Far Cry was the first FPS we played that felt really open. The first FPS where we felt unchained from the beaten path the developer wanted us to see, the first FPS where if we saw a cliff top, we knew we could climb all the way to the top and paraglide into the horizon. But it wasn't a real open world, oh no, says Ubisoft Montreal. Far Cry 2 apparently is. 50 square kilometres of open world, to be exact.
The developer claims our hands-on session with the Xbox 360 version had us see "less than half a percent" of what Far Cry 2's virtual Savannah has to offer. Usually we could give a monkey's about the size of a virtual playfield, but Far Cry's not about empty streets and how many different districts you can cram onto an island.
Those empty, open fields aren't a waste of space, but a playground to plan your enemy assault from every angle. A sandbox to set a car on fire, roll it right into the enemy encampment and then follow it up Rambo-style with a sub-machine gun and a Molotov cocktail. It's an FPS playground... except they've gone and turned half of it into an RPG.
The sequel takes place in a virtual Africa (that "officially" isn't Africa) locked in a civil war. Two warring factions, the Alliance for Popular Resistance (APR) and the United Front for Liberation and Labour, fight for the remaining wealth the conflict-ravaged region has left. As a mercenary caught in the middle, you're out to run missions for either of the factions with diamonds being your reward.
Interestingly there is no set main character in the game, instead you get to choose between ten or so set avatars and get on with it. It's just one of the many, many RPG influences that leaves Far Cry 2 feeling more like Oblivion than Crysis.
The faction hopping for example sounds straight out of Guns of the Patriots, and you can make and lose friends depending on your actions - you can even shoot your buddies right in the face and they won't get up again (as we quickly found out).
It sounds intriguing. But if you're sitting behind your keyboard worrying that Ubisoft's gone and turned Far Cry into Mass Effect, fear not. Straight away from picking up the pad that feeling of unchained exploration and effortless interaction is here. The environment, while definitely a bit more pixelated than the PC version (despite Ubisoft's claims that they're identical), looks and feels astonishingly natural.
The grass - which while we're at is spread far too distant than the Xbox 360 or PS3 should realistically be capable of - blows dynamically in the wind, with no scripted animation what-so-ever. Streams and flowing water look incredible surrounded by trees, foliage and bushes that blow to bits when you shoot them. The detail goes right down to the branches snapping at exactly the point of bullet impact. Crytek certainly has competition.
We started off our demo by climbing a small hill towards a wooden hut, where Frank, one of Far Cry 2's many "buddy" AI partners, hangs out. The buddy characters in their simplest function are there to hand out missions, but there are definitely hints of a far deeper companion system in what we've seen.
For one, as soon as you've selected a partner and taken their mission, they'll come and rescue you when you're shot down, dragging you to safety in a very visceral and BioShock-esque cut-scene. The punishment is that you'll lose all of your weapons, and if your buddy dies he'll disappear from the world for good.
After a brief chat with the bandana-wearing merc, we're off to destroy an enemy pipeline just around the corner.