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A Far Cry From Your Typical FPS

When pirates vie with carnivores for an island chain's resources and people, a simple travel advisory might be in order to prevent tourists from becoming prey. But then gamers wouldn't have a pretense for exploring all the fun a game like Far Cry 3 has to offer action adventure nuts.

Ubisoft Montreal appears to have crafted an entertaining first person shooter if the first several hours I'd spent with it are any indication. It's not a perfect game, but there's no denying the strong premise, varied and deep gameplay, and enjoyable setting.

By no means is the story deep or thought-provoking, but the simple tale of a man on a mission to save his friends is told well and is, at times, poignant. Tribute for this goes to the interesting characters and quality dialog, with foes like the pirate Vaas (above) proving a creepy sociopath.

Complementing the superb writing is top-notch production values like texture details and animation. Not everything about the Rook Islands setting is exquisitely rendered, but main characters like Vaas or your would-be savior Dennis (above) not only have very distinct personalities but the features to match. And when speaking they are believably expressive.

A couple caveats to the presentation of non-player characters are that the accents used in dialog can be a distraction as they seem to be inconsistent even when spoken by the same person. On the other hand, character models are often TOO similar (above). There was even one instance when a few carloads of Rakyat disembarked to reveal all the same character LOL.

This first-person shooter has many staples of the genre when it comes to one's arsenal, and several variations of each to choose from. Thankfully many can be upgraded to have one or more attachments such as various sights, larger ammo clips, silencers, etc. Weapons can be purchased at local stores or safe house lockers, or can be scavenged from corpses.

It's worth noting that Far Cry 3 has interesting role playing elements, especially as they relate to one's inventory management. You begin with one weapon holster, a small wallet and a small loot bag. This was frustrating early on, as I ran out of ammo for my only gun and routinely ran out of space for scavenged money and items.

As loot grinding is a big feature of this game, players are forced to work at upgrading their inventory management options. This is not necessarily a bad thing, as hunting plays a key role and is enjoyable in its own right.

Obtaining the skins of certain animals will help you craft more useful gear such as larger wallets, loot bags, syringe kits or ammo pouches and, most importantly, more weapon holsters.

All this is crucial to one's progression but especially to one's enjoyment of the game. More options whether purchase power, weapons, items or physical boosts to health or abilities allow for more dynamic gameplay.

The Rook Islands' fauna are as varied and ubiquitous as its flora. The first predator I encountered was on a routine mission early, when I first heard a peculiar hissing sound. I was in deep brush so looked around desperately only to find that the snake (above) was several yards away. Gamers won't always receive such warning, however.

Indeed, I was scared to death when a crocodile bit my arm out of nowhere when swimming in a river. I had no warning and didn't even know such animals were in the game! But given their usefullness whether crafting with their skins or thinning enemy encampments of their occupiers, the presence of such a menagerie is appreciated.

Radio towers serve a similar function to the various spires in Assassin's Creed games, where scaling (and activating) them will reveal large swaths of the map. This can be especially helpful when hunting, as the habitats of certain species likewise will be shown.

Scaling the towers also reveals one of the biggest shortcomings of the game. Draw distance is important in open world games as it shows off its scale but also potential areas of interest.

In Far Cry 3, the texture of distant topography is sometimes a blurry, atrocious eyesore; at others (like above), its passable. Not a major quibble, nor unheard of in other series like Bethesda's The Elder Scrolls, but its a regular distraction.

Details up close, however, are impressively rendered, and what better way to appreciate that difference than ziplining down from high elevations. Considering the challenge of scaling some locales, in particular radio towers or certain hilltops, this option is appreciated.

Activating radio towers not only reveals hunting grounds but also populations centers, landmarks, activities, etc. Traversing the map for radio towers and animal skins at the beginning of the game will help open gameplay options more than most other activities, though mission completions likewise open skill trees, so finding the right balance is important. (Also important to note, is how activating towers will make certain weapons free locally.)

Indeed, skill trees are another RPG element that helps customize one's experience and open gameplay options. Whether stealth, health, hunting, combat, etc., gamers can upgrade their skills to match their preferred gaming style. For me, that means focusing almost exclusively on skills that can help keep me alive LOL.

Admittedly I died often in my initial play time, so much so that I opted to decrease the difficulty from the default Survivor setting to the Explorer setting, I think. For the more dedicated, there are other options that can be tweaked if I remember. I believe one can adjust the automatic lock-on, which frankly makes the easy difficulty a little too, well, easy.

This inhabitant (above) is one reason I died as often as I did. Some predators are fast, travel in packs, and are either silent or difficult to detect in heavy brush or under murky water. Komodo dragons are no exception. While looting pirates after a firefight, I was attacked by this fellow. Then, while taking a picture for posterity, I was attacked by more.

Fighting seemingly alternating waves of pirate reinforcements and Komodo dragons highlighted the dynamic nature of this often exciting game, but it did also demonstrate what is, to date, my biggest pet peeves of the game. Namely, both its hit and collision detection.

