Far Cry 3
No man’s an island.
Actual new game announcements were thin on the ground at E3 this year. These days it's only Nintendo that routinely shows up with substantial headlines to make - and Ubisoft. Thank heavens for the French publisher's theatrical side, which ensures that its dependably daft press conference is always a highlight of the week. Whilst 2011's showing was noticeably less barmy than last year's, it did include the genuine debut of a long-anticipated blockbuster shooter: Far Cry 3.
Unfortunately for writers in search of a story, however, the impressive seven-minute demonstration at that press conference was the exact same one repeated, without elaboration, in a dark and noisy demo room at Ubisoft's sprawling booth on the show floor. It's also the exact same one you can watch on this page, which is the exact same one you have been able to watch on the internet since last week. Ubisoft will not be drawn on anything beyond the confines of this video.
It's lucky, then, that outside the demo room I am introduced to someone willing to chat just a little more loosely about where Far Cry 3 is headed. Whiskered and long-haired, accessorised with cowboy hat and cane, narrative director Jason Vandenberghe comes to Ubisoft Montreal's shooter from his work on Red Steel 2 - not that surprising, since he looks like he's stepped right out of the Wii samurai Western himself.
The demo dumps the player on a tropical island setting similar to the first Far Cry's, dense with sparkling emerald undergrowth and scattered with primitive, shanty-town pirate bases. We're not in Far Cry 2's Central Africa any more, yet neither has Ubisoft Montreal quite plumped for pastures new. It wasn't, Vandenberghe claims, a deliberate backward step, although he acknowledges that "it has that resonance with fans".
"Far Cry as a brand, as an idea, to me is about being in a place where if you see something bad happening, you can't pick up the phone and call 911... The tropical desert island is the perfect place for that," he argues.
We use a camera with a zoom lens to spy on a brutal armed gang as they abuse and execute their pitiful captives. The camera, Vandenberghe suggests, is a clue to our hero Jason Brody's background - but not all of it. Officially, we know nothing about him other than his boat has been destroyed and his girlfriend is missing, but as Vandenberghe says:
"You're a dude who is looking for himself, basically. There's only so much I can tell you. The camera's part of it. When you pick up an AK47, he's gonna go k-chhk and be ready to do. That needs to make sense. He can't go, oh, I was a photojournalist and suddenly I'm murdering 500 people, right? It won't be that."
But the camera will also be a gameplay tool used to inspire and reward curiosity and exploration, which the team sees as central to the Far Cry series. Far Cry 3 will, in the series tradition, be a relatively open game as shooters go; while Ubisoft Montreal is keen to repeat the "if you see it, you can go there" mantra of the free-roaming game, Vandenbderghe - very much a story man - prefers to introduce freedom gradually.
"So, there's a right way and a wrong way to do open world, right? You can say, 'Hey look, there's this big gigantic space, good luck!' That leads to confusion and frustration, we're not going to do that.