Ubisoft made a big surprise splash at E3 last summer and it wasn’t just because of Assassin’s Creed: Revelations and its epic cinematic trailer. Attendees of their press conference were blown away by the stunning and shocking Far Cry 3 announcement video that immediately became one of the top five trailers of E3 2011.
Yesterday, a follow-up cinematic trailer for Far Cry 3 broke early and re-introduced fans to the game’s new protagonist and one of the game’s primary villains, while also revealing the game’s September 14th release date. A few weeks ago, we were invited by Ubisoft to their Montreal studio where we had the chance to watch several demos and interview some of the key people behind the game.
Far Cry 3 is not an easy game to describe as it accomplishes several different things in its spanning of multiple video game genres. It’s a rich open-world game while at its core, is a shooter. It’s an RPG with leveling, crafting and experience mechanics, while also being story and character driven.
Producer Dan Hay prefaced our demo by breaking down the game’s three core concepts that form the key focus of the game’s development.
- At its core Far Cry 3 is a shooter.
- Open-world designs that emphasize the ability to take advantage of “360 degrees approach.”
- The game’s reactive AI works for any gamer’s play style: “your battle, your fight, your way.”
Ubisoft aims to offer a far more engaging, cinematic and gripping story embedded in the open world play style fans loved of Far Cry 2. And it was that E3 demo that engaged us by introducing fans to Vaas (pictured up top), a character we can label simply as insane, “insane” being the key word behind the Far Cry 3′s game design.
During the preview event, the themes of insanity and discovery popped up in every interview and demo session, with Dan Hay starting the day explaining that one of the design goals was to deliver “a cast of insane characters.” And while we didn’t have an opportunity to get hands-on with the game, from what we saw of new scenes featuring Vaas, another new character named Dr. Earnhardt, and from our interviews, Far Cry 3 will be offering an entirely new experience for fans of the franchise, while still remaining true to what what makes a Far Cry game.
Far Cry 3 earned a spot among Game Rant’s most anticipated games of 2012 not just because of its impressive E3 unveiling, but because Ubisoft has been very open in regards to feedback, learning from the response of fans and critics to Far Cry 2, improving and altering gameplay mechanics and features that hindered players’ experiences the last time around. That means we can say goodbye to things like weapon degradation and jams, and there will be no more malaria and most importantly, no more AI blunders which saw NPCs locating players through obstacles.
What is Far Cry 3 about? It’s about surviving the impossible and learning to adapt. Far Cry 3 tells the story of Jason Brody, a twenty-something young man who’s done school and is travelling the world when he ends up on on this island with his friends.
“He and his friends are backpacking through southeast Asia, they’re having a great time just kind of enjoying life. They think they have pretty good beat on things. They think they understand what is up, what is down, what is fair. And then they come to our island and they’re in discovery mode, they’re having a really good time and maybe not paying attention to how loud they are or how much attention they’re drawing to themselves. And then they get taken. They get victimized. And it’s brutal.
And by sheer luck, Jason manages to escape, and then he’s alone on the island. He doesn’t have friends, he doesn’t know what to do…”
This is the story revealed in the cinematic Far Cry 3 trailer released yesterday and a big part of the game will be the development of Jason as the game goes on, as he transitions and adapts to the situation and environment as the days go by and as he’s forced to do crazier and more dangerous things to survive. At the very beginning, Jason is the “babe in the woods” and then he feels more confident that he can do this, that he can survive. Jason (the player) has two major goals:
- Find his friends.
- “Get the F*** off the island.”
Far Cry 3 brings players back to the water-infused exotic vistas of an island reminiscent of the original game of the series, and Hay explains that the location choice stemmed out of what Ubisoft wanted to include in the game, from a visual perspective, and most certainly a story and character standpoint.
“We didn’t set out to make Far Cry 3 on an island. It kind of found us. It felt natural. We knew that we wanted it to be beautiful. It had to be stunning, it had to be exotic, it had to invite you to discover. Where the island really works for us is that it’s remote. It’s cut off. There’s no 911, you can’t call mom, nobody’s coming to help you. You break your leg here, you better like pain because there is no one to set the bone.
