GC: Far Cry 2
Cry havoc, and let slip the dogs of war!
In his review of the original Far Cry , Kristan characterised the game as something of a tease, a temptress, shamelessly flaunting its beauty in front of anyone who'd look - and hypnotised by its lip-lickingly lush jungles and shiny, pretty guns, few could resist. It's a mantle that seems to have been eagerly taken up by Crysis, Crytek's new poster girl - it's been teasing us for years in exactly the same way.
Meanwhile, the Ubisoft-developed Far Cry 2 has been developing an entirely different character. Yesterday saw its world premiere at the Leipzig GC, and it was a notably unflirtatious affair. Instead of parading some incredibly beautiful, dolled-up CG trailer in front of the assembled, smelly press in the inevitably overcrowded showroom, tempting us with what might be without actually showing anything of the game proper, Ubisoft has made the comparatively brave decision to show us the actual, rough-around-the-edges, pre-alpha gameplay, and let that speak for itself; no fluff, no teaser trailers, no pre-rendered screenshots. As our demonstrator was keen to emphasise, there's no bullshit here.
This is clearly a very different game from Far Cry, which is perhaps unsurprising given that Crytek has moved on to new pastures new. We're no longer playing as Jack Carver - the development team is keen on choice, and so we will be able to 'play as who we like', although this wasn't elaborated upon. Most immediately noticeable is the fact that we're no longer prowling around an island; Far Cry 2 is set in Africa, and so involves plenty of plains and grassland as opposed to dense foliage and ostentatiously gorgeous tropical backdrops. Even at this earliest of stages, though, Far Cry 2 looks impressive. The development team, our demoist explains, all went to Africa to research the look and feel of the place, and there is a strong emphasis on authenticity; by the time the game is released, he claims, we'll feel like we're really there.
Our demoist begins behind a tree on top of a hill, armed with a machete, and creeps down through tall grasses and a drying-out brook before encountering a small encampment of militia. Immediately the game explodes into action - Far Cry 2's AI is characteristically aggressive, with enemies opening fire at the slightest sign of disturbance. Hopping into the gunner seat of a jeep, the Ubi rep makes a few cursory sweeps of the encampment before driving off into the grassland - and the enemy militia are soon right behind him, having commandeered their own jeep. As well as aggressive, this AI is smart and dynamic. If there's a vehicle anywhere in their vicinity, they will use it to pursue you, making it very hard to simply run away from trouble, and their behaviour continually adapts to the situation. The enemy jeep spends a while trying to ram us off the road, before changing tactics and trying to block us instead. Before long, we crash into another, larger enemy encampment, and bullets are flying everywhere again as the protagonist dives for cover in a falling-down shack.
The levels of destruction have been amped up, too. In Far Cry 2, everything that should break to pieces upon contact with a bullet does so, making the frequent firefights even more chaotic. During the ensuing battle, the shanty town's buildings crumble under fire as enemies quickly manage to flank the protagonist and flush him out into the open. He heals himself, triggering a comically gruesome animation wherein he physically prises a bullet out of his hand, and runs for another shack, accidentally shooting an ammo box in the process and sending bullets pinging haphazardly all over the place.
So far, so FPS. Far Cry 2's action, riotous and challenging, does indeed speak for itself, and its AI seemingly already impressively advanced, but it's once the encampment has been cleared and a few new weapons salvaged from the wreckage that we see the features that really distinguish Far Cry 2. Next up, the demo man takes off into the grassland in another jeep - Far Cry 2 is an open world, so missions can be undertaken in any order desired. So far the game's environment is reminding us of Just Cause; an enormous, lovingly created world, seemingly littered with enemy encampments and vehicles to play about with - but Far Cry 2 takes it further. He stops by a small copse of trees and fires at one of the branches, and it breaks off and falls to the ground, exactly where it was hit. A spray of machine-gun fire makes short work of pruning one of its neighbours, leaving it a leafless trunk. This is brilliant. He throws a grenade into the copse, and the whole thing sways with the impact as branches fly off in all directions.
Things in Far Cry 2 behave as you might expect, whether that means destructible foliage (if you wanted, you could shoot up every single tree in the game) or believable physics. Just as the trees sway from an explosion, they sway with the wind, meaning that during storms or adverse weather the whole environment actually reacts properly, bowing to the buffeting elements. Paying attention to the environment - wind, weather, time of day - is of utmost importance, as one-man attacks on giant encampments of African militia need perfect conditions in order to succeed.
Take the flamethrower, for instance. This is African bushland. If you just decide to set fire to a tree for fun, it's extremely likely to spread like, well, wildfire and obliterate you before you can run far enough away, unless the wind is in your favour. The next part of the demo sees our man charge off in another direction, and a massive fuel refinery emerges in the distance. He sets fire to some deadwood at its outskirts, and within minutes the whole place is ablaze as the wind carries the flames. We dive straight in for yet another firefight, this time avoiding flying, flaming bits of debris and falling buildings. It's fantastically exhilarating, and completely unscripted. If this is the sort of scene that is likely to be repeated all the way through Far Cry 2, then we should all be very, very excited.
The only problem with having a persistent and ever-changing game world, though, is that things rarely happen the same way twice, which could make dying a massive inconvenience. Spending half an hour on an intricate, weather-dependent attack plan only to be randomly run over by a truck is, as other freeform games have shown us, a long way from being fun. Far Cry 2's approach to death, then, is somewhat different; you can always heal yourself by digging bullets out, patting out flaming clothing, sealing wounds with fire or performing other such on-the-hoof first aid, and when our demonstrator died during the demo, he was rescued by a fellow militia (evidently someone whom he had befriended earlier) and taken to a safe position to continue the fight.
He chose not to, though. Instead, he ran up a hill, found a glider, and flew over the landscape, landing next to a river where a herd of grazing antelope quickly scattered across the plain.
At exactly the same time EA enters its final promotional push for Crysis, Far Cry 2 has shown us that Crytek's first property, and the ideas that underlie it, are far from obsolete. Even at pre-alpha, you can't help but be impressed by the game's scale, attention to detail and sense of fun. Everything is real, from the guns to the enemy militia's behaviour to the way the trees react to the breeze and splinter upon impact. The sort of emergent, environment-based gameplay that we're seeing, even in this first ever showing, is extremely exciting. It's a way off from being finished, but 'promising' somehow doesn't feel like a fitting word; Far Cry 2 is already demonstrating its prowess. No promises necessary.