E3 2011: Far Cry 3 First Impressions Preview

Ubisoft's Far Cry 3 marks a return to the first game's tropical island setting, while introducing a brand-new protagonist.

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Open-world shooter Far Cry 3 takes us not to Africa, like its predecessor, but to an unnamed jungle island. Of the mysterious island, creative producer Dan Hay tells us only that it has a "dark secret" and that "everyone [there] is absolutely crazy." Hay unveils his game to us in the shape of a short demo here at E3 2011, and though time will tell regarding the nature of the dark secret, the island's particular brand of crazy manifests here as a band of swarthy militia soldiers brutalising and executing native villagers.

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As the demo begins, our first-person protagonist is atop a cliff, stealthily photographing the militia at work in the nearby village. He is Jason Brody, says Hay: a specific hero, in contrast to the selection of international mercenaries offered up in Far Cry 2. When Brody is discovered on his hilltop perch and captured, he ends up in the clutches of Vaas: a mohawked, mad-eyed militia leader. We suspect Vaas will be set up as a key adversary, corresponding to the previous game's arms dealer foe, the Jackal--where that guy spouted Nietzsche at you while you sweated out your malaria, here Vaas paraphrases Einstein while you await execution: "Did I ever tell you the definition of insanity? It's doing the same thing, over and over, and expecting different results."

The thing Vaas has been doing over and over is trying to kill you. On this occasion, he shoves you over the edge of a ravine into a river below, with your hands bound and your feet tied to a rock. Underwater (where we spot Vaas' previous victims, anchored and floating eerily), Brody slips his bonds and, unseen, escapes to the cover of a nearby waterfall.

The waterfall looks and sounds convincing, as does the island environment as a whole: the vegetation is lush, the lighting is striking, and there's movement everywhere, with light and shade playing convincingly on the swaying greenery. The environment gives you contextual combat opportunities, too--from within the waterfall, Brody seizes and dispatches a passing guard with a stealth kill, snagging an assault rifle in the process. Shortly after, Brody jumps onto a militia type from a ledge above, earning an experience point pop-up for a contextual takedown. Later still, Brody knifes one soldier in the chest and then flings the blade at another across the way, in a nifty contextual double kill.

As Brody navigates the river area towards a helicopter on which to escape, we glimpse river islands and groves just off the beaten track that invite exploration. Hay tells us that exploration is as important to Far Cry 3 as it was to Far Cry 2 but that here there's always "a new experience around the corner"--that is, close by, not tens of minutes of driving away. We see no vehicles in the demo, but Hay hints strongly at the presence of a time-saving fast travel system.

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After fighting his way through a post-massacre village, Brody gets to the chopper and seemingly a friendly pilot, and there he switches his assault rifle for a pistol. With it, he dispatches soldiers attacking the helicopter as it lifts off, but not fast enough--it's hit, and it crashes spectacularly. Near the smoking wreckage, downed but miraculously not dead, Brody watches as Vaas approaches, asking: has he ever told him the definition of insanity?

The E3 Far Cry 3 demo is a brief but impressive slice of action and spectacle. That, plus more compact, exploration-friendly environments and the apparent addition of a fast travel system, hints at a pacier follow-up to 2008's realism-focused Far Cry 2. We'll be hoping for further such hints in the long run-up to Far Cry 3's 2012 release.

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