If Far Cry 3 was a third person shooter as opposed to a first person shooter, it could conceivably be my Game of the Year… or at least in second place. As a first person shooter however? It’s still an absolutely incredible game and well worthy of your attention this holiday season.

Like the previous game – which I admittedly did not like because of a poor story – Far Cry 3 is set in a huge open world with tons of side missions, wildlife to stalk and prey and main missions to complete—forty in all. (This is not a game you’re going to be able to finish in one weekend very easily.)

You play Jason Brody who is kidnapped, along with his brothers and friends at the very beginning of the game, by Vaas, the leader of a group of modern-day pirates. You escape naturally and meet up with Dennis from the Rakyat tribes. The island is fictitious, situated somewhere near Thailand, but it’s clear the game developers took cues from actual native life.

Dennis begins to train you to become a killer to help rescue your friends and family, as well as take vengeance upon Vaas and his men. Within a few hours, you go from a Jason Brody that is horrified that he just killed a man to gleefully lighting fields of marijuana on fire with a flamethrower. “This is awesome!” you yell time after time.

And that’s the point of the game. In clear homages to Apocalypse Now and similar works, Brody becomes a monster over the course of the game. With each new piece of a tatau (tattoo) he sports, you can upgrade your skills, but you simultaneously become more and more of a monster that your friends don’t recognize as you rescue them.

It’s tough, however, to truly appreciate Brody’s descent into madness and darkness, even as you play through oddly mystical and captivating dream sequences. (Yes, Far Cry 3 has a bit of magic in it and even evokes an Uncharted-like sequence or two, no matter how real the rest of the game feels.) But because it’s a third-person shooter, you don’t see Brody’s face as he talks to his friends or carries out his acts. While I tried to feel what Brody was going through, it was difficult to do without seeing his face and reactions.

The game is also awash with moments that teeter towards outright racism and rape-as-no-big-deal as game developers try to paint a world that corrupts young Jason Brody.

Brody’s emotional descent parallels how incredibly adapt he becomes with weapons in such a short amount of time.

Once I found the three weapons I liked best – an RPG for sniping or killing armored guards, an assault weapon to stop me from being overwhelmed and a shotgun for the majority of the time – I rarely tried anything different. While the game has an incredibly innovative stealth system, I tended to go in guns blazing. Had I chosen stealth, I could have thrown rocks to distract and lure guards away (where I could take them out or sneak past them), as well as use a camera to help better track their movements.

One of the most innovative features, however, was the crafting system. Collect plants and animal skins to create pouches for holding ammo, loot sacks for holding money and objects, holsters for weapons and more. The recipes are easy to follow and the map helps you easily spot the animals or plants you need. If you have little patience like me, you might just craft what you need to survive (I, for instance, quickly crafted a holster that would allow me to hold three weapons). If you love open worlds, however, you could get lost in the world of Far Cry 3 for hours just crafting things—it’s that fun.

You can also lose yourself in a ton of side quests involving liberating bases, taking part in supply runs and more. I barely scratched the surface of some of them and found I invested at least 20 hours in the game.

Like in Ubisoft’s other big franchise, Assassin’s Creed, there are towers you can climb – radio towers in this game – to open your map so you can see what’s in the surrounding area. Similarly, jumping into a river is also one of the best ways to escape your pursuers, whether you’re an Assassin or Jason Brody.

And that’s truly my only fault with the game—Jason Brody is not an Assassin. His thirst for power and quest for vengeance is strong, but his descent into darkness (and back out if you choose the “good” ending) doesn’t always ring true. He’s a tough character to be emotionally invested in, especially when Vaas turns in the best villain performance of the year.

Even with some nagging story issues, Far Cry 3 is one of the best first person shooters of the Fall, if not the entire year. You’ll want to spend time with Jason Brody on this island for hours and hours—you just might not like him very much by the end of the game.

Then again. Maybe that’s the point.

* Disclosure: There is a multiplayer component to the game, though I did not spend time with it. And a copy of Far Cry 3 was provided to me by Ubisoft for the purposes of this review. *