The knife throwing, shark jumping, glider bombing of 'Far Cry 3's' open world

My favorite sorts of games are the ones you can get lost in. But having that moment thrust upon you, especially during a press preview, can be unbalancing.

My favorite sorts of games are the ones you can get lost in. But having that moment thrust upon you, especially during a press preview, can be unbalancing.

You're in a village.

You have a gun.

Play.

There are no objectives here: No bad guys chasing me, items to fetch, cars to race.

So I walk.

I explore, tramping through the thick green grass into tropical forests, tracing dirt paths that fade away or turn into makeshift roads. I fire my first shot at a wild dog chasing a goat. I feel the need to explain my gunplay to the developer standing by me.

"I saved the goat."

The campaign will take 20 hours to complete, the world will take hundreds to explore.

He doesn't care. Neither does the goat.

It's not long before I find my own objectives.

First it's a loose collection of men who yell and shoot at me when I approach them: Kill the men.

Then it's the hang glider I find conveniently located atop a mountain perch overlooking a dazzling drop into forest, coral and azure blue sea: Go for a ride.

Finally, it's the encampment of pirates I spot during one of my gliding sojourns: Take the camp.

I spent half an hour doing nothing while I was doing everything in Far Cry 3. I never had a mission, never sensed even a wisp of the game's compelling story or dramatic direction. But I had fun.

I figure any game that manages to deliver hang-glider trips, run-ins with wild dogs and armed pirates, treasure hunts and death by hungry sharks in a 30 minute demo is packed with potential.

Jamie Keen, lead game designer for Far Cry 3, tells me that you can play the game pretty much "ad infinitum."

"There's so much to explore out there," he said.

While the game's missions will take about 20 hours to work through, the main island and the surrounding ones, which you can also visit, will offer up much more to do.

"It's going to be hundreds of hours," Keen says.

That doesn't mean the mission-free bits of the game will be completely without structure. There's a clever underlying threat that ties the whole experience together: Pirates.

The idea is that both the game's missions and its sandbox design take place on a chain of tropical islands. While players will assume the role of Jason Brody, an out-of-his-element tourist forced to save his girlfriend, he won't have to spend all of his time working through the game's story.

The islands of the game start out completely controlled by the game's pirates, while Brody doesn't have to clear these bad guys out, capturing a territory makes it a bit easier to get around. There are a total of 34 outposts throughout the game's world, each one controlling a section of the worldmap. Capture an outpost and you seize control of the area and clear it of most pirates.

When you take out an outpost the rebels move in and the area becomes "friendly," Keen said.

Another layer of gameplay has Brody capturing the game's 20 radio towers. Each of these towers unlocks a better view of the map in its area, also unveiling challenges and treasures.

My short experience with the game culminated with my first capturing a radio tower and then, inevitably, making a run at the only camp I could see in the area.

This first base was a tiny little encampment, a structure of tin walls and exposed wood on the beach, held by a small group of pirates. My initial attempt at capturing it had me trying to drop directly onto a pirate from my hang glider, but after three misses and three deaths I decided to swoop in low and drop into the water nearby. Clambering out, I ran to the outer wall, slipped inside and managed to knife two pirates, one up through chin and crown of his head and the other across the neck, before anyone noticed me.

I maneuvered Brody up to a second floor look out and tossed a grenade at two surprised pirates before vaulting over the wall and shooting down the final batch of bad guys. Unfortunately, one of them had gotten to an alarm before I could kill him. A minute or two later a jeep rolled into the base. Lying in wait, it was fairly easy to clear them out. Minutes after my victory a clutch of rebels ran out from the jungle to signify that I had permanently seized control of the base.

It was a fast, fluid engagement; one that allowed room for my bizarre tactics and tried its best to stop me in my tracks.

"There are open quests, relics to find, things to explore, shooting challenges, racing challenges, poker to play, knife throwing."

Most importantly, this wasn't a scripted mission, it was a firefight born out of the carefully plotted, systemic world created by Ubisoft Montreal.

Later, running around on the beach, I decided to kill one of those rebels and just as quickly, these men who had run up to celebrate my victory, turned on me. I was running from them, through the shallow waters of the beach, when I stumbled and fell into deeper water. Once there, adrift just off shore, I stopped to marvel at the sharks, until one ate me.

The game has an entire ecology, one that includes not just bad guys and good guys, villages and encampments, but also goats and wild dogs, birds of prey and sharks, tigers and leopards. That I can run around in this world, chasing treasure, capturing radio towers, looking for trouble, is a marvel.

"There is a lot to explore," Keen tells me later. "Shipwrecks, smaller islands..."

Ringed by the ocean, players can eventually come to a point of no return, where they are forced to stop exploring, he said. But even that, it seems, is a subtle barrier.

And the game isn't just black and white; just mission or open world, Keen explained. The developers put a lot of effort into including lots of things to do in their island jungles.

"There are open quests, relics to find, things to explore, shooting challenges, racing challenges, poker to play, knife throwing," Keen says, rattling off a list.

It's even possible to eradicate all of the pirates in the entire game, though it won't be easy.

"There are a couple of islands out there," he said. "The ones near the end of the game. We're really pushing those. We're tweaking them to make them possible to do."

In This StoryStream

Gamescom 2012: All the games and news, live from Germany
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