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Like a lot of people when Far Cry 2 was announced last year, I took the idea of a sequel with a pinch of salt. After all, Far Cry already had a spiritual follow-up in Crysis, and I hadn't particularly loved the Instincts games which had reworked Crytek's original for a console audience. To be honest, I saw Far Cry 2 as a bit of a cash-in; a game designed to keep a franchise going long after its original creators had abandoned it.
Now, watching and playing the game at Ubisoft's 2008 Paris conference, that position is getting pretty impossible to maintain. Far Cry 2 isn't just looking like a good FPS - it's looking like a great one, and a genuinely ambitious and intelligent attempt to take the style that Far Cry invented somewhere new.
That begins with the setting: an anyonymous central African state being torn apart by a brutal war between scavenging mercenary forces. Gone is Far Cry's tropical island paradise, the green palms and sapphire waters. In its place we have dusty plains, bleak desert landscapes, muddy creeks, jagged mountains and the long grasses of the savannah. The surprise is how beautifully all this has been rendered, coming frighteningly close to Crysis in terms of the quality and detail of the light, the vegetation and the shadows. Like Crytek's PC graphics benchmark, Far Cry 2 can be uncannily realistic. When one of the developers speeds up the game's four-hour cycle of day and night and the landcape shifts from mellow golds to fierce reds to soft blues, you can almost feel the change in temperature, smell the dust. Console owners won't have seen anything like it.
Just as impressive is the fact that this is a totally open world. The game loads and you have a full 50 square kilometres of land to explore, on foot, on wheels or dangling from a glider. The aim is to put you in this world and not take you out of it. Switch to the map and you'll see your hand raise it into vision. Use a health item and you'll watch as the syringe is plunged into your arm or you quickly dig the bullet from your foot.