Between XCOM and Dishonored, most gamers are probably unable to even think about anything on the horizon — the present is just fine, thanks! The horizon can wait! Last week, I headed over to Ubisoft and spent about four hours visiting that horizon, playing a big chunk of Far Cry 3's singleplayer campaign. I've had my doubts about the game since it was revealed, although over the course of the last few months, many of them have been assuaged. After my time playing the game, any remaining doubts all but vanished. Far Cry 3 is serious business.
Most of what we've seen of the singleplayer story up until now has involved narrow, linear setpieces. But what about the massive, explorable island, the open-ended missions, the sidequests and collectables? What of the stuff that makes Far Cry Far Cry?
That's what I got to finally see last week. I was very impressed. Observe the following equation:
Far Cry 3 = Far Cry 2 + Uncharted + Red Dead Redemption.
Yeah. Granted, there's still a hint of what I can only call "That Unique Ubisoft Dumbness" to everything, but so much of the game was so impressive that I couldn't help but be won over. I can't wait to see and play more.
In the video above, you can get a feel for just about every element of Far Cry 3's single-player experience. The massive island, the teeming wildlife, the array of vehicles, and the amazing, performance-captured first-person cutscenes — the video is cut together from b-roll that Ubisoft sent over after the event; I saw most everything in the video, though I'm not quite as good at the game as the person playing the video.
But hey, just because I made a video doesn't mean I'm not gonna give you some bullet points.
- Far Cry 3 lifts its vantage-point system from Assassin's Creed. You'll climb radio towers in the game and, once you reach the top, you'll unblur a section of the map, highlighting the various points of interest. You'll even perform a sort of "leap of faith" to get down — only except of swan-diving, you'll zipline.
- You have a camera that you can use to reconnoitre enemy camps, tag foes, identify points of interest and take pictures. As a big Dead Rising fan, I must say I am excited to be able to take pictures in another open-world game.
- Everything is much more video-gamey than Far Cry 2. That's not really my thing, but it does let you have access to a lot more information. If only they had a map that your character holds in his hands! Alas. I'm sure some people will rejoice at this news though.
- Oh, before I forget - even if you're not watching the video, for a good time, skip to 10:55.
- I don't know why that shit cracks me up like it does, but it does.
- There are heaps of optional sidequests, most of which you get either from quest-givers or from bulletin boards strewn around the map. They range from hunting challenges to stronghold captures to assassinations.
- Once you've captured a stronghold, it stays captured — no more respawning guards like in Far Cry 2. You'll have much more of a sense of progress in Far Cry 3. (Although, of course, the futility of your actions was one of the narrative themes of Far Cry 2. OK, I'll shut up about Far Cry 2.)
- The game has a hugely ambitious crafting system. There are lots of collectible plants and animal bits, and you can use them to craft medicine, power-ups, and even bags that will expand your inventory.
- The island's ecosystem interlocks to a hugely ambitious degree. The last game with a wildlife system as massive was Red Dead Redemption — bold words, I know! It is remarkable how Ubisoft has managed to fit so much life onto a single game disc.
- Animals don't just fight you — they fight one another and can be set loose upon enemy bases. I'm sure we'll get some pretty funny glitch videos out of this.
- The game looks fine on all platforms, but the PC puts the console versions to shame. It was running smoothly and without a single hitch at 1080p, though I didn't see what kind of PCs Ubisoft was using. I got stuck on the PS3 version, and it was markedly inferior. Lots of screen-tearing, particularly during cutscenes, a smushed draw distance and some rough, ugly texture compression. Granted, the game still played fine, and most console owners won't care, but the PS3's graphics weren't looking so hot. The Xbox 360 version, from what I saw, looked somewhat better — less tearing and darker textures, although still nowhere near the quality of the PC version. This game feels stuck between the current generation and the next one, and it appears to be just a bit beyond the capabilities of current-gen consoles.
