Far Cry 2
At Ubisoft's recent stopover in New York, I (along with America's favorite copy editor, Elise Vogel) enjoyed complimentary prosciutto sandwiches while getting a good look at the much anticipated Far Cry 2.
First things first: The game is not developed by Crytek, the Croatian geniuses behind the original Far Cry, as well as the more recent Crysis. So, going into the demo, I was somewhat skeptical (I told Elise to stop eating her sandwich and to be skeptical, too). Could Ubisoft recreate that old Far Cry magic without Crytek?
Another small reason to be skeptical: We were shown the somewhat dated 2007 Leipzig demo (though Ubi did show us a snippet of a more recent, and far more visually polished, version of the game).
Despite the monolithic Dell that the demo was running on, the game's frame rate initially looked a bit choppy to me. After a few minutes, however, I found myself focusing less on the chop and more on the interesting (and sometimes oddball) design choices being made by Ubisoft Montreal.
First with the oddball: Ubisoft went to great lengths during the demo to tout the fact that the grass/trees/tree branches/leaves/and vegetation at large are each individually articulated.
While the branches/leaves/vegetation do react in realistic fashion, falling when shot or burning when burned, and we have admittedly come a long, long way from the old, static background days, I personally found it all to be a bit of technical, look-what-we-can-do posturing. In other words, at this point in development, being able to shoot/burn vegetation didn't seem to add anything integral to gameplay. It would be nice if it did, but it doesn't as of now.
Ubisoft was also fairly vague about the game's plot, only saying that it has something to do with a pair of opposing factions or arms dealers, and that you'll play a character who's caught somewhere between the two.
The game does not feature Jack Carver, the protagonist from the original Far Cry. Instead, the game features a completely new pick-your-avatar dynamic. (There are around 15 different avatars from which to choose.)
More typical of the series is the outnumbered/outgunned firefights we witnessed. We started off by trying to covertly hijack a jeep from an outpost. Once we were spotted, we hopped into the jeep and sped away in a hailstorm of enemy gunfire.
As we plowed our way through the underbrush, with very life-like tumbleweeds bouncing off our jeep's hood, we looked over our shoulder to discover that a group of bad guys had piled into a second jeep and were quickly gaining on us.
I thought to myself, OK, now we're really cooking.
We steamrolled our way through the shanty-town back alleys of another outpost, crashed our jeep, then set off on foot. Enemies swarmed. Taking too many hits, we went down, the screen going all blurry and red. We were about to die. Yet instead of dying, someone picked up our soon-to-be-stiff body and dragged it to safety.
These events, we were told, are unscripted. The man who saved us turned out to be a friendly mercenary named Marty. We had saved Marty, Ubisoft explained, in a previous mission, which is why he has befriended us.
You'll have opportunities to befriend certain characters throughout the game. In addition to dragging you out of bad situation, as Marty did, your "friends" can also fight by your side during firefights, giving you an edge in those outnumbered/outgunned moments. That said, the same friends can also turn on you later in the game, should you align yourself with a particular faction that somehow compromises said friend's politics.
So, Marty, while friendly during the demo, might become an enemy at some later point.
While much of what we saw consisted of desert vistas and those aforementioned shanty towns, the game does look visually remarkable. When asked if the PS3 and Xbox 360 versions of the game would have the same degree of graphical fidelity, we were assured that yes, they would.
We'll see if that actually comes true or not.
The game's openness -- that lack of direction, along with the lack of traditional first-person-shooter-style objectives -- is exciting. The prospect of coming up with a unique strategy to resolve a situation, then executing said strategy, offers hope that this will be a first-person shooter that truly lets the player express themselves in a personal fashion.
Example: While sniping from a safe distance on a hill above an enemy-occupied village -- which is never a terrible way to thin out enemy ranks, as we know -- I enjoyed a gratifying moment when I realized that the AI had 1) realized where I was hiding out, and 2) promptly dispatched a jeep to flush me from the tall grass.
Seeing through the sniper scope that jeep full of enemies bearing down on me was one of those magical, chills-down-your-spine oh-shit gaming moments when you forget for a few seconds that you're playing a videogame.
If Far Cry 2 has a fair amount of these moments, this might be a bona fide Buy It in the making. Look for our soup-to-nuts Crispy review closer to the game's ship date.
This preview was based on a publisher-driven demo of the game. The release date has not yet been announced.