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Joystiq hands-on: Far Cry 2

When we last saw Clint Hocking, creative director at Ubisoft Montreal, he was making a last minute stop at PAX to show off Far Cry 2. The visibly tired Hocking took us on a tour of the new game's exotic environment, the African Serengeti – exoticism being the game's major connection to the original. A couple weeks ago at Ubisoft's Ubidays event in San Francisco, Hocking was there again, but in a smaller room (decorated in an African theme) surrounded by journalists actually playing the game.

"It's 50 square kilometers, an open world," he says. We'd heard the same thing previously, as far back as PAX. The game had always been ambitious; now, it was running quite smoothly right in front of us, on an Xbox 360. So, how close are they to reaching that goal of being an entirely open world shooter? From what I could tell in this very limited demo, pretty close.

Gallery: Far Cry 2 (Ubidays '08) | 15 Photos

Throughout the play sessions, Hocking provided a sort of real time director's commentary, pointing out items of interest or explaining an event. He recommends lighting a building on fire to force the soldiers out into the open telling us, "That's the way we play and I think the systems in the game are going to encourage people to play that way as well."

The notion that the entire game is simulation based begins to creep out after watching three other writers play through the entire demo. I'd leave and come back an hour later to see if another batch of writers followed the same paths I'd already seen or did something different. While each playthrough, including my own, included objectives like destroying a radio tower and making it to the hang-glider (yeah, there's a hang-glider and a whole lotta open plains), how you accomplish those objectives is a relatively open-ended affair.

Fire is a big part of the game and one of your main tools; you can use it to burn down a field of grass, a row of trees, or even entire buildings. Once the flora is burnt down, it will begin to grow back and even display different stages of growth.

If you "die" in the game, one of your AI friends will come to the rescue and drag you off to safety. It's an entirely immersive effect, with your character blinking in and out of consciousness. You have no control until you get mended, and then you slowly stumble back to life. When asked if friendly AI can ride shotgun in your Jeep, Hocking admitted they didn't design it, and they're "certainly not going to add it" but he wouldn't be surprised if it didn't happen occasionally. Again, it's simulation based.

All 50 square kilometers aren't open to you immediately. After the first 30 minutes to an hour, you'll unlock the side missions which immediately grant you access to approximately 25 square kilometers of the game's map. You'll need to play through about 1/3 to 1/2 of the game's missions to unlock the entire thing, which includes three towns (two "main ones") and seemingly dozens of set pieces from remote outposts to radio towers to mining operations.

Gallery: Far Cry 2 | 52 Photos

The multiplayer operation wasn't on display, but Ubisoft has completely rebuilt the original console game's level editor from the ground up. User created maps will be up to 1/2 square kilometer in size and will be able to be shared over Xbox Live, with online rankings and level ratings. The multiplayer offerings will focus on team-based modes (all of which will be usable on user maps) but will shy away from traditional deathmatch-style modes.

The short demo they had on display had an impressive amount of playtime in it, depending on how you played through it. Hocking said the game could be completed in about 25 hours, a long shooter experience to be sure before downplaying even that number. "You could do it in 25 hours, for sure" but if you want to see and do everything "you're looking at a 100-hour play experience."

Though Hocking first told us his mandate "was to make Ubisoft a top-tier PC game" and that "it's obviously Ubisoft's business if they want to do a console version" he was manning the 360 station the entire day. Even now, several months before the game's fall release across all three platforms, it has an impressive level of technical polish. Comparisons to the recently released Grand Theft Auto IV are abundant, from the size to the simulation-based nature of the game. And, with 100 hours of gameplay ostensibly under the hood of Far Cry 2, I feel much like I still feel about GTA IV: that I've barely scratched the surface.

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