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E3 08 Preview: Far Cry 2

By Jeff Buckland, 7/19/2008

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It's easy to look at the history of both Crytek's games as well as what's happened with the Far Cry series and immediately dismiss Far Cry 2. Created by Crytek in 2004, the original Far Cry on PC was a wonderful game with unprecedented visuals and an open style of gameplay that gave you an objective but let you complete it a number of ways. Then a couple of fairly decent spinoffs hit consoles that weren't necessarily bad, but they just didn't capture the charm of the first game the same way. Crytek then sold their interest in the Far Cry name to their original publisher Ubisoft, and have been working with publisher EA on Crysis and now Crysis Warhead. And Ubisoft is forging on with the franchise with Far Cry 2, made by a development team that doesn't have any of the original game's developers and is using a brand new engine not made by Crytek.

It sounds like a recipe for failure, but from what I got to play of Far Cry 2 this week at E3, it's far from it. This game is in the capable hands of Ubisoft Montreal and they're putting together an interesting, highly entertaining game that, in my opinion, does capture the best of the first half of the original game (the portion that most FPS fans agree was the better half). There's about 50 square miles of territory somewhere in Africa, covering jungles, savannas, and rocky areas. You'll be playing as one of around a dozen male or female characters, and the ones you don't choose will all be around in the game world, giving you quests and helping you out on some missions. There's a big main story arc going on, but in the meantime, you've got an open world to freely explore and work inside, taking out rebels, fighting local military, getting paid in conflict diamonds, and buying new weapons and beefing up your character's own skill in a nice turn of RPG-style character building. Your money is those conflict diamonds, and you can buy and sell at vendors using the diamonds as money.

The mission I got to try is near the beginning of the game, and the goal was to blow up a water pipeline to cripple the operations of some nearby group. The player has the choice of going in shooting during the day or to wait until night to go in stealthily. Resting is much like we've seen in games like Oblivion with an additional cutscene that actually shows the transition from day to night in simulated time-lapse photography. I decided to go in like the cops and just tear in through the front door during the daytime, running over three guys with my little hooptie of a compact car as my first move. I had chosen the tried and true AK47 as my main weapon with an old school Russian-style RPG for taking out bigger stuff at a distance, and quickly started dispatching people that poured towards the front gate.

The game has a regenerating health system but much like Resistance on the PS3, the health bar is segmented into five chunks and you only regenerate up to fill up the chunk you're on - so you'll still need to heal up. Luckily, you've got some kind of syringe that's apparently full of magic healing goo (sounds goofy, but hey - it's not like any modern action game has a realistic health and first aid system at this point). In my fight where I dodged around structures and used the pipeline I was supposed to blow up as cover, I got hurt pretty bad more than once and when I hit the heal button one time, I pulled out a pair of pliers instead of a needle and proceeded to yank a bullet out of a gaping entrance wound on my hand. It was pretty gruesome, and then I still had to also take another hit of the syringe for a heal.

The enemies in Far Cry 2 show a lot of the things that the first game's opponents did, talking and working on trying to flank you, gaining and losing sight of you realistically as you disappear into the tall grass or behind a building. This allowed me to get a couple of funny sneak attacks on the guys I had duped, and let's face it - these aren't highly-trained troops here, out in the African wilderness. They weren't really that tough to outsmart, even if they did try and do the smart thing a few times like surround me and hit me from all sides. One thing Ubisoft has said is that this time around, no crazy sci-fi creatures are going to pop out at you, which to me, is a big relief. Later in the game you'll get tougher troops coming at you, with armor that not all bullets will penetrate and tactics that make you think (and plan with your maps of the area and ability to mark on the map where sniper towers and such are) before you shoot.

Much like Call of Duty 4, Far Cry 2 has a bullet penetration system that calculates not only the body armor your victim is wearing, but the strength of the cover he's hiding behind. Sheet metal and drywall is no match for a powerful sniper rifle, and a rocket fired into a building is going to at least partially take that building apart. The other interesting thing is that wind is calculated for the purposes of not only blowing at the trees, but also for how pinpointing the direction a fire will travel if you set one - grass, brush, and trees can catch on fire if you set a good one, and while it won't likely get you any direct kills (it's not like it's tough to see a grass fire coming slowly towards you), it does allow for some very interesting ideas as far as rounding up or redirecting your enemy, or even cutting off an escape route. Of course, this feature might sound good on paper but prove difficult to actually use in-game, so I'm not quite convinced yet that this will be any more than a cool thing to list on the back of the retail box.

I came away very impressed, but it's still tough to call right now whether Far Cry 2 will live up to the standard set by Crytek's very first game. There are a lot of things that can go wrong in a huge outdoor world with open-ended gameplay, but the tidbit I saw was certainly indicative of a game with a ton of promise. Additionally, the graphics engine used for this game is very impressive and much better than the Far Cry 360 spinoff released a couple years ago, with great lighting, weather, and shadows. One unique thing I saw is that shadows cast by foliage that are even visible on other foliage - something that, surprisingly, many modern games don't actually calculate. The frame rates while showing this no-fogging, huge outdoor environment were very nice on the 360, and over on the PC, there was a surprisingly good frame rate at the monitor's 1920x1200 resolution. The machine it was playing was, admittedly, a powerful new Dell XPS, but I still really liked what I saw from the PC version, too. When the Ubisoft rep told me that the same development team was working on all three versions simultaneously, it didn't surprise me; they all seemed to be top-notch and none of the three seemed to lag behind in development time compared to the others.

While Ubisoft isn't talking too much about the online play going into Far Cry 2, they did say that just about all the fun things seen in the single player will be going into the multiplayer modes. The usual gameplay modes are going in along with several interesting surprises, too, but they wouldn't tell me what - that info will be saved for later this year. Either way, I went into the Far Cry 2 demo as a big fan of the first game, skeptical of what Ubisoft and their development team could really deliver, and came out confident and excited for what they will be shipping this coming October on PC, PS3, and 360.



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