Title: Far Cry 2
Platform: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC
Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
Release Date: October 21, 2008
Author: Andrew 'TrackZero
Far Cry 2 Hands-On Preview
I was given the opportunity last week to see Far Cry 2 at Ubisoft in Montreal. We got to play through the single and multiplayer as well as work with the map editor over a few days. We also had various FC2 team members present to give us advice and get feedback. I'll be covering the single player and map editor in this article and the multiplayer at a later date. So let's just jump right in...
We started off by getting to take a trip to the movie theatre where they'd set up an initial demonstration through the single player campaign. This was all played live by one of their map designers.
The demo began at the introduction sequence where you're being brought from the local air strip to town, driven along in a Jeep by your guide. This gives you a great feel for the engine and environment the team has built. Africa right away just stands out on it's own. All the little details and touches are present. Be it the wildlife, the ambient sounds or the striking vistas. Now, granted the map isn't covering all of Africa. But as the game producers put it, they tried to include all the "best of" Africa. It's interesting to note that just over a year ago several of the team traveled to Africa for fact-finding. They quickly discovered how many things they were missing from the environment and upon their return went about a large overhaul of the art and sound assets, and it shows.
During the initial jeep ride, your guide explains the story narrative, the factions (the APR and UFLL) and issues in the region. Namely your key mission is simply to kill a man known as the "Jackal", who's playing off all sides of the conflict for his own ends. Giving further context to the exposition of the guide, we end up stopped by oxen being herded across the road, nearly getting into a car crash, running into a military convoy and then being halted at a guard post manned by mercenaries. Upon arriving in town, your character has the onset of Malaria. Leading into the first major objective of the game, getting yourself medicine to deal with that threat (this also comes into gameplay aspects later on and acts as an initial cap on your statistics and abilities). You then wake up in a hotel to find the main antagonist himself, the Jackal, over you and digging through your diary, this follows out to your escape and introduction to either of the main factions. During the beginning parts of the game you may accept work from either side, though later on your choices will end up with you choosing between them.
At this point I have to bring up that the the characters in-game certainly work well both in their model design and acting to help keep you in the story. Not only for the factions and other NPCs you encounter, but your allies in the conflict (which I'll detail further below).
The demo then skipped ahead to a later point in the game to demonstrate one of the many missions you take on. Where we approached an enemy camp via Jeep. It should be noted at this point, the jeep actually got in a firefight with soldiers, ended up crashing into a tree and we died during the demo (much to everyone's amusement). On replay we managed to get the Jeep past them and then proceeded on foot to a cliff overlooking the encampment where the mission was taking place. The camp was approached by setting a fire on one side and a good ol' run and gun ensued to blowing up the objective. I'll go into further details below on my experiences playing the game for myself.
We then had a Q+A session with the team (producers, art director, map designers were all present), which was surprisingly low key. This surprised the FC2 team, but all of us present explained we really just wanted to go play the game for ourselves at that point, which seemed to be the best answer (we really did).
We then traveled to the main Ubisoft Montreal office and were given a guided tour of the building. I'll skip on the details so we can get back to the game, but suffice to say we found ourselves eventually in a demo room with a variety of 360s, PCs and a PS3 to try the game on.
Speaking just for a moment about a particular PC they had on hand. Ubi teamed up with Intel to have some custom Far Cry 2 machines made (just a handful that they'll be giving away through various contests, so keep your eyes open). This thing ran the game maxed out and with a frame rate like butter, unfortunately they didn't have the specs on hand, so I don't know what kind of hardware we're looking at under the hood.
I started out on the 360, so I'll speak of the controls in that regard for now. They had a preconfigured save early in the game for me to start from with a mission already set.
The map was interesting to use, specifically you can pull it out at any time. It replaces your weapon on foot, keeping the map in your left hand and your cell phone in your right. It defaults to the area-map but can be exchanged out for the full 50sq kilometer map by hitting the X button. When you approach any area of note on the map you then get a mini-map of the location as well to cycle through. You can also view the map while driving, however you need to slightly look down to read it, which can cause some fun road accidents if you're not careful. Using the left-trigger while the map is out, switches to your monocular. This allows you to zoom in and find objects of interest (such as vehicles, weapon stashes, etc.), if you then right-trigger to "shoot" them when they're selected green, your mini-map will be populated by all objects of that type in the area (anything except enemies). Making it simpler for you to better plan out how to handle the situation, which is especially useful if you're on a mission. This isn't to say you always need to recon a site ahead of time. There were many times I'd go in guns blazing or driving my vehicle right into a few guards.
