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Far Cry 3

Far Cry 3

A glance behind us, and we see someone arrowing a jet-ski between beach-side rocks and through choppy waves. Before we can turn back, we catch a glimpse of another distraction.

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Again and again, we're compelled to lean round to watch a wealth of dynamic moments unfurl: a mistimed reload signalling certain death as a tiger pounces, a tension-filled creep behind patrolling militia, someone else soaring above jungles on a hang-glider.

We bring our eyes forward to our own island paradise and we see something entirely different yet again. An imaginary greenhouse burrowing into a stone wall as we trip on psychedelic mushrooms, lost and alone in a dank underwater cave.

This is all the same game though. And as one of its creators patrols between demo pods, he casts his gaze over five very different takes, all gunning towards the same goal: a rescue mission fuelled by revenge.

Welcome to Far Cry 3: the exotic back-packing vacation with a killer twist. The game proves true to the rule that sandbox games make for the most entertaining preview events.

But the limited time in which to explore the genre's latest entry also leads to an impossible situation. How do you correctly allot your time to see everything a game has to offer, especially in a title that's hinged around the joy of exploration and discovery?

Far Cry 3

Hence the continued glances around the room, at the multiple screens and players gripping controllers dotted around us. It gives us a variety of possible scenarios at a glance, and as it's went historically, no two people's screens match. But all the escapades (serving oneself up as tiger dinner with shoes aside) look incredibly fun. A diversity that's not too bad for what is only the opening trio of hours in the game.

But even with all this chaos going on around us, we leave our session with one overriding image. The one of us staring out of a cage at a softly-spoken man staring back in. And that's how Far Cry 3 begins.

The game's opening is incredibly powerful, all because of this one character, this single madman: Vaas.

The game's main antagonist gives a mesmerising, hypnotic performance, a presence so strong that you eagerly await the next time he'll appear.

This isn't the first time we've felt that allure. We've seen Vaas before - the crazed killer has rightly been front and centre for all of Ubisoft's promotional footage thus far - but this is how we're introduced to him.

Far Cry 3

He sits by the wooden cage that is our prison, were we find our protagonist Jason and his brother Grant captured and tied up, island holiday in the sun ended prematurely in horrific fashion and whose friends have been ghosted away by Vaas and his men to unknown fates.

Vas talks to us. Talks at us. His monologue flows then snaps erratically, charismatic and terrifying in equal measure. This is no usual villain spiel. This is something different, and so captivating in its delivery that when he wanders off into the night, your emotions are a dangerous cocktail of gladness and emptiness.

Soon enough the brothers will attempt an escape, the game's tutorial playing out through a camp filled with murderers. The scenes witnessed as you crouch, hide and steal supplies emphasise that for all the island jaunts to follow, there's an uncomfortable real-world darkness snapping at their heels.

Unsurprisingly, Grant, until that point playing the confident ex-military man leading his terrified brother to safety, is killed. You alone escape, and alone you're left to fend for yourself, locate and rescue your remaining travel companions, and somehow become a tribal warrior, totem pole to the indigenous Rakayt tribe, who've been oppressed by Vaas and his men.

While Jason's vantage point as newcomer to the isle is fine reason for heavy exposition as the lay of the land and the isle's backgrounds are detailed, we'll have to wait and see how well Ubisoft sell this middle-class foreign backpacker becoming a revolutionary imbued with totemistic powers and lead a populace to peace and posterity.

Though given what we've seen so far, the developers won't be making this tale as clear-cut as so readily suggested. We can't help but theorise that "puppet" may be closer to the mark than "leader" in Jason's predicament.

But theories on the long game need to be put on hold, as we're instead grappling with a sharp difficulty spike. We're required to acclimatise to an environment that'll happily kill you given the chance.

Far Cry 3

Those special powers we mention are represented in the game's trio of skill trees, favouring either long-range strikes, stealth improvements or tank-like strength. All will prove invaluable as, initially, your survival chances are about as high as a limbless sloth in a tiger cage. Far Cry 3 is a hard game.

Run and gun tactics will get you chewed quicker than a chicken in a meat-grinder. Even if you take your time, you're likely to screw it up the first few times anyway. You've got to develop patience and timing alongside the skills to make you part Crocodile Dundee, part Predator, and all-round tough bastard.

The endless foliage that covers the island conceals movements but is no bullet stopper, and enemies will flank you quickly once alerted to your presence. A half-circle icon marking an enemy's eyes-on with you will gradually spike as warning they're about to spot you, giving you scant seconds to duck for cover.

