Far Cry 3 hands-on: we carve our own path in Ubisoft's open-world shooter

PC Gamer

Far Cry 3 preview

This article originally appeared in issue 246 of PC Gamer UK. Article by Rob Zacny.

You play Jason Brody, a child of wealth and privilege. You meet him through home movies of his latest vacation. Beautiful, vapid young people drink, dance, jet ski and sky dive in a tropical paradise somewhere. Then the camera pulls back, and you're watching the videos through Jason's eyes as he sits inside a wooden cage in a pirate camp.

His kidnapper, Vaas, holds Jason's phone through the bars of the cage, enjoying this opportunity to mock an American princeling. Vaas's mohawk sits above a pair of unnaturally wide eyes. You and Jason belong to him now.

By the end of the intro, you and Jason have watched someone bleed out through your fingers as you try to staunch a fatal gunshot wound. You have killed a man: a pirate loomed out of the darkness, and suddenly there was a knife and you were shoving it into his chest and neck. You are lost. Your friends are gone.

He's been to college, but Far Cry 3 is unequivocal in its statement: Jason Brody's education has finally begun.

Far Cry 3 combines ideas you've seen in other games and other genres. It has Crysis's sense of stealth, and the open-world chaos of its predecessor, Far Cry 2. You'll find a bit of Assassin's Creed in the way it reveals the map and side-missions, while the hunting, crafting, and character progression smack of Elder Scrolls. From these very good parts, Far Cry 3 creates something new.

Far Cry 3 preview
Bears hate humans more than fire.

My guide to this world is a middle-aged man named Dennis. After Jason's escape, Dennis welcomes Jason to his small village. He recognizes him as a fellow warrior, and will teach him the ways of warfare on this island.

I might as well get this out in the open: the racial politics in Far Cry 3 look troubling. Dennis and the villagers border on 'noble savage' stereotypes. They live together in harmony while women perform sensuous dances to the sound of drums. Dennis himself is a mystic, explaining that Jason's new tattoos mark his progress on the path of the warrior. It all raises some troubling red flags.

Dennis shows me the basics of surviving on the island. I can reveal the map by climbing radio towers and disabling the jammers the pirates have placed there. Once the jammers are down, not only is nearby territory revealed, but so are new mission locations and hunting grounds.

My first hunting quest involves killing wild boar and gathering a variety of local flowers. Boar, in addition to making delicious sausages, are also good for fine leather goods. If you want to increase your carrying capacity for basic items such as cash and ammunition, you've got to craft gear using animal skins, which means things aren't looking so good for Piglet, Tigger and Owl.

Plants, on the other hand, are primarily useful for crafting syrettes. Like all homemade drugs, the injections you make from plants enhance your skills and even grant various forms of second sight [For God's sake don't listen to this man – Safety Ed]. One type of injection, the 'combat instincts' syrette, reveals all nearby enemies, so that I can see their outlines even through solid obstacles.

All my flower-gathering and hunting left me feeling that Far Cry 3's tropical island is sometimes too much like a theme park. The colours are heavily saturated, the jungle almost painfully verdant, and the weather sunny and clear. Far Cry 3 seems like the sort of place where you might find Prospero and Caliban hanging out while Ralph and Piggy squabble over the conch and Sawyer takes his shirt off. It places itself somewhere between reality and dream.

Far Cry 3 preview
NPCs are constantly getting eaten by wildlife.

Once I have the basics down, Dennis drives me to a pirate outpost. This is my final exam before being turned loose on the island, and I'll be using my stealth, shooting and recon skills to tackle it.

Outposts provide fast-travel nodes, weapons lockers and hubs for side-missions. But first you have to take them from the pirates' warm, still-twitching hands. To help me with my first battle, Dennis brings along a posse of indigenous warriors, the last hold-outs of the native population that has been driven into the heart of the island by pirate attacks.

My battered machine pistol doesn't inspire confidence in my ability to shoot it out, so I circle through the trees to come up behind the outpost. Thanks to the dense jungle and poor visibility, I easily slip into the outpost. Three guards are doing lazy turns around the courtyard while spouting some amusing, if repetitive, dialogue.

By bringing each of the enemies into focus in Jason's camera viewfinder, they're marked on your minimap and in your first-person view. As with the 'combat instincts' injection, a marked enemy is visible at all times, even through solid obstacles. It pays to take a few minutes to conduct a proper recon in this game.

After marking about five guards and their attack dog, I'm ready to begin. I put the camera away, pull out my pistol, and start creeping up on a nearby pirate. He's oblivious to my presence, too busy complaining about an STD he picked up at his last port of call. His day is about to get worse.

Far Cry 3 preview
That tiger will make a lovely bag.

It's hard to get anywhere in Far Cry 3. Half of the people you'll meet along main roads are pirate raiders who want you dead. Fortunately the other half are fellow rebels who'll let you pass unmolested, but it's your own easily distracted brain that might be your deadliest enemy. I decide to hit another outpost astride a long dangerous route between two major quest locations. It's a quick five or ten minute drive along a coastal road from my position. But it takes me almost two hours.

The first thing that gets me is a pirate patrol. I'm in a jeep barrelling downhill onto the white sands of the shoreline when a car full of pirates blazes past in the opposite direction. We spot each other at the exact same moment and throw our jeeps into hard sideways spins. I was quicker on the handbrake: I manage to get my ride straddling the road before the pirates turn their jeep around. Bailing out, I take cover behind the engine block as they race toward me.

