"The enemy team has something I want," booms the thick, African accent. "Bring it to me." And with that the match begins. My whole team sprints out of our headquarters and into the courtyard, and I clamber into the driver's seat of the huge, factory-fresh Jeep waiting for us. I take a glance at my map of the town as the engine turns over, and... and watch as everyone else on my side jogs off down a dusty street towards the enemy HQ, oblivious to the dirty great cars parked outside our base. Some things never change.
Having had the chance to fool around with Far Cry 2's multiplayer for a few hours, a couple of things are immediately obvious. First of all, it's about as solid an online FPS as you could hope for. It's slow enough to require a nice mix of cunning and reflexes, the weapons are fairly tactile and there's a good balance between guns, knives, grenades, vehicles and fire that'll have you using all five depending on the situation. The other impression I got is that it really is kind of conservative.
For those unawares, here's a rundown of the options available to you: up to 16 players can go head to head playing either Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, Capture the Diamond or Uprising. Capture the Diamond is capture the flag with, well, diamonds, and Uprising is sort of like if a Battlefield game got VIP mode pregnant on a holiday in Africa. One player on each team is designated captain, a position that comes with a little beret and a stern expression, and only they can capture the points scattered around the map. Once one team holds all the points the other team stops respawning, allowing you to kill their captain permanently and win the match if he can't nick a point back first.
It's a nice idea, and it coughs up some interesting options. Do you protect your captain or go hunting for theirs? What about defending points you've taken? And since each team can obviously only ever try and capture one point at a time (only one captain, see), you get this sub-game of trying to figure out where the enemy captain will try for next. If you can figure that out and take him out in a suicide attack, that'll set the whole enemy team back a minute or two. Even more if someone's gone round and blown up all the vehicles at their base, or better yet left them one car and stuck an IED underneath it.
But beyond Uprising mode the main thing that's going to catch a jaded multiplayer gamer's eye are some of the same features that make Far Cry 2 an interesting offline shooter. Specifically, the need to hit a button after you take damage to pull out a bullet, smother a fire or fix a finger that's somehow ended up pointing backwards, and also the chance to help up downed allies, Gears of War style.
It did seem a lot less forgiving than Gears though, since everyone was always calmly executing downed opponents who weren't instantly killed by a rocket or high-calibre bullet anyway. And then finally you've got the ability to set things on fire, which is both less and more useful than you might think. It can be really tricky actually finding something you can burn, for instance, and even then a lot of stuff can take a while to actually catch fire, but despite all that the ability to wall off entire chunks of the map shouldn't be underestimated.
"In some maps you'll have grass around your base, so you can set fire to it and the other team won't be able to grab your diamond for a while," says Gaetan Richard, the game's multiplayer producer. "But then your team who spawn around the base will have problems, and anyone coming back with the enemy diamond won't be able to return it." We chatted with Richard about burning stuff a fair bit during Ubisoft's multiplayer event. Richard liked to talk about burning stuff.
We did wonder, though, why there wasn't any kind of co-op? "We thought about that," he says, "but as we were building the engine from scratch with dynamic loading and destructibility and all that, it was complex enough already. Having AI online would have been crazy. That's why you don't see any animals online, either. The animals use the same pathfinding nodes as the AI, so we have the same problem there. You can see a few birds when you're playing online but that's it."
Alright, but the four multiplayer modes that are on offer seem kind of bare-bones. "I've been on the project for a little over a year now, and when I arrived they were experimenting with online modes that were a little more related to the single-player story," says Richard. "But there was no more time, and they really needed something that was solid and felt good with the map editor. So I said, 'Now there's no more room for trial and error', and we went back to basic game modes.
"Another thing we have to keep in mind is that we have the map editor, which is a good third of the game. We thought that if we had game modes that were too complex, the user wouldn't be able to make good maps for it." We reckon he means they were experimenting though, so what got cut? "Well, I think there's one I can talk about. In single-player you work for factions, and after some missions you can betray them and go and work for another faction. This mode was like that. You didn't swap sides, but you could betray your side and do things for the other team for your own benefit. But playing online it's already tough to build a team spirit. If you add betrayal, the team spirit goes away and it all stops working."
While the event we attended didn't feature a demonstration of the map editor, Ubisoft clearly considers it a pretty big deal, which is hardly surprising if you've watched the frankly amazing Leipzig video of how it works. As well as making the tools as intuitive as possible, Ubisoft is shipping Far Cry 2 with YouTube-like search features and the option to rate any map you try, which will hopefully allow the best projects to float to the surface and not just ones featuring 120-foot wangs built from corrugated iron. Richard also assured us that in the months following the game's release we'd see recreations of maps from every game from Halo to Counter-Strike.
It's a pretty bold claim, but he pronounces it was an infectious energy and confidence. Nothing left to do now but wait for the chance to try the full game.