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Far Cry 2

The best way to run riot around the African savannah without actually going to Africa

We knew Far Cry 2 was going to be fun, but we didn't realize just how fun. Our return to Ubisoft's Montreal studio to catch up with the developer turns into an unexpected hands-on session with the FPS, with various members of the team riding shotgun.

It's supposed to be a forty-minute slice of action from the game proper, but it quickly becomes abundantly clear we're veering of the beaten path.

Blame lies solely with Ubisoft Montreal, who are riding shotgun with us and egging us on to try more and more elaborate attempts at causing general mayhem with the open-world gameplay.

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Rather than destroy a radio tower as directed, the team are more interested in two trucks parked beside each other. Specifically, arming the bonnets with mines and seeing what happens when we detonate them.

We figure, what the hell. Thirty seconds and a flick of a remote switch later, we're scrambling backwards to avoid being crushed by two flaming wrecks returning earthward.

There's a mixture of chuckles and cheers as we get back to business. Soon after, the mission is completed and the lights flick on.

"We were going to ask if you enjoyed it," says creative director Clint Hawkin. "But that big grin tells us all we need to know."

It's not hard to share his verve, but equally there's surprise that three years into the project there can still be that unbridled enjoyment. But that's all part of the game's secret, Clint reveals.

"The great thing for us is running in there, having to improvise and adapt," he chuckles as we question what makes the game still fresh for the developer. "To solve the problem on the fly - that's where the excitement comes from. Seeing stuff you thought might happen, then getting to experience it. It's like playing the game fresh every time."

It's clear the developer is having as much fun matching man against man as man versus environment. And there's a lot of environment to cover - 50km2 of jungle, desert and dirt trails - in one man's mission to topple a weapon-running despot called the Jackal.

While the game's storyline takes a unique tangent from most action adventures, it's the environment and its sheer size that immediately captivates the eye and mind.

There was a question from the very start whether something that size was even viable. "It was a one-month process before we said 'that's the world'," explains Hawkin. "Then we stuck a flag in every spot where there'd be a key location and the tech guys validated it. But you know, from that point it really didn't change."

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The game looks as graphically lush and smooth as its PC counterpart, with no compromises made at all. That's largely down to the developer realizing early on that the Xbox 360 could handle everything thrown at it.

"We don't [have separate format teams]" explains Hawkin. "All we have are artists and level designers making the game. We're platform-agnostic."

A separate team of engineers was tasked with putting the game across multiple formats, allowing the developer to concentrate solely on pushing the shooter genre's boundaries.

And those boundaries will be tested, not by new gameplay mechanics, but by having the player in question pulling the trigger of their sidearm.

"How do you make shooting people a meaningful interaction? How often in a shooter do you actually want to shoot someone? It's something you do for fun. Maybe that shouldn't be the case - maybe we need to put some perspective on the 'why' humans shoot each other."

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