Far Cry 3 was a timely release for me. Perhaps a fitting one for the end of the year, a year of modern warfare shooters sliding further and further into linear lowest common denominator garbage, because Far Cry 3 was almost a complete antithesis to everything I find annoying about spunkgargleweewee.
As a sandbox it's the very opposite of linear, but I've played a lot of sandbox games where the actual missions are laid out as a very strictly linear series of checkpoints (particularly annoying in, most recently, Assassin's Creed 3), which to my mind is missing the point of an organic sandbox. Far Cry 3 does have its fair share of those kinds of missions but also has quite a few others (especially the enemy outposts) that let you scout ahead, plan your approach and use whatever tactics you want. With my personal favorite being releasing angry tigers.
It also did some interesting things with characters, particularly the main character who had a very clear arc and progression as the story went on. He wasn't just some career soldier who stone-facedly does what he gotta do all the time and he didn't have the backing of all the American military and their technology. It's just nice to see a hero who has to fundamentally change themselves to succeed, rather than the protagonist just being this smug immovable object smacking the status quo back into line.
And the story is presented well, too, it's got great moments, twists and turns, and it keeps the pace up. The opening I particular liked. If it'd been the start of a film, you'd have thought it was a fake-out. You have two brothers escaping from a prison camp, the handsome square-jawed military elder who takes the lead and the wimpy whiney younger shaping up to be the kind of character the plot would kill off for the sake of motivating his heroic sibling. And then pow, the elder one's shot dead. And the younger runs off into the jungle crying and holding his arse. In the game, though, there's a pretty strong hint that Jason is the protagonist in that we're already looking through his eyes. In Modern Warfare that would be no guarantee of survival, but thankfully Far Cry 3 is not Modern Warfare.
Another thing that makes it timely, especially for me, is that there's a wingsuit in it. And just a couple of weeks ago, in the column following up my Black Ops 2 review, I specifically picked out the wingsuit as one of many gadgets in that game that are wheeled out to be shown off for thirty seconds and never seen again. I made the point that this was the game design equivalent of wasting perfectly good food, and a better game would work the gadget into its mechanics, stagger it out, and give you the opportunity to appreciate it on your own terms.