Far Cry 2 Exclusive Impressions - Dynamic Environments and Savannah Battles
Ubisoft's sequel to the excellent shooter Far Cry will offer a huge, seamless experience powered by some serious technology. We take an exclusive look.
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The original Far Cry was a first-person shooter that started off on a vast tropical island, and it offered a remarkable open-ended experience as you fought squadrons of soldiers in sprawling outdoor environments. Then, you discovered a claustrophobic military complex and spent the rest of the game fighting mutant monsters in tight corridors--though that part of the game isn't remembered as fondly. The sequel will embrace the strengths of the first game by pushing even harder on the open-ended nature of the original game. In fact, the game will be built entirely around the concept of open exploration, offering a world that's about 50 square kilometers in virtual size. We had a chance to take a look at the powerful and impressive tech that will power the sequel, as well as to see several of the gun battles in motion.
Far Cry 2 won't take place on a beach with palm trees, but rather, in the heart of a war-torn Africa, meaning you'll fight your way through deserts, savannahs, jungles, and border towns rather than sunning yourself on the beach. In addition, the sequel won't be in as developed a setting as in the original game--your character will carry a paper map and a compass to guide him. And, you'll be using mostly conventional weapons and vehicles (rather than experimental, sci-fi stuff). The level of technology available shouldn't hurt the game experience one bit because the vehicle handling we saw seemed realistic enough while still seeming easy enough to handle, and the guns we saw in action were hefty weapons that discharged with loud, sharp reports. Interestingly, weapons and vehicles will experience progressive damage over time. Damaged guns will actually rattle disturbingly while becoming scratched up, and damaged vehicles will suffer progressive damage to specific areas until they stop running, or until you can repair them.
In fact, the entire world will show off this sort of attention to detail because much of the game's environments can be deformed. Grassy fields can be burnt to the ground with a flamethrower, and trees can be blasted out of the ground with grenades. This damage is all rendered procedurally on the fly and will remain in the world until it actually gradually grows back. The team at Ubisoft hasn't quite determined exactly how quickly in-game time will pass with respect to real time, but the game will have full day-and-night cycles, which will affect the behavior of your enemies (who will have general schedules themselves). You'll even be able to find sleeping areas to sleep for the evening, or until the morning, and toggle the world from day to night. This can come in handy in some cases because darkness provides additional cover, and some areas may be more lightly guarded at night.
After seeing some of the impressive world technology in action, we had a chance to see more of the impressive artificial intelligence we'd covered previously. In addition to fighting your way through various mercenary encampments throughout Africa, along with the occasional help of mercenary companions who will join you, you'll find yourself exploring larger towns where the game's two warring mercenary factions hold sway. In these larger areas, an uneasy peace exists where patrolling mercs openly carry weapons, but prefer not to use them to avoid drawing the ire of enemy factions. You'll actually be able to raise or lower your standing with one or more of the game's mercenary groups, depending on which camps you raid and which missions you choose to take. But unless you've made a very powerful enemy extremely angry, you may be able to walk right into one of these larger towns.
The town areas we saw were highly detailed and looked a lot like the kind of larger settlements you'd expect to see in a war-torn nation. There was a mix of older masonry and hastily thrown-together shacks, with chain-link fences, as well as barbed wire to keep nosy wanderers out of priority areas. You'll at least be able to walk up to patrolling mercenaries and press a general "use" key to interact with them, though they may react poorly if you're walking around with weapons drawn. You can also make them extremely uneasy if you decide to be a jerk and shove them by repeatedly bumping into them. However, they probably won't open fire on you unless you commit an open act of hostility, such as opening fire or stealing a key object, like the town's only jeep. We watched a demonstration of this very sort of theft, which caused all nearby mercs to immediately open fire while calling for help, though fortunately for us, there were no other vehicles around to give chase. Some of Far Cry 2's characters will use a "leash system" for their artificial intelligence; they'll be assigned to guard certain areas and will give chase for a certain distance. But if they don't have a good chance of catching you (such as if they're on foot and you've got a set of wheels), they'll eventually return to base.
We then watched full-on firefight in a different village build of adobe bricks in which we simply opened fire on the nearby soldiers. They immediately sprung into action, making smart use of cover by ducking behind doorways and continually trying to flank us. You'll often find tougher installations of mercenaries where different enemies will carry different equipment and jockey for the best position. Shock troopers will come at you with combat shotguns and assault rifles, while snipers will hole up in the high ground to take potshots at you. They'll actually shift their positions if you can toss up a few good grenades or wing them with your own rifle.
The battle we watched was fast-paced and brutal, involving a number of severe wounds, which, in the early version of the game we saw, were indicated by a bright red flash on the screen. In the current version of the game, smaller wounds can be recovered from in time, but being severely wounded will require you to get to safety so that you can perform a medical treatment on yourself. Currently, these are random animations that may consist of anything from strapping yourself with a bandage to searing your own thigh with a lit cigar to digging out a bullet with a bayonet blade. The last enemy--the village's sniper--was holed up at the top of the village and was the last enemy to be flushed out. For good measure, we turned around and burnt the rope bridge we'd used to climb to the village's highest point to make sure we weren't pursued. After clearing out the village, we departed it in true Far Cry fashion by commandeering a nearby hang glider and launching ourselves off of the roofs back into the vast African savannah.
It's hard to say which aspect of Far Cry 2 is most impressive--the game's powerful tech and excellent audiovisual effects help create a beautiful-looking, constantly changing world full of clever enemies, as well as weapons and vehicles with realistic damage models. However, its fast-paced gameplay looks extremely challenging and should offer plenty of opportunities to use very different strategies in how you want to approach your missions--whether using brute force, sniping enemies from a distance, or even using hit-and-run tactics by keeping a fast vehicle nearby. One thing's for sure: Far Cry 2 is one of the most impressive games we've seen in a long time. The game is scheduled for release later this year on the PC and was recently confirmed for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 as well. We're told that the console versions are being developed with the PC version and will feature all the content of the PC versions. The console versions will ship some time after the PC version hits store shelves.