Gamers will find themselves singing Guns N' Roses' 1987 gritty hit "Welcome to the Jungle" while caught on a dangerous tropical paradise in Far Cry 3 (Ubisoft, reviewed for Xbox 360, rated M for Mega Mature, $59.99).
The latest sequel to a violent open-world shooter finds a group of friends on an extreme sports vacation that turns into a savage test of survival.
With pals and siblings captured by the sadistic slave trafficker Vaas and stuck on the dense and warring Rook Island, tourist Jason Brody makes an escape and slowly hones skills and, more importantly, a killer instinct to become Rambo on a warpath to rescue his pals.
The ecosystem of the island will never stop amazing the player through his first person perspective as Jason. He travels around and in lush landscapes, crystal clear waters, ancient ruins, caves and bunkers while under the constant stress of the unpredictable.
He'll encounter a deadly combination of more than 20 species of wildlife and pockets of entrepreneurial lunatics, psychotic warlords, twisted treasure hunters and drug addicts needing to be put out of their misery.
Jason occasionally meets islanders willing to help but mostly destroys all in his path to gain skills, craft items, unlock customizable weapons (with hundreds of upgrades) and uncover the secrets of the land.
The action offers a flexibility of tactics mixing visceral attacks, stealth and use of varied weaponry (such as Molotovs, machine guns, flame throwers, sniper rifles and rocket launchers) while traveling around the island compounds.
He'll roam by land (running, sliding, climbing, ATVs, jeeps and jalopies), sea (boats and jet skis) and air (hang gliders and zip lines).
Early on, I decided to beef up my fiberglass recurve bow with a red dot sight, a higher capacity quiver and fire-tipped arrows and it paid off liberally when in these killing fields. Atop a grassy overlook, I silently picked off a car full of foes, as they screamed profanities while searching for me to no avail. Now if only escaping a lunging leopard was as easy.
Besides progressing the story, nuances to game play include climbing radio towers around the island to view more of the complex environment, liberating outposts for quick travel, safe houses and equipment vending, mixing herbs (administered with a syringe) to restore health and enhance abilities, sharp shooting contests and using a camera to tag and track enemies.
And, much like other first person shooters, players can loot bodies for cash and goodies for trade and perform multiple types of close-quarters bloody assaults. As they unlock skills points with experience, they can grab and hide bodies and attack with more proficiency and ferocity.
More surprising is the ridiculous amount of animal hunting required to collect pelts and build larger bags, wallets and holsters to carry more stuff. Despite this intriguing type of resource manager, I'm not thrilled with killing cassowaries and tapirs, even in a video game.
However, to put this in perspective, in the last year, I have had no problems virtually slaughtering hordes of zombies, batches of Middle eastern terrorists, gaggles of Asian gangs and a group of leather clad nun assassins. Cutting open Komodo Dragons, Bull sharks, Sumatran Tigers and Asian Black Bears, though, really bothered me.
Still, Jason's adrenaline-filled adventure played out as a guilty pleasure.
Quickly transforming a mild mannered, naive individual into a heroic death machine is stress relieving fun and makes dishing out the virtual carnage disturbingly satisfying.
The game also includes the obligatory multiplayer mayhem with up to 14 warriors taking part. It's tuned for team play and excessive violence and partially differs from similar fare with a Battle Cry (used to enhance powers of an entire squad) and a Firestorm mode (burn an opponent's headquarters and try to escape the evolving burn).
Additionally, an intriguing standout is a robust map editor that lets players build their own islands (more than 2,000 items to place) for sharing to the Far Cry community or create a solo level for the ultimate training course.
However, for something a bit more unusual, Far Cry 3 presents a four player, co-operative adventure set six month prior to Jason Brody's predicament.
It's pure rampage revenge with Tarantino intensity through six chapters. Players control characters such as a Scottish brute named Callum and a Russian hitman named Mikhail and engage the waves of computer-controlled enemies locally (with a split screen) or team up with partners online.
For gamers dazzled by Dead Island, Just Cause 2, Dishonored and Assassins Creed III, I consider Far Cry 3 a mandatory event. It plays out as one of the best — albeit uncomfortably brutal — games of the year.
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