I fire a half dozen shots that blow in their windshield and most of their driver's face. A few more get the other pirates as the now-driverless jeep hurtles past and crashes into a tree.

Far Cry 3 is not a game of drawn-out gun battles: neither Jason nor his enemies can stand much punishment. Most of the firefights I had fell into one of two categories. The first was fast, random encounters like this one – if you don't finish these off quickly, reinforcements will show up and the maths will turn against you. The other was like my raid on the outpost: a long recon and planning stage followed by a swift, decisive annihilation.

Before I can leave, two more patrols appear on the road. My skirmish turns into a running shootout that consumes most of my health syringes and most of my ammo before I manage to reach a hiding spot in the forest.

After losing the pirates, I catch a glimpse of a hawk circling nearby. I glance at my half-clip of rifle ammunition. What the hell. The hawk falls on my third shot. That's the easy part. The hard part is finding where the damn thing actually dropped. After five minutes of searching the forest floor, I give up and shoot another hawk that appears to have spawned near the same location.

At last, I am ready to resume my journey. I go back to the scene of the pirate battle, grab one of the few cars that didn't get shot to pieces, and start driving along the same route as before. This time I won't let myself get dis- wait, I see a radio tower from the road. I head over there, kill the pirates guarding it, and reveal more of the map, which tells me that I'm near a hunting range. Perfect: I need deer hides for some new Bambi-coloured gear. I mosey over to the picturesque meadow, and find deer shuffling in flowers and tiger grass. I plug a few in the head from five feet away.

Far Cry 3 preview
Hidden areas hide mighty treasure.

After my hunt, some flower picking, some item crafting, and a long walk to find a new vehicle (with a few further gunfights along the way), I finally resume my drive to the outpost... and end up pulling over at a roadside bar to play a surprisingly good game of high-stakes poker against three computer-controlled opponents.

But for sure, as soon as I fleece these fools, I'll get back to storming that outpost... right after I use my winnings to buy new weapon upgrades.

My final mission in Far Cry 3 is to sneak aboard a beached cargo vessel the pirates are using as a communications hub, in order to eavesdrop on their radio chatter and discover where one of Jason's friends is being held. But first, I have to stealth-kill some sentries who hold the encryption codes for the pirates' communications. If I'm discovered, they'll destroy the codes and I'll fail the mission.

I arrive at the shore late at night, although the sky is so clear and the colours so saturated in this game that night is more of a dim, electric blue. It hardly interferes with visibility at all, but pirates do seem to have a harder time spotting you after sundown.

Since I need to maintain silence, I distract the guards by throwing rocks against crates and the sides of the ships. Far Cry 3 uses a radial marker to indicate whether you're hidden. It points in the direction of guards about to spot you, giving you a chance to scurry into a convenient bush.

My targets investigate the noise, allowing me to approach unseen and kill them out of sight of the camp. Once they're dead, circling inside the base and taking out the code-bearers is simple. Then comes the hard part.

No sooner have I eavesdropped on the pirates' communications from the ships's bridge than a couple of squads of goons arrive to investigate why the camp went silent. Now the bridge, three stories above the ground, is a trap. Stupidly, I decide to use my high ground 'advantage' to pick off the pirates as they arrive on the beach.

Far Cry 3 preview
You can't take this guy up close. Set a bear on him.

I get a couple before the rest soak the superstructure with machinegun fire. It's intense – I can't even peek over the side without getting shot. The AI may not always be brilliant (and I question Ubi's decision to leave them all in easy-to-spot red shirts that stand out in the jungle) but it certainly understands the value of suppressive fire. These guys get into cover and start firing everything they have.

I fling a few grenades over the side and pray the explosions catch a few, then sprint down to the main deck. The first pirates are already coming aboard – I can't get down the way I came. I flee to the prow of the ship and hide, trying to pick off the pirates as they bound along.

Far Cry 3's AK is one of the better weapons I've used so far in my adventure, but it still feels like a third-world piece of garbage, much like the machine pistol I had at the start of the game. The game's guns buck in a satisfying way, refusing to hit anything unless you keep adjusting your aim and show some restraint with your trigger finger. High-level weapons and upgrades promise to ameliorate this later, but here at the beginning of the game, it's all too easy to spray a clip at someone from 20 feet away and only hit air.

My AK goes dry as two more pirates storm over. I sprint toward them, drop into a slide between them, leaving their shots flying over my head, then jump back to my feet right behind them and take them both out with my knife. I grab their rifles and jump down to the sand below.

I run around the back of the ship and flank the last group of pirates. I walk toward them, aiming down the iron sights, methodically downing them as they run for cover. It's over in seconds.

Just as the guns fall silent on the beach and I stand ringed by corpses on a moonlit shore, a PR rep taps me on the shoulder. “Time's up. Are you ready to go?”

A radio message is coming in from the village, where the pirates are launching a retaliatory raid. I have enough experience for some new abilities, enough money for some weapon upgrades, and I'm just getting the hang of stealth and distraction. I want to save the village and hunt more pirates, and I want to go explore the blank spaces on my map. I want to rescue Jason's friends, and find out whether a better version of him was waiting at the end of all these adventures. So much to do, so much more than either Jason or I ever expected to find here.

“Can I get a few more minutes?”

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