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Previews

Far Cry 2

Preview: Safari so good

Life in the African wilderness isn't all being stalked by Saba Douglas-Hamilton and posing for BBC camera crews. According to Ubisoft's reimagining of the Far Cry series, it's heavily armed camps, two criminal factions waging war on each other and you in the middle, hunting the arms dealer supplying them.

Ubisoft have neatly side-stepped the original game's legacy by jettisoning the unmemorable Jack Carver, removing the silly mutants and dumping the tropical island.

While the equatorial setting is vaguely familiar, relentless tropics have given way to a more diverse African backdrop: savannah, forests and shanty towns all rub up against each other, all accessible from the opening moments of the game.

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The freedom to explore this open world is FC2's biggest hook: from the moment you're in control, the game is there to respond to your whims. No linear storyline here: things will happen in accordance with the way you play the game, and how the AI reacts.

The times and locations and characters of events will be different for every play-through, making you a real influence in the world. It's the sort of thing Boiling Point and Stalker grew up wanting to be.

Having witnessed Far Cry 2 in action I'm excited about the possibilities. The engine offers the usual first-person violence, but within an extremely reactive world. Think of the physics in Crysis - collapsable trees and crumbling buildings - but with greater scope, so that you can destroy trees on distant mountains and blow up entire villages from afar.

The huge playing area allows for any number of approaches: you can snipe a guard from a distance, leaving him injured in the hope that it draws his friends out, or you can barrel a car right through the walls, ploughing into the breakable scenery like a rubbish F1 driver.

But there's a lot more to FC2 than that: this is a more accurate simulation than a shooter has any right to be, with a full day-night cycle, storms and the sort of sunsets you'd have to spend your life savings to see for real.

It even models fire, which plays a big part in overcoming your enemies. FC2's fire spreads not in a predetermined kind of way, but in a lithe, ohmygod-it's- coming-out-of-the-monitor-and-about-to-singe-my-eyebrows-off fashion.

To truly understand how good it looks I'd have to herd you all into a field and douse it in petrol, but since I only have words... it spreads exactly as you would expect. Wind drives it, so that you can start a bush fire (with your flamethrower, naturally) downwind from a target and it'll work its way in the direction you want.

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You can use it for cover, to panic a crowd or as an all-out assault. But careful handling is required, as there's every chance you'll give away your position or set yourself on fire.

At times, FC2 seems more like a hyper-kinetic action holiday: there's no HUD, so you have to pull out a map and compass and work out your location for yourself. DIY healthcare means jabbing the tip of a large bowie knife or pliers into the hole to pull the bullet out.

And then there's the hang-glider which ranks pretty low on the action hero vehicle chart, but provides you with a great view of gazelles drinking at waterholes.

I'll admit, after Ubisoft's dismal console conversions of the original Far Cry, I was looking to Crytek's next game for my fix of tropical shooting.

I couldn't see how Ubisoft could make the transition from a feral Jack Carver to something fun. Their abandonment of Jack has given rise to something spectacular. It's the game people have been trying to make for years. They've not only made a convert of me, it's now the game I'm most excited about this year.

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