There aren't many video games where you're tasked with transforming from American tourist to pirate-battling, animal-skinning weapons expert while on an island in the Pacific.
Far Cry 3 is a tropic wonder
Far Cry 3
PS3, Xbox 360, PC
It may be a lazy stereotype, but the generally accepted image of a video gamer is that of someone who doesn't rank extreme sports at the top of their hobbies list. Accurate or not, it's unfortunately something that is only going to be made more true thanks to Far Cry 3, in which joy turns quickly to despair for a group of holidaying action junkies on a remote tropical island. Skydiving onto a beach controlled by pirates never looked less appealing.
The game follows previous Far Crys in its first-person, open world format and rich, vibrant setting. But this time around, your protagonist isn't a mercenary or former special forces man. Jason Brody is simply an American thrill seeker who must learn the art of killing if he is to rescue his friends from the clutches of the maniacal villain Vaas before they're sold into slavery.
And he manages to learn the ropes with impressive (and somewhat unrealistic) speed. While Brody might recoil in disgust at having bagged his first pirate, within minutes he's performing knife-based takedowns from rooftops and sniper headshots while hidden in the long grass, reloading an AK-47 with all the proficiency of Rambo. "I'm worried this island might be affecting you," says one of his friends early on. Indeed. But this rather implausible character development is probably the only negative aspect of a game that is as colourful in its environment as it is in play.
The pacific Rook Island is a smorgasbord for the senses: an energetic, verdant, not-quite-so-paradise paradise alive with friendly natives looking to help you on your quest, unfriendly pirate types armed with automatic weapons and a Serengeti-sized array of equally dangerous wildlife. And it's these you have to be really weary of. Take out a truckload of gun-toting baddies and if you're not careful you might well be pounced on by a nearby Sumatran tiger or Komodo Dragon (yes, geographical considerations will have to be shelved). Jump in the water and there are crocodiles and sometimes sharks to deal with. Take them out and you can use their skin to craft new accessories (another skill Jason learns terrifyingly quickly).
Getting around this vast land mass is another option-laden affair. Beaten-up jeeps, quad bikes, jet skis, speedboats and more are scattered liberally about and are a chaotic joy to ride. For those hard-to-reach spots, there are even hang-gliders at your disposal. While the missions follow a linear, if unpredictable, path, you're encouraged to utilise the vehicles to discover some of Rook's secrets and numerous side missions for yourself. You're awarded for such exploration, too - for each radio tower you climb, your weaponry options expand.
And the attention to detail is exquisite. From the rust covering the motors to the shabby nature of the tin-roofed shantytowns, much has been done to make the island feel like somewhere left to ruin.
While its main characters might be a little over the top (the main bad guys are really, really psychotic) and your hero an improbable American tourist-turned-all-out-killing-machine, Far Cry 3 is a truly unique game. You just might think again about your next skydive.