Preview: Far Cry 3

There are many pursuits one could busy themselves with during a 15-minute long session with Far Cry 3, and the demo on show at the Eurogamer Expo is clearly geared towards showcasing as many of those pursuits as possible. I know because the Ubisoft PR man told me so.

So we’ve got vehicles. Lots of vehicles. A large island paradise. And lots of distractions. There are driveable jet skis, hand gliders, boats, quads, cars and trucks as well as a raft of minigames – checkpoint races and a knife throwing competition among those available. You can chase monkeys around a village, skin animals, set the whole world on fire and, if you’re feeling particularly inspired, follow a minimap waypoint to the mission objective; a radio tower stretching out from the thick foliage that’s preventing the minimap from functioning properly.

But that’s all terribly boring, and we’ve already spoken about how the guns work (much like guns do), how the breasts look (much like breasts do) and just how much fun shooting tigers with a bow and arrow combo is (quite fun indeed). I’m here to put Ubisoft’s PR man to the test. If Far Cry 3 is as content letting me do what I please as the second game was – something integral to the Far Cry formula – I’ll surely be able to wrestle nature’s ocean king, the shark, before my time with the demo comes to an end. Right?

My adventure begins in a village nestled somewhere within Far Cry 3’s sweeping jungle lands. The village acts as a camp from which you embark on missions or side quests and all other buffoonery. Like shark hunting.

It’s in the village, too, that you can buy weapons, weapon upgrades (sights and extended mags) and indulge in some throwaway diversions for monetary reward. There’s just about enough in the village to fill a 15-minute play session, but there are no sharks here, and the townsfolk boast the likeability of small, buzzing insects. I don’t stay long.

It’s been a bumper year for pretty in games and Far Cry 3 is nothing if not beautiful. It’s hard to come away from a short session spent in such a vast world with many concrete opinions – and that’s probably a good thing – but its beauty is undeniable. Dense foliage explodes up and out in all directions, interrupted only by the shimmering blue of rivers and lakes etched into the landscape and thin dirt roads that crisscross wildly through the jungle. There’s also more wildlife eking out a living in the jungle than there was in Far Cry 2, and this all lends a greater air of believability to a world in which Ubisoft would ideally like you to lose hours to.

It’s here, as I’m contemplating where best to head at a fork in the path, that I’m accosted by a Komodo Dragon. Ubisoft have promised more variation in the events that happen throughout the world, but I’m not sure this is strictly one of them. A hand grenade makes short work of my would-be reptilian assassin, but also calls attention to the fire mechanic hauled over from Far Cry 2. Flames don’t spread quite as enthusiastically as before, but it’s still another peril in a world characterised by both its beauty and its perils.

There are an abundance of vehicles in the demo, and I employ one of the less exciting breeds to outrun the flames rapidly engulfing the jungle (and, perhaps, the village) behind. Vehicle handling is much the same as before in that you drive in first-person view and spend more time hightailing it into rock clusters and tree trunks than you’d perhaps like to admit. While that makes for a decidedly awkward journey through the thin forest thruways, it pays off when it comes to using cars as makeshift weapons.

The game’s bad guys have taken to positioning their vehicles lengthways across the roads to form rudimentary roadblocks. They’ve also taken to standing directly in front of these roadblocks like six-foot tall meat-balloons waiting to be popped. The AI is either smart, or incredibly stupid, because I failed to avoid a single road block in my playthrough but notched a vehicular kill count stretching into double digits.

In that spirit, I sandwich the first no-good I chance upon between my vehicle and his and he just disappears in a maroon Houdini haze. There’s offal and bits piled up in a mound on the floor, but the man who was but a few moments ago is now not.

I’ve played Far Cry 3 twice now – once at the Eurogamer Expo and once at Rezzed – and as such I feel qualified to state that it is very violent, perhaps wantonly. Melee attacks, for example, are prolonged, white-of-the-eyes affairs in which you thrust a two-foot dagger through your enemy’s belly and then watch on as it bursts out the other side. Ubisoft’s desire to create a shooter with a psychological element bubbling away beneath all the conventional shooty bits is well documented, and, without much in the way of story or context to this demo, it’s through the overt violence – and not boobies – that the psychological stuff potentially makes itself known. It’s hard not to feel a touch of regret while eviscerating one of the bad guys, just as it’s hard not to feel a bit awful skinning a Komodo Dragon or punching a tiger until it’s dead. Is that the point? Perhaps.

Then again perhaps not and if it is the effect is undone quickly. I earn some decidedly videogamey XP for dispatching the remaining road block chumps and head off towards the radio tower beacon on the minimap. At this stage I need a vantage point.

Viewed from the apex of the radio tower, the world stretches on in every direction. Smoke reaches up out of the greenery, a surefire sign the natives are up to no good, and for the first time I eye the ocean. When I played Far Cry 3 before I landed myself in trouble for doing it wrong. I didn’t want to shoot tigers; I wanted to swim with turtles. Nothing has changed.

I make it to the ocean with about two minutes to spare and wade out in anticipation. A group of mercenaries nearby pay me no heed. Why waste bullets? Eventually the beast from not many fathoms (the ocean is somewhat shallow) comes gliding up through the water like a fine, fanged monument to nature’s might. The water turns a sickly shade of red. It’s my red, pouring out from a wound I cannot see.

Gone, seemingly, is the buddy pick up system (not that I’d expect anyone to rush to my rescue out here). I get a tooth lodged in my palm and with a tap of the Y button the character yanks it out. He then snaps his hand – a limp, Alien-like thing – back into place. It’s grotesque, but effective.

You can’t use your weapons out at sea, I learn rather too late, but you can punch things via some silly quick time events. That’s my only defence against a jaw full of daggers but it turns out it’s another effective one. The shark takes my arm in a toothy squeeze and, this being a videogame, my character barely flinches. Instead he thumps it on the nose a few times and then stabs it in the face until one of my childhood horrors resembles a three-year old’s finger painting Blu-Tacked to the body of a big grey sausage.

Sweet success!

A mobbed expo is perhaps not the most ideal place to flaunt this side of the game, with 15-minutes barely enough to make it to the beach and back. But as the demo draws to a close I leave confident that Ubisoft haven’t allowed their story get in the way of what, to me, Far Cry is all about. Today that was punching sharks. Tomorrow that might be hang gliding into an enemy encampment and setting everything on fire. The next day? Judging by this demo, it could be all manner of things

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