Far Cry 3 should not be my nomination for 2012 game of the year. I'm not a huge fan of first-person shooters. While I appreciate the technical accomplishment of the first two games in the series I've not felt compelled to complete either. I felt absolutely no excitement leading up to the third instalment's late November release. I expected a visually pleasing shooter that would keep me occupied for an hour or so before I moved on to more compelling things.
What I got was the only open world action-adventure game I've ever loved.
Don't cry for Grand Theft Auto IV and Red Dead Redemption. What we had was special — it was just never love. I watched them blossom from compelling ideas into full-bodied games, breath catching with each new screenshot and trailer. As soon as I was able I took them home, carefully peeling away the plastic and slipping them gently inside my game console. I entered their worlds with the best of intentions, listening to their stories unfold attentively. For a moment it felt as if I truly cared.
But as soon as the talking stopped it was all about me. I ploughed pedestrians from their streets with reckless abandon. I rode their trails hard, unloading my weapons on anything that moved. I ignored their pleas for plot progression, instead seeking out random actions that satisfied my carnal nature, repeating them over and over until I was spent. I left them unfulfilled on the entertainment centre shelf, collecting dust with their cases just out of reach.
With Far Cry 3 it was different. It was the friend of a friend (Kirk Hamilton) that I only hooked up with out of courtesy. It was attractive, sure, but I wasn't expecting much more than a brief encounter. I'd hang out for an hour or two and then move on.
It wasn't love at first sight. Beers and bros on the beach isn't my idea of a good time, and the follow-up activity — running through the jungle being chased by maniacs moments after my brother put the "special" in "special forces" and nearly got my head blown off — well that was just awkward.
I soon found myself in another open world, armed to the teeth and given free rein to do as I pleased. There were cars to drive, creatures to shoot, people to kill and plenty of things to set on fire. I was fully prepared to take Far Cry 3 like I had taken so many other sandbox games before it.
Then I made a startling discovery — I cared.
As implausible an action hero as slacker-turned-mercenary Jason Brody is, I found myself invested in his mission to rescue his travelling companions from the clutches of cruel and sadistic pirates. I revelled in the slow destruction of his inner fratboy while feeling the same trepidation as his friends over the darkness slowly consuming him. I felt that same darkness growing in me as I exacted satisfying revenge on the minions of the maniacal Vaas — easily one of the greatest new villains in gaming, even if he's only a mini-boss.
It almost felt like Far Cry 3 understood the sort of gamer I am, with compensation for my shortcomings integrated into the game's design. I am not good at first-person shooters, so in my case Jason Brody wasn't the superhuman commando many players complained he was. Most of the time he was just lucky. I appreciate that.
This is not to say my relationship with Far Cry 3 was all pure and innocent. I strayed now and then, indulging my base nature by partaking of the islands' more carnal delights. I was all over those sexy hills and valleys, leaving burn marks and bodies in my wake. I spent several afternoons shark-fishing with the old boat-mounted chain gun, if you know what I mean. I may have cheated a little bit, dallying with some of the game's lesser quests in-between massive set pieces.
But I always came back. That's what love is. That's why Far Cry 3 is my 2012 Game of the Year.