Open worlds aren't exactly new in gaming nowadays. Just look at Grand Theft Auto. There's something liberating about an open world, as you're able to go where you want when you want; you don't feel like you're being funneled along a very narrow path.
With Far Cry 2, Ubisoft and its Ubisoft Montreal team want to deliver what is quite possibly the most convincing and realistic open world yet, but instead of trying to build urban jungles they're building actual jungles, as well as Serengeti plains, forests, and more.
We finally got our hands on Far Cry 2 this month to explore its African setting for the first time, and it's an impressive game in terms of technology and gameplay.
The mission that we got to play demonstrates the complex open world that's being created for the game. You play as a mercenary (you get to select from a pool at the start of the game) who is tasked with bringing down a merciless arms dealer who is arming both sides of a civil war in Africa. However, you need to work your way up the ladder to get to him, which means that you'll have to do missions and align yourself with various factions.
You start in a swampy area, with a safe house nearby. Go to the house and you'll meet a couple of characters, one of whom will task you with destroying a nearby pipeline that is a requirement for the mission, while another will give you an optional mission of destroying a transmitter in an enemy camp. That's pretty much all the guidance you'll get; how you accomplish your mission after that is entirely up to you.
For example, you could walk outside the safe house, get in the junky old car nearby, and drive to the enemy pipeline. If you do this, you can barrel into the middle of the enemy camp like you were part of The A-Team and go guns blazing (though this isn't going to be easy, as the AI in Far Cry 2 are pretty good about firing back). Or you could go on foot and trek through the jungle, sneaking around any of the various sides of the objective. You get the idea.
For kicks, and because we got to play the demo twice, we tried the frontal assault as well as the not-so-frontal assault. Driving into the enemy camp certainly had its benefits, as we ran one or two guys over in the process, but getting out of the car surrounded by bad guys will make your life exciting and short. The mercenaries that you battle are pretty sharp for AI opponents; they like to move around a lot rather than stand in place and just shoot at you.
That means they're unpredictable; just because you see an enemy in one place doesn't mean that he's there a minute later when you go after him. The thick jungle foliage and the cluttered nature of the camp also means that you and your opponents can easily duck out of sight.
Ubisoft is going for a realistic feel to the gunfight; the guns feel very authentic, and you won't want to stand around in the open. You can take a decent amount of damage before you go down, but you're not invulnerable. It's worth noting that the health system continues to evolve. When we first saw the game last year, the idea was that if you were hurt then you would need to perform some kind of first aid to get back to full health.
For example, you might need to use a knife to gouge a bullet out of your flesh. However, this process took far too long if you had to do it over and over in a fight, so now there's a segmented health meter. If a segment of health drains partially, it will regenerate if you're not hit for a few seconds. If a segment is drained entirely, you'll need a first aid kit of some sort to restore it.
If you're down to your last health segment and are about to die, you might have an NPC come to your rescue, just like in the movies. He'll run up, pick you up by the shoulder, and move you to safety. While he covers you, you can then perform the first aid animation to get back to full health. It's a very cinematic moment.
After finishing up at the pipeline it was on to the second, optional objective. Using a map and compass, we navigated across the landscape, hoping aboard a river skiff for part of the journey. The best part was sneaking into an enemy camp, jacking a truck, and taking off. The AI is smart enough to jump in another truck and pursue you, and this can result in a high-speed pursuit across the African plains.
Deal with them, and you can get to the secondary objective, which is an elevated fishing village above a dried-out lake bed. The variety of terrain is just impressive; this isn't just about jungle but you get the wide range of Africa's geography in this game.
What is technically amazing about Far Cry 2 isn't just the impressive visuals, but it's the complex real-world environment that's being created. This means that your actions can and often will have inadvertent results. Dry grass can be set afire, either deliberately or accidentally by say an explosion.
The fire will actually spread depending on the variable winds (there's a full weather system, as well as a day-and-night cycle). The fire can produce smoke that gets blown by the winds and can obscure visibility; not to mention, the fire itself can burn objects as people as it spreads.
Far Cry 2 is such an ambitious game that it's hard not to admire it; Ubisoft really wants to push the boundaries of what is often termed emergent gameplay. This looks to be an incredibly immersive game, though, and we're looking forward to unlocking more.
It's going to launch simultaneously on the PC, Xbox 360, and PlayStation 3 later this year, and all three games are going to be identical in terms of content. The console versions should be extremely comparable to one another, as well.