A mixture of cutting-edge graphics, open-ended gameplay, and sophisticated artificial intelligence made the original Far Cry a hit on the PC. For Far Cry 2, the development team at Ubisoft Montreal is still keeping those essential ingredients--gorgeous, lush environments, tricky AI, and a sandbox mentality--intact while changing up all the surrounding elements, such as the setting, storyline, and characters, to keep things fresh. As a result, when we first got our hands on the game at Ubisoft's recent spring press event, we felt like it was running into an old friend who had recently spent a load of cash on a wardrobe upgrade.
Far Cry 2's story has seemingly no ties to the original game, even if the protagonists in both games have the standard "square-jawed white guy" look about them. In the original, you fought it out in a tropical setting looking to rescue a mysterious woman from harm. In the sequel, you play as a mercenary whose goal is to take down an arms dealer known as The Jackal. Little is known about him, except that he's profiting greatly while perpetuating a conflict in the African savannah where the game takes place. As you hunt down The Jackal, you'll be caught in the middle of various and conflicting interests of multiple factions involved in the war. Which sides you work with and against will go a long way in determining your path through this multifaceted storyline.
The demo on hand at the Ubisoft event began overlooking a green, murky-looking swamp. Our first goal was to meet up with our point of contact, Frank, in a shack near the stating point. He was looking for our help in an operation he was planning, and our portion of it was to take down a nearby radio antenna that was broadcasting propaganda for one of the local factions.
After agreeing to the mission from Frank, we also met up with Warren, one of many non-player characters you'll run into in the game. Far Cry 2's open-ended nature is designed so that you can play the game any way you want--that extends to which characters you help in the game and which ones you ignore. If you decide to help out a character, he might be available to you later as a buddy. By chatting with Warren, he ensured his assistance should things get too hairy out in the field. It wouldn't be long before we needed to take him up on his offer.
As with the original game, vehicles look to play a big role in the missions of Far Cry 2. As soon as we left Frank's shack with the mission in mind, we hopped into a jeep (loaded with a convenient mounted machine gun on the rear) and began speeding toward our destination. Though you always have a map on hand to check for your mission locales, one cool touch is that the occasional street signs you run into in villages will illuminate in the direction of your goal. We made a few turns and, around the last bend, came to our first objective: a walled enemy encampment full of bad guys that were just begging to be filled full of bullets.
The problem with helping those enemies fulfill their bullet-riddled destiny, of course, is Far Cry 2's clever AI--one that demands equal measures of stealth and brutality to overcome. We tried the first encampment several times during the course of our demo with Far Cry 2--everything from the sneaking in and trying to keep things quiet (which didn't hold for long) to blasting though the front gates in our jeep and trying to run down enemies like they were dogs in the streets. Neither approach we took was met with perfect success. Thanks to enemies who were keen to take cover and deadly shots, we ended up dying several times in the process.
It's lucky for us, then, that we had Warren on our side. Because we chatted with Warren before the mission began and he had pledged his support to us, Warren was on hand to revive us, get us moving again, and give us a gun to continue the fight when we managed to get ourselves shot up in the mission. While you can only use these "buddy save" moments once, you can always go back and talk to your friend again to reset it for the next time you run into trouble.
Once you've been revived by a buddy, he'll also be available to help you with cleaning up any remaining enemies on hand. While Warren didn't appear to be the best shot in the world, it was imminently satisfying to flank enemies, catch them in crossfire, and mow them down. Enemy AI in Far Cry 2 is sophisticated enough that it will help out injured comrades if given a chance. So, when in doubt, put a few more bullets in the bad guys.
The goal in the encampment was to blow up a water tank to create a diversion for the enemy, then move further down the nearby river to seek out the radio antenna. Once we took out the water supply with some explosives, we climbed down to the river and found a small boat, which we piloted down a winding section of water. We halfway expected an ambush as we made our way down the river but managed to make it to the shore safely. Then it was up a hill and time to take down another small village full of bad guys.
Things can get hairy very quickly in Far Cry 2. In addition to the aforementioned clever AI, the game features impressive explosion effects and fire that can quickly spread throughout the straw buildings of an African village. We managed to create enough chaos with our weapon load out of grenades and assault rifles to lay waste to the village. Then we grabbed another jeep and headed on to the next stage of the mission before finally locating the radio antenna and taking it down with a few timed explosives.
Though we took a fairly direct route from one objective to the next in our demo with Far Cry 2, the playable area looks to be large enough to allow plenty of variety in how different players will attack the same objective. On the missions we completed, for example, you could take the roads we did, bypassing the river altogether, or cut through a nearby diamond mine to reach the final objective. Naturally, you'll run into resistance wherever you go, but the choice will be yours.
The size of the playable map in Far Cry 2 will grow as you unlock areas, with the ultimate playable area running somewhere in the 50-square-kilometer range. It won't just be dry savannah in the game either--developers are promising a variety of terrain and environments, including jungle, desert, and urban landscapes as well. The mission types will vary too; in addition to "find and destroy" missions like the one above, developers are promising a variety of mission types, such as intimidation, or missions where you must burn a field full of crops meant for an enemy army. In addition there are around 50 side quests which run the gamut from rescuing civilians in hiding to tracking and assassinating specific high-value targets.
Producers were mum on the specific online multiplayer details in the game but did say that the game will include a full map editor on the PC and console versions of the game. We didn't get to see the map editor in action, but we do know that created maps will be a maximum of 512 X 512 in size and players will able to download and rate the creations of others.
Weaponry in Far Cry 2 will include such weapons as pistols, assault rifles, and shotguns, as well as more exotic weaponry, such as flamethrowers, rocket-propelled grenades, and improvised explosive devices. Bullets will be able to penetrate flimsier materials so that cover won't always keep you safe and, amusingly, some weapons will jam from time to time, and you'll have to give your weapon a few whacks to dislodge it.
Following up on one of the more critically successful games in Ubisoft's recent history is no small task for the developers at Ubisoft Montreal. From what we've seen, the go-anywhere, do-(almost)-anything approach is still intact with Far Cry 2. We're curious to see how the game's main character will interact with the various factions vying for control in the game, as well as how far-reaching decisions you make will affect the storyline. Far Cry 2 is currently scheduled for release later this year.