Far Cry 3 hands-on E3 preview

This preview originally appeared in issue 242 of PC Gamer UK.

Sitting in a room and watching Michael Mando scream and laugh at a woman in a chair is a great way to pass half an hour. He looks a lot like his character, Vaas, the compelling psychopath who's become the face of Far Cry 3. That's mostly down to the full performance-capture technology – a full suit loaded with reflective strips, and a helmet with a camera strapped to it that captures every movement of his face. It's also because he has the same mohawk hairstyle. As affable and likeable as Mando is, he's not taking the role of Vaas lightly.

Producer Dan Hay suggests that there have been some method acting moments in the development, and writer Jeffrey Yohalem (Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood) has worked with the actors and directors to rewrite the script to suit their styles. Hay tells an anecdote of how they got the glint of madness that made that original trailer so compelling. Turns out that it was a simple trick making everyone repeat the same scene over and over again until they were tired and hungry, and then lying about turning the cameras off. It's the kind of anecdote you expect from a movie set.

As much as that's true, Jeffrey Yohalem dismisses the idea of Far Cry 3 making a good movie. “The story depends on the interactivity. There are strands of plot that involve the interaction between the player and the hero. It wouldn't make sense as a movie.” This hints at the higher levels of narrative ambition going into Far Cry 3. While FC2 had a decent story, the new sequel doesn't just acknowledge video game and Hollywood conventions, it uses them as tools to mislead the hapless player.

Far Cry 3 preview

The playable demo at E3 gives a great taste of the varied aspects of Far Cry 3. It begins during a scene with Vaas's sister, and seems to depict part of an initiation ceremony inducting main character Jason Brody as a warrior. This is tied to the tattoos on his arms, which represent the player's journey through the story. Sidemissions, hunting and quests will earn you new tattoos – a sleeve woven in the order in which you do things. There's a good chance your tattoo will be unique, as well as the introduction to many “let me tell you about my gap year” conversations should Brody survive.

In this scene, Brody's tattoo is smoking and warping, which plugs into the game's other themes – reality, hallucinations, and madness. The island is laden with mushrooms, which the dangerously meek Dr Earnhardt seems determined to distil into something purer. In the demo, I guide Brody towards Vaas's island by diving off a cliff and into the sea. Pausing to admire a manta ray on the short swim, Brody takes out a sentry patrolling the pier with a stealthy lunge from the water. Maintaining the quiet approach, I find two more guards, giving me a chance to try out the melee takedown combo. It's an unlockable skill, which lets you pinball from one lethal animation to the next with just the tap of a button.

The shape of the map intuitively guides you to the left, where a stack of boxes compromises the perimeter wall. I'm told there are two other ways in, but however you manage it, there's a small playground of death inside – a network of roofs to stealth your way across, a machinegun encampment, a large fuel tank that takes some punishing but explodes eventually.

There are also buildings that reflect Vaas's unlikely preoccupation with TV, art and showmanship, plus a live tiger in a cage. You can blast open the cage if you want, and the tiger's antics will add a dash of chaos to the map until he inevitably gets shot or burned to death.

Far Cry 3 preview

Clearing the map leads me into a room, where Vaas appears from nowhere and plants a knife in Brody's shoulder. Whether through drugs or unconscious dreaming I find myself in a 'corridor of Vaas'. The path is made out of televisions. Vaas is pole-dancing on the right, and taking your place in the sex scene with his sister on the left. And at the end is Vaas himself – proving you're a 'pussy' by putting your gun to his head and telling you to pull the trigger. “I am you! You are me!” he screams. It's just too much of a gift, even in a hallucination. You have to pull the trigger. But Vaas disappears, replaced by the friend you've already watched die once.

It's a great slab of action and story, reassuring me about the open arena of Far Cry's gunplay and raising juicy questions about what's actually going on. Jason and Vaas, the same person? How much of any of this is real? And how tacky is that whole 'white man leads an otherwise doomed tribe to victory' thing?

Yohalem's way ahead of us all. “The greatest pleasure about telling a story,” he says, “is to lead the player into certain expectations, and pull the rug satisfyingly from under your feet.” He's not surprised by me mentioning Lost, Fight Club, and Avatar, because he put those seeds there on purpose. “There are going to be some pretty big rugs,” says Yohalem.