Far Cry 3 has been out for a few weeks now, and the internet is fast filling up with Far Cry 3 related opinions, just like it did last year after Skyrim's release, and if I don't write something soon the internet will reach saturation point and there'll be nothing interesting to say that hasn't already been covered on some random blog or another. For the sake of my own ego, I have pledged my random blog to be one of them.

For a fortnight since its release, I spent all my free moments at home glued to the Xbox 360 scurrying around Rook Island stabbing, shooting and getting eaten by the local (and not so local) fauna. Ubisoft Montreal have made a world that just feels incredible to be absorbed in. The two (geographically distinct) islands of the game are vast, gorgeous and utterly moreish slices of exploration pie.

The excellent opening sequence, which introduces the player character as Jason Brody, spoilt rich kid shown on holiday camcorder footage as a loud, boorish twenty-something, brings you into the game by making you stare into the unhinged eyes of one of the game's main villains, Vaas. This is the man in all the pre-release trailers, talking about insanity. This is the man on the game's box. He's there for a reason: he's an excellently written character, both menacing and entertaining, and far more likeable than the sap I'm playing as. Which is why it's a slight shame that, after a few minutes in his intimate company, you are dropped into the open world and hear very little from him for about ten straight hours. Fortunately, the island is more than enough compensation.

The crux of exploring the world is its radio towers. Taking a page from Assassin's Creed, Far Cry 3 shrouds its map in a fog of war until you undergo a climb of one of its eighteen radio towers, where at the top you synchronise (or "activate" it, as this particular game puts it), the surrounding area is revealed and everything of interest within it is shown on your map screen. The towers are short climbing and platforming puzzles, which sounds abhorrent considering this is a first-person game, but were actually lovely fun. The rusting, dilapidated structures are all twisted metal and broken staircases, each superficially identical but demanding a different route taken to the top for each one. The sound design is superb: the forlorn groaning accompanying your ascent really convinces you that this is something that could come tumbling down were a stiff enough breeze to blow by. Methodically reaching upwards, the towers provide an excellent focal point to show off the game's beautiful vistas. The northern island is purely tropical, thick jungle that drops away next to white sand beaches. The southern island is highlands, grass-covered hills and voluminous crags that're more akin to an Andean landscape.

The second pillar of exploring and expanding (you're not alone, but rather fighting on the side of local militia against pirates that use the island as a base) is outposts. There are thirty-four spread over the two islands, and capturing one - achieved by slaughtering all its guards - opens it up as a base of operations, consisting of a new fast travel location, shop and weapon store and a couple of side-quests. The patrols in the immediate area also instantly flip from red to blue, making your chances of being shot traversing it much slimmer. The benefits aren't really the prize, though, as just like the radio towers, each outpost is unique. The developers have crafted thirty-four individual little bases that each play out differently, even to the point where they all have names. One was located in the mouth of an abandoned mine. Another was an old petrol station. They all feel like things that have been built, that all have a reason to exist. One outpost is a satellite communications depot, so logically it's on the top of a very big hill. In gameplay terms, this makes it much harder to observe and approach.

The fantastic gun play in Far Cry 3 is what makes the outposts such a joy to attack. The game bequeaths large XP rewards for stealthy takeovers, so that's what I aimed for. A routine developed: I'd study the map and identify likely observation points, and try to reach them quietly. When I was in position, I'd use the camera to mark all the guards, study their patrol paths and find good points of entry to the outpost. Then it was a case of approaching, hiding and taking those poor, unaware fools one by one. The tools within the game, pistols and rifles and explosives, are complemented by an instant "takedown" system that allows you to brutally end someone's life with your machete. As you progress the skill tree, more takedown options are unlocked, such as being able to leap on someone from above to trigger a takedown, or press a button while in the middle of one to unsheathe your victim's knife and hurl it at another opponent. Clearing out an outpost was always fun thanks to the inventive selection of tools at my disposal, but never was it more satisfying than when I exclusively used takedowns to pick guards off one-by-one, jumping on their heads or grabbing them off a ledge, motherfuckin' BATMAN style. Oh, except that one time I freed a bear the guards had in a cage and it took bloody vengeance upon its captors while I watched from a safe distance. But then it killed the friendly reinforcements that had come to claim the freshly liberated outpost. Oh, bear, you're so wacky.

In addition to that, there's a bunch of side-quests, including hunting (asking you to hunt specific animals with specific weaponry, such as, "there's a pack of rabid dogs on the loose! Please, put them down before they hurt anyone else! Here, take this rocket launcher!"), assassinations and time-constrained driving missions. Then, you have a whole bunch of collectables that are often very cleverly hidden, but thankfully revealed on your map screen upon purchase of a "treasure map" using, mercifully, in-game money rather than the real deal. All mixed together, Far Cry 3's world is absorbing and joyful to explore. Your skills and weapons make you feel powerful, but not to the point that induces ennui like I found with Just Cause 2.

It's a shame that the story is so bloody awful, then. Chronicling your attempts to rescue your pirate-held friends from being sold into slavery, the story is largely absent at the beginning, saggy and meandering in the middle, underwhelming at the end and rather racist and embarrassing throughout. The chief villain is a bore and the motives of your character seem to swim into a confused muddle. By the end, I just wanted it out of the way. It's a shame, as clearly there's talented writers at work at Ubisoft Montreal, demonstrated aptly by some of the wonderful supporting cast you meet along your way. Characters such as Willis, Sam and the previously mentioned Vaas are entertainingly written and vividly brought to life through great motion capture and voice work. Though your interactions with them is limited, they add real colour to the game. It's a shame that they're swallowed by the larger story, and the monotonous, creatively-restricted story missions contained within it.

In addition to the single-player, there's also multiplayer and co-op. Honestly, I haven't touched the multiplayer, nor do I intend to considering there's so many big, multiplayer-focused shooters available already. I did try the co-op, though. Here's what I think. It's buggy, the XP and unlock system is unnecessarily confusing, it's buggy, the gameplay misses the point of what Far Cry 3 is and just turns into a shooting gallery and also it's buggy. Don't bother. Considering the various studio names attached to this game's development, I suspect the co-op was developed elsewhere by people who'd just been given some of the game's assets and told to get to work.

Ultimately, Far Cry 3 is not about a narrative experience. Nor is it about sharing with others. Its real glory lies within its superbly-realised world, its bounteous island paradise and all the odd bits and ends it holds. Just don't let the bear out.

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