The second thing we wanted to make sure we had in how it’s gritty, raw and real, is in our cast of characters… You met Vaas, we know he’s insane, he’s a psychopath, he may be a sociopath, we don’t know. But for us it was creating different characters and different brands of insanity. We want different rabbit holes for you to go down as you experience it. It’s almost a mosaic of dysfunction as you meet these characters and you travel across this island.
The third and possibly most important part is in our main character Jason. He’s a regular guy. He’s like you or me, totally normal. He gets on a plane, goes over and thinks he’s got a pretty good beat on life. He’s not a superhero, he’s not a super soldier. He’s not trying to save the world, he’s just trying to survive the next five minutes.”
Surprise is the keyword in describing the adventure and story of Jason Brody in Far Cry 3. The players will always feel surprised as they discover. Everything done for the game is done so long as it feels “Far Cry” and that it fits into the universe.
The original Far Cry made its mark for its visuals while Far Cry 2 offered a different type of game with an open world. Far Cry 3 respects and builds upon what the series has offered fans thus far from an FPS and open-world perspective. There are directed, narrative-driven experiences found in Far Cry 3 but none of it takes away from the open-world gameplay, the 360 degrees approach or the shooter style.
In the first gameplay demo of the event, we see Jason approaching a beached ship, the Medusa (pictured in above two images), with enemies everywhere, taking orders from someone over the radio who appears to be helping him out. His goal is to get to the radio tower up top and it’s up to the player to approach this situation in any way they desire. They can take the time to spot every enemy in the vicinity or they can silently and tactically take them out one-by-one. For time-sensitive types, the player can unleash the fury and make their way to the mounted gun turret to lay waste to the small army.
The playstyle is that of an action shooter with a cinematic quality. Takedowns and vaulting over objects is similar to Battlefield 3 where from a first-person perspective we can see the movements to grab and knife someone or the legs leaping over an object. All throughout the shoot-out we can hear Jason speaking, shouting in anger and reacting to the things happening.
“Far Cry at its heart, in its DNA has always been first and foremost a shooter, so we really want to make sure we hit all the high notes of what a good shooter is. We want to make sure combat as good as it can be. It’s absolutely second to none.”
“We want to make sure the weapons feel really powerful in your hands… that the weapon feels like it’s having a big impact on the world, that the AI are reacting to you on the way you’re shooting… that when they’re getting killed they’re getting killed in an interesting way.”
“While that needs to be really good, that’s not going to be the bit that makes Far Cry 3 really special. What’s really going to set Far Cry 3 apart is what we call a 360 degrees approach… It’s not just talking about the actual physical space of the level itself, but it’s also talking about what the player brings to the table as well.”
Far Cry 3′s Level Design Director Mark Thompson made a point of saying that while the “360 degrees approach” may sound like some “bulls***” marketing term, it’s actually something they use on the floor and is a guideline they follow in creating the levels of the game.
Players can run around hip-firing, or they can recon the area, spot everyone and find a good sniping position, or they can use the water to sneak up around people and utilize stealthy takedowns. The game needs to allow for all of these things without breaking the experience and this forced a total revamp of the infamous AI from Far Cry 2.
“The AI in this scenario needs to be able to cope with all of those different approaches… So, if you’re being stealthy, it needs to behave like you’re being stealthy. If you’re going in guns blazing, the AI needs to be able to provide a good combat experience as well. That’s a really, really hard way of doing things. It’s really not made our lives easier at all.”
This approach to designing the gameplay of Far Cry 3 came from an internal meeting with people of different shooters, from Assassin’s Creed, from Splinter Cell, and they all had different ideas. In the end, they decided why not let players have it all and let them decide? It’s certainly not the easiest approach from a programming or design perspective, but it’s something they wanted players to be able to experience.
When it came time to playtest and let players try out the game, they had a general idea of what they expected players to do whether that be the action route or taking advantage of the stealthy paths laid before them, but what they saw was something unexpected in how a player beat the Medusa mission without having to fight everyone.
