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PREVIEW

E3: Far Cry 3 Hands-on

Uncomfortable.

That's the key word from having spent an hour with Ubisoft Montreal in a hotel room. Nothing to do with the team members who are, to a man, smashing, passionate folks. But everything to do with their creation.

Because whatever Far Cry 3 is, it's a lot more fucked up than we gave it credit for.

Far Cry 3

The studio's to be commended for its approach to marketing the FPS. The original tease promised a return to the tropical open world that so defined the original (the dusty savanna of Africa in the second too dry and barren in every respect), then that unsettling, riveting, introduction of the psychotic Vaas. And now this.

"This" is a ten minute hands-off demo. Then a ten minutes hands-on. The same length for a GRTV interview, and a much longer post-appointment discussion with lead writer Jeffery Joyohalem about what the team's setting out to achieve. As we said: Uncomfortable. Unsettling.

We're in the a hotel room twenty-four hours before the rest of the world sees the newest Far Cry 3 build. As with any demonstration that's making the main stage of a media briefing and with an audience of millions via video streams, it's short, punchy, and lingers long in the mind after the traditional black out.

Far Cry 3

Short version: It opens with a partially-naked, heavily-tattooed woman straddling us, whispering her belief in our prowess in battle; sexual, tribalistic, intoxicating. Symbolic. We watch our terrified L.A backpacker Jason now transformed mid-way through the game into one of the Rakyat, a tattooed jungle warrior, one of an island tribe now fighting back against Vaas. Bow and knife in hand, massacring his way through the psycho's militia with chained melee attacks. A vicious firefight. A disturbing trap with echoes of The Joker's power play in Arkham Asylum. Concludes with a head fuck of an interactive cut scene as you pull a gun on an imagined Vaas. Only for him to metamorphose into Jason - you - just as the trigger's pulled.

Such tricks have been pulled before in the game space. Yet with a sinister muscial score the bass of which is so deep it saws through the head, rich colour schemes slanting towards neon glow, drug-heavy purple, and most importantly great character animation and voice work that impacts, enforces that Jason's journey - your journey - is more disturbing than pulling the trigger.

Far Cry 3Far Cry 3

It's something significant for the team. Joyohalem talks about, if not our desensitisation to violence, our acceptance of it as a norm within games. How we're in gameplay loops of decisions without caring or understanding the consequences. How it takes awful things to shake us. Cronenberg's History of Violence is a source of reference, likely inspiration.

The tribal aspect, shown here as Jason urges the Rakyat to bloodlust, plays to type. Yet that's partly wrong. At least, our perceptions of the scene are, as Jeffery hints at our preconceptions being at fault. Everything isn't as it seems; even the loading screen flickers between its usual placeholder messages and multiple word flashes: "Lick". "Tattoo". "Girlfriend." We find out that the tattooed girl at the start is Vaas's sister, Citra. Sibling rivalry turned tribe war? Too simple. The imagined Vaas at demo's end openly talks about what she's doing to you, asks you to "face your insanity". The duality here makes us think of the Batman/Joker relationship in Nolan's The Dark Knight. Vaas is something we don't truly comprehend. And we're worried if we do finally understand, what that'll say about us.

Far Cry 3

The writer mentions about the ending too. Decisions made, consequences faced. This to, we've heard and seen before. His enthusiasm sells the concept though: coupled with the powerful narrative storytelling in the demo, we're genuinely convinced this could be effecting.

Yes, it's still Far Cry. Sand box world, gunfights between ramshackle, makeshift hideouts. Travailing dense forest. Death by knife, arrow, bullet or claw.

The latter the killing end of a tiger caged in the militia's compound. The developer's playthrough, they shoot open the door, and a blur of yellow and black stripes carves through the enemy. In mine, the cat eyes - and the muscles and teeth behind it - fell on me instead. Wildlife's a random element in battle, a potential Game Over when exploring off the beaten track on the island. Toss a rock in the underbrush to attract a pawed killer to a nearby patrol. Blood an attacker with a single bullet, and carnivores will take up the scent.

Far Cry 3Far Cry 3

Yet we swing back round to that unsettled feeling. Blue skies and rich greens have been Far Cry's calling cards until now, but we'd be hard pressed to detail to you the stories of the first two games - and the weaponised Predator aspect of the reworked versions didn't sit well.

Now the vista takes backdrop to story: even learnable skills are iconised as tattoos along your arm, visual notification of your growing stature in the tribe. Vaas remains engrossing, the connection between he and you containing enough allure that we're willing to play the guessing game of the big reveal. What is it? The studio isn't saying: but if their marketing continues as it has, they've got at least one more trick up their sleeve.

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