Sequels make me nervous. If you have a great game and a sequel gets approved, more often than not it'll become an overworked mess that ignores some of the best parts of the original title while tacking on additions that serve no purpose and make the game a chore to play. This becomes even more likely when the new game is handed off to a different developer. Naturally, when I heard that Far Cry 2, the first genuine sequel to Far Cry (and not a pseudo-sequel with the format Far Cry Additional Word) would be developed by Ubisoft Montreal and not Crytek, I filled with dread.
Yesterday I got to see a preview of Far Cry 2. The verdict is still out (and will be until I can play the final, released product), but I can honestly see this game as not sucking. It might actually be pretty good, if Ubisoft puts its money where its mouth is.
First, let's look at the changes between Far Cry and Far Cry 2. They're completely different games. Period. From what I saw of Far Cry 2, it shares absolutely no ties with the original Far Cry beyond both containing very pretty jungle environments and guns. This new title seems to completely abandon the original Far Cry's convoluted Island of Dr. Moreau pastiche for a much more realistic paramilitary theme. This time you play a gun for hire in a fictional African state, where two factions are vying for control. While Far Cry had a fairly direct progression like Half-Life, Far Cry 2 boasts an open world. It forgoes discrete levels for a 50-square-kilometer sprawl of sub-Saharan African. Besides jungles, you can explore (and fight through) African savanna and war-torn villages as you play through the game.
The early build I saw looked very good. Instead of the Cry engine that powered Far Cry and Crysis, Far Cry 2 uses Ubisoft Montreal's in-house Dunia engine. Its physics don't seem quite as elaborate as Crysis' CPU-intensive system, but it still manages to pack a fair amount of destructible knick-knacks into the game. You won't see individual bits of splinters fly when you shoot at a tree like you would if you played Crysis on the experimental military supercomputer it was intended for, but you can still blow up shacks and vehicles, send people and objects flying, and generally have a fair bit of fun seeing what various things your bullets and rockets can mess up. The engine's fire effects seemed particularly impressive; set a patch of dry grass on fire and watch it spread to a respectable firewall to cut off enemy reinforcements (or just to burn things and laugh).
Ubisoft also makes some very grandiose claims about Far Cry 2's AI, which makes me far more leery than any promises of beautiful graphics or realistic physics. Every game I've seen that promises realistic artificial intelligence has fallen short. It's not about bad AI, but more about developers making promises they can't back up. According to Ubisoft, Far Cry 2 will sport complex, nonscripted artificial intelligence that has enemies and NPCs reacting to personal needs. I've heard that enemy soldiers will seek shade when it's hot, take breaks then they're tired, and seek out food when they're hungry. Combine these claims with a sprawling world and I find myself having flashbacks of the buildup to The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. Bethesda Softworks promised some amazingly realistic behavior in its NPCs, but it didn't quite make it. The game was still very good and its characters occasionally showed glimpses of intelligence, but it didn't live up to the hype. I saw an enemy medic pick up a wounded soldier to carry him to safety in Far Cry 2 and was impressed by the action, but until I play the final game myself and see that sort of behavior manifest consistently, I'll take the promises of AI with a generous spoonful of salt.
Hype concerns aside, Far Cry 2 looks like it could be a good game for shooter fans. I'm not sure how it serves as a sequel to the original Far Cry, but even without tropical islands and genetic experimentation, I can see this as shaping up to be a solid shooter when it hits PCs and Xbox 360s later this year.