No doubt one of the most highly anticipated shooters of 2008, Far Cry 2 has something to prove if it wants to shake the inevitable comparison to its step-cousin-once-removed, Crysis. My recent double-playthrough of a mid-game mission - once in broad daylight and again under the cover of midnight - went a long way toward proving that Ubisoft knows what it’s doing. First, a quick briefing on the backstory: As one of nine rugged mercenaries, you’re charged with tracking down and killing The Jackal, an arms dealer hiding somewhere in 50 square kilometers of a fictional African country. The open world - populated by hundreds of NPCs and realistic wildlife - lets you run, drive, or hang glide across a sprawling savanna without seeing a single loading screen. No matter which of the nine characters you choose to play as, the main objective is the same; what changes are the side quests you’ll receive, which will be issued by the characters you don’t pick.
I met up with Frank, a playable character holed up in one of 60 safe-houses scattered throughout the game (used for storing weapons kits), who gave me a mission to destroy an oil pipeline being used by a faction friendly to The Jackal. I drove to the pipeline, ditched the car, and scouted the area. Spotting a major enemy encampment, I pulled out my trusty AK-47 and brought down several soldiers before a guard spotted me from a lookout tower and began firing in my direction. By flushing me out - which the developers call “counter-sniper behavior” - he forced me to run into the camp to engage the enemies head-on. Amidst the ensuing chaos, I noticed several standout features.
Enemies react realistically to being hit non-fatally - limping, falling to the ground and firing at me with a pistol, or slowly crawling to cover. Similarly, my character reacted to his severe wounds, prying bullets out with a knife or cauterizing exposed flesh with a flare. Also, weapons would degrade with use and eventually jam and misfire, leaving me defenseless until I mashed the reload button to repair them. And finally, when I ran out of ammo and was severely injured, an NPC named Warren came to my rescue and brought me back from the brink of death, then stuck around to help me complete the attack on the pipeline. Moving on, I ran into a second fortification. Taking note of the wind direction, I threw some Molotov Cocktails into the yellow grass upwind of my target and watched the fire quickly propagate toward the base, wreaking havoc. The fire spread beautifully, lighting wooden shacks and trees and sparking chaos among my enemies. A propane tank exploded, spiraled unpredictably, and slammed into more buildings, sending splintering wood and debris flying everywhere.
With my mission completed, I restarted to see how things would play out under the cover of darkness. Setting out at around midnight, I found that the full moon kept the landscape very visible (no Doom 3 flashlight gimmick here), but my view distance was somewhat limited. NPC behavior is the biggest change at night, as enemies will patrol less frequently and huddle near campfires. This allowed me to sneak up closer to the base without being detected, where I found stashes of ammo crates to fuel my attack. Using an MP5K submachine gun, I took down a few grunts while crouched in the brush - but since my surroundings were dark, the muzzle flash gave away my position, forcing me to relocate. To balance out the enemy AI’s visual weakness (you don’t want everyone playing the whole game nocturnally!), the developers have amped up their aggressiveness - when you’re spotted, they’ll hone in on you much more quickly than during the day.
You’ll have to weigh the advantages and disadvantages of attacking in daylight. My playtest gave me a good impression of how truly open the environment will be. The freedom to explore at my own pace, along with the option to complete missions at any time of day (with corresponding NPC behavior), makes Crysis’ claim of being “non-linear” seem shallow by comparison. This gives me confidence that Far Cry 2 will set itself apart from that other “cry” game, and live up to its pedigree.
Jul 15, 2008