Far Cry 2
Three-and-a-half years in the making, many would have been forgiven for writing off the Far Cry series at the point many moons ago where Ubisoft and IP creators Crytek parted company. The publisher kept the brand, however, and while the German wizards went off to EA to make Crysis, Ubisoft quietly took the franchise away and began work on a proper sequel.
Console releases in the shape of the Far Cry Instincts games followed fairly quickly, but these were mere stepping-stones on the road to Far Cry 2 - the full renaissance of the original exotic-landscape FPS Ubisoft Montreal had been working on almost from the word go.
Commendably, instead of just going with more Polynesian-blasting, the game's Canadian developers instead went back to what lies at the core of the Far Cry concept: exotic locales, gritty action and storyline. So, gone are the crystal blue waters and beaches, and in is the vast and intimidating African Savannah (although Ubi do make a point of including some lush, thick jungle too). Likewise, the publisher wasn't too taken with the fantastical sci-fi elements which were ushered in through the latter-half of the original Far Cry (and neither were focus group testers, we hear), so realistic, tough, mercenary-battles will be at the heart of the new-look Far Cry.
Gone are space beings and other weirdness, instead, Ubisoft will use a realistic setting, combined with a thought-provokingly realistic story, to deliver us a Far Cry experience that is all about politically-motivated combat in a failed African state. The developers also felt that one of the key elements that made the original such a surprise hit was the sense of space; of openness; so the creators of this sequel have taken this approach to its logical conclusion, creating a true 'open world' in the GTA 'sandbox' sense of the word. For the first time in a first-person shooter, enemies will come at you from all sides - a full-360 degrees, we're told.
Of course, this isn't an island, so instead we're offered a vast slice of central Africa: Jungles, shanty towns, open grasslands, roads, mountains, et al. A full 50 square-kilometres to experience and explore is on offer, and yes, there is a hang-glider. Realism is far more important in Far Cry 2 than its PC-only predecessor, and as such Ubisoft Montreal have worked hard to offer up an interface that's every bit as dusty and sun-scorched as the world beyond. Your in-game map, for example, is crucial for navigating between way-points in the landscape, but instead of offering something obviously HUD-like, we're given a crumpled parchment-like map, complete with faded edges, which the character holds in-game; even while driving. Likewise guns look battered and rusty, and if not maintained then they can actually explode, injuring you.
This new emphasis on realism also carries over to the game's vehicles. No moon-buggies or pristine modes of transport here. Instead we're offered battered saloons and dent-strewn jeeps, that will over-heat and get gradually beaten-up as you move around the Savannah. A nice touch is the way in which you can use a wrench to quickly 'mend' an over-heating vehicle. The overriding feeling in the game is one of jeopardy, players acutely aware that they are never safe, while relationships - even with the game's eight 'buddies' - can't be trusted or relied upon. At the game's outset you'll have nine believable mercenaries to choose from, complete with back-stories. The other eight will form the aforementioned buddy compliment.
The premise looks likely to fit in well with the game's story, then, which takes its cues from Conrad's Heart of Darkness, or Apocalypse Now, if you prefer. You arrive in this strange and forbidding land as an assassin; a hired-gun sent to this unnamed, godforsaken state to murder an Arms dealer - the mysterious Jackal - who is at the heart of the country's myriad problems. Playing the game's Kurtz role, the Jackal will reveal his thoughts on the world via BioShock-esque tape recordings, which you'll discover as you explore the country. These psychological snapshots will further the plot, as well as giving the player entry into the world of Rubin - the imprisoned journalist who first interviewed the Jackal.
The tape-recordings, like everything you do in this open world, are of course optional, Ubisoft Montreal keen to offer players the chance to move through the game in a way of their choosing. As such, you'll be able to shift allegiances between the game's factions - making and breaking friendships with other realistic mercenary characters, in a brutal and immoral steam-roll towards your final objective.