Far Cry 3 (Xbox360)

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The original Far Cry from Crytek held a lot of promise and gave us only a small glimpse into one possible future for the open-world sandbox style of games. While the Grand Theft Auto series continued to hew closely to more urban environments, Far Cry took place in a sprawling, exotic world of tropical islands, science facilities and World War 2 bunkers, but despite the game’s impressive visuals and teases of things to come, it squandered a lot of its own potential with a standard sci-fi schlock story and ultimately uninteresting gameplay.

The open-world sandbox genre has since benefited from lessons learned in games like Crytek’s Crysis series, as well as Ubisoft’s own Far Cry 2 and Assassin’s Creed games, culminating in the creation of what is perhaps the finest example of the genre yet: Far Cry 3. Like the original Far Cry, the world is meticulously crafted (this time for a 2012 audience), and like Far Cry 2 and Assassin’s Creed, you’ll not want for interesting, meaningful things to do, but ultimately, Far Cry 3 is leashed by technical issues and wasted potential, even if the beast tirelessly rages against its constraints.

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It’s amazing just how fast giddily fun times with friends can deteriorate into a relentless nightmare – Far Cry 3 protagonist Jason Brody found this out the hard way. During a celebratory trip to the tropics, Brody, his brothers and a few friends all of a sudden find themselves captured by modern-day pirates and fast on their way to becoming ‘product’ in a slave trading operation. Led by an inimitable character by the name of Vaas, as well as the operation’s overlord, Hoyt, the pirates are ruthless and lawless – a deadly combination.

Following a smart, impactful introduction, Jason makes a daring escape from Vaas and his camp of pirates, but not without sacrifice, and he soon finds himself in the care of the Rakyat, a tribe of warriors indigenous to the vast Rook Islands. Any daring escape needs a daring rescue to follow, and with his friends and family still in intense danger in the hands of the pirates, Jason’s journey to find his inner strength and become a warrior worthy of the Rakyat begins, all in an effort to save those he cares about the most.

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It’s also the beginning of Jason’s descent into the madness of the islands, its people and wildlife, all of which begin to take their toll on his humanity and, indeed, his sanity. While I never witnessed a true outward display of his newfound persona (I found him to be a rather weak, unlikeable character), Jason’s mind is clearly affected by the situation he finds himself in, doing whatever is necessary to rescue his friends while becoming ever more comfortable with slaughtering his enemies in increasingly brutal ways. It’s a personality transformation that doesn’t quite hit the mark as well as Spec Ops: The Line managed, but it’s clearly noticeable.

It’s not just pirates that Jason will have to contend with on the Rook Islands in order to survive, as deadly (and harmless) creatures prowl, stalk and leap through the dense jungles while immense crocodiles and sharks make taking a dip into rivers and oceans an anxiety-filled proposition. The islands themselves are treacherous, too. When travelling along winding coastlines, wriggling dirt paths and glistening waters using Far Cry 3’s vast collection of jeeps, cars, jet skis, quad bikes and speedboats, and while taking aerial routes using hang gliders and a BASE jumping suit, you’ll need to be careful of surprise cliffs hidden by foliage, rapidly raging fires and jagged rocks dotting the surface of the sea below.

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It’s during your discovery of this mysterious world that you’ll find most of the fun of Far Cry 3. Happening upon an underwater cave glowing with greenery and light filtering through fissures is just part of the wonder of the game, while crawling through shrubs and hurtling through low-hanging tree branches during a deadly session of hide and seek forms another. There are endless player-created stories waiting to be told in Far Cry 3 which could involve the tale of a persistent tiger mauling you to death, a wrong turn in a car followed by a trip into the ocean (and a chance meeting with a shark), or the scrapping of a perfect plan to assault an enemy base after letting a caged bear go free to wreak havoc of its own.

Far Cry 3 will drive you to these scenarios with its main storyline and wealth of collectibles, activities and side missions which all require you to investigate the deepest corners of the islands. Hunting and skinning animals to craft bags, pouches and holsters will help you become a more effective fighter by giving you access to more weapons, ammunition and special medicines to heal and protect yourself, as well as temporarily enhance your abilities. Finding differently coloured plants generously scattered around the world will allow you to concoct these potions and the variety of weaponry (from rifles, shotguns and grenades, to flamethrowers, RPGs, mines and crossbows) will keep sharpshooters safe from animals and enemies alike.

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You’ll be able to make your life easier by removing enemies from bases located across the islands, giving you the chance to instantly (well, after a bit of a load time) hop around the map to cut out unnecessary travel time. Powering up communication towers, too, will clear away the uncertainty of your map, filling in key details like locations of vehicles, settlements, collectibles, plants and animals.