Weather and the day/night cycle also have an impact on your approach. Be it a clear sky, stormy weather or just windy, these all effect both the ability for fire to light and propagate as well as how well stealth works. Stealth is also affected by the time of day and I was advised to try my missions at night for an easier time with that approach. I found it very easy to observe the wind direction and wind speed to plan out starting fires both for distraction and effect. Certainly the brush fires themselves (and full on forest fires) help push the enemy AI where you want as well as igniting various explosive containers (from smaller blowtorch tanks to fuel barrels and large diesel tanks) and vehicles. Depending on the situation, this can be an excellent tactic or a dangerous one for yourself when you're in the thick of it. If you happen to catch on fire, it takes time to put it out and exposes you to gunfire. With regards to time, it does pass at an accelerated rate, but I found a good pace, not too fast, not too slow. You can always go to a safe house (they're found in every area, many of which you unlock by clearing soldiers from it), set your watch to a wake up time and take a nap.
For the weapon selection, there's a rather large variety to choose from. They're mapped to your d-pad and generally are split into three categories. The rifles/machine guns are left, pistols/uzis are right, rockets/grenade launchers/flamethrowers are down and lastly you have your trusty machete mapped to up. The machete itself comes in quite useful as there are times where you run low or directly out of ammunition, need to clear a path in the forest on foot (cutting down branches) or sneaking up on a guard from behind for an instant kill. Many of the weapons also offer silenced versions if that's your play style. Quality levels for weapons are also something of interest, the ones you buy at the store and take care of yourself are in excellent condition and usually work without issue. However, many picked up guns are beaten and rusty which can result in either a gun jam (where you need to hit on X to clear the chamber) or full out backfire where it explodes in your hand. Either of which can certainly change the tide of a firefight. While those problems can occur, generally speaking the weapons do work without issue for standard use and when an incident with them does occur, it often just serves to bring you deeper into the experience. I know I freaked out when my rusty mini-Uzi exploded in a close range fight and I found myself scrambling to get cover and pull out my rifle. You also can acquire grenades and moltov cocktails to throw with the right bumper, both are highly effective depending on the situation. With regards to shooting, it works as I expected, careful aim while holding left-trigger and short bursts to the head is the optimal gun play, but everything works reasonably well.
I found the stealth system quite easy to utilize, keeping crouched and moving through the underbrush to approach positions usually works without detection (even if you're far enough out in broad daylight). Obviously at night in stormy weather is the best technique, while using silenced weapons or the machete. If your stealth is broken, it's still possible to lose line of sight with the soldiers and slip away. Occasionally as well, you need to be aware of the local wildlife as they can sound off and garner attention you aren't expecting (often with hilarity ensuing).
A number of types of vehicles are also present (some from known motor companies) for various methods of travel. Be it on a hang glider (soaring over the beautiful landscape) on land with a Jeep or buggy or via the river ways on a fan boat, it certainly helps you move between objectives quickly and packs some extra firepower on many of them. If you take them off road, you need to keep an eye on the engine in case it begins smoking from damage. If this happens, you can jump out and go to work with your ratchet to make repairs on the fly. Various train depots are also scattered around the world for instantaneous travel.
Lastly with regards to gameplay approach, we have the health and buddy systems. Your health is determined by 5 squares in a life bar (though health doesn't always come off as a full square). If you're harmed within the first 3 squares that can removed, you can use morphine as a quick heal during battle with the left bumper. Now, if the damage you've taken is within the final two squares, you need to take serious cover as instead of using an injection, your character will perform one of approximately 80 animations to fix the injury. Some of these are rather gruesome, from taking pilers to your arm to remove a bullet, to pulling a steel pipe from your leg, to snapping a bone back in place. While this occurs you're usually vulnerable for 5-8 seconds and it only brings you back to the 2 square health bar. You'll need to follow it up with morphine to regain all health (but it's near instantaneous at that point). So you do need to keep an eye on it during a fight, but nothing too severe. Much like many of the other elements of this game though, you find that this effect in battle only lends to pull you in more and add to the excitement.
