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It always pans out the same way. You turn up a bit late and slightly sweaty, because in East London every street looks the bloody same. You then get shown a Powerpoint presentation extolling the virtues of 'Big Shooter Next' multiplayer, and soon after you and your fellow journalists are herded next door where sixteen glowing screens are humming in darkness waiting for you.
It's great, not least because you often get free posh sandwiches, but because it's a perfect way to judge a multiplayer game's potential. Online gaming is about shared enjoyment - so when you hear the gasps, the shouts, the swearing and have someone level an accusatory finger at you then call you an arsehole, you know a game has potential.
Far Cry 3 is going all out to encourage those yelps. Everything about it is being built to encourage teamplay - to keep your side fighting the good fight together. For example, myself and my cohorts were at one stage approaching a Domination point - a lonely spot caught halfway between a wrecked submarine that sits in a murky green dock and the dark interior of a network of jungle caves.
Rather than simply rush in all guns blazing, however, we all took a quick moment to congregate behind a boulder - where I slammed down on both thumbsticks to issue a rallying call. This is a buff, essentially, to prepare everyone in the direct vicinity for the coming s**tstorm - in this case granting my companions a deeper health reservoir, and for which everyone automatically showed their appreciation with a fist-pump. Manly motions didn't last long, however, since an enemy pirate had chosen that boulder as a good spot for a hidden triggered explosive - but our tactical build-up was, at least, excellent.
Rewarding those who kill together and stick together is currently high on the agenda for most shooter developers (a game like MW3 was all about rewarding team players as much as lone wolves) but Far Cry 3 is knuckling down and making it a focus. You build up Team Support Points (so TSP, the stuff my Grandad used to smell of) by saving downed allies, issuing battle cries and grabbing objectives - and they can then be spent on fun things like heavy weapon drops and the Far Cry variant on a UAV. Alternatively Psyche Gas turns the viewpoint of enemies to woozy-vision, makes every player look like a scary-eyed demon and conveniently flicks the Friendly Fire toggle into a more dangerous setting.
Overall the pace of the game itself is refreshing - wide levels give you breathing space post-spawn, but also never keep you too far from danger. A lot of Ubi-thought, meanwhile, has clearly been directed at keeping every map's location variety and encouraged play-styles in balance. The wrecked sub map, for example, features a rickety up-close fishing village, a network of tunnels and an ammo dump beneath a wide downward vista perfect for sniping - or just messing around on a rope slide and firing pistol potshots at the campers below.
Throughout, meanwhile, the Far Cry 3 engine (here running on a PC with a 360 controller attached) excels in its explosions, flames and the way palm fronds are buffeted and burnt by explosions. In fact, it's this that's central to Far Cry 3's most extravagant multiplayer mode. Governmental whispers about Firestorm's abuse of gasoline could cause a panic that'd leave your local petrol station running on fumes for months...
You're out to set light to your enemy's two fuel dumps, the trick being to make sure they're