The quest to find these hidden treasures in Far Cry 3 is made essential (and slightly addictive) thanks to the game’s well-measured progression system… at least to begin with, anyway. You’ll be made painfully aware of your current limitations, and the affect of those constraints, all before the game offers up a solution to the problem. Can’t hold more than one weapon? Hunt and skin a few dingos to craft a better holster. And if you’re running out of space for money and items, you’ll need to procure the hide of very specific animals (in set locations) to craft better gear, which means you’ll be travelling into new dangers and the exciting unknown for more adventures.

It turns out, however, that if you’re not careful you’ll soon get yourself to a point where it’s no longer necessary to go on these little excursions, even without maxing out the available crafting options, which lead me to a bit of a lop-sided experience. For me, the first few hours of the game lead me to believe I would be playing for another twenty at least, but only a few more hours in, I began to follow the story path a lot more closely because the urge to explore and futz in the world began to expire.

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The story of Far Cry 3, in my mind, is also best during these opening hours as I was introduced to the menacing Vaas and a range of ostensibly rich, superbly acted characters, but I soon found myself tearing away at the layers of the narrative hoping for a pay-off that never comes. The handling of the remarkable world and personalities later in the game simply doesn’t do justice to what could have amounted to one of the best stories ever told in a videogame. Instead, I felt disappointed by a tale that flatlines before it’s given a chance to show its true potential.

While picking apart groups of enemies using your arsenal of weapons and rapidly accumulated abilities remained entertaining to the end, the constant drag of a sluggish framerate was unwelcome company. When you can feel your actions being inhibited and you can see the world slowing down around you, it becomes an exasperating experience. Visually, Far Cry 3 is incredibly detailed, no doubt, but when those details detract from the gameplay, I would rather developers err on the side of speed.

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When you’re not working your way through the singleplayer story of Far Cry 3, you’ll be able to engage with other players online in the game’s competitive multiplayer, as well as the rather beefy four-player co-operative option. Competitive multiplayer offers a range of team-based modes that’ll have you holding and protecting points, capturing flags, retrieving data and more, and stays up-to-date with other online shooters with a deep level and unlock system, as well as options to customise your load-out with the guns you desire, the attachments you need, the perks you crave and the equipment you can’t live without.

Far Cry 3 multiplayer also introduces something called the ‘Battle Cry,’ which allows players to temporarily buff their team-mates’ abilities, while the ‘cling to life’ system (similar to Gears of War) will have you mashing on a button waiting to be revived by a fellow player, all while being given a visual, freeze-frame report on who killed you and how. Team abilities that I appreciate like spotting enemies are here, too, while post-game statistics reveal your match performance in detail.

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Ubisoft will be keeping players coming back with weekly and daily challenges, while unlocked ‘data’ is waiting to be decoded which will earn you additional experience points, attachments, weapons and equipment. The multiplayer of Far Cry 3 is very well put together, but like Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 (and unlike Halo 4, Medal of Honor: Warfighter and Borderlands 2 on the same platform), I had difficulty consistently getting into a game, probably due to the currently low player counts online.

I was lucky enough to get into a few co-operative games with strangers, but this mode (which tells the tale of four distinct characters on a very special quest of vengeance) is best played with a group of friends who are willing to move through the entire story with you. Co-op is always fun, and this portion of the game is an inoffensive diversion (save for the hectic language), but playing with people you know will bring it to life.

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Far Cry 3 shines brightly in places that other open-world sandbox games lie dull, exhibiting the very best qualities of this genre by giving you a vast playground to romp through while using mostly any approach you can think of to do so. The game is ripe for emergent stories (a ‘Holy Grail’ of games) as players experiment with their tools and test the limits of the simulation, with tales of marauding cheetahs and movie-like vehicle chases their reward.

The front-loaded nature of Far Cry 3’s narrative snuffs out the game’s potential for greatness, however, despite some of the most gripping, astounding voice acting performances I have ever witnessed, be it in a game, movie or anything else. For split-seconds as a time, the characters of Far Cry 3 (and Vaas in particular) became real people before my eyes, which was all that was necessary to cement them in my mind as truly memorably personalities.

The addition of multiplayer and co-operative game modes to Far Cry 3, as well as a fully featured editor to create maps for multiplayer, all add interesting new ways to play the game but they won’t be the main reason you pick it up. You’ll pick up Far Cry 3 for the chance to witness the culmination of over a decade of lessons learned from similarly designed games, and indulge in the addictive fun of rifling through a virtual world waiting to share its stories and secrets with you. Like Jason Brody’s tale, however, don’t go in expecting the giddily fun times to last all the way to the end.