Far Cry 3 hands-on: battling bandits with friendly bears and Komodo dragons

Last week I had the chance to dive into the refreshing waters of Far Cry 3 at Gamescom. I was given free rein of a portion of the world map. I fought Komodo dragons, drowned, fled a shark, trashed bandit bases, crashed a multitude of vehicles and annoyed half of the jungle's wildlife. This is the story of my Far Cry 3 safari.

I start in a small village, five or six buildings and a few idle, wandering locals. There's a man in a dirty shirt waving at me. I guess he's the obvious demo clue, so ignore him and start chasing a monkey. The monkey gets stuck into some foliage (probably a bug) so I go shopping. Wandering into the local corner shop, an old lady sells me a scope and super-large magazine for my AK-47. She appears to be out of kit-kats. Looking at the menu, I can carry my knife, grenades and two weapons – at the moment. My secondary weapon appears to be an SMG. I test this on nearby bushes.

I win $50 off the man with the dirty shirt in a knife throwing contest and look around for something else to do. My in-game map appears to all be messed up and the developer tells me that the local bandits have scrambled the local radio frequency. I don't really understand what that has to do with my map, but I really don't want to miss The Archers so I hop in a jeep and start barreling up the hill. Straight up the hill. The developer looks a little perturbed as I rev between the trees. I burst out of the bushes in front of a bandit jeep. The bandits doubletake and hop in their jeep to chase me. I handbrake turn past them, which sends them off the wrong way down the hill.

At the radio tower, I hop out of the jeep. In the distance, I can hear the confused shouting of bandits. Each tower, the developer tells me, is a puzzle. This starting one is easy, but climbing them gets progressively more difficult throughout the game. I run quickly to the top and tear out the jamming device from the control box. Like Assassin's Creed's high points, when you've uncovered one of these points, you can see the world around you, revealing optional quests in the surrounding area in a short montage. From here, I can see an intruiging ruined tower, the local bandit base and a hang glider.

Ooh, and lots of animal icons have appeared on the map. The developer is telling me how if I defeat the local bandits I'll free the native tribe who'll be eternally grateful and give me glorious gifts. Whatever. I've just spotted a komodo dragon icon on the map. I love komodo dragons. For the non-herpetologists, they're 11 foot long man-eating lizards with a fatally toxic bite, a throwback to a time when were little rats being eaten by dinosaurs. I must see it. I hop back in the jeep while the developer's still talking and head off in the opposite direction to the bandit camp, straight over a sharp drop. The vehicle falls through the trees, bouncing off the hillside all the way down, and lands surprisingly undamaged on a road. I quickly skid the jeep across rickety bridges and dirt roads to the approximate location of the komodo dragons.

I skid to a halt and walk into the jungle. I stop. Over the headphones, I hear birdsong. And yet more bandits, who must have found my jeep. And, yes, over that way, a faint hissing noise. I walk closer towards it, through the undergrowth, slowly closing it down, step by step. At which point two four-foot long komodos burst out of the undergrowth, hissing like split pipes. They're only babies at that size, but the speed of their charge is terrifyingly realistic, and I unload my AK at them. They swarm me, and nearly kill me. I run through the foliage, bandaging my arm frantically, past a surprised looking bandit. He's about to fire on me when the Komodos close on him. I turn and empty the clip at all of them. Five seconds later one bitten bandit and two komodos lie dead. I actually feel guilty for a moment about biodiversity. Then the developer tells me I can turn their skins into ammo bags.

My impromptu safari done, I decide to investigate the bandit camp. The hanglider disappeared from the map when I got down from the radio tower's vantage point, but I remember it was near an old fort tower, so I razz the jeep back up the hill. I do a complicated parking manoeuvre on two bandits at the tower and spot the hang glider on a ridge just below it. I run down, shooting men as I go. Shooting men, whilst fun, is the least interesting part of the game. The open world exploration is just joyous.

The hang glider, in particular is such a nostalgic throwback to the first game. I remember using Far Cry's level editor to create the highest possible map with a single hang glider on top of a mountain peak, so you could just spiral down past the foliage. This hang glider is positioned to overlook the bandit camp. I push off and pull up immediately so I'm drifting slowly way above the camp. The camp's on a promontory and there's a sniper on the roof, with a clear line of sight down both approach roads. Hmm.

Ooh. Over in the water, there's a patrol boat. If I can take that over, I can sail it close to the camp and unload its turret gun. I wait for it to pass me and swoop down. Delusions of grandeur overtake me. I am Batman. I am the terror in the...

