Ubisoft showed off SoulCalibur 4, Brothers In Arms Hell's Highway, Tom Clancy's HAWX and Tom Clancy's EndWar at Ubidays in Paris last week. A line-up full of promising quality. But beating all of that was Far Cry 2, my Ubidays game of the show.
Why? Because it's about as next-gen a game as I've ever seen. It's open world, it's destructible, it's gorgeous, it's even got animal AI. In short, it's a gamer's paradise. And going by how overcrowded the Far Cry 2 booth was at Ubidays, I wasn't the only one excited about getting some hands on time with the hotly anticipated FPS.
Now that Far Cry has a new home following Ubisoft Montreal's capture of the Far Cry helm from Crysis developer Crytek, it's begun filling it with swanky new furniture. The lush jungle setting of the first game has been dumped in favour of a central African Savannah setting. I saw this first hand at Ubidays and when I did something the game's creative director Clint Hawking said at the big Ubidays presentation the day before sprang to mind: "The time for running through dark corridors is coming to an end," he said. "Players are starting to want more meaningful experiences."
If by meaningful he means just bloody beautiful, then he's nailed it on the head with this game. Far Cry 2 is one of the most impressive games I've seen due out this year. The environment is stunning, rekindling memories of those pictures smug friends put up on Facebook once they get back from safari. It's a desert but that doesn't mean the landscape is a boring dusty orange. There are pockets of lush vegetation everywhere. Wind blows dynamically, swaying trees in real time. Zebra casually chew on pockets of grass. There are gorgeous water effects at play in streams and rivers that cut through the lay of the land. Hills, canyons and cliffs show off stunning vistas and impressive draw distances. It's a 50km by 50km open world game and there won't be a loading screen in sight. Ubisoft Montreal's decision to take us to the centre of Africa looks like it's spectacularly paid off.
I'm impressed. But then I played Far Cry 2 on a PC that no doubt burnt half of the game's budget just to assemble. Fear not - it won't need a PC from the future to play it. At Ubidays game designer Patrick Redding told me that the team is aiming for more manageable system specs than Crytek's graphics card destroying FPS. And, perhaps inevitably, Far Cry 2 doesn't look like it's going to reach Crysis' visual heights. But it's not far off.
Jack Carver's bit the dust. Players will now pick one from 12 predetermined mercenaries as their "avatar", as Patrick put it. Your objective this time around is to hunt down and kill a mysterious arms dealer called The Jackal, who's reignited a Central African war by supplying both sides with weapons. But Far Cry 2 isn't just about you against The Jackal. With a reporter called Ruben as your guide, you'll find yourself playing the two warring factions off against each other, killing warlords and their endless stream of henchmen and interacting with the mercenaries you didn't choose as you slowly but surely hunt your nemesis down.
"The Jackal is really the reason why the player has to deal with all these people," Patrick says. "The player's hunting the Jackal because he's an arms dealer who's supplied both sides of this conflict with weapons. At the very beginning of the game you meet him. You're sick with malaria and he's there in your hotel room ransacking your stuff. He says 'I know you're here to kill me and you're not going to succeed, you're too feeble and weak to be able to do anything'. He's not saying it in a lording it over you way, it's more like 'listen buddy, one guy to another, maybe you should get on a plane and go home'. It's almost a patronising feeling. When he walks out the door he says 'listen, I've got to go restart a war. If you know what's good for you you'll stay out of my way'. It's almost a courtesy call."
And so the stage is set. And here's where the open world bit ties in. Far Cry 2 won't tell you how to track The Jackal down. It's up to you to work out how to do that by following clues, working with the factions, finding bits of information and using Ruben as best you can. "The player needs to make up his own mind as to exactly how he is going to deal with this guy."