Sometimes a headshot is lethal, sometimes it isn't. Sometimes it takes many more bullets to fell an enemy, sometimes many fewer. Hit detection is inconsistent, and I don't think it's entirely due to lag. Yes, gamers are automatically signed in to Ubisoft servers so certain data can update, but the issue still arises even when playing solo or offline.

Worse, collision detection can sometimes make loot grinding a chore. Whether skinning a dead animal or looting a foe's corpse, finding the sweet spot to trigger those options can take time and considerable movement around your target. This problem is compounded when several bodies are near each other as happens in games like Fallout 3.

An example is the dragon (above) who, once dead, was impossible to loot underneath the small table. It's not necessarily a chronic problem and certainly not a game breaker but happens often enough to be frustrating at times. For a loot grinding game, that can be a too common annoyance.

Thankfully gamers can leave their troubles behind by taking to the various modes of transportation that dot the Rook Islands. Besides driving vehicles from cars to dune buggies to ATVs or ziplining through the jungle, one can also commandeer hang gliders or Zodiac style boats.

All modes of transportation have believable physics and are a pleasure to drive or pilot, which of course is important in an open world game of Far Cry 3's scope. And, thankfully, if you're like me and beach your boat or jet ski or if you take a spill in your ATV, you have the option to push your vessel back to the water or rightside up.

Of course that hasn't helped the innumberable times I've inadvertently bailed out of my racing vehicle when I'd meant to hit the handbrake(?) instead (hitting the square button on a PS3 controller instead of the circle button).

Despite a mediocre draw distance at best, the presentation can often shine with its detailed textures, vivid colors and lush design. Sound is also well implemented, which is important to ascertain in which direction threats lie. And animation in general is smooth and believable. Of particular note is the unique gait of a Komodo dragon in full sprint.

Some design, like the Komodo dragon's movement, does help immerse you in this fully realized world. Radio towers are a perfect example. The towers creek and sway ominously, contributing to the disorientation one feels when figuring out how to scale them safely.

This design perfectly captures the construction and danger of such aged equipment and adds considerably to the platforming experience, helping vary Far Cry 3's gameplay in entertaining fashion despite how uncomfortable it can be for someone recovering from vertigo!

Dr. Earnhardt's property (above) is an example of a wonderfully rendered locale, even if its resident is a somewhat creepy eccentric. With its creek, greenhouse and old style wood home, the setting is a pleasant pastoral one that belies the turmoil roiling the lowlands below.

Like Vaas and Dennis, the doctor, Alec (above), is a fascinating character and I think the most compelling I've met so far. There clearly is a lot more than meets the eye and hopefully his story will be explored in greater detail.

It's worth noting that the woman in his care provides a poignant moment in the story that helps humanize the characters as well as provide some emotional heft and depth to the seemingly formulaic story.

I killed a shark! (Above.) Woohoo!! Alright, I slew the beast with a gun. But it still counts! Such predators do require more than a little effort and precision when hunting them, though taking on an attacking animal mano a mano (hand to fin/claw/paw?) triggers a QTE that helps dispatch them albeit at a cost to one's health.

One of the reportedly several dreamlike sequences in the game, they do vary the experience and are an interesting interlude though seemingly don't contribute a whole lot to the narrative besides a few backstory details. At least they aren't (yet) as infuriating as those in Max Payne.

After about three hours this is how much map I explored (above), which was not thorough and only represented a fraction of the first island. Like many open world games, fast travel between safehouses helps movement.

Also notable are various ruins, caves or underground camps dotting the landscape, some more elaborate than others. Exploration is definitely encouraged and can reward completionists with rare items like relics that can provide upgrades.

This (above) is my first run-in with a leopard; thankfully his second charge resulted in his falling down this cliff. Haha! Who's the dummy now? (In the interest of full disclosure, I did fall to my death on more than a few occasions.)

After spending an often frustrating 24 hours to craft a large, detailed multiplayer map in Far Cry 2 (called "Spires" in case anyone can find it), I swore to never attempt it again. The tools weren't poor but my skill was suspect at best. However, I decided that for this sequel I'd be less ambitious and give it a shot.

From what I can tell, the options are not too different from the game's predecessor. But instead of starting completely from scratch I used a new map to begin. I then played with the topography, water level, foliage and weather, even adding a couple islands to the mix. Testing is easy, so one can ensure the terrain is passable.

I also added a road, an ATV to test it, and temple ruins. I have a long way to go but am so far satisfied with my creation, and it hasn't involved the frustration that my multiple elevation map in the previous game prompted.

Plus, it's more tranquil then my previous, brief and more whimsical creation of a land map populated with manta rays, sharks, bears, leopards and Komodo dragons LOL.

Ubisoft's Far Cry 3 is a thoroughly entertaining, well realized virtual world that interestingly verges on survival horror with its compelling mix of predator both animal and human. With a wide array of gameplay options in solo mode that are complemented with a deep but accessible map editor, a separate co-op campaign and multiplayer modes, this is a complete package.

I haven't had an opportunity to play co-op yet (or multiplayer), though the E3 demo is the main reason I wanted to buy this game. But even without any other option besides the single-player campaign, my few hours spent so far were well worth the purchase. I can't wait to play more.

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