Far Cry 3 Preview -- Welcome to the JungleBy Jake Gaskill - Posted Feb 16, 2012
Outside the cozy confines of the Ubisoft Montreal offices, a good foot of snow covers the sidewalks and open field across the street and the temperature rests at a brisk 20 degrees. Inside, we are preparing to take a trip to a place that couldn’t be farther from the scene outside the windows, a tropical island whose breathtaking vistas and sun drenched environs have been a siren’s call for many a traveler looking for an adventure they’ll never forget. For us, and the unfortunate group of friends we are about to meet, our tickets to paradise are about to become one-way tickets to hell.
Before our latest in-depth gameplay walkthrough for Ubisoft Montreal’s upcoming shooter Far Cry 3, producer Dan Hay tells us that Far Cry 3 is all about “fighting to survive an insane situation...fighting to survive an island of insanity.” Hay’s stone-cold demeanor and chair-rumbling tenor voice do nothing but drive this point home with almost experiential authority. To ensure this vision hits with the desired impact, the team has focused on three core elements: making the game feel real, gritty, and insane.
The “real” part comes via the game’s protagonist, Jason Brody, a classic “everyman” who, while traveling through southeast Asia with some fellow recent college grad pals—including his brother and a potential love interest—finds himself fighting for survival after the group stumbles across an uncharted island inhabited by bands of ever maddening cast of characters that make up what the devs refer to as a “mosaic of dysfunction.” Far from the one man armies that players have become accustomed to playing as in shooter after shooter, Jason is just a guy unlucky enough to be thrust into an insane situation with only two possible outcomes: kill or be killed (presumably painfully).
The “gritty” should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with the Far Cry series, especially those who pried hundreds of bullets out of themselves in Far Cry 2. While things like bullet removal (and weapon jamming come to think about it) appears to have been dropped in the new game, there will still be plenty of ways that the game will make it abundantly clear to players that this is a harsh and unforgiving situation, one that makes digging a slug out of your leg seem like a quaint and jovial pastime. A lot of this “grittiness” will obviously come from the disturbing and morality-bending experiences you’ll encounter throughout Jason’s adventure, but, as anyone who has watched the new cinematic trailer can tell, it will also factor heavily into the overall tone and mood of the game as well.
When it comes to “insane,” well, that’s a bit harder to pin down, because it saturates the entire Far Cry 3 experience. From the island setting to the crazed cast of characters that inhabit it to the actions Jason will be forced to perform in the name of survival, it’s all presented through a filter of madness, of civilization set adrift and allowed to fester and devolve into a toxic brew of lawlessness and depravity. Over the course of his journey, insanity will take its toll on Jason’s own psyche—and his arm actually, as Jason’s exploits will be documented via tattoos that may or may not shift and distort based on his mental state. To what twisted end will this lead Jason? Too early to say. But chances are, it ain't gonna be pretty.
With all of these grand visions and expectations in place, Ubisoft dumps us into the world of Far Cry 3.
At its core, Far Cry 3 is a shooter, and the team at Ubisoft has worked hard to ensure that it stays true to the Far Cry DNA (open world setting, freeform combat scenarios, large arsenal of loud and powerful weapons, console-defining tech, etc.) while also broadening the scope of what players have come to expect from a first-person shooter. So even though you might find yourself oohing and ahhing once again at the stunningly detailed world surrounding you and navigating through the most elaborately crafted Far Cry story yet, when you pick up your first AK-47 or shotgun, you will see, feel, and hear the weight of that death dealer in your hands.
During our eyes-on session, we witnessed a wide variety of bone-rattling firefights. Early on there was a fight through a beach littered with abandoned cargo containers where machine guns and grenades were the weapons of choice. Once Jason reached the top of a beached tanker ship, he zip lined across to another ship, picking off dudes with a pistol along the way. From there he hopped on a turret and proceeded to mow down waves of enemies descending on the scene. In the last section, Jason maneuvered through the hull of a ship, blasting fools left and right with a particularly gnarly sounding shotgun and making great use of his sliding ability to get behind cover quickly.
It's worth noting that our demo picked up a few hours into the campaign, so Jason had had a chance to use some of his XP—a new addition to the series—to upgrade some of his abilities (what these abilities are and how they affect Jason are two fat question marks at this point). This could help explain how he was able to do things like sneak up on a guard, remove the guard’s knife, stab said guard in the neck, and then toss the knife with deadly accuracy into the head of another guard nearby. After all, he's supposed to be a regular dude, so I'm betting that early on, his abilities will be hamstrung in some way to get across his lack of experience in the killing arts.
Now, exploration has always played a big part in the Far Cry series, but this time around, Ubisoft has designed the game world in such a way that players are traversing vast expanses simply to go from point A to point B. In Far Cry 3, the developers have filled the game with “rabbit holes,” aka places designed specifically to take player off the beaten path and entice them to delve deeper and deeper to discover whatever might be hidden inside. Not unlike non-story based dungeons in open-world RPGs, these mystery pockets™ won’t be forced upon players, but rather serve as a way for players to learn more about the treacherous island/islands on which they find themselves.
In addition to exploration, Far Cry 3 will put a premium on its characters. As you no doubt gathered from the stunning E3 demo in which actor Michael Mando delivered his heart-pounding “Definition of insanity” monologue, Ubisoft wants the characters that players encounter to make an impact and be a far cry from the interchangeable warlords found in the previous game. To help with this, Ubisoft is employing full body motion capture (facial animations and mocap done simultaneously) for the main characters, the same kind of process that has made Naughty Dog’s Uncharted series the poster child for interactive storytelling. We were lucky enough to watch a scene being recorded at Ubisoft’s mocap studio, and I can tell you that the performances in this game will no doubt be one of its most talked about features, and rightfully so.
During the middle section of our gameplay demo (the one that didn’t involve a weapon, remember?), we met one of these highly memorable characters, a man by the name of Doctor Earnheardt. The good doctor, who immediately injects you with something to help heal your wounds (oh, and who appears to be a total loon who, from the looks of it, is in a constantly “self-medicated” state), sends you to explore an underwater cave to retrieve a particularly important mushroom for one of his experiments. Our non-violent quest has begun!
Once inside the cave, Jason starts to hallucinate (was it the shot the doctor game him, or something worse?). The cave walls shift and move around him. His hands blur in front of his face. His voice becomes distorted. It’s bad times. Luckily, he’s able to find through his delusions and retrieve the mushroom for the doctor. Needless to say, this sequence was a complete surprise, structurally and aesthetically, and that’s precisely what Ubisoft is hoping to achieve with these “breather”-type missions. There will be plenty of opportunities to engage in blockbuster action sequences, but it appears that players can expect to take plenty of unconventional and unexpected journeys along the way as well.
It’s this mix of tones and styles, tossed together with volatile and compelling characters and a massive game world filled to the brim with mystery and peril, that has the potential to make Far Cry 3 one of this year’s, and generation’s, standout efforts. Whether this ambitious and devilish brew will come together in the end is a question we’ll do our best to pin down in the coming months leading up to the game’s September 4 release; assuming we aren't driven completely insane in the process.