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Most Anticipated 2012: Far Cry 3

It’s reasonable to say that after Assassin’s Creed: Revelations, Far Cry 3 was the major point of interest in Ubisoft’s 2011 E3 presentation. Details circulated before the show that the company would return to the series, but E3 saw the first official trailer for the game, along with some developer-voiced commentary of the in-game sequences shown at the event.

Curiously enough, the third in the Far Cry series shares an even closer relationship with Assassin’s Creed, because the lead designer on Assassin’s Creed 2 (also the game director on Brotherhood) will be a creative director on Far Cry 3. Quite what all those titles actually mean in practical terms is a mystery known only to the Games Industry Board of Inventing Important-Sounding Roles, but Patrick Plourde should know a thing or two about helping to improve upon previous iterations in a series.

To be perfectly up front, I wasn’t anticipating Far Cry 3 quite as much as some of the other games featured in our ’12 for 2012’ series. I never played the original and didn’t get to spend as much time as I’d have liked with the sequel. The African setting of the latter was a bold, novel choice with heaps of potential, but filling it with respawning checkpoints and multiple bouts of malaria wasn’t exactly to everyone’s liking. However, my antipathy has been turned around by several interviews given by Ubisoft Montreal’s Jason VandenBerghe around GamesCom 2011.

The E3 presentation unveiled Far Cry 3, but I didn’t feel it was the best showcase for the claims of player freedom and exploration being made by the developers (and expected by fans of the second game). Like many in-game demos shown at events like E3 it seemed quite heavily scripted, full of ‘cut-scene’ type moments (like a helicopter escape) that pull control away from the player and actively remove them from a participatory role.

Other parts seemed much more promising though, especially the approach and attack on the compound/former island village currently under the control of nutty warlord Vaas (the chap rambling on about insanity in most of the Far Cry 3 media released to date). In his interviews, VandenBerghe has been pretty open in his ambivalence towards linear shooters and keeps reiterating that he’s pleased to be working on Far Cry 3 because it’s more game than action-adventure rollercoaster. He genuinely seems to want to give the player the opportunity to go anywhere in the game’s world; to be the one driving the experience.

Whether it can achieve that lofty goal will not be known until the title’s release in 2012, but it’s clear that the developers want players to feel somewhat stranded as Jason Brody; trapped on a series of islands with only their wits and a trusty AK47 or two. As a man alone, it’ll be up to you how to deal with the situations you find yourself in (including whether to aid the local inhabitants of the islands, who are, in the case of the area shown during E3, being enslaved and brutalised by Vaas).

Ubisoft Montreal is keen to stress that the actors hired to play characters like Vaas were given relatively free reign to develop personalities for the role, which (it’s hoped) will take them outside the all-too-common boundaries of 2D videogame stereotype. We’ve heard this kind of talk before, and it remains to be seen if Vaas really will be developed further than ‘mildly philosophising baddie’ and given compelling motives and a coherent moral code (no matter how warped that code might be). But it’s another laudable aim, and hopefully the developers will be successful.

Better yet, the team has an ambitious design approach to in-game AI. They want players to feel as if they’re under fire from genuine people, who can make mistakes and be startled by surprising actions. This kind of ‘believable’ character is a tricky prospect, demanding AI scripting that’s convincing enough to come off as natural and not simply a staged ‘mistake action’ that happens every so often. Based on what VandenBerghe has said so far, it seems there’ll be three basic tiers of enemy; those that are untrained, those with some training and a few who are downright deadly.

It also needs to be mentioned just how beautiful Far Cry 3 is looking. The word ‘lush’ is over-used for settings rich in jungle foliage, but the bright greens and depth of shadows evident in the images shown of the game so far really do seem deserving of the term. Looks aren’t everything, but for a title that seems it’ll emphasise a degree of exploration, it certainly doesn’t hurt for the surroundings to be inviting.

Inviting is now exactly how I view the game. My initial grain of interest is flourishing into proper anticipation, and I’m eager to see if Ubisoft Montreal can deliver a shooter with enough open-world freedom to seem unconstrained from the harness of linearity, and enough tactical choices to offer multiple angles of approach and execution. Should the final build get anywhere near that synopsis, wading into the jungle will be one hell of a prospect.

Far Cry 3 is currently scheduled for a late 2012 release on PC, Xbox 360 and PS3.

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