Ubisoft's extreme version of Bear Grylls.
Before we knew it, December was upon us and all the games had arrived in stores in time for everyone to buy them as presents. We've got the reveal of our Game of the Year coming after Christmas, but for 24 days starting December 1 we'll bring you a new contender for the title. Please note that these games are in no particular order, but feel free to speculate on where they might appear in our final list.
Martin Gaston, Reviews Editor
Far Cry 3 is wonderful, and I think it works so well because it feels so fake. The verdant Rook Island defies natural topography to routinely give you the opportunity to kill people from paragliders and zip lines. The animals are completely unrealistic, which is perhaps necessary in a game which asks you to spend much of your time shooting and skinning them; tigers, which in the heat of the moment are terrifying, generally act like somebody has vacuumed out their brains. It is an entire island designed to facilitate and empower the player, which is where it fundamentally differs from its predecessor. Both games are about survival, but Far Cry 2 made me feel weak and powerless. Far Cry 3 makes me feel strong, like the vast swathes of its landscape are mine for the taking.
The game's story beats occasionally make a stab at something a bit more profound – with some successes and failures along the way – but Ubisoft's smartest trick is in making a game about escapism and empowerment and then selling it to a demographic fond of escapism and empowerment.
It only really works when you're prepared to surrender to the developers and play the game by its own rules, though. Much of the game's mechanics remind me of Assassin's Creed II, in that it has the same giddy sense of unlocking and owning a massive chunk of land, but for an open world game it's surprisingly scripted and constrained. You can't explore nooks and crannies like you can in Skyrim, but Ubisoft threads its adventure with enough distractions you probably won't even notice – provided you like those distractions, that is.
Far Cry 3 is a rare, precious game for me, and it managed to give me an incredible amount of joy when I was feeling at my most burnt out with gaming's traditional publishers. If you've felt burned by so many of 2012's AAA games, maybe Far Cry 3 is just the tonic you need.
Neon Kelly, Video Production Editor
I know this is a controversial view, and I know I'm asking for abuse, but I actually prefer the flawed brilliance of Far Cry 2. It's got a far better atmosphere, and offers a stiffer challenge – even if the respawning checkpoints are a big pain in the a*se.
Anyway, we're here to talk about Far Cry 3, aren't we? If you're playing on a decent PC it looks nothing short of incredible, and to be frank I'm fairly impressed that Ubi managed to squeeze the game onto consoles without utterly mangling it. Far Cry 3 also gets points for offering so much for the player to do – once you've learned the ropes, the island really does feel like your playground. I only really have two problems with the game as a whole: it gives you too much too quickly, and the story missions are pretty weak. All my favourite moments from Far Cry 3 are incidental ones – getting surprised by a croc while crossing a river; running over a tiger in a cruddy old hatchback; and hang gliding into the middle of a pirate outpost, with all the subtlety of a drunken Batman. But the game is too eager to hand out goodies; by three or four hours in, I felt like a kid who'd opened all his Christmas presents in five minutes. And the less said about the story, the better.
Still, it was good fun while it lasted. I'm happy that the game has done well, and wherever the next Far Cry takes us, I'll certainly be keen to hitch a ride.
David Scammell, Deputy News Editor
There's a disturbing trend at the moment for publishers to present a product as something it isn't. After all, when you think of Far Cry 3, what do you see? Crazy villains? The fear of being alone on a mysterious island? The definition of insanity?
Those elements are all in there, of course, but aren't explored anywhere near the extent that you may have otherwise believed. Where I had been expecting a smart, twisted tale about the mind-warping effects of being cast away on an unknown island, I was instead left with a fairly innocuous open-world shooter about a party-hard 20-something attempting to rescue his friends, of whom I'm expected to believe is more adept at killing than an entire pirate fleet and private military combined.
It's nonsense, really, and fails to explore the themes that it constantly alludes to. Ultimately, Far Cry 3 was fantastic right up until the point that you expect it to become spectacular, where it crumbles into a disappointing mess. After the credits had rolled, I couldn't shake the feeling of being left short-changed.
Nonetheless, it's difficult to class the rest of the game as nothing less than superb. The vast majority of missions are terrific, its mechanics are fun and it's technically brilliant. But where Far Cry 3 really felt like it should have set a new milestone for the industry, it was instead offensively pathetic.