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Far Cry 3 – Preview

When Crytek handed over the keys to Far Cry back in 2007, it was clear that Ubisoft Montreal were facing a tough challenge. Save for spiritual successor Crysis, the series had been long abandoned by the original creators, surviving only through its cult multiplayer following and exceptional reputation for visual design. Ubisoft inherited the impossible task of having to satisfy the series’ existing fanbase whilst simultaneously reaching for an unaware console market that was still high on Modern Warfare. Meanwhile, Crysis had launched to whirlwind success and was busy shredding home computers with its superlative CryEngine. By the time Far Cry 2 launched in October 2008, expectations were soaring. The pre-release material that had been trailed at UbiDays earlier that year had pushed anticipation to boiling point, with wild promises of unbridled sandbox gaming and unprecedented levels of real-world fidelity.

At face value, Ubisoft seemed to have nailed it. Far Cry 2 had the broad, open-world environments that kept players coming back to the original game, and combined them with the same gritty, bare-knuckle viscera that propelled Modern Warfare to the top of the charts. But even after shipping a million units in less than three weeks, the game belly-flopped. Reviews were unfavourable, picking apart Far Cry 2’s copy and paste approach to missions. The environment was lifeless and inaccessible, with particular criticism lathered on the driving sections. Far Cry 2 ended up as one of 2008’s biggest disappointments. Even after it went platinum, game shops across the US repeatedly slashed its price in a bid to sell off the millions of superfluous copies they had ordered in a pre-release frenzy.

 

Ubisoft Montreal face an even tougher challenge with Far Cry 3. Not only do they have to produce a game worthy of the series’ heritage, they also need to absolve themselves of their difficult middle child. Taking a look at the first and as of yet, only trailer, it’s plain to see that Ubisoft have heard their critics. Gone is the rinse/repeat landscape of Far Cry 2, replaced by a lush tropical forest embroidered with waterfalls, ancient ruins and mountain ranges. Topography plays a much bigger role in combat. Where Far Cry 2’s gunfights were routinely fought on flat spreads of sand, Far Cry 3 has you traversing cliffs and hilltops to get a better look at your enemy before sneaking in via river. The series’ philosophy that “if you can see it, you can get to it” has far more tangible implications in the face of Far Cry 3’s approach to shootouts.

Where Far Cry 2’s expansive vista formed the window dressing for a game that led you by the nose, Far Cry 3 drops you on a tropical island and hands you the reins. You play Jason Brody, a young man who is forced into a desperate fight for survival after his boat sinks in the Indian Ocean. Arriving on the unnamed island, he discovers it is inhabited by several different factions of pirates, smugglers and gun-runners who are embroiled in an ongoing civil war. With his girlfriend missing, presumably kidnapped, Brody sets off alone to find her, but encounters several of the island’s unstable war-lords along the way. Chief among these is Vaas, the jittering lunatic from the trailers. He rattles on about the nature of insanity, before dumping Brody off a cliff with a cinder block tied to his legs.

 

For all the verboseness of the cutscenes, the dialogue comes off more like a cartoon villain than an appropriately grounded antagonist. The ensuing gunfight feels unremarkable, too. Though suitably competent, Far Cry 3’s gunplay has little to contribute to the games’ broader ideas. Brody’s one man army charge through the enemy camp echoes none of the games’ press release literature, which touts a cerebral, improvised approach to gunfights using limited resources. “Survivalist” is a word that’s been repeatedly used in promotional material, but judging from the first in-game footage, that sensibility still might give way to a technically polished, but ultimately uninspired blaster.

 

Ubisoft Montreal have learned from Far Cry 2 and are playing their cards very close, but it’s already clear that Far Cry 3 will be a step up from its predecessor. There’s enough reason to believe that Far Cry 3 will right the wrongs laid out by its younger brother. If Ubisoft Montreal achieved anything with Far Cry 2, it was building a game that generated a massive response from fans and reviewers alike.

With this body of criticism behind them, Ubisoft have a much clearer picture of how to move forward. Most of the problems that dogged the last game have been nipped. The shootouts need work in order to become the grim battles for survival that Ubisoft has advertised but what goes without saying is that when Far Cry 3 releases later this year, everybody will have something to say about it.

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