The Split Personalities of Far Cry 3

Opposites attract in Ubisoft's latest open-world shooter.

There's a scene in Far Cry 3 where you're desperately trying to escape a sinking boat, its hull filling with water and the floating bodies of enemies you've recently killed. In your frantic rush for survival, music rises from the background. Rather than an action movie chase theme or some intense tribal drumroll befitting the game's tropical island setting, the soundtrack to your life-or-death moment is a serene, twinkling piece of music that wouldn't sound out of place at the tail end of an indie rock album. The effect is a profoundly bizarre sense of tranquility and calm considering you're trapped in what might easily be called a nightmare scenario.

Whether you choose to look at this scene within the standards of first-person shooters or not, it's a powerful moment. It's also one of the clearest examples of Ubisoft Montreal's drive to combine seemingly conflicting ideas into one harmonious experience. From the mission structure to the song selection, Far Cry 3 is very much a game of contrasts. Let's explore a few:

Scripted Missions and Open-World Exploration

One of the most ambitious goals Ubisoft Montreal has is the idea of marrying the tightly scripted set pieces of a corridor shooter with the free-form nature of a sandbox action game. The world itself--a tropical island paradise gone slightly to hell--is yours to explore however you wish. There are no real constraints on where you can go at a given moment, with plenty of side quests and discoverable secrets out there to steal your attention away from the main storyline.

That world sounds a bit like Far Cry 2, right? Well it should, because the overall structure is largely the same. In fact, a lot of the missions are similar as well, giving you a simple task and the flexibility to approach your goal from whichever angle you want. One example has you assaulting the rusted skeleton of a beached ship in order to disable the radio antenna perched atop the main deck. You can sneak in through the bottom and silently pick off each enemy in your way, or simply grab a hang glider, find a tall mountain, and fly straight onto the deck of the barge without messing with a single bad guy.

But mixed in with that hands-off approach to mission design are some set pieces of a more tightly scripted nature. The sinking boat is one example; it's a mission that has you infiltrating an enemy vessel (apparently you assault a lot of boats in this game) to find a friend of yours. While starting out fairly open-ended, this mission gradually funnels you toward a single, predetermined conclusion: you throw open the doors to a room filled with explosives just before they go off and send the boat sinking into the watery abyss. That's the point at which the game says, "Hey, I'm gonna show you this really cool scene. Feel free to keep playing along, though." Cue your desperate attempt to swim back up to the surface.

Calming Beauty and Unsettling Insanity

Everyone here is just a little bit off.

This is an approach you don't see very often in video games. Players tend to spend their time in either a violently morphing corridor of roller-coaster thrills (think Call of Duty) or the static landscapes of an open-world sandbox (think Borderlands). Rarely do the two overlap. With Far Cry 3, however, Ubi Montreal wants to marry the two--at least in some of the key story missions. If it works, it could make for a very exciting experience.

Your character, Jason Brody, comes to this tropical island with a few friends looking for a sunny getaway only to discover that this place is filled with a militia's worth of violent and insane criminals. Even the friendly characters you meet, like a doctor you turn to for medical assistance, are teetering on the brink of insanity. In fact, characters like the doctor might be the most unnerving because you can't pinpoint what's wrong with them; they just seem slightly off.

Now, contrast that with the island itself. Far Cry 3's geography is absolutely gorgeous, from the cascading waterfalls to the towering green mountains. It's the type of setting where your survival instinct is constantly battling with your desire to just stop for a moment and stare at the fireflies. You don't have to rely on the story's suggestion that this is a place that would attract tourists and backpackers. All you have to do is look around, and you can tell that for yourself.

These two things--the island's calming natural beauty and the deeply unsettling undercurrent of insanity present throughout your journey--should make for an interesting combination. There's very much a Heart of Darkness feeling to it all, the idea that there's something twisted inside all of us, and this place is the catalyst for its emergence.

Shoot-Outs and Rabbit Holes

Sometimes you just have to get your hands dirty. (With lots of blood.)

Far Cry 3 is definitely a first-person shooter…except when it isn't. In addition to those aforementioned missions where you need to assault an enemy holdout in search of some objective, you'll encounter other missions that Ubi Montreal likens to good old-fashioned Alice in Wonderland rabbit holes.

One of these missions has you going off in search of a particular species of cave mushroom for that slightly batty doctor mentioned earlier. You swim through an underwater tunnel entrance, climb up the walls of the cave, and begin to scour the place for that one specific mushroom. But along the way you start to get a little woozy, and before long that wooziness transforms into a full-on psychedelic experience. The cave walls morph into a forest, a house appears out of nowhere, and each time you approach the door, the entire house moves back 10 or so feet. In other words, Jason Brody is tripping hard, and he has to gather himself back together before he finds himself passed out alone in a desolate cave. Maybe that mushroom Jason was looking for wasn't the only special one in the cave.

It seems safe to assume that these missions will make up only a fraction of the overall storyline, but it's interesting to see this sort of thing in there. Far Cry 2 didn't offer much in the way of palate cleanser missions, so it's pleasing to see that Ubi Montreal realizes that doing the same sort of missions over and over can get a bit tedious. If that means casting aside your AK-47 for a few minutes in order to have a bizarre out-of-body experience in some magical cave, then why not? There are plenty of bad guys to shoot when you're done.

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