Far Cry 2 Preview
|Far Cry 2 Screenshots|
After a hard day spent chasing antelope around the Serengeti, one craves
- as the cheetah in those Schweppes ads would say - the 'particular
effervescence' only to be found in a sequel to one of the PC's best
shooters. And here it is: Far Cry 2 - a pure tonic. It's less jungle,
more elephant. Less beach, more gazelle. Less shooting, more
In case you've just fallen out of your chair, we should mention that what we're dealing with here is a classic case of developers and publishers divorcing one another, each gaining custody of various bits and bobs to do with the copyright, licence and IP. It's rather confusing, but basically, Crytek, Far Cry's creators, took the original game's code-guts and ran off to make the much-anticipated jungle shooter Crysis, while Ubisoft were left with the floppy, hollow skin - the right to use the words 'Far' and 'Cry' on the box.
So what have they got to back up the eye-catching title? Well, quite a lot, as
it happens. Ubisoft Montreal are taking charge, having had first-hand experience developing the console versions of Far Cry, and what we've been shown of the new game is a strong indication that they're not going to fudge it. They've been working on this since before Far Cry: Instincts, in fact, and as such you'll find that Jack Carver's silly feral superpowers are thankfully absent, as is Jack Carver himself. This is a complete departure from Far Cry's mutants and mercenaries.
Where the game's set is even more interesting - an unrestricted 50sq km chunk of Africa. And no, we don't mean 'unrestricted' in the sense of Far Cry's supposedly 'open' jungles, which were implicitly linear affairs; it's genuinely unrestricted, enabling players to roam freely through the nameless African state. As a consequence, the story itself will be dynamically and procedurally generated. The actions of key characters and the placement of plot points are determined by the game as you play - maybe not quite to the extent that each player will have a drastically different storyline to follow, but perhaps just enough for you to really feel like you're
a part of some African tale.
In a roundabout way, it's comparable to Boiling Point. Your ultimate goal is to find and kill one man - a bad man - and to do so you've got to manipulate two factions, playing them off against each another, accepting missions and building up a reputation for yourself as you go.
Your allies, AI-controlled both physically and in a narrative sense, are called into play when the storyline needs them. These AI 'buddies', as they're being called, are important in some way that's yet to be properly revealed, but they'll
be the ones getting involved in Far Cry 2's various storyline events.
How these events happen, who's involved in them and how they resolve themselves will be determined either by chance or by the actions of the player. It's this ambitious, contextual artificial intelligence that'll drive the game - and there we were thinking Ubisoft would simply knock out a paint-by-numbers shooter.
The AI even filters down to the game's wildlife. Day/night cycles and a needs-driven AI system (similar to STALKER's A-Life) allow for gazelles - oh yes, gazelles - that wander to certain places if they're thirsty or sleepy. The same logic applies to humans too, with every NPC needing to fulfil their Rest, Social and Duty needs. Specific points in the world, such as a bed, another NPC or a patrol path enable them to do this. So they'll find somewhere to sleep, wake up, chat with their mates and then go on patrol, all according to their needs at any given time.
These need-fulfilling points in the world, called SmartTerrain Points, are active only at certain times too. At night, for example, you won't have a guard wandering off two miles into the wilderness to find someone for a quick chinwag. Likewise, guards will stick more rigidly to a patrol route at night, generally staying close to their camp. It's more likely you'll find sleeping guards during the wee hours than under the midday sun.
It means the world and its inhabitants, man and beast, will be more unpredictable. Coming across an enemy base and deciding how to tackle it will be more than just a matter of observing patrol routes and timing your shots; likewise, it won't be a simple matter of learning a particular NPC's set schedule. What part gazelles play in all this is anybody's guess, but a game with sleepy gazelles is all right in our books.
SAVANNAH GOOD TIME
Ubisoft have made the bold claim that Far Cry 2 will contain every type of African terrain you could possibly think of, or your money back. We're talking grassless, grassy, partially grassy and jungles, at the very least. Yes, that's right - jungles, the things which made Far Cry so impressive, have been relegated to a mere subsection of the gameworld.
Not that they've decreased in splendour - they've been built in such a way as to be more conducive to thrilling shootouts. They'll be as dense as in the original game, but situated in clumps, thus creating natural pathways through them.
Not necessarily in a restrictive way either, but more to enable the player to spot enemies through trees and react by hiding - or by peppering the foliage with a few high-velocity rounds until something bleeds. Just to prove that these jungles aren't funnelling you down a predetermined path, Ubisoft have included a tree-toppling machete in your inventory, giving you the option to make your own way through the vegetation.
Outside of these jungles, the vast, open arenas allow for a different sort of playing style. Draw distances touch the horizon, so long-range sniping becomes the preferred method of death-dealing, while Ubisoft promise at least one high-speed car chase across the dusty plains. Not much is known about the vehicles yet, but the screenshots confirm that Far Cry's iconic hang-glider is definitely making a welcome appearance, along with what's swiftly becoming an FPS staple: jeeps.
Possibly punchable ones. We're hoping planes and maybe even helicopters make the final cut - with a massive playing area, the only thing to hold it back would be the engine, which looks more than capable.
So that's Far Cry 2, then, a game that's shaping up to be so much more than just a name-dropping, licence-holding filler title - and, refreshingly, a game that's aimed squarely at the PC market. Those in-house developers at Ubisoft seem pretty ambitious, with promises that Far Cry 2 will put you in the most socially complex situations ever seen in a game. Exactly what kinds of situations these will turn out to be isn't clear yet, but the dynamic narrative and AI buddies will surely play an integral part. It's all intriguing stuff, and we'll let you know exactly what Ubisoft have got up their sleeves as soon as we find out.
This game may have less in common with Far Cry than Crysis does, but it's retaining that Far Cry feeling of being lost in an exotic world. Asking if Ubisoft Montreal are capable of carrying the weight of such a highly regarded PC shooter series is clearly unnecessary - they're taking the weight and running with it. Running to some really weird places we didn't expect them to run to. Man's natural ruthlessness, his deeply ingrained animal instinct versus his social nature, is what Far Cry 2 hopes to explore. Which, if anything, is a bit more interesting than an icy jungle.
by Steve Hogarty
|Far Cry 2 - Key Features|