Far Cry 2 might not be coming from the same studio that brought us the original PC game (Crytek has moved on to Crysis), but with Ubisoft Montreal at the helm we were still confident of an excellent FPS follow-up. After a stunning demonstration at Play.com Live, which showed off a different area than what we saw at last year's Games Convention, there's little doubt that Far Cry 2 will continue the series' tradition of cutting edge visuals.
The demonstration wasn't quite as explosive as the section of gameplay we saw last year, but it did show off the more built up areas you'll come across in the game. Right from the off it was plainly obvious that Crysis might have a contender in the "best graphics ever" stakes. Despite the switch from tropical island paradise to Africa, our demo started in some thick jungle, before moving to a dryer landscape that is more often associated with Africa.
As in Far Cry and Crysis, vehicles will play a big part in Far Cry 2. In fact, they'll become pretty essential seeing that the game is set in a massive 50km2 area of land. A big number indeed. To put it into perspective, that's larger than the play area in Oblivion. Ubisoft hasn't hinted at how long it'll take you to work through the game, but given that play area we're hoping for something a little longer than the now average 6-8 hours.
You'll be free to tackle the missions in whatever order you see fit - although we assume a central storyline and accompanying set of missions will be rather rigid in their order - and it does seem as though you'll be able to go anywhere. A work in progress in-game map showed off the locations in just a single 1km2 area, and you'll have access to bigger maps that let you mark key locations and get a real sense of the area before you. Extending the game even further, there'll be 10 playable characters, which is something quite unique for a game of this type.
Back to the demo, and our guide spotted a jeep - incidentally, vehicles will break down and need repairing, as will the weapons in the game. He hopped in and headed off up a steep mountain road, before getting out for a bit of sight-seeing with a handy monocular. Demonstrating the game's immense draw distance, he was able to zoom right in on the bad buys in the village at the bottom of the mountain.
It was then time to get a little up close and personal, going into the village to take out the enemies with a combination of a quick-fire shotgun and grenade launcher. Staying in one position for too long will give the enemies a chance to reposition and surround you, so it's essential to keep moving. It also seems pretty vital that you stay on top of your health. At one point our character had a bullet lodged in his ankle, so he had to use some tweezers to pull it out. We're promised a load of these repair animations so hopefully they won't become tiresome.
Demonstrating the advanced AI, our guide moved on to the sniper atop a building high in the village. After missing with his first shot the enemy quickly moved to a new location - something obvious, but it's not the kind of thing you'll see in every action game. He was eventually taken out, and his rifle taken. Of course, such a vantage point couldn't be wasted, so the sniper rifle was equipped and down went the fleeing enemies below.
During this fire-fight it seemed as if our guide's life had come to an end, but the game's buddy system was there to help him out. A character that had been befriended earlier in the game came to his aid, dragging him to safety and allowing him to do some running repairs. According to Ubisoft it's not a given that you'll get out alive, with the outcome depending on the number of enemies in the area and what cover is available.
Our demo ended with a look at a glider. In Far Cry 2 you'll be able to fly around the map to your heart's content, assuming you can stay in the air, and from there you can scope out enemy encampments or just take in the view. With wildlife running beneath you, and the ever changing African landscape stretching out into the distance, Far Cry 2 is truly a stunning looking game. We were also told that Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 owners won't be getting a dumbed down version, with all three games featuring the same content and gameplay. We'll be amazed if the console versions can match the PC game running on a top-end gaming rig, but we'll have to wait and see.
Although we didn't get to see it during the demo, Far Cry 2 also includes fire propagation technology, with the blaze and smoke being affected by wind. Start a fire in a dry patch of grass and it'll spread and be blown across the land, smoke billowing into the sky. This looked incredible during the Games Convention demo last year, so it can only look better in more recent builds. We're yet to see this in a gameplay scenario, but hopefully it'll be there for more than show, giving you another option in combat situations.
Far Cry 2 will surely be one of Ubisoft's biggest releases of 2008 and based on the two times we've seen it in action we can't wait to get some hands-on time. Although the move from a lush tropical location to a more barren African landscape caused a few to question Ubisoft's decision, the variety in locations seems second to none and the open-ended gameplay could even put Crysis to shame. Look for more on the game later in the year.