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Far Cry 3: you never forget your first love

Shooters? You can keep 'em, says sneering elitist slash uncoordinated mess Brenna Hillier - until she lost her heart to Far Cry 3.

I'm not saying I'm ready to leap into Call of Honor: Explosions, but this is the shooter that taught me to love shooters for the shooting, not just tolerate them for their stories or innovations.

Far Cry 3 releases in the US today, several days after its launch in other English-speaking territories. US friends have expressed their disgust with this unusual state of affairs (normally it's us waiting while they enjoy an early release) because the hype for Ubisoft Montreal's new shooter is through the roof.

Spend a few minutes on Twitter with gamers and media and you'd be forgiven for thinking Far Cry 3 was the only game released in November. Everyone's raving about it - and with good reason. It's good, friends. It's real good. You've heard that before, I know, and you've even heard it here. But now this is me saying it, and I don't play shooters.

Not playing shooters is kind of my thing. I'm a pretty decent gamer, but with a few exceptions I'm just terrible at first-person action, whether with control pad or mouse and keyboard. It's heartbreaking, sometimes, to feel locked out of a genre which is so important to the entertainment medium I love so much. My usual approach has been to struggle through the first few levels, having absolutely no fun, in order to check out any interesting new features, and then read or watch a summary of the rest of the game.

Given my historical hostility to the genre, I don't even know why I started playing Far Cry 3. I didn't have an advance copy, but in defiance of several embargoes, I was left alone in the house of somebody who did. They left the game running, and I'm both nosy and untrustworthy. I sat myself down, and closed out of the menu to check out the graphics, which I'd heard tell were pretty special. An hour later I was caught red-handed enjoying myself with a first person shooter. My reputation is in tatters.

"You're good at this," my friend said, as I played a game of tiger-and-tapir with a group of pirates, swapping out an ultra-precise rifle for a shotgun as I slipped in and out of cover.

"You're really good at this," they added as I put an arrow into three enemies' faces in rapid succession before they could react to my presence, leading another two to pursue me into a carefully placed landmine.

"That was the coolest thing I've ever seen in a video game," was the crowning achievement of my repeated NDA-breaking play sessions as I mantled cover, launched myself from a ledge in a wingsuit, swapped in a shotgun to blast an enemy in the face, and dropped neatly onto his startled head to complete the kill with a knife takedown.

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So many options. Now this is a sandbox.

In between all this sandboxy combat, which supports such a variety of approaches and encourages quick tactical changes, I roamed the islands of Far Cry 3 being eaten by tigers, crocodiles, sharks, wild dogs and the genuinely frightening komodo dragons. Using stealth to stalk a flighty deer or flailing in horror as some beasty hauled me around by the leg, I felt like the very landscape was both my friend and my enemy, offering equal measures of reward and hazard.

It's out on the roads that adventures really start happening though. This is the point where the terms "systemic" and "emergent" usually crop up, but to throw them around is to miss the opportunity to use the phrase "wildly variable random cool s**t". It's not unusual to step off the beaten path in response to shouts, shots and booms only to discover entirely new unscripted happenings. Factions meet and clash and are interrupted by wild animal attacks, fires and explosions, and it all goes on around you, all the time, as if you didn't even matter - although once you enter the fray, you surely do.

To criticise, Far Cry 3's tightly linear narrative features some superb examples of writing, voice acting and animation, but its quality is not consistent and Jason Brody is one of the least likely and likeable protagonists I've ever seen. The story missions are disappointingly over-structured and restricted and fail to live up to the potential of the core mechanics. But the good parts are so good that you're going to forget about all that once you get out in the wilderness. I'm not saying I'm ready to leap into Call of Honor: Explosions, but this is the shooter that taught me to love shooters for the shooting, not just tolerate them for their stories or innovations. If nothing else, Ubisoft is to be congratulated for its evangelism.

Far Cry 3 is available now on PC, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. Ubisoft provided a promotional PC copy to the writer on request.

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