Around a week into my Leipzig coverage, and looking at my writing schedule I’ve still got a bunch more FPS to detail. It’s a sign of the times my friends, and one I’m not entirely happy about. Somehow, this whole genre bandwagon thing never seemed too much of a big deal during the platformer-rush of the ’90s, but right now I’m on the verge of developing a psychosomatic illness relating to images of a first-person perspective. Seriously, at the moment even imagining a head-shot brings a little bit of vomit back up into my throat.
It’s frustrating then, in a good sort of way, that the current trend is bringing some high profile and actually attention-worthy games that you do need to know about. It was easier when it was all Disney licenses and Bubsy-style abortions that could be swept under the carpet, but these days almost the whole damn party needs writing about. So appreciate my pain as I forced myself to sit through a preview of Far Cry 2, knowing I’d have to write about it for you guys. I didn’t enjoy it one little bit. Honest.
The overall feel I got of what Ubisoft is going for with Far Cry 2 is that it’s all about creating a cohesive flow to marry all the game’s features together into one big seamless game world. Everything from the realization of the environments down to little details in the interface, and tweaks to traditional FPS gameplay mechanics, seem to have been conciously planned in order to create an illusion of immersion and realism and mask any hint of this being a game being made up of various bits of separate design.
Take for instance, the environment at large. The level of detail and realism with which the plant-life of the African savanna setting behaved and reacted in the demo we were shown was well above and beyond anything I’d seen before. Although much of the game is set out in wide open spaces, we started with a tour of one of the game’s jungles, — as Ubisoft told us, this isn’t a jungle game, but as soon as you mention Far Cry, that’s what people want to know about — which did a great job of showing off the game’s new vegetation technology.
Put simply, everything reacts exactly as it should. Bits fly off trees and bushes in all the right places when shot, leaves are disturbed and fall dynamically, and enough gunfire can “sculpt” the undergrowth very pleasingly indeed. Where all of this really started impressing me though, was when it started interacting with the air and weather effects.
Once out onto the plains, we saw the game’s weather design shown off to brilliant effect. Incoming meteorology could be seen well in advance by looking at the developing state of the sky, as the wind picked up pace and the clouds overhead thickened and collected together to build an ominous dark mass. On ground level, the effect was stunning. All around, the long grass began to bend, eventually being blasted down by the incoming storm, and the trees slowly bowed in the face of the onslaught before losing the battle. Clouds of leaves eventually rolled across the savanna after being torn from their branches, and a couple of simple gunshots were all it took to send those branches tumbling after them.
Far Cry 2‘s environmental accuracy and cohesion of game world all came together as we were demoed a raid on a fuel dump. With a flamethrower. Woohoo! Before starting the journey to the target area, we were shown how “non-videogame” the game’s interface is being treated, by way of a look at the its navigation tools. No HUD and GPS-style map here. Oh no. Rather the player will have to deal with a static “paper” map and a compass in order to work out where to go.
Upon reaching the perimeter of the site, the developer playing the game showed off the ways in which the bad guys’ lack of scripting can be manipulated for the player’s advantage. Given the open-ended nature of the game’s layout, enemies are just given general behavior patterns in relation to their location and conditions, and then left to improvise and react. Our guy took out a guard from a distance via the power of the snipe, but made a point of making a non-lethal shot. This eventually drew a couple more guards out of the building to treat the guy’s wounds and take him to safety, et voila! Three kills for the price of one.
Getting closer to the compound, it was time to pull the flamethrower out and show us what happens when you combine a jet of fiery death, some dry African grassland and a prevailing breeze. Bush fires can be started very easily in Far Cry 2, and they spread fast. Within a few minutes, one whole side of the encampment was engulfed with a wall of flame which moved dynamically with the strength and direction of the wind and had some seriously realistic effects on the areas it worked through. As the game’s vegetation technology applied itself to the burning process, the scorched trees started to take on a whole new set of properties. Thin branches shrank and curled up as they burned, and eventually each tree’s whole body became brittle as it blackened. Cool stuff.
During the ensuing gunfight, we were shown a couple of other tricks in Far Cry 2‘s arsenal. In-keeping with the lack of HUD, the only indication of damage taken is a flash of red. What’s really cool however, is the fact that rather than running around picking up medkits for an instant heal, the game’s protagonist now has to find a quiet spot to physically repair himself after being wounded. It’s a simple tweak, but it really adds a lot to see your character look down at his foot and pull out a bullet with a pair of plyers, or gouge a slug out of his bleeding arm. It’s a nice extension of the work on first-person physicality we saw in F.E.A.R. and we were told that the finished game is going to have a massive number of animations to use with it.
Another cool little mechanic which cropped up during the combat sequences was the buddy system. Throughout the game’s landscape are little safe zones — the one we saw was a small camp stashed with supplies — where the player can meet up with various NPCs sympathetic to his cause. During dialogue with these characters it’s possible for the player to fill them in on what his next course of action is going to be and ask for help. If this assistance is requested then the buddy in question will appear when then poop really hits the fan in order to provide a bail-out. During our demo we saw our man taken down by the enemy, only for his comrade to appear next to him, drag him to safety while providing covering fire and time to heal, and then stay around as back-up for the rest of the fight.
All in all, Far Cry 2 is looking very promising indeed. I might well be overdosed on FPS after the GC, but I can still recognize quality when I see it, and this particular entry to the genre looks to be dripping with it. Of course, all the cool features in the world will mean nothing if it doesn’t play well, but if the developers can make the overall experience match up to the quality of ideas involved then the smart money’s going to be on Far Cry 2 being a massive hit when it’s released next year.