Yes, the original Far Cry had mutants (probably worst aspect of the game) but also had the whole "island" atmosphere, which it would appear inspired Ubisoft to change the setting for number 3. Just so you know, Far Cry was developed by Crytek but published by Ubisoft. For whatever reason, Crytek split off afterwards and started the Crysis franchise (maybe you've heard of it), while Ubisoft has developed every other entry in the Far Cry franchise.
Far Cry 2 was, all in all, absolutely atrocious. Yes, it had some positive aspects such as the setting and the general lack of a HUD, but also so many horrible gameplay development decisions that completely killed all fun to be had in the game. There's a reason I did my second playthrough with god mode activated; I only finished the entire thing a second time because I don't like doing things halfway.
All that being said, I'm also looking forward to Far Cry 3, but will be waiting until the inevitable "Game of the Year" edition with all DLC included. Same with Borderlands 2. My backlog of games right now is large enough that there's pretty much no point buying new ones when I know I'll get a better deal on them in a year.
I had no idea 1 was developed by Crytek but that's extremely interesting seeing as how the first Crysis is my favorite first person shooter.
They should have kept going with it and made a Crysis with a completely open world like in Far Cry.
And I totally agree with your thoughts on Far Cry 2, it reminded me of the first Assassin's Creed in the way that I hated playing it most of the time and was angry more then joyful, yet I kept playing it because I saw all of the potential and I'm a sucker for open worlds. Although in the end I would say that overall I enjoyed the experience (something I won't say about AC).