When details about Far Cry 3 were revealed, many people were justifiably a bit nervous. The blend of sandbox environment, first-person shooter gameplay and RPG-style skill trees, along with a gathering and crafting system, could have ended up being a mishmash of poorly integrated gaming styles.
But it's not. Instead, Far Cry 3 is a compelling open-world gaming experience that almost seamlessly mixes its gameplay elements into something bordering on the excellent.
The main plotline sees you take on the role of Jason Brody, a mostly unlikeable frat-boy figure with a penchant for expensive adventure sports. While holidaying with family and friends on a tropical island paradise, they're taken by slavers and everything goes pear shaped. Which it would have to, or the game would mostly comprise you going "woooo" while doing shots and hang gliding.
The idea is to take the gameplay away from the world of soldiers and professionals, and into the hands of an inexperienced kid, who slowly develops into something more deadly (hence the skill trees). It mostly works quite well.
Main plotline aside, exploration is the real name of the game in Far Cry 3. Finding radio towers and disabling the signal blockers opens up new areas of the map for you. There are bounty challenges, hunting challenges, animal parts to collect for crafting, vehicle-based mini-games, hang gliding, collectibles and challenges that you'll need to discover on your own.
More importantly, all of this happens in a game with very solid core mechanics. From combat and cover to health, skill points and more, the game is remarkably polished, with maybe one or two exceptions.
We also played it on PC, and it is a stunning game to look at. The tropical jungle environment is used amazingly well, NPCs and villains are well crafted, the settings are just beautiful and it encourages the exploration part of the game just to keep seeing what's around the corner.
The wildlife of the island deserves a mention, as well; the strange mix of deadly animals makes for some genuinely thrilling gameplay moments, whether it's watching a tiger take down a tapir before heading in your direction, or having two enemies killed by a komodo dragon while you cower behind a rock with no ammo left. (That last one was incredible, and actually kept us from dying at a certain point in the game.)
Voice talent and characterisation is particularly well done, especially the main NPCs and more importantly Vaas, the insane, charismatic slaver who'll become a very important figure in Brody's life.
Far Cry 3 isn't perfect, of course. Possibly because of how good the other voice work is, Brody himself often feels weak and insipid — even a little irritating at times. Similarly, Brody's move from fun-time guy with an Instagram account to cold-blooded killer with mad skills can feel abrupt — one minute, he's looking at his hands and wondering what he's become; next minute, he's taking on bounties that someone popped up on a noticeboard.
We found that the driving mechanics could be a little clunky at times, and, in a game rife with tutorial tips, the initial use of mines and other explosives wasn't very well explained (but is soon picked up, in fairness).
The tool tip system for letting you know there was a "new" tutorial also got a bit painful, often giving you tips on gameplay elements that you'd been using for hours — even popping them up in the middle of tense combat moments just in time to distract you.
But in all, Far Cry 3 is a genuinely rare beast — an ambitious, enticing and massive game that works all of its components with a deft touch, producing a title that's an absolute pleasure to play.