Transplanting the hallucinatory aura of Coppola’s Apocalypse Now to a tropical island, Ubisoft’s Far Cry 3 illuminates the heart of darkness. Putting you at the mercy of the mercurial Kurtz-a-like Vaas, a Mohican-sporting sociopath with a penchant for cruelty.

A utopian holiday dream gone wrong, the game begins with our vacationing protagonist, Jason Brody, and his brother Grant imprisoned in a crude bamboo cage. Your first task is to escape the clutches of Vaas’ slave-trafficking pirates, who have invaded the island in search of beaches, bloodshed and bounty.

The campaign is full of memorable characters – the psychotic Vaas, your scarred-but-unbowed comrade Dennis, and the ‘in-and-out’ Dr. Earnhardt, who seemingly follows the old adage ‘If the pills aren’t working, double the dose’.

The developers deftly use the emotional pull of Jason’s family ties to push you through the narrative. Rook Island however is a story in itself with a living, breathing ecosystem. You’re free to explore via a wide variety of vehicular options – jet skis, hang gliders, jeeps, and zip lines. And what a wonderful feeling it is the first time you take flight on a hang glider, lose control and spiral through the coconut trees into the deep blue.

Other activities compete for your island time as well – too timid to take on a whole crew of villains? Then spend your time hunting boars to construct your first ammo pouch, or perhaps gather some green leaves and craft some medicine.

Yes, I said crafting. Fear not though, the system is sweetly streamlined, as is the skill upgrade system, and can all be done in-backpack so to speak, negating the need to go to a certain location. There are even weapon vending machines scattered about should your wallet get overly full.

Jason, like Ezio, Nathan Drake and other recent gaming heroes also seems to have excellent upper arm strength allowing for much climbing activity. Similar to the viewpoints in Ubisoft’s other big-name series Assassin’s Creed; you unlock new areas of the map by climbing radio towers. These not only reveal the landscape, but bring more fire power and fast travel options.

The visuals are stunning, with the lavishly rendered tropical fauna a consistent delight. My Xbox 360 version was subject to occasional screen tearing and the odd jagged texture, but never was such enough to pull me out of the immersive experience.

Swimming underwater to retrieve plants from the sea bed, or to access hidden areas is a relaxing experience (so long as you can avoid enemy boats, sharks and the occasional crocodile). And it must be said that the quality of the visuals while submerged is possibly the best underwater action of this generation, with weighty strokes and realistic blurring as you plunge into the blue.

Combat is excellent too, the responsive controls almost never causing a problem whether sneaking through tense and atmospheric missions or slaughtering your foes in a blaze of gunfire. The character of the island even lends a hand – there’s no more satisfying a feeling than being outgunned and being saved by a passing leopard.

One of the things I liked best about Far Cry 3 was its seamless sense of atmosphere, whether it be the way the controls respond differently depending on the vehicle, or the way the sound keeps you on the edge of your seat. Even doing something as relatively mundane as climbing a radio tower, with the iron creaking and wind rushing around the pillars, really put the spook into proceedings.

Not many games reach such a high quality level as this and, in a way, it might be argued that the lessened expectation has helped this Pacific Ocean beauty shine. Over grassy dunes and through thick jungle Far Cry 3 has sneaked up on us; putting in a world-class performance that demands your attention like a flare in a black night.

By Sam Gill

Score: 5/5

Price: £39.99-£49.99
Format: Xbox 360 (tested), PS3, PC
Developer: Ubisoft
Publisher: Ubisoft