This can't be Far Cry 2, can it? Deep in the African wilderness, we slowly creep though the darkness, the stars our only source of light. Using tall grass and bushes for cover, we silently approach a well-guarded compound, an enemy refilling station. The guards who aren't asleep huddle near a fire, idly chatting while we sneak to high ground. From this vantage point we can spy on the entire area, including each guard's position and the location of several fuel tanks. But something's wrong. It's quiet. Too quiet. Where are the booming explosions, the deadly firefights, and the dune-buggy drive-bys we've seen in all of the past demos of Far Cry 2, all of which led us to believe this would be one of the most explosive shooters of the year?
Don't worry, we're purposely choosing to sneak around this camp Sam Fisher-style to highlight the differences between night and day combat, differences that are like night and, um, day. Sure, we could fire laser-guided rockets into the camp or ghost-ride an explosive-laden jeep into our enemies, but then you wouldn't get to see some of the unique gameplay opportunities available only at night. First, as it usually happens at night, it's dark. Guards will have a more difficult time seeing you; they'll gather around sources of light such as campfires, and many will retire to their bunks for a good night's sleep. On this night, we avoided the patrols, sneaked from shadow to shadow, and placed improvised explosive devices on the station's fuel tanks. We retreated back to our hilltop vista, pressed a red button, and witnessed a breathtaking sight: a gas station exploding in a giant ball of flame that lit up the night sky like the Fourth of July. Now that's the Far Cry 2 we know and love.
With 50 square kilometers of African desert, jungle, and savannah as your playground, developer Ubisoft Montreal wants to ensure that you play Far Cry 2 however you want to play it. Whether in close or from afar, silent or guns blazing, at two in the morning or two in the afternoon, this virtual world is your oyster. The few remaining guards who survived our explosive ambush were too busy losing their minds as their world went up in flames to notice a solitary figure in the dark, stealing a jeep from under their noses. With our new wheels, we headed to the final mission objective: a water-supply pipeline diverting water from a local lake and village to pay off arms dealers.
If this sounds familiar, it is; the pipeline mission is the same demo we've played twice before, only set in the daytime. This time, at least, we get to play at night and have at our disposal the weapons of a silent assassin that showcase stealthy gameplay: an MP-5 SD silenced submachine gun, several IEDs, and a scoped dart rifle that fires rhino tranquilizers, good for one shot, one coma. The dart rifle is especially powerful at night because it doesn't give off any muzzle flash that would act as a flashing white bull's-eye on your chest. We climbed a nearby hill and used the handy monocular to zoom in on enemy sniper positions, machine-gun nests, and ammunition dumps. These were immediately tagged and added to the area map, which we used to devise a quick plan of entry. From the hill, we put a sniper to sleep with a dart to the neck, and began picking off foes one by one.
Silent or not, it takes only a few dead bodies for guards to zero in on your position, a threat that is also indicated by the intensifying musical score. The subtle tones of "infiltration music" are replaced by a tense African tribal beat to let you know that guards are looking for you. As the action escalates further, so too does the score, although in the middle of a pitched firefight everything is hard to hear over a cacophony of explosions and gunfire. We didn't let anything escalate further as we picked off two guards, circled around to the other side of the camp, and picked off two more. As you can imagine, watching your friends die in front of you from the effects of a tranquilizer overdose is frightening indeed, and the guards freaked out accordingly. When only one remained, this triggered what Ubi Montreal referred to as the last-man-standing syndrome. The last man alive in a given area will pump himself up by cursing, high on adrenaline and fear, sort of like "that guy" in every horror movie who screams, "You want me? Come and get me!" So, with an MP-5 bullet to the face, we got him.
If you prefer nighttime gameplay, you can head to any of the many safe houses in the game and take a nap, setting your alarm for the wee hours of the morning. Whereas the day and night cycle in Grand Theft Auto IV runs at about 24 minutes of actual gameplay for every in-game day, Far Cry 2 gives you six hours of gameplay for every in-game day. This ensures that your stealthy missions aren't ruined by sunrise after six minutes of action. Then again, you never have to sleep in your hunt for the Jackal, the infamous arms dealer who is enabling two rival factions, the United Front for Liberation and Labour, and the Alliance for Popular Resistance, to tear the region apart.
Before ending the demo, we just couldn't resist whipping out the flamethrower and lighting an entire village aflame. The fire effects are even more dramatic at night as flames quickly spread across the area in the direction of the wind. One of our NPC buddies, Frank, had joined us by now, so we decided to put to the test Ubi Montreal's claim that any NPC can be killed at any time. Ubi Montreal was right. With a quick blast from the flamethrower, Frank went down. Had we continued playing, he would not have been available to help us out of a jam, initiate extra side quests, or engage in witty Irish banter.
However, had we continued playing, we do know that we could have cashed in conflict diamonds to purchase weapon upgrades. Each firearm will degrade over time, which is denoted visually with tarnish and rust stains. As you use them, weapons will increasingly jam and misfire, although some, such as AK assault rifles, are more reliable than others, such as M16s. If your rocket misfires, it will spin at your feet like a defective bottle rocket before exploding in your face. Hint: run. Conflict diamonds will net you bigger and better guns (M-79 grenade launchers and AS-50 .50 caliber sniper rifles, to name a few), and even crates that provide unlimited refills of new guns. See a spot of rust on your MAC-10 machine pistol? Head to a safe house and grab a new one. The last thing you want in the middle of a fight is a jam.
For more on Far Cry 2, be sure to check out our exclusive interview with Ubisoft creative director Clint Hocking, as well as a new trailer, both packed with fresh gameplay footage. Far Cry 2 is set to explode on the PC, PlayStation 3, and Xbox 360 this fall, and we can't wait.