Open world shooter a genuine gem
Cast your eyes over the shelves at your local game retailer this month and although you'll find a variety of genres from farming simulations to military shooters, you'll notice that almost all of them have one thing in common: they're sequels.
Not just one-off follow-ups either; prequels, threequels, sequels of sequels - some titles well into double figures when you factor in the various reboots, re-imaginings and spin-offs that developers cook up to make the most of a popular franchise.
Not that this is necessarily a bad thing - while I've touched before on the lack of original content and new ideas in the gaming industry, the sequel is one thing the business does considerably better than most other forms of entertainment.
In Hollywood, Generic Blockbuster II or III usually follow the law of diminishing returns, with ideas run into the ground and bled dry in a desperate attempt to recapture whatever spark made the original movie so appealing. In music, a stellar debut is all too often followed by the "difficult second album" where artists either churn out more of the same or abandon a winning formula in favour of pointless experimentation. In games, due to technological advances, well-sourced feedback and beefed up budgets for big sellers, sequels (usually) build on what worked well the first, second and third time round, ironing out bugs and refining the overall experience to keep customers coming back for more.
The Far Cry trilogy is the perfect example of this. The original game, released in 2004 was an enjoyable, if generic, shooter that was only just about successful enough to justify a sequel. The 2008 follow-up was an improvement, but was full of frustrating flaws that prevented it from being hailed as a classic. The third game in the series takes everything that was good about the first two, tightens them up, adds a touch of polish, a raft of new features and goes big on scale to create what is one of the most ambitious and expansive open world games ever released.
Far Cry 3 ensures you're immediately enthralled with a prologue that must rank among the most ominous openings of any game in recent memory. A montage of cellphone video footage shows a group of young, brash Americans, enjoying the holiday of a lifetime. The idyllic illusion is shattered after a parachute jump onto a seemingly deserted island goes horribly wrong and the group is captured by a group of pirates led by a deranged and dangerous psychopath named Vaas.
As video game bad guys go, Vaas is worthy of a place alongside Bowser and GLaDOS as one of the all time greats. While game baddies specialising in camp, theatrical villainy or menacing malevolence are ten a penny, few can rival this guy for in-your-face insanity. The result of a brilliantly believable performance by voice actor Michael Mando and brought to life by some of the best facial animation and dialogue this side of LA Noire, Vaas is an instantly memorable madman, upstaged only by what is the game's main attraction - the island itself.
The lush, sprawling sandbox of Rook Island is the real star of the show; a living, breathing environment teeming with dangerous predators of both the human and animal variety and full of caves, clearings and jungles begging to be explored and examined. After escaping the clutches of Vaas, you are rescued by a charismatic ex-military man who serves as your guide as you attempt to find your friends and take revenge on the pirates.
Fans of the TV series Lost will be familiar with the atmosphere of mystery, exotic isolation and slowly unravelling storylines - and it's a perfectly paced plot with great writing, well-rounded characters and increasing intrigue at every twist and turn.
First-person shooters are often criticised for being linear, limited experiences - Call of Duty et al use flashy set pieces and cinematic cut scenes to create an impressive illusion but rarely offer more than narrow corridors linking one epic explosion to another. Far Cry 3 is an open world in every sense of the word, appealing to your sense of adventure and exploration as much as your itchy trigger finger.
With multiplayer and co-op modes added to the captivating story, there's enough depth and diversity to offer months of entertainment. Indeed, if it wasn't for the nagging distractions of career and family, I'd have happily spent the last week holed up in my man-cave exploring the mysteries of Rook Island. Far Cry 3 is a genuine gem of a game, and another Game of the Year contender for your Christmas consideration.
Far Cry 3 (Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC). Ubisoft Montreal. $89.
The Nelson Mail