Far Cry 2

   16/10/2008 at 23:25       Richard Horne       8 COMMENTS.
After fabled German coders Crytek passed the Far Cry license onto Ubisoft, many commentators raised a furtive eyebrow anticipating a dumbing down of this once hardcore license. Yet Far Cry 2 is almost upon us and promises to be anything but a by-the-numbers derivative and generic first person shooter.

We got some hands on time with the game ahead of its release and well, it would be rude not to share our thoughts, right?

It's a new dawn it's a new day

The game begins in a non descript fictional region of war ravaged Africa, and following in the footsteps of many popular FPS titles - most notably the Half-Life series - starts with you actually unable to do anything other than look around as you're forced to sit through the on-rails introduction to the game. And actually, it's quite a worthwhile couple of minutes as it gives you chance to look around and take stock before the undeniable fact that Ubisoft has worked immensely hard to bring this landscape to life hits you square in the gob. The attention to detail seen in the game's environments is immediately obvious and is, simply put, quite staggering. The entire world is absolutely teeming with vegetation, wildlife and believable NPCs who will go about their daily business as normal while you hide sweating in the leafy shadows.

And it's not long before you realise that also unlike most other generic shooters, Far Cry 2 isn't funnelling you down the same contrived corridors or scripted scenarios you've become so accustomed to. Instead, the game serves up a genuinely rich, open and free-roaming world leaving you free to tackle objectives in whichever order you decide to, if at all (once activated, obviously).

Jackal of all trades

The game's premise is not particularly inventive or original but makes a welcome change from space marine vs alien hordes and sees you taking on the role of a military trained mercenary hunting for a mysterious arms dealer known as the Jackal.

You can of course wander from the beaten track and tread your own wanton path of destruction through the game by speaking to the various friendly NPCs scattered throughout the world who will give you additional objectives to carry out. But you can also take on various side missions including capturing a whole host of enemy outposts, seeking out the many hidden 'blood' diamonds or seizing the various safe houses scattered around the world - safe houses conveniently double up as save points. And in addition to this, there are ambushes and plot twists aplenty as everything around you unravels organically, dynamically and best of all unpredictably. And it's this constant not knowing what will happen next that maintains the tension and anxiety. The game's dramatic music is context sensitive and goes someway towards reinforcing this pressure - start loosing off a few rounds and the dramatic background music suddenly kicks in to full effect.

The game also features degrading weapons - it's possible to tell at a glance, whether or not a slain enemy's gun is worth picking up or not and this added level of strategy really comes into play as even though you might have the chance to pick up a more powerful weapon than that currently holstered, if it happens to be rusty and in a state of general disrepair, its performance will be hindered quite quickly with ammunition jams frequently occurring mid fire-fight and in some cases weapons will even explode in your hands.

Healing your main character also proves to be perversely gratifying. Your health bar is broken down into levels with each segment requiring its own health pickup or painkilling injection, but as you refill each section you're subjected to various gruesome animations as your chosen character either snaps his broken arm back into place, pulls a piece of shrapnel out of his flesh with pliers, rips out a huge metal splinter or simply injects himself in the arm. It's all rather brutal and not for the squeamish but certainly adds to the overall atmosphere immeasurably. So far health refills are frequently available and even once your health is entirely exhausted there's still a chance to be saved from certain death by the friendly AI characters you can team up with.

Taking the rough with the smooth

Far Cry 2 does however, unfortunately suffer slightly from Ubisoftitis, in that when navigating through certain areas the v-sync screen tearing is especially noticeable. I didn't notice it so much, if at all, in wide open areas, but in small enclosed rooms it was as bad as in GRAW2 and Rainbow Six Vegas. While the inevitable uncanny valley is also in full effect as the otherwise impressively detailed enemy character models are spoiled somewhat by their wide zombified eyes and poor lip synching. And, similarly to Crytek's latest FPS Crysis, your ability to suspend all belief is tested to the max as you spend the first couple of hours just working out exactly which parts of the scenery are destructible. You'll soon come to realise that while you can shoot your way through boarded up doors and shanty towns, plants and aluminium sheets are pretty much indestructible.

Those minor flaws are soon put to bed though when you experience the game's stunning day/night cycle for the first time. The game's lighting and shadows are exemplary and the way the whole of the game world is either illuminated or bathed in moonlight as the sun rises or sets proves to be a particularly impressive visual delight. And the incidental effects like the malaria induced dizziness and smoke and fire effects also noteworthy.

So there's clearly stills absolutely tons that we haven't seen or experienced yet including the wide variety of drivable vehicles, the remainder of the 50km squared map that we're yet to explore, the extent to which the main character's malaria affects gameplay and perhaps the thing I'm most looking forward to experimenting with: my own pyromania and its potential to affect the game's environments. And that's before we've even considered the game's multiplayer modes, hugely impressive map editor and community features.

All in all then, as far as first impressions go, this could well be the first shooter I'm interested in since BioShock was released to much critical acclaim over a year ago.

Far Cry 2 is due for release on the 24th of October and I for one am positively moist.
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