From its debut to our hands-on single player and co-op playthroughs at E3 2012, the messaging from Ubisoft about Far Cry 3 has been crystal clear: This is an insane, psychedelic, ultra-mature, no-punches-pulled open world shooter.
Also, it has realistic fire and crazed tigers, but more on that later.
Far Cry 3 takes us away from the African savanna of Far Cry 2 and returns us to a more familiar (if not creepier) tropical island setting reminiscent of Crytek’s first game in the series. We’ll save analysis of the storyline for our review later in September, but Far Cry 3 just feels right on this sprawling island, which is located somewhere between the Pacific and Indian oceans. It’s also worth nothing that Far Cry 3’s world map is roughly ten times larger than previous installments, which is staggering to think about.
During our short hands-on demo, we were tasked with navigating protagonist Jason Brody (who seems to be rapidly losing his grip on reality) across a small lake and through a whole mess of unsavory characters. The end goal: confront Vaas, which is an unsettling event in and of itself; Ubisoft has captured facial animations from actor Michael Mando to convincing and creepy effect.
On the way to our little encounter with Vaas, we swam underwater and pulled down enemies from the dock, stabbing them silently (and quite graphically). We also used a bow and arrow to wound enemies before going in for the kill with a machete and swooping up their machine guns to do more serious damage further up the path.
That path eventually led to an open area full of fire, mounted miniguns, tigers, and some very aggressive and varied enemies. What jumped off the screen was the level of detail in Far Cry 3’s world. Living quarters aren’t just empty buildings (ala Battlefield 3), but instead brim with personality. Graffiti adorns concrete barricades, and every scene is brimming color.
Cover would realistically get chipped away by bullets, windows shatter with a satisfying tinkling of glass shards on the ground. An explosion would cause a small fire that would spread unpredictably, but likely based on wind conditions and the flammability of objects. (FYI: One developer spent an entire year just ensuring that fire was realistic in Far Cry 2; clearly that work has carried over.)
Certain enemies were keen to take cover, while others approached on fence ledges or tried to flank our hero. It’s important to mention here that dying is tough to do, but healing yourself takes your eyes off the action and leaves you vulnerable. If you have to escape a firefight to heal up, expect enemies to give chase.
Beyond that, the gunplay just feels right. Recoil properly reflects the power of each weapon, arrows arc at a distance, and that all important synergy between your controller and the onscreen action is perfect. We played with a few weapons and each one felt unique and satisfying to fire. Even with this PC Alpha build, the gameplay is exceptional.
Wildlife may also play an important role in Far Cry 3. Shooting open the lock of caged tigers had varying results: Much to the enemy’s surprise, if shot from a distance the tiger turns on its captors, but if you unleash them at close range, they’ll just as easily turn on you. It was a nice touch that adds even more controlled chaos to a game brimming with action.
After the single player demo — which we must stress was a PC build and looked phenomenal – it was off to play a 4 player co-op session on PlayStation 3. Ubisoft Massive (Sweden) has built an entirely separate prologue campaign designed for co-op. While the action felt just as satisfying in this objective-based campaign, the graphics took a serious nosedive. With the aging PS3 hardware (and likely the Xbox 360), putting 4 players on the same screen requires sacrifices. In this case, those sacrifices were a slight reduction in frame rate and a drastic reduction in graphical fidelity and detail – compared to the vibrant PC single player demo, this looked borderline blurry. Not in a way that detracts from the action, but gamers who choose Far Cry 3 for PC will certainly have a lot to brag about.
Then again, they won’t have 4-player, split-screen co-op, which is a feature much appreciated for console players.
In the end though, Far Cry 3 is still about the expansive, open-world sandbox shooter. Co-op and seem to implemented well, but extreme care has been taken with the campaign mode, and we can’t wait to see what horrors and thrills await us when the game releases to PC, Xbox, and Playstation in September.