Want more Far Cry 3? Check out our guide to 10 things you didn't know you could do.
Let's start by talking about why Assassin's Creed 3 is pish. It's a game obsessed with making you play exactly how the designers had intended. Those rewards you get for full synchronisation aren't rewards for playing well; in fact, withholding them is a punishment for playing a mission any way the designers didn't intend. Assassin's Creed 3 wants you to hit certain beats to look stylish and will end the game if you don't dance to its tune.
Back in Assassin's Creed 2 the series valued emergence - the kind of crazy nonsense that might or might not happen depending on how you did or didn't play. You'd get a target and more often than not you'd do your thing and the game was happy for you to do it the way you want. Far Cry 3 loves emergence, and that makes it a more authentic Assassin's Creed than Assassin's Creed 3.
It's not an unfair comparison. They were mostly developed at the same studio in Montreal, they both begin with the same old quote from Alice in Wonderland and then they both proceed to share the same ideas all over the place - similar towers to climb, similar minigames to play, a similar focus on hunting endangered critters, and a similar structure - with one critical difference: Far Cry 3 lets you do most things your way. It's a thirty-hour anecdote generator and some of the year's best gaming moments have been emergent madness spawned by Far Cry 3's checkpoint assaults.
Now, there's a lot I dislike about Far Cry 3. The campaign has all your Game Design Favourites like Forced Stealth, Escort Missions, and First Person Platforming is terrible. I don't want to have to keep leaving the game to see my map or craft items and I don't see why Far Cry 2's magical cardboard in-game map couldn't have carried over to Far Cry 3.
I once grumbled about Far Cry 2's respawning checkpoints but 3's alternative has you gradually stripping the world of content until there's nothing left to fight but a bunch of tapirs. And I'm not keen on the - to lapse into sociology-speak - "othering" of the Rakyat, the white dude restoring order to a disorderly "ethnic" land via the hot end of his assault rifle, or the implied rape and QTE disco stabfest stuff either.
That's not to say I want Far Cry to be a PG-rated no-chairshots-to-the-head cuddlefest, because I miss the sheer brutality of Far Cry 2 - a game where your bestest buddy deforests acres of jungle with Agent Orange just so you can have a clear line of fire at the guys farming there, never mind the damage it does to the ecosystem or to your face.
In Far Cry 2 even your friends weren't your friends and it all felt like a proper descent into madness - mad characters, mad game design, one final mad moral choice, the lot. Cut to Far Cry 3 and you're punching your brother until he cries, doing the whole "look at my hands... what have I become?" thing and then getting straight back to jumping off a cliff with a hang glider and dive-bombing guys for phat XP. Thematic consistency is the all I'm after - Far Cry 2 had it; Far Cry 3 doesn't.
But Far Cry 2 also had bad guys who could spot the golf ball Alan Shepard teed off the Moon just as it's passing Jupiter so every mission became a shoot-'em-up killing spree where everyone and everything caught fire. Four years on, Far Cry 3 has bad guys with all the observational powers of a referee in the WWE, so stealth works and works well. You get to hide and feel powerful right up to the moment you make a silly mistake and then you get to fight off a small army with the obscene firepower you're given within minutes of starting the campaign.
"I once had a grenade launcher joust with pirates on a bridge until I'd dumped five truckfuls of bastards into the river"
You have fantastic tools with which to scout out an area and so many ways to know when enemies are nearby - the radar, Brody's X-Ray vision, their constant chatter - that you master the environment. Games have become sorta obsessed with "empowering" players - apparently ignoring the important lessons taught by games like Resident Evil and Dark Souls on the way.
But in stealth games every system needs to be transparent or else you end up shouting "BULLSHIT" at the screen when a brown man standing in front of a brown tree in a brown forest filled with brown grass on the other side of the universe puts a bullet between your eyes when you were hiding behind a rock. Far Cry 3 understands stealth like Mark of the Ninja does and it means you have the tools to play the game how you like.
When he's not making games badder in badder Andy Kelly likes to take out outposts with a couple of neat sniper shots to the alarm system, then pick everyone off from afar. Me? I like to get in the camp and get up close with knife and bow. And we've both had fun with it. Something goes wrong so you hide and relocate, or you Rambo everyone to death with explosive arrows, maybe.
I carry a grenade launcher everywhere like Mask De Smith and go explodey the very second a pirate or a Cassowary gives me an excuse. I once had a grenade launcher joust with pirates on a bridge until I'd dumped five truckfuls of bastards into the river. Weird things happen in far Cry 3 and it's brilliant.
When Ubisoft are trying to force Uncharted-style scripting into Assassin's Creed's massive open world it's clear game design is headed down a dark rabbit hole. And at the bottom of that hole isn't a magical wonderland filled with whimsical characters and adventure; nope, it's just a regular hole filled with rabbit poo. Far Cry 3 is good because it lets you tell your own stories within the neat boundaries Ubisoft give you. Mad emergent things happen and you're forced to deal with them using whatever comes to mind - stealth, fire, missiles, running away and hiding - Far Cry 3 doesn't care what you do, so long as you're having fun.
And then you go away and tell your friends about what happened in your tropical adventure and they tell you what happened in theirs, and the stories you tell are different. That's what videogames are supposed to be. Any idiot can tell you a story, but only a videogame can give you enough flexibility to be creative and tell your own. Far Cry 3 is a proper videogame and I have the stories to prove it.
Further reading: CVG's Far Cry 3 review.