The Terrible, Wonderful Things I've Done in Far Cry 3

Shaun stress-tests the Far Cry 3 sandbox to see if it can accommodate his unique brand of madness.

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I swear I'm not a bad person. In fact, I like to think I'm a pretty good guy. But set me free in an open-world action game and I immediately set off in search of ways to entertain myself at the expense of every living thing in the gameworld. I won't usually play an entire game like a crazy lunatic, mind you. I just like to size up the sandbox and get a sense for how strict the boundaries are before I settle into the story. So after spending an hour goofing about in Far Cry 3's sandbox earlier today, you can imagine how delighted I was when the game didn't just let me run wild; it was practically an accomplice.

First, some context: Ubisoft's press demo here at Gamescom has story missions disabled so that folks like me can get a sense of what the game's open-world tropical archipelago has to offer. Altogether, I was given roughly an hour of time with Far Cry 3's sandbox with no real rules to speak of. What I learned in that time is that Far Cry 3 is a game absolutely stuffed with hazards, creatures, collectibles, side quests, and random little events to grab your attention. It is, in many ways, a direct response to Far Cry 2's gorgeous but relatively empty landscape.

The game does its best to nudge you in certain directions so that it's not all just mindless wandering. One example is the collection of a dozen-plus radio towers you can climb to unlock information on your map screen that ranges from enemy outposts to plants used for potion-crafting. (Yes, that's the Far Cry 3 team taking a bit of inspiration from the Assassin's Creed team.) These towers actually get more and more dilapidated as you progress through the game, making each one more of a hazard (and thus a reward) to scale.

But once I broke free from those subtle guide markers, I just kept trying crazy new things in order to see what results the island had in store for me. What would happen if I took off from a mountain with a hang glider and tried to suicide bomb into an enemy at full speed? One slightly injured but very angry pirate, as it turns out. What would happen if I threw a grenade into a pack of peaceful mountain goats? Nearby pirates heard the commotion and came charging my way--also quite angry. What would happen if I ran over a friendly civilian, or drove a jeep off a cliff, or straight-up knifed a tiger? It was like a bizarre form of scientific research, but with more explosions and tiger maulings. Oh, the number of times I was mauled by a tiger.

I even managed to find legitimate ways to goof my way through what would normally be a more serious combat situation. Like in Far Cry 2, there are different enemy camps strewn about the world (not respawing ones this time, fortunately) that you can clear out to bring in friendly forces to that part of the map. Having decided that simply defeating these pirates with a standard gun wasn't enough, I decided to try using a sniper rifle to pick off their radios from afar, preventing them from calling for backup. Then I found a jeep and just started swerving around and spinning donuts in their camp until every poor soul fell victim to my terrible, terrible driving.

In a few cases, it almost felt like the sandbox was messing around right back at me. At one point I found a side quest tacked to the side of a building asking for someone to help take out a couple of dangerous bears killing local villagers. Oh, why not! I happen to enjoy a good bear hunt. Only in this case, my quest took me into a pitch-black bear cave with nothing more than a flashlight and a shotgun designed for close-quarters encounters. Yes, what began as a simple side quest ended with me practically playing a survival horror game in order to survive.

There's all sorts of stuff I could mention, but at this point you probably get the point. Far Cry 3's open world is an impressive one. It's filled with all sorts of quests, collectibles, and emergent gameplay moments that practically demand you goof around and experiment just to see what happens next. Combine this with abundant fast travel options and enemy camps that don't respawn and you have an open world that's much livelier and less tedious than Far Cry 2's. We can't wait to play more--tiger maulings and all.

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