“It is like Skyrim, with guns.” This was the first and greatest praise I heard about Far Cry 3 before finally laying my hands on it during the holidays. It was a grand compliment to live up to; the level of open-world freedom, storytelling, and pure badassery that Skyrim achieved was unprecedented and stands today as one of the great video game accomplishments of this, and indeed every, generation.

                Far Cry 3 certainly fills this memorable accolade, for better or for worse.

                The first sight upon taking control of the game’s protagonist, Jason Brody, is of the mohawk-clad pirate radical, Vaas. His tattoos, piercings, cutoffs and hairstyle all combine to immediately implant his visage into the player’s mind. And the words he says to Jason, and his act of turning away and allowing Jason to escape the jail cell he’s held in, combine to make Vaas the most interesting character of Far Cry 3 from the very beginning.

                Vaas is the crowning jewel of Far Cry 3. His personality and mannerisms are realistic and haunting, and he has a knack for showing up in the most unlikely of places. Each and every time Jason encounters Vaas, something crazy and often ridiculous happens, always accompanied by the antagonist’s fateful and favorite rhetorical question. “Have I ever told you the definition of insanity…?”

                Unfortunately for the story, Vaas is not the only antagonist. There is also the boss of the entire pirate/slave ring operation, who only shows up at the very end and is forgettable enough that I cannot recall his name at the time of this writing. The resolution with Vaas is underwhelming and over-the-top; the conflict with the privateer warlord is indirect for most of the time. Had Vaas been the only enemy, the story would have been much more solid.

                As it stands, however, Far Cry’s plot is interesting enough. Jason must find his friends and brother scattered across the island, but necessity forces him to learn how to kill. Eventually he becomes a trained assassin, losing all of the naiveté that he possessed at the start of the game. This is executed effectively, and is so gradual that only certain clues from other characters reveal the changes that Jason has experienced. The looks that his friends give him are especially strong because of Jason’s love for them contrasted with his developing difference from them. They all land on the island as young, wild college kids; Jason becomes a cold-blooded killer while all the rest stay relatively similar. The endings to the story are interesting but not necessarily good. One is cliché and predictable, the other is so off-the-wall as to be nearly offensive.

                But few who pick up Far Cry 3 will care about the story. It is all about the sandbox, and the ability to achieve a goal with dozens of different tactical approaches. The stealth and the combat are both incredibly well-designed; the executions are smooth and brutal, especially when they are upgraded. The outpost missions are the most fun to play, as they give several opportunities to try out different methods of killing pirates and privateers. The open world is huge and inviting, the jungle is stylish, hunting is a fun side activity, and the radio towers are intriguing and ominously creaky. It is on par with the sandbox of such games as Skyrim. The one downside to the open world is the lack of NPC interaction. The few towns in the game feel full of life, but the player is unable to join in on the activity at all. The only interaction at all is through stores and missions. But overall, Far Cry is an open world game of epic proportions, very well made.

                Graphically, the PS3 version is lacking. The framerate, especially during cutscenes is atrocious, only running at maximum 24 frames per second. Often frames are dropped. The textures are also problematic, often not resolving until the player moves on top of them. Draw distance is short at best. Character models could use more variety, as well; every time an outpost is liberated, the same four allies show up. These four models can be seen at every combat situation the player comes upon. But the jungle is beautiful and the art direction is very good.

                One “intangible” that I must address: Although much of Far Cry 3 occurs during the day, it feels very dark. Gloomy, depressing, a bit uninviting. There is a lot of color, but for some reason it feels oppressive. I think this may come from the fact that in a game like Skyrim, for instance, even during the night it can feel inviting because of the level of activity and inter-NPC interaction occurring. In Far Cry 3, there is very, very little talk among NPCs. Silence abounds when walking through the supposedly bustling home base. Even when NPCs are fighting, the only sounds that can be heard are gunfire and loud, incomprehensible shouts.

                But overall, Far Cry 3 is the culmination of decades’ worth of open-world innovation. The sandbox is enticing to the player who wishes to experiment, and every path is just as well designed as any other. The story is defined by Vaas, who is one of the all-time great video game characters. While underwhelming, it gives just enough interesting twists and revelations that it is worth following through. While the graphical performance is subpar, it is artistically beautiful. Even with the complete lack of NPC interaction, Far Cry 3 is an absolute must-have for any open-world connoisseur, and should be seriously considered by fans of any shooter. Just remember when playing, however, the words of Vaas: “Insanity is doing the same thing, over and over, and expecting a different result.”