...deep. Crap. I missed the back of the boat by a foot and instead landed on a bull shark just behind it. Right. I'm now under a boat with a giant angry fish and I'm running out of air. Fleeing as fast I can with Jaws hanging onto my leg, stabbing my arm with morphine, I pop out of the water on the front of the boat. In front of the turret gunner. Sadface.

The game respawns me back at the hanglider. This time I ignore the boat. I just swoop down immediately, picking up huge amounts of speed, and aim for the roof of the base. Because I started so high up I'm going scarily fast when I jump off, but I miraculously survive. Irecover more quickly than the sniper standing next to me, so shoot him, then crouch down and unload my submachine gun, then the AK at the enemies trying to storm the roof. After thirty hectic seconds, they're all dead, and the natives drive up to take control of the base. The developer has been looking shocked all this time. "I didn't think you could land on that roof," he says.

Right. I'm getting a taste for this now. I can see that my minimap is telling me that there's a relic out at sea. The developer tells me it's really hard to get to without the breath upgrade. I shrug and try anyway, swimming out (still terrified that Jaws is out here somewhere), and then diving off a reef, down, down, deep into the rusted hull of a container ship. I spot the relic and grab it, then get lost trying to get back out. I black out, hands waving at the blue sky so near. Except that my inventory says I still have the relic. Hmm.

I've forgotten where I parked my jeep so I take a handy Trabant. It's surprisingly fast and I almost lose control going over the wooden bridges on the way to the next roadside camp. This has two entrances, one vehicle and a sneaky pedestrian one around the back. I crash the Trabant into the back door, then while the bandits are running that way, sneak around to the front gates. The noise of my crash has panicked a pack of bison which are running around madly inside the base. Strangely, the bandits have got a black bear in a cage in their base. I still feel guilty about murdering those Komodos, so I decide to shoot the door of the cage open. Welcome to the party, Yogi.

The bandits are just walking back, when Yogi runs out. Together me and Yogi clear out the base. Then Yogi runs off and chases bison in a kind of mad bear frenzy as arriving natives open fire. Inside the base, It's carnage. Yogi gets a couple of the bandits, a couple fall to my SMG, and one manages to escape both of us but turns up later dead with a jeep parked on top of him. Nothing to do with me. He's dropped a nice sniper rifle, though. I toss the SMG aside.

I hop back in the Trabant and head for the next Radio Tower. Climbing that (much more shakey and tumbledown), I quickly unlock it and spot the next bandit camp. This time, I find a zipline at the top of the tower, and take it down. At the bottom is a strangely glowing ATV. I climb aboard and it turns out its carrying medical supplies. I've got to rush it to the nearest native village via a series of handy waypoints within a few minutes or someone will die! Or at least, he'll die and respawn and I'll have to replay the mission. The ATV handles terribly, but I manage to plough into the native village sideways before crashing it into the sea. Mission complete! I am winning at safari.

I now have no vehicle, but the bandit camp is only in the next cove so I decide to swim for it. I stick close to the coast to avoid meeting Jaws again, and emerge on a sandy beach covered in debris. Climbing the steep shoreline, I pull my sniper rifle out and sneak up to the ridge. This base is much better defended. It's got clear lines of fire in all directions and seems relatively well-manned. I line up a shot but am attacked from behind as I pull the trigger. There's a grunting, but I can't see what it is. the developer tells me it's probably an angry Warthog. I run, but not before my alarmed gunshot alerts the scout I was trying to kill. Scattered shots pepper the foliage around me.

I lose the pig and start sneaking around to the opposite side of the base at a low crouch. The bandits lose sight of me, and one wanders into the shaking bushes I came from. There's a commotion. He's found the warthog. As his friends look on in confusion, I throw all my grenades into the base. All of them. Half the enemy dots on the minimap disappear. I snipe another two, switch to the AK and sneak up on the nearest barricade. I stab one guy from behind (gruesomely, the knife goes right through him), machine gun another, and jump into the base. There's one man left and he starts muttering to himself in terror. I climb higher and higher and jump down onto his head. Thanks to a random head-stomping perk I picked up earlier, he goes down.

The area of the map I played was about 1/20th of the full game. On this showing, it's big and emergent enough to give Just Cause a good run for its money. And you get to run away from animals of many and varied sorts. Safari, so good.

N.B. The game didn't look as good when I was playing it as these screenshots do. I'm not calling them bullshots, but they must have been taken on amazingly high-end PCs. With Photoshop installed.