Beware serious spoilers for every numbered Far Cry game except the first. You have been warned.
You lot have your fun with this. And we do, too. So it's only fair that game developers, the people who smash the virtual hammers onto the virtual anvils, get their chance. What are the games of 2012 according to the likes of Ken Levine, Peter Molyneux and other game design luminaries? Read on to find out.
In Far Cry 3, I'm always driving to distraction. Rook Island has come to feel like a special kind of freedom, its looping roads and bumpy dust tracks criss-crossing with breadcrumb trails, always suggesting unplanned stop-offs. Freedom does, nevertheless, feel like an odd word for this achievement. What, in a virtual world, does freedom even mean? The freedom to execute a pre-programmed action? To take a road less travelled, but one built by a team of hundreds for just that purpose? The freedom to switch off?
With Far Cry 3, Ubisoft Montreal leaves behind the dry African savannahs and muggy swamps of its bleak second entry, and brings the series straight back to the luscious blues and greens of the tropics. It makes sense too. This is, after all, the visual signature that made the original Far Cry such a breakthrough success for the technical pioneers at Crytek, who leveraged some much-needed sun, sea and sand into the gritty-grey FPS scene of 2003, before disappearing off into mid-life Crysis.
The sandbox island setting is back, then, but it's never been about skinny-dipping and sand castles. At the outset of the game, Ubisoft adds a splash of trouble to this paradise when our lead character, Jason Brody, finds pirates taking over control of the Rook Island resort he's at by cutthroat force. The downward spiral from silly teenage fun to abject misery is as sharp as any teen-slash flick, and within minutes Jason's boozy holiday transforms into a gruelling fight for survival. It gets pretty nasty, in fact, as the unhinged menace of the pirate leader, Vaas, provokes Jason into a desperate game of cat-and-mouse across the island.
Survival is the key word here. Once Jason escapes, he's advised to embrace his savage, instinctive drives in order to come out on top of the wilderness. This conceit weaves nicely into Far Cry 3's main gameplay objectives: territorial control and a crafting system predicated on hunting wildlife. It transpires that we're not the only ones bitter about the arrival of these unwanted guests, and the indigenous Rakyat tribe soon encourages Jason to recover its sabotaged villages. Dotted around the archipelago, ownership of these settlements is laid out in a clear video game language, with flags waving at the centre of each to show who has a claim to which region.
Back at the start of January, we wrote of our hope that 2012 would bring us more Actual New Games. As much as we like stuff like Diablo 3 (when we can play it), we also want games that "invent new styles and genres", as I said at the time.
You probably think you've got a pretty good handle on what to expect from the third entry in Ubisoft's Far Cry series. A lush jungle paradise to sneak around in, a rag-tag army of dangerous thugs to dispatch, some grounded, gritty dialogue to wrap your ears around - that all sounds about right.
But how about fourth-wall smashing psychotropia, Nietzchean commentary on the gamification of generation Y and a caustic dissection of the very fabric of the video game medium? Plus, a side-order of shark punching. No? Well, it's time to realign your expectations. If Ubisoft stays true to its word, it's about to deliver one of the oddest, most idiosyncratic AAA blockbusters of the current console generation.
The new demo on display at E3 this week offers a whole new angle on the title, following the relatively straight-laced scene-setting introduction we were offered this time last year. Whereas back then out-of-his-depth island castaway Jason was doing his utmost to escape the clutches of mohawked psychopath Vaas, now the tables have turned and he's on the offensive, attempting to flush the villain out of his shanty town meets circus high-top jungle hideout.
It always pans out the same way. You turn up a bit late and slightly sweaty, because in East London every street looks the bloody same. You then get shown a Powerpoint presentation extolling the virtues of 'Big Shooter Next' multiplayer, and soon after you and your fellow journalists are herded next door where sixteen glowing screens are humming in darkness waiting for you.
It's great, not least because you often get free posh sandwiches, but because it's a perfect way to judge a multiplayer game's potential. Online gaming is about shared enjoyment - so when you hear the gasps, the shouts, the swearing and have someone level an accusatory finger at you then call you an arsehole, you know a game has potential.
Far Cry 3 is going all out to encourage those yelps. Everything about it is being built to encourage teamplay - to keep your side fighting the good fight together. For example, myself and my cohorts were at one stage approaching a Domination point - a lonely spot caught halfway between a wrecked submarine that sits in a murky green dock and the dark interior of a network of jungle caves.
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.