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Far Cry 3 Hands-on [PAX Prime 2012]

Here’s the problem I have with the Far Cry series, as a whole: It demos really, really well. Every single time they put a demo out there, and I go hands-on for the first time, I find myself absolutely blown away. The problem being that the games themselves, when you get that full-version game you’re so excited for, always seem to drop the ball somehow.

My personal belief is that it’s because these are primarily tech demos their engine and tool kits. In that way, they are great representations of what video games can do in the current (or next) generation. The Far Cry demos have always shown off some mind-bending tech that gets me incredibly excited for the full-release of the game… but inevitably I wind up losing interest two or three hours.

That’s why it’s hard for me to get too excited about Far Cry 3.

Don’t get me wrong, the demo that I got to play at PAX Prime was amazing. I could have easily lost myself in it for hours, if they would have let me. The world is the most beautiful that Ubisoft have developed yet, and the ‘toys’ that are offered this time around are some of the most fun to date.

Their bow was probably the most fun thing at PAX, especially when I realized that it offered a multitude of heads including explosive and fire-tipped arrows… which, with Far Cry’s fire propagation system, lead to all manner of ridiculously awesome destruction. Laying entire villages to waste with well-placed arrows, fired at a distance from a near-by mountain top or from a hiding place somewhere in the brush was easy, and fun. But the whole time I kept thinking to myself “we’ve been here before.”

I really and truly want to fall in love with Far Cry, but at this point it’s that feeling of “I’ve been hurt before.” There’s a long history now of their demonstrations, early in, being some of the most exciting gameplay in the industry, and then falling flat when the game is released.

Generally a product of people forgetting to write interesting characters, or a compelling story-line; the toy box mentality of a tech-demo-game eventually grows stale, tired, and boring.

So, having said all that, we should all take my opinions of the demo provided at PAX Prime with a fairly large grain of salt…

Now that I’ve spent some time on a disclaimer, let’s get to it: Far Cry 3 is stellar. The world they’ve created is the biggest and most beautiful yet. The way that the game is designed for expansion is intelligent and easy to follow. Starting out in the demo there was no map provided what so ever, because a near-by radio tower was jamming the GPS and preventing from any kind of mapping in the game’s UI. So the first objective was clear: Find out what’s blocking my signal, and disable it. Thankfully the one thing that you CAN see on the map is the obstruction.

Once the enemy jammer has been eliminated a segment of the map is unlocked, allowing you to see your surroundings as well as any near-by objectives, items, or side-quests. A process that will be repeated through-out the game until you’ve conquered it in its entirety à la the cartographers of old.

Where the game really excels, and becomes the most compelling though, is in the shiny new game mechanics and tools that it provides. I mentioned previously the love I have for the game’s bow and arrow, and honestly if I had indefinite ammunition for it, I would have never used anything else. The bow feels good, and the mechanics operate in exactly the way you would imagine that they should. The addition of gadget-y arrow heads, like the aforementioned fire and grenade arrows, expand the concept one step further and make it my personal pick for ‘Bow of Show’ (which isn’t a legitimate award category, but I was tempted to make it one; considering the amount of games that are incorporating bow-play into their games this year).

The other major tipping point for me was the placement and handling of the vehicles. I don’t know if everyone felt similarly, but my previous experience with the vehicles of Far Cry is that they’ve always been a bit ‘floaty’. Far Cry 3 finally seems to add some weight to their vehicles… for the most part. There were some issues with some of the jeeps, but on the whole everything felt a little more like an actual car/ATV/jet-ski rather than some kind of cardboard cut-out variant.

Placement is also a big thing. Open-world games have a tendency to space their vehicles out just a little bit too far for my liking… I find that I have to trek a few miles further then I would have wanted to find something to shorten my trip, but with Far Cry 3 there seems to be some manner of magic genie that grants wishes for transportation. Every single time I found myself thinking ‘damn I wish I had some wheels’ a set would appear before me.

It seriously could have been one of our award winners this year, if not for the fact that I remember this feeling distinctly… and I refuse to throw my money back down on a game that I know looks great on paper, but always falls through on the execution.