Also on many missions, you can be accompanied by another of your mercenary pals. At first, I wrote this off as just having an extra gun with me and paid him no attention once we were taking on an enemy encampment. However, I quickly realized this wasn't the case when I had ignored my health and let it go to far, only to find myself taken down by a hail of bullets. Thinking I'd have to reload from the last save, I was surprised to find through blurred vision that my partner had come to my aid. In a very cinematic style, he began dragging me to cover with one arm while returning fire with his other, all the while yelling to me that it'll be alright and he'll get me out (this happening with me just groggily looking up at him while being pulled along). Apparently there are a number of random ways you can be extracted by battle by this ally, this was only one of them. Once we had reached a safe spot behind a tree, he mended my wounds (bringing up my first 2 health bars) and we quickly rejoined the fight. But even little touches like this continued to make me realize how much work had gone into this title from every angle. Lastly it should be noted that you run into your friends at the various safe houses and they offer alternative ways to handle your current mission.
In summary, the game does a great job of equipping you with a large variety of tactical options to approach situations in your own way. Many of which can change depending on random circumstance, keeping the battlefield an unknown quantity and leaving the door open to near epic sequences where you survive just by the skin of your teeth.
As to the story itself, it builds from the initial mission of hunting the Jackal and changes depending on which side in the conflict you take. As well, you're often given alternative and conflicting objectives on the fly via GPS phone or allies where you can betray one side for the other. Exploring the world you can also find hidden cases full of diamonds to use as currency for new guns and skill upgrades. The game is simply full of open world "moments", such as floating in a river while watching a fire burn and clear a safe house for me, hearing the screams of the soldiers caught in the blaze, the roar of the wind and the crackle of fire. Or when I was chasing down an enemy munitions truck, only to end up running through a pack of Gazelles by accident, losing control and going over a small cliff face to not only land on a guarded safe house, but the crash setting off an ammunition crate which had bullets spraying all over the area, hitting me as I tried to get out of the jeep as well as the shocked guards jumping to action.
Single player aside, I also got to spend an afternoon working with the map editor (used for multiplayer, though I'll keep away from details pertaining to that for now). It was demonstrated first on the PC, working in it's own windows application. While in a way it's a "trimmed down" map maker compared to ones I've used for other games in the past, at the same time it allows for very quick terrain creation and object placement. It also features the ability to immediately "drop in" to the map in god mode and test out functionality as if you were in the game itself.
Most of my editing time was spent on the 360, running as it's own section off the main menu of the game. You can manage all your maps, load up and edit friends maps you've downloaded and create new ones. I found using the analog sticks actually easier for my style to rotate and manipulate object placement. For my task I was given, I had to create a race track map. Building out a thick jungle surrounded by mountain range took little time at all to set up (and as I realized later, I could have had it auto-generate the base map for me). Creating the dirt trails, hills and other parts actually took most of my time. Ensuring that I kept the road bumpy though, but smooth enough as to not wreck the vehicles before they could make it around the track. I then followed up by testing with a Buggy, going off jumps and around corners, working out all the "problem" spots. Then I got down to the detail work, setting up spawn points, vehicle placement, arrow markers around the track so new players knew when a turn was coming up.
Adding in little touches such as explosive barrels on a sharp turn after a straight away (so battling racers who aren't paying attention may get a nasty surprise). I also then built a "starter" barrel on a large pole at the race marker, so that players can optionally all start at once with that as the signal. One of the team map designers then demoed my creation, pointing out more little touches and things I could try. We then built out a jump ramp near the end of the race. In retrospect once it was completed, I continued to think of more and more items to add in.
Another map created during the event was meant to be a bit of an homage to Howls Moving Castle. The author linked a lot of boulders together and made it fly in the sky, complete with rocket boosters and upside down windmills on the bottom. As well as gliders for flying and a pipe linking it to the ground. Simply crazy to look at. I can see how this could catch on easily on the 360, having your friends join your map, it auto-uploads to them on the fly and you all try out each others crazy designs. Definitely another feather in this games cap.
Just looking at the single player experience on it's own, this game has already become a "buy" for me. I've got to say, with all the elements and polish put on this title, for me personally it's set a new standard of what I'll expect from other FPS titles going out in the future. The map editor is just icing on the cake. And coming up in a few weeks, I'll be writing about the multiplayer experience. I hope everyone gives this game a spin after seeing all the depth put into this game during its three and a half year development, it's not one to miss.
I saw and heard about a lot of great things while in Montreal, which I can't speak about right now. But I can say they're doing great work at that studio. Lastly, thanks to Ubisoft for hosting such a awesome event!