Far Cry 3: Our thirty minute safari with Ubisoft's free-form shooter
2nd Sep 2012 | 15:00
We were directed to our seat by one of the game's art directors. On the screen, a giant overhead map of Far Cry 3's anti-paradise. "You're free to go wherever you want, do whatever you want", he advised. For the next thirty minutes, we proceeded to do exactly that.
The demo picks up the story immediately following the linear opening sequence, which establishes the context of your tropical adventure. As an assuming tourist named Jason Brody, you find yourself marooned on a distant archipelago in the Indian Ocean, with no way of contacting the outside world.
Worse still, the island chain's inhabitants - many of whom have become mentally unstable after being isolated from civilisation for years on end - are embroiled in a savage civil war for control of the island.
During the course of the intro, Jason also encounters to one of the civil war's main antagonists, an insane cult leader named Vaas. It's a meeting from which he barely escapes with his life.
He's rescued by a rival cult who trains him how to fight and how to survive. After several months of this, Jason emerges from his cocoon with all the skills and abilities you'd expect from the star of a first-person shooter, and the game proper commences.
The demo begins in uncharacteristically peaceful fashion. We found ourselves amongst friends in a shanty village located in the mid-north of the main island. It's one of the few pockets of asylum on an island where everyone else - including the indigenous wildlife - wants you dead.
The village acts as a hub area where you can buy weapons and supplies, earn money by partaking in a knife-throwing contest or just mull about chatting to the locals. But we didn't wander into Ubisoft's Gamescom booth to exchange pleasantries, so after stocking up with an AK47 and a couple of grenades, we commandeered a nearby jeep and drove out into the island's wilderness to search for someone we could shoot in the face.
We didn't have to go far, since the second you step foot outside the boundaries of your village bullets will whistle through your hair from all directions. As we discover, Vaas has complete control over this area, bar our little village, and the only way to diminish his influence is to travel to the nearest hideout and give its ring leader a good kicking.
Sadly, we had no idea where exactly that hideout might be, as the mini-map in the corner of the screen was scrambled. This kicks off what is in effect the game's first mandatory mission; although you've got the freedom of the island straight off the bat, Far Cry 3's structure mimics the Assassin's Creed series in that mission objectives are blurred out and unavailable until you scale and capture the various radio masts dotted around the island.
With the clock already beginning to tick down, we decided to make a beeline for the winding, circular mountain path leading up to the nearest tower. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the mast was heavily guarded and before long enemy fire was raining down on our windscreen like a monsoon.
We seemingly only had two choices; get out of the jeep and stand our ground despite being horrifically outnumbered, or sit in our jeep and wait for the ominous smoke plumes to begin rising. On a flash of inspiration, we took a third option, hanging a hard right and ploughing our jeep into the jungle undergrowth.
It proved an inspired decision. Our brief off-road diversion was rough on both the underside of our jeep and our hands (the 360 pad's rumble function went into overdrive as it vainly attempted to replicate the brutal way our jeep jerked around the screen, but it took us directly to the radio masts' front door, where we crashed fender-first into a couple of unprepared guards and parked up on their screaming corpses.
Then we hopped out the door, finished off the remaining resistance and quickly clambered up the stairs and disabled Vaas' comms system, restoring our mini-map to its full glory. The developers tell us that each radio tower is a 'puzzle', in the same way Assassin's Creed's peaks are. Later towers will require guile and planning to tame, but brute strength was enough to see us through this time.
Twenty-four minutes remaining. Our mini-map was now marked with various points of interest, including the whereabouts of the nearest hideout. The developers tried to coax us to go straight there, but ever the journalistic rebels, we turned our noses at their suggestion and careened off into the wild to find our own fun.
Big mistake, as it happens. Vaas' hencemen weren't just clustered around the radio mast, as we assumed - they're scattered around the area with the same frequency as Far Cry 2's checkpoint guards, as until you take out the hideout their presence makes even the simplest task difficult.
Simple, such as retrieving an ancient artifact from a cave due east of the radio tower's location. We were spotted loitering around the entrance by an eagle-eyed patrol squad, kicking-off a firefight and distance.
Since it was only a small patrol, we were confident we had things under control, and we did - until a stray bullet grazed a wolfpack that had blundered into the crossfire. Angered, the entire pack chased us up a nearby mountain and in the confusion, we fell off the precipice to our death. All that was missing was the Benny Hill music.