Despite the vast scale of the island, during missions your movements are limited to the immediate area. Once you enter a mission-designated zone, a invisible barrier drops down in a rough circle around you and your target location. Its marked on your map, and stray to the edges and you'll be offered on-screen warning - step over the boundary and its mission over.

The map itself is huge and to begin, completely blanketed by interference. Jamming towers crisscross the entire island, and need to be disabled first so local landmarks and points of interest in the surrounding area are highlighted. The sequence is a nod to Assassin's Creed, but the benefits are many - not only are nearby vehicle outposts marked, but your adopted tribe start to flood the area, and new trade routes for better equipment are opened up.

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Of course, you can just go exploring blindly, ignore the dirt roads for the bush and jungle. Like ACIII, Far Cry 3 will have a full ecosystem in play across the entirety of the island, and interacting with it (ie: killing) is necessary to build up your character's supplies.

Skinning dead animals will provide leather to craft larger ammo pouches, while finding plants and mixing them will give you potions. Your fellow four-legged inhabitants will also play into some of the optional missions as well - we take up one off a job board to hunt down a pack of wild dogs that have been terrorising the local area.

And, like ACIII, we'll be interested to see how they affect missions if you cross over into an animal's territory. We've already learnt to hate canines, as a near-perfect crawl around an enemy village's boundaries and towards our first victim for a stealth kill is stopped last second by a patrolling guard dog. The teethed whirlwind is short enough to pass under our view, and fast enough to make it a bugger to take down, even without the entirety of a now-alerted camp shooting at us.

Crouching in foliage makes you near invisible, and there's a slide move to cross between cover points quickly. While you'll end up hiking around with guns, rifles, shotguns, bows, mines and the like strapped to your back, it's the silent non-lethal ordnance that's most interesting.

You're equipped with a endless supply of rocks mapped to the D-Pad, allowing you to create distractions and pull guards away from patrol. This ability will likely prove lifesaving, and essential, throughout the game. Such as when we have to separate radio operators from a group sheltered in the belly of a beached ship - with the mission perimeter of not being spotted at all.

Far Cry 3Far Cry 3Far Cry 3

We end up dropping rocks like breadcrumbs to lead the key personnel to our hide spot in the rocks, just above their camp, before pulling off a stealth kill.

Another part of your non-lethal arsenal is your SLR camera, letting you snap wildlife, but more importantly mark enemies by type - normal, RPG, sniper, heavy - onto your HUD map once you get them framed in your lens.

It's a cool little feature that forces you to evaluate your surroundings before attacks - absorbing terrain data while crawling for the best position to do a headcount on enemy numbers. We can't help but think if there's an option to load and share photos there'll be an entire sub-game of daring paparazzi snaps flooding gamers' inboxes. But it makes you think about the environment, and using it to your advantage to survive.

Because Far Cry 3 doesn't make anything easy. You're in enemy territory all the time, and over each hill and around every bend there's something with more experience and firepower that'll kill you just for being there...and likely will until you've adjusted and went Predator with your skill set. XP divisions are tied to mission performance - the first objective we complete offers a triple-multiplier if we're not detected at all.

Far Cry 3

Jason may learn to be a killer easily, as any FPS character is destined to do, but there's a barometer against your bloodlust by way of your friends. Your first encounter with fellow travel companion Daisy, holed up and hidden in a doctor's home along the coast, shows her shock at how much you've changed in so little a time, and the developers will keep pounding that growing wedge as the game progresses.

That initial conversation, and the one with her protector Dr.Earnhardt proves Vaas is no isolated case - the studio's really worked into wrenching as much genuine emotion out of scripted character moments. Every eye movement, facial tick and body shift nuanced into making these principal characters real.

Far Cry 3

As it is, these moments are the visual and emotional highlight of the game, a bar that the game's sandbox environments don't as yet reach, but understandably so, given the extra horsepower needed to render whole environments that stretch far beyond the naked eye.

But the studio looks set to bolt character moments throughout Far Cry 3's frame. Our trippy experience down a cave is due to scavenging for supplies to help heal Daisy. An encounter with mushrooms that release a gas that induces a series of bizarrely imagined sequences of similar effect to what we saw during Ubisoft's Gamescom conference. It leave us intrigued as to what comes next.

Again, it's uncomfortable viewing, and the juxtaposition between a island paradise and the horrors committed not just by villains, but yourself, is the lynchpin in giving us a vacation in the sun we're likely not to forget anytime soon. We're awaiting our ticket out to the tropics eagerly.

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Far Cry 3Score

Far Cry 3

REVIEW. Written by Mike Holmes

"There's so much content here, it's detailed, engaging, and for the most part it hangs together perfectly."

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