Far Cry 3 should not be my nomination for 2012 game of the year. I'm not a huge fan of first-person shooters. While I appreciate the technical accomplishment of the first two games in the series I've not felt compelled to complete either. I felt absolutely no excitement leading up to the third installment's late November release. I expected a visually pleasing shooter that would keep me occupied for an hour or so before I moved on to more compelling things.
What I got was the only open world action-adventure game I've ever loved.
Don't cry for Grand Theft Auto IV and Red Dead Redemption. What we had was special—it was just never love. I watched them blossom from compelling ideas into full-bodied games, breath catching with each new screenshot and trailer. As soon as I was able I took them home, carefully peeling away the plastic and slipping them gently inside my game console. I entered their worlds with the best of intentions, listening to their stories unfold attentively. For a moment it felt as if I truly cared.
But as soon as the talking stopped it was all about me. I plowed pedestrians from their streets with reckless abandon. I rode their trails hard, unloading my weapons on anything that moved. I ignored their pleas for plot progression, instead seeking out random actions that satisfied my carnal nature, repeating them over and over until I was spent. I left them unfulfilled on the entertainment center shelf, collecting dust with their cases just out of reach.
With Far Cry 3 (played on PC, also available on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3) it was different. It was the friend of a friend (Kirk Hamilton) that I only hooked up with out of courtesy. It was attractive, sure, but I wasn't expecting much more than a brief encounter. I'd hang out for an hour or two and then move on.
It wasn't love at first sight. Beers and bros on the beach isn't my idea of a good time, and the follow-up activity—running through the jungle being chased by maniacs moments after my brother put the "special" in "special forces" and nearly got my head blown off—well that was just awkward.
I soon found myself in another open world, armed to the teeth and given free rein to do as I pleased. There were cars to drive, creatures to shoot, people to kill and plenty of things to set on fire. I was fully prepared to take Far Cry 3 like I had taken so many other sandbox games before it.
Then I made a startling discovery—I cared.
As implausible an action hero as slacker-turned-mercenary Jason Brody is, I found myself invested in his mission to rescue his travelling companions from the clutches of cruel and sadistic pirates. I reveled in the slow destruction of his inner fratboy while feeling the same trepidation as his friends over the darkness slowly consuming him. I felt that same darkness growing in me as I exacted satisfying revenge on the minions of the maniacal Vaas—easily one of the greatest new villains in gaming, even if he's only a mini-boss.
It almost felt like Far Cry 3 understood the sort of gamer I am, with compensation for my shortcomings integrated into the game's design. I am not good at first-person shooters, so in my case Jason Brody wasn't the superhuman commando many players complained he was. Most of the time he was just lucky. I appreciate that.
This is not to say my relationship with Far Cry 3 was all pure and innocent. I strayed now and then, indulging my base nature by partaking of the islands' more carnal delights. I was all over those sexy hills and valleys, leaving burn marks and bodies in my wake. I spent several afternoons shark-fishing with the old boat-mounted chain gun, if you know what I mean. I may have cheated a little bit, dallying with some of the game's lesser quests in-between massive set pieces.
But I always came back. That's what love is. That's why Far Cry 3 is my 2012 Game of the Year.
The writers of Kotaku are nominating nine games for 2012 Game of the Year. The nominations will be posted throughout the first week of January. The winner of our staff vote being announced on the Monday following and that game will be our 2012 GOTY, shifting 2011 GOTY Portal 2 a little further down our imaginary trophy shelf. Read all of our 2012 nominations, as they're posted.