“The first thing that happened, somebody jumped on a glider over the other side of the island, flew right away across the middle, pressed the button, ta-da!… But that’s the thing. That’s what we want players to do. We want players to find their own way… and we need to make sure then that the game accommodates that as well.”
In the second demo, we follow an injured Jason who’s heading out to meet someone who can help him by the name of Dr. Earnhardt – someone we quickly learn represents another brand of insanity, quite different than the hostile Vaas. This demo is unlike anything seen in a Far Cry game and involves a quest to retrieve cave mushrooms in exchange for “VIP treatment” from the good doctor.
This particular mission stemmed from the development team asking themselves what they’d do if they were on an island in a similar experience as Jason’s. What would they do in a place with no rules? Someone said they’d do a hefty load of drugs and that became the starting point for this mission, a favorite among the playtesters.
So, after travelling the cliff edge and locating the underwater cave, the sequence that follows is straight out of Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland and we can thank Earnhardt’s drugs for this trip. There are some golden bits of funny dialogue from the protagonist as he reacts to the experience.
The key discovery from playtesting this type of mission is that it offered a completely different experience but players didn’t think of it that way. They didn’t realize that there were no guns involved. The game is a shooter and most of the game does involve weapons, but there are small moments that do not, but the experience is just as intense, just as entertaining and that sense of discover remains.
What keeps the player grounded during the game, whether in the middle of gunfights, conversations or simply roaming around is the narration of Jason, a likable and relatable character reminiscent of a younger, inexperienced Nathan Drake (Uncharted).
In meeting Dr. Earnhardt, a character on the opposite end of the crazy spectrum to Vaas, we learn that this island is a place that changes you, and it’ll have a signficant impact on Jason. Producer Dan Hay on Insanity:
“We have Vaas, crazy, brutal, aggressive. But for us it was also important to explore the opposite of that to give the player the different facets of insanity. We really challenged the designers. They were building great shooter experiences, great shooter moments, but we challenged them to offer something unique.”
After spending time on this island, learning to kill to survive, how will this change Jason? How will his friends and family see him after this experience?
“Did you guys notice the tattoo on [Jason's] arm? That story is going to be told in that tattoo. The island takes its pound of flesh. The mark of the island is left on you and the longer that you play the game, the more you live on this island, just like if you or I were to go over there, the more it kind of sticks with you. The question is going to be is if Jason saves his friends, are they going to recognize him by the time he does it? We wanted to play with that.”
Take note of the final scene of the Far Cry 3 trailer to see a hint of this.
Far Cry 3 is an extremely interactive and seamless open world. From character animations which allow the player to utilize cover, vault over objects and dive off ledges into water – all realized in full body motion through the first-person perspective – to getting up and close and person with enemies via melee attacks and dragging their bodies into hidden areas.
We saw hints of RPG elements, from the tattoo on Jason’s arm which in essence is reflective of the journey of Jason Brody and could potentially tie into the experience system and a levelling mechanic. We also know the game will include a crafting system of sorts where med packs could be made from certain plantlife and animals can be skinned for resources. Downed enemies can be looted and there will be some for of weapon augmentation sytem.
Everyone we met was very enthused and proud of the game, so much so that they hated having to hold back on what they could reveal about gameplay elements, characters and story beats. The event we attended was strictly for previewing the single-player experience Far Cry 3 will offer but there was so much held back and so much producer Dan Hay and the others wanted to tell us that they could not until later.
Fans of shooters and fans of the series will be pleasantly surprised in the direction of Far Cry 3 and the surprises it will offer.
For more in-depth details on Far Cry 3, read the following interviews:
- Far Cry 3 interview with Producer Dan Hay
- Far Cry 3 interview with Animation Director Robert Purdy
- Far Cry 3 interview with Level Design Director Mark Thompson
Far Cry 3 will releases on September 6, 2012, for the PC, PS3, and Xbox 360.
Follow me on Twitter @rob_keyes.