Between sniggers, the developer advised us that the island's fauna can help you just as much hinder you. Since animals don't 'do' politics they'll just as soon attack Vaas' goons if events play out differently. That knowledge came too late to help us this time, but we made a note to bare that in mind for the remaining twenty minutes.
Our second attempt went far more smoothly. We waltzed into the cave unnoticed and plucked the vase from its resting spot - and received a new tattoo on our left arm for our troubles. Jason's tatts reflect his progress through the game, and by the time you reach the end he'll have arms like Randy Orton. Having got the ink bug, we set a waypoint for another artifact - this time located approximately 200 metres off the island's north shore.
Needless to say, this one proved far more troublesome.
The first problem we identified is that to get to artifact's resting place, we had to cut straight through the aforementioned hideout, which had set up shop on the adjacent beach. The dev advised we take the opportunity to clear it out, but screw that. We didn't get to where we are in life by taking advice from people who know better than us.
Besides, it appeared that the problem would solve itself as we pulled up our car on a cliff overlooking the beach. Sitting there, innocent as you like, was a hang-glider. Naturally, we hopped on and used it to sail clean over the hideout. Our outlandish mode of transport did tip our enemies off, but we safely landed on a tiny island 150 metres from shore, before they could do aything about it.
But then we got careless. We'd barely got our feet wet when the 360 pad began to rumble with concern. A second later, the screen exploded with a giant splash and we found ourselves being tugged under the surface. A shark!
Panickedly, we battled our way to the surface and pumped our finny assailant full of AK47. We got lucky this time - if we'd been caught a bit further out, we would have been back at the respawn point before the shark could finish swallowing our legs. On a whim, we swam out to the shark's floating carcass and skinned it with our knife - we used his hide to make ourselves an extra weapon slot, which was nice.
After all that fun, we swam out to the waypoint (making sure to keep an eye out for telltale shark fins, naturally) and when we got there we discovered that we were treading water right above the ruins of a sunken ship. We grabbed our nose and dove in after the artifact, but, er (this is a bit embarrassing) we drowned trying to find it.
It's possible to level your lungs up so you can hold your breath for longer, we were advised, but with only 14 minutes on the clock we decided to cut our losses and move on to our next project. It was time to take that hideout down.
The whole hang-glider thing was fun, but we decided a more, ahem, reserved approach was needed for an operation as delicate as this. So we filled our extra weapon slot (thanks, shark!) with a bow-and-arrow and made our way back to the hideout in double-quick time.
The Far Cry series has always had an undercurrent of stealth and this is reflected in the design of the hideouts. the one we attempted to storm was one of the easiest in the game - consisting of only a few huts - but those huts were carefully arranged to give plenty of opportunity to sneak and stalk.
We took out some of the guards on the periphery of the hideout with silent takedowns, and used our bow and arrow to take out some of the other targets at range. With the clock ticking though, it was only a matter of time before our haste got the better of us, and we were soon busted. Time to go loud.
Once the hideout is alerted to your threat, the attention turns to the hideout's comms pole - your number one priority (bar staying alive of course) is to prevent your enemies reaching it and calling for back-up, otherwise your task will be made that much more difficult. By the time we cleared the place out, we had but six minutes left on the clock.
We soon wished we'd taken the dev's advice and raided the hideout sooner, as without the leader, the enemy troops are forced to abandon the area and we were able to go about our daily business without getting shot at every six seconds.
By this point our time in Far Cry 3's world was coming to an end, but we had just enough time left in reserve to take on a side-mission. We journeyed south to find the whereabouts of two travellers who had gone missing while exploring a cave, and happened upon two corpses and two very satisfied looking bears.
Despite being fat with tourist, the bears were still fast enough to give us a major headache, especially since we were forced to duel inside a stuffy cave with little room to manoeuvre. Eventually we managed to kill them off, bringing down the curtain on our thirty-minute safari on a celebratory note.
As you can see, we managed to cram a lot of sights and experiences into our half-hour hands-on session, but we left the booth feeling like we'd only scratched the surface of what Far Cry 3 has to offer.
Even so, in that time we managed to get a tattoo, skin a shark, murderise two bears, commit vehicular homicide with a stolen jeep and drown. If our remit was to get a snapshot of the various sights and activities that make up Far Cry 3, then we say we couldn't have used our time better.