerous for you.
Attacking a camp is a good way to experiment with the different game mechanics in Far Cry 3. Stealth works well, but you have to move quickly. If one guard sees another's dead body, he's going to sound the alarm. If you don't clear out the camp before reinforcements arrive, you'll also have to kill the new arrivals. For those with a happy trigger finger, the frontal assault can work, though the pirates here are efficient killers. You're no Rambo, so if you go toe-to-toe, make sure you're fleet of foot.
Because the game doesn't constrain where you can go or when, you're free to explore the island at your whim. At one point, we decided to step away from the missions and just wander around to take in the views. Granted, it was a decision that was made easier by the discovery of a hang glider. Coasting through the air, the island was our playground. If we could see it, we could probably visit it. Cars and ATVs are available for land travel, but to be honest, taking a jet ski and tooling around was a more satisfying way to travel.
One big change from Far Cry 2 is the way in which the guards seem to spawn. As noted, if a pirate hears a gunshot, he'll investigate, but that doesn't mean every shot will be heard. If you do get overwhelmed, dashing into the forest to hide in the foliage is an option. Then, while the pirates are searching for you, double back and slit a few throats. Blowing up a Jeep before the occupants can exit is also good way to cut down on an incoming threat.
In the early game, your combat options are limited, but more weapons and skills are quickly made available. In addition to the unlockable weapons, there are also arms available for purchase. Skills are made available across three different skill trees. These are unlocked with experience gained by killing enemies. You also gain bonus experience for optional goals, such as clearing out a base without being noticed.
As our time with the game came to a close, the one thing that stood out about Far Cry 3 is that it never felt forced. Sure, the story missions have specific tasks to perform, but we never felt as though the game was dragging us around by a leash or artificially constraining the available paths. Exploring the island always felt organic, whether we were going after a specific objective or simply wandering around. In the end, it's that feeling of freedom that will likely be Far Cry 3's most appealing aspect.
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