- This is going to be one long game. The Ubisoft folks were cagey about exact numbers, but they alluded to spending well past 50 or 60 hours on the game, including sidequests. Factor in collectables and relics, and that number keeps climbing.
- The stealth system is robust and transparent. You'll get a warning indicator on screen when a guard can see you, and it gradually fills as you stay in their sights. You can always toss a pebble to distract a foe, making stealth much more tactical and approachable than it was in Far Cry 2. (Sorry, I know I said I'd shut up about Far Cry 2.)
- The home-base area is idyllic. Almost too idyllic. You can go there to play minigames, resupply and get quests.
- Gun shops are located all over the place, even in vending machines. Almost every single building lets you buy and customise guns.
- Far Cry 2's grisly (and awesome) low-health healing animations are back — get too injured and you'll rip fingers back into their sockets, dig out bullets and cauterise wounds. It's gnarly and totally cool.
- A great deal of work has been put into placing you inside your character Jason's body. You'll be thrown around all over the place, and it's immersive to the point of being motion-sickness inducing.
- Far Cry 3 is not an easy game; especially at first, you'll be dead meat if you go to far out into the jungle without skills and proper equipment. Similarly, you can't just run into a firefight — you'll have to be smart, and use the environment (and often, the animals) to your advantage. In this way, it feels much like Far Cry 2 — circle, circle, circle.
- The facial capture is truly astonishing — some of the most impressive I've ever seen. Ubisoft has used the same tech in other games, but I've never seen it work this well. Characters effortlessly convey fear, terror, patience, madness and vacancy, not just in their faces but in their body motions. At least in the first-person cutscenes, Ubisoft has almost entirely escaped the uncanny valley.
- Your tattoos mark your power-ups, and as you get more powerful, they become more elaborate. You'll earn experience that lets you unlock more advanced moves, from stealth abilities to creative knife kills.
- The designers have had a lot of fun with the drug sequences. They're some of the best hallucinations I've seen in a video game in a long time, and are legitimately trippy.
- I shot a bear and a bunch of boars, and I got eaten by an alligator. (Crocodile? It's so hard to determine species when you're getting eaten.)
- The game has a curious "loot" system where you'll pick up various bits and bobs all over the island, each of which can be cashed in for money. I'm not sure the full depth of it, but I found a huge variety of items in only a few hours.
- Jason's talking during the story missions gets a bit annoying. It isn't endearing, and while sometimes it gives a good sense of how desperate he's feeling, it can also feel like overkill. Time will tell whether it works in the game overall, but I've got my doubts.
- Don't freak out, but the story actually made me feel a bit like I was living Battle Royale. Granted, it was a less-wicked-cool version starring a bunch of white twentysomethings, but still, the whole "Fighting against your will on a deadly island playground" vibe often channelled Kinji Fukasaku's desperate, violent, brilliant flick.
- That said, I worry that the whole "spring break gone wrong" plotline will wind up feeling thin and inconsequential. Vaas is a terrific bad guy, and the acting and writing are fine moment to moment. But do I really care about the journey of this one dude? It lacks the historical grandeur of Assassin's Creed, the ticking-clock tension of the Rainbow Six games, the romance of Prince of Persia. It just kind of seems like a B-movie, like The Ruins or another horror flick. The story just doesn't seem as sophisticated as the tech, performances and design.
- Then again, I really don't think the game will suffer all that much for that. But the story could wind up being what holds it back from being truly great.
- Vehicles handle with an unexpected degree of shift and slide — I found myself pulling through wild, spun-out turns as the physics reacted in ways I wasn't prepared for. It's cool, and will lead to all manner of nifty stunts once you've mastered it.
- In something I think we'll all agree is an upgrade from Far Cry 2, the hang gliders actually work, and let you glide for a good long time.
So there you have it. It's a lot of game to take in, and I'll be looking forward to seeing how it all really hangs together once the game comes out. Far Cry 3 will be out on November 29.