Out from the tropical island jungles and into the plains of Africa players will go in Ubisoft Montreal's Far Cry 2, a game which we're hoping manages to further along the open-ended first-person shooter genre. The original, developed by Crytek (those also responsible for Crysis), did have open-ended elements its first sections, letting you explore a lush tropical island and blast apart enemies from whatever vantage points you wanted. GSC Game World's S.T.A.L.K.E.R., though flawed, still gave players a satisfying degree of freedom when it came to how they could choose to behave. Wiping out a town for no reason or hunting irradiated dogs upon the bleak, windswept plains around Chernobyl were some of your options. You could simply stand around and watch the groups of AI attack each other if you wanted – this genre, like open-ended single player RPGs, is all about, or at least is supposed to be about, giving the power of choice to the player.
Things have changed since we first saw this game at last year's Games Convention in Leipzig, Germany, and Ubisoft took an opportunity last month to let us know how things were going and show us a demo with an updated build of the game on PC. We didn't actually get to see the PS3 or Xbox 360 versions, but were told those are being done by the same team at Ubisoft Montreal, that they'll both, like the PC version, ship with a map editor, and that some of the same folks who worked on the editor for the Xbox's Far Cry Instincts were on board with this one. If you've ever used the Far Cry Instincts editor, then you know that's good news. For PC users there'll be some additional features built into the editor, but Ubisoft Montreal isn't planning on releasing the SDK.
It was nearly three years ago when development started on Far Cry 2. "Far Cry on PC had just come out when we started working on this," says Clint Hocking, the game's creative director. "We had a mandate to make a next-gen sequel to Far Cry the PC game, and we knew that the tropical island as a fresh and new environment was going to be burned for PC...I mean burned conceptually." For the development team, it was important to maintain a sense of wonder while exploring a new type of environment akin to the feeling players experienced when wandering around the jungles in the first Far Cry. Though Africa was eventually settled upon for the setting, it wasn't the only place being considered. "We though about jungle islands," says Hocking, "we thought about going more science-fictiony in certain ways, we thought about an underwater city because it would give you that sense of wonder...we thought about the arctic frozen tundra, but that was overruled by a team that didn't want to work on a snow game."
Despite the debate, the African setting was eventually decided upon, brought to life by Ubisoft Montreal's Dunia (a Swahili word meaning World) engine which they've built from scratch. Since the team wants to focus on realistic weaponry and the human versus human conflict from the original Far Cry, there'll neither be any mutants in the game, nor will there be any special player powers such as in Far Cry Instincts. There will still be jungle, though, covering several square kilometers of the game world.
Much of what makes an open-ended game like this immersive is AI. If NPCs are standing around like mannequins, well it's pretty hard to believe they're anything but a target or a place to buy more ammo. In Far Cry 2, Ubisoft Montreal says they're programmed in patrol paths, rest points, and the need to eat and sleep. From behind cover we surveyed an enemy camp where foes milled about, wandered the streets, stood guard in certain areas, and occasionally appeared to socialize with each other. Behaviors differ at night, when, as you might expect, more of the NPCs would retire to bed. For the purposes of the demo, Ubisoft Montreal ran their character into the camp and hopped into a truck, in the process alerting the seven or eight enemies that were guarding the place. As the truck fled the scene to avoid the loads of bullets whizzing by, a few enemies jumped into another truck and gave chase, bouncing over the terrain, trying to run our jeep off the road and firing at it. As our jeep took damage the engine started to fail and the truck slowed, forcing us to give up the escape and try to fight.
Like in any first-person shooter, you're going to get shot quite a bit in Far Cry 2. Last year it was said the health system in Far Cry 2 was going to require a good deal of the players' attention, as you'd have to manually patch up wounds and remove bullets. In the most recent build of the game things are more forgiving. The reason for the switch was the old system took the player out of the fight too often, forcing you to stop in almost every fight to reset a dislocated shoulder or remove a bullet. Now it's a health system where you use syrettes to stay at maximum health but also incorporates regenerative elements.
The health bar itself, one of the few HUD elements in the game which pops up onscreen when you take damage, is a series of small segments. If you're shot, part of the color filling a segment will be depleted. As long as the entire segment isn't emptied of color, you can regenerate that segment. If you take enough damage where a segment is fully emptied and the color bar recedes into another segment, then you need to use a syrette to fill everything back up; health regeneration doesn't continue across segments. With enough punishment your health can recede into the red zone where you'll start bleeding, at which point you'll need to perform a little self-surgery to staunch the wound and keep yourself in the fight.