Genre: First-Person Shooter
Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
Release Date: Fall 2008
When Far Cry first debuted on the PC back in early 2004, it set new standards for visual excellence and blew away the expectations of most gamers (well at least anyone with a high-end rig) with its depiction of a lush, tropical paradise gone bad. In the ensuing years, there have been "spiritual successors" both on the console with Far Cry Instincts and on the PC with Crysis, but there has never been a true sequel until now. We recently had a chance to spend some quality time with an early version of Far Cry 2 to see how the game is shaping up.
The biggest change from the original is the environment. No longer are you exploring the lush confines of a tropical paradise à la "Lost." There are no mutants, superpowers, or a sci-fi angle. This time around, the game drops you into the middle of a turf war in the African jungle.
According to the producers, the key aspect of the Far Cry experience is a notion of systemic freedom and the ability to use world items as weapons. While there are some liberties taken for gameplay reasons, the ultimate goal is a nod toward realism. The idea is to make it feel like you're exploring a world rather than simply playing through one level after another.
Much like the original game, Far Cry 2 strives to create the illusion of a living world by creating an AI system that is autonomous as possible. Enemy characters and NPCs are given assignments, but they aren't given scripted paths to follow. If there is a noise, they'll check it out. If a group is working in tandem, they'll periodically check in with one another. If you wander somewhere you aren't supposed to be and a bad guy raises the alarm, a bunch more will come running in to help their compatriot.
Sometimes, the AI works against you. Sometimes, it's a minor annoyance, such as the time we were driving along a back road and happened to come upon a minor roadblock that one faction had set up for the other. And sometimes, you can get the AI to work in your favor by way of distraction. Cause a big enough ruckus somewhere, and the AI is going to check it out. If enough men leave their posts to react to a perceived emergency, you can get just the opening you need to sneak in — that is, if you want to sneak in.
Far Cry 2 may be an FPS, but it's striving to offer more than just run-and-gun play. With more than 100 square kilometers to explore, you're got plenty of ways to attack any obstacle. Feel like emulating Rambo? Go for it. Inspired by Solid Snake? Go ahead and be sneaky. Getting creative with your environment is also a handy way to start a ruckus. Since much of Africa is dry, setting fires is one way to flush out enemies. If you prefer the direct approach (and are tired of the car you're driving), go ahead and slap a few charges to the side, gun the engine, and jump out as the driverless car hurtles into an enemy stronghold. Get up and press the detonator for a satisfying BOOM.
One thing Far Cry 2 doesn't share with its predecessors is the game engine. Because the title is an open world environment with no loading times whatsoever — the entire world is streamed on the fly — a brand new engine had to be created from scratch. The team still has to do a final pass on the visual effects, but the work in progress we saw offered more than respectable performance.
We were able to wander around on foot, go for a swim in the lake, climb into a boat, explore the river, ambush some unsuspecting militia members, steal their jeep, explore a back road, run a blockade, destroy a ramshackle outpost with the help of a machine gun and a rocket-propelled grenade, drive a bit further up a small mountain, appropriate a hang glider and then go for a relaxing flight over the valley. Like the massive run-on sentence you just read, the Dunia game engine handled all of our exploits with nary a pause or hiccup. As promised, we were able to go where we wanted, when we wanted.
All of this freedom makes for a great sandbox to explore, but does it make a good game? Unfortunately, we weren't able to really delve into the story mode, but we did get a basic overview.
Two competing militias, the United Front for Liberation and Labor (UFLL) and the Alliance for Popular Resistance (APR) are battling it out in a quest for dominance, with innocents trapped in the middle. Both factions will cause you trouble over the course of the game, but neither is your primary target. That honor falls to a mysterious man known only as the Jackal. He's an international arms dealer who is fueling the fight (and making a massive profit on the side) by arming both the UFLL and the APR. It's up to you to eliminate the Jackal by any means necessary.
When the game starts, you have your choice of one of nine characters. The eight you don't play become NPCs within the title, along with three additional female characters. According to the developers, you often won't know who's a loyal friend and who's going to turn on you. Just because you think you have a relationship with someone doesn't mean they aren't double-dealing on the side. Assuming the game's AI system can handle it, the twisting story line is one of the most intriguing aspects of Far Cry 2.
Adding to the immersion is the integration of standard HUD elements into the environment. Need to look at the map while driving? Just glance down at your GPS. Seriously injured? Pull a bullet out of your arm with pliers and then cauterize the bleeding wound with the tip of your burning cigarette.
Far Cry 2 certainly promises a lot, and while executing on those promises is going to be a challenge, the game certainly has our attention. The real trick is going to be finding out how it holds up after a few hours of play. Will the AI still feel proactive, or will scripted actions start rearing their ugly head and break the illusion of total freedom? Will the story end up as a compelling narrative, or will it just be a jumble of random bits that don't flow together coherently? We'll let you know more as soon as we get our grubby hands on a more complete build of the game.
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