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GC 2008: Far Cry 2 Hands-On - Map Editor, Single-Player Impressions, and Dynamic
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Design your own war zone and then burn it to the ground.

If Far Cry 2 takes place in Africa, why is there a multiplayer map featuring the Eiffel Tower? Because a very dedicated tester created it himself in the robust map editor, that's why.

We stopped by Ubisoft Montreal last week for a first look at the anticipated map editor and managed to squeeze in several hours of the single-player campaign as well. Console players finally have at their disposal an editor that's almost on par with a PC mod tool. Fear not, PC players, the Far Cry 2 PC map editor has a simple Windows interface and looks like a streamlined version of Photoshop. Ubisoft's goal for all platforms was simplicity. Though the interface varies slightly to take advantage of either a mouse and keyboard or a controller, Ubisoft was whipping together realistic-looking multiplayer maps in a matter of minutes on the PC and consoles.

If you have more than a few minutes, the creations can be quite extraordinary. The Eiffel Tower was constructed using hundreds of individual pipe pieces, while another developer painstakingly layered cement slabs to create a naval battleship, complete with interior decks.

The first tool at your disposal is the mound tool. Simply create a circle on an area of land and hold down a button, and the earth will begin to elevate, almost as though you're spray-painting elevation changes. Indeed, most tools handle exactly like a spray-paint tool in Photoshop. If you "spray" over the ground with the noise tool, it will create random divots and rocks and small contours to give the map a more natural look. The erode tool can be applied to elevated mounds, creating sheer cliffs and steep, rocky slopes. A texture tool can apply individual biome characteristics that represent the major areas of Far Cry 2: jungle, desert, and savannah. An algorithm will select trees and bushes at random, so vegetation appears realistic rather than being a perfect grid of palm trees. We watched as one developer created a beautiful forest in a matter of seconds. Roads can be added by selecting a surface such as dirt or pavement and then dragging and dropping points around the topography. Finally, every map must have a set number of spawn points, at least one spectator camera location, and mode-specific objectives like flags in Capture the Flag. A validation tool will tell you what you're missing before you're allowed to finalize your map.

The bulk of your time will be spent with the object tool, which gives you the ability to drop any object into the environment and orient it exactly as you wish, even if you prefer a village of upside-down houses. Churches, fences, homes, walls, explosive barrels, and vehicles can be added anywhere, although the vehicle count is currently capped at six. Because these objects can be stacked on top of one another, you can create some impressive structures should you take the time to build them. One map we saw showed a construction site and an unfinished building made out of individual girders. Another map was designed as a harbor, with large cargo containers stacked on top of one another and tall cranes looming overhead. A final map we ran through featured an old passenger train stretched across a lake with a few wood docks floating about. If you can dream it, you can probably make it happen.

Once your map is created, you can play around with times of day and add weather effects like fog and rain. Finally, you can hit a button and drop right into the map and start shooting it up or burning it down with a flamethrower. Not only is this fun, but it gives you the chance to scope out good firing positions and test the design of your map.

Should you not want to spend too much time in the map editor, you can always download a map from another user and modify it to your liking. The original creator will still receive credit for his map, but you can jump right in, make changes, and upload it again. Ubisoft is still hammering out all the community features of the map editor, but at the very least you will be able to sort through maps based on filters like top rated or number of times played. Unfortunately, it will not be possible to share maps across different platforms, but based on our time with the map editor, it appears that Ubisoft has reached its goal. The editor is seamless and simple.

Not so simple is the single-player game, which is to say that Ubisoft is aiming for an engrossing experience with dynamic narrative. Because you can pick and choose your buddies and build up your relationships with them, and because they can die at any time and be removed from the story completely, no two experiences will be alike. As you improve your relationship with buddies by taking on their side missions, more information about their personal histories will be added to your file. No matter which of the nine characters you choose to play as, there are a few big moments in the plot--without giving away too much--when you have to decide whom to help, who lives, and who dies.

In the few hours we played of the single-player game, we noticed a definite rhythm to the action. There are safe houses littered throughout the region that you can unlock by defeating the guards there. There are weapon shops and armories where you can reload. You can also take on side missions from the shop owner that will unlock new guns. But to purchase guns, you'll need to collect conflict diamonds. Hundreds are scattered throughout the country, and your GPS device will quickly flash green as you approach a stash. You also earn diamonds and progress through the story by completing the main missions. But, of course, to better complete missions you need access to better guns...a vicious (and fun) cycle.

In the mission we played, a lieutenant in the APL faction wants a police chief dead and orders us to destroy his heavily armed convoy. Plus he pays in advance. As we head to the location on our map, we get a phone call from one of our buddies, Flora, who has a less dangerous way to complete the same mission. She recommends stealing a ledger that contains details of APL bribes from the chief's brother. When the chief finds out, he'll hole up in the police station and wait for your arrival.

Unfortunately we died before completing the mission, so we turned our attention to exploring the open world, burning enemies to a crisp with the flamethrower, and racing through guarded checkpoints. There are several large radar towers looming over the land, and you can earn some quick diamonds by accepting assassination side missions there. A creepy muffled voice comes on the line and gives you a target to put to sleep for good with a well-aimed shot from the silenced dart rifle.

At this point in development, Far Cry 2 is feature complete, and Ubisoft Montreal is focused solely on cleaning up the remaining bugs.

By Jon Miller