This is the jungle for sure

A compelling story and thrilling gameplay give 'Far Cry 3' some recognition at last

Matt Bertz / Game Informer Magazine /

The idyllic beaches, lush jungles and warm weather make the South Pacific islands intriguing vacation destinations, but the region also has a darker side. From blackbirding in the 19th century to seedy drug and human trafficking operations in modern times, visits to these remote locations aren't always memorable for the right reasons. When a group of trust-fund kids unknowingly parachute onto an island inhabited by pirates, their sheltered, picture-perfect life is given a cruel dose of reality.

After escaping pirate captivity, Jason Brody vows to drop his silver spoon and pick up an AK-47. With the help of the island natives, he starts down the path of the warrior, taking over enemy encampments, learning to live off the land, and trying to find his friends before they are sold into slavery. This sudden transformation from harmless party boy to savage killer feels implausible, but “Far Cry 3” introduces so many other compelling characters (especially the tribal leader Citra and the madman Vaas) and throws so many activities at players that you find yourself invested in the world nonetheless.

When you're not searching for your fellow one-percenters, you can participate in races, compete in shooting challenges, hunt down wanted islanders, climb towers to reveal more of the map, or capture pirate camps to free the surrounding territory of their influence. This ability to reclaim areas of the map is a welcome addition to the series, since the infinite enemy respawns of “Far Cry 2” and unforgiving checkpoint system derailed the experience. The island also has several types of collectibles to search for, some of which make sense (relics) and others that seem baffling (drug recipes).

The pirates represent the gravest threat on the island, but they aren't the only danger Brody faces. The wild is filled with deadly predators like tigers, Komodo dragons, and sharks. If you don't pay close attention to your surroundings, you may meet your untimely demise like a foolish Steve Irwin wannabe. Killing them and gathering their hides allows you to construct new pouches for carrying more weapons, ammunition, syringes, and money. It doesn't make sense to force a player to find a rare animal just to craft a new wallet that can hold more cash, but it encourages you to explore the rich and varied island terrain, which includes ancient ruins, huge waterfalls, and wrecked ships.

Like the best open-world shooters, “Far Cry 3” excels because it lets you approach objectives in any way you see fit. For some missions I would sneak in to the base, turn off the alarms, and stealth kill as many people as possible. In others I would use an overlook to snipe unsuspecting pirates with a suppressed long-range rifle. My favorite approach is introducing the chaos of the wildlife into the encampment. Driving Komodo dragons into the bases or letting caged tigers loose helps you even the odds. While the pirates desperately try to subdue the animals, you can open fire with their backs turned.

This kind of freedom is exhilarating; I only wish the AI posed more of a challenge. They too frequently pour into the same positions where their friends just died, and can't discern elevation changes. Rather than work their way up a cliff to attack after spotting me, for instance, they just stood at the base of the incline, making it extremely easy to take them all out with one well-placed grenade.

As you hone your killing skills, Jason Brody's growth as a warrior is chronicled by a tribal tattoo on his arm. By completing missions and side activities, you earn XP that can unlock new special abilities like more health, improved shooting accuracy, or cinematic takedown moves. “Far Cry 3” offers a wealth of options, but you don't need to be picky. If you tackle a fair amount of side activities you will unlock most of them before you reach the end of the story.

“Far Cry 3” also features a full-fledged multiplayer mode complete with player progression, unlockable weapons/attachments, and four game modes. The sluggish movement and questionable hit detection keep this game from competing against the top online shooters, but if the community embraces the map editor, it could still find a niche in the overcrowded space.

After two uneven but intriguing offerings, “Far Cry” finally finds its footing in the third installment. The diverse open-world action, compelling story, and an alluring environment that begs exploration are all high water marks for the series. This is an island vacation all shooter fans should take.

'Far Cry 3'

9 (out of 10)

PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PC


ESRB rating: M for Mature

Top 10

Across the board

The editors of Game Informer Magazine rank the top games for the holidays:

1. “New Super Mario Bros. U” (Wii U)

2. “Halo 4” (Xbox 360)

3. “Far Cry 3” (PS3, Xbox 360, PC)

4. “Mass Effect Trilogy” (PS3, Xbox 360, PC)

5. “XCOM: Enemy Unknown” (PS3, Xbox 360, PC)

6. “Need For Speed: Most Wanted” (PS3, Xbox 360, PC)

7. “Borderlands 2” (PS3, Xbox 360, PC)

8. “Dishonored” (PS3, Xbox 360, PC)

9. “Paper Mario: Sticker Star” (3DS)

10. “Skylanders Giants” (Wii U, PS3, Xbox 360, PC, Wii, 3DS)

Game Informer Magazine

In the news

Xbox 360 system update

Microsoft has just rolled out a system update for Xbox 360, correcting issues with the Xbox SmartGlass “second screen” application that provides pleasures somewhat akin to the new Nintendo Wii U. But for Apple phone or tablet users, this Xbox update's got nothing for you.

Next time Xbox Live users sign on, they'll be forced to update their game console's operating system. Improvements address Xbox Music, Xbox Video closed captioning and the new Xbox SmartGlass “second screen” enhancements — but only to a degree.

SmartGlass aims to turn a smartphone or tablet into an Internet video and music remote control, Internet search tool, message spreader and an additional game playing device.

So what's wrong with this picture? At the moment, the software works best with the new Microsoft Windows 8 phones, tablets and computers.

A recent Xbox 360 upgrade brought some of this fun, but not an all access pass, to Google Play devices. But the most recent SmartGlass update still does nothing to address the needs of the huge Apple iOS customer base. The Grinch says, “ask again, next year.”

— Jonathan Takiff, Philadelphia Daily News

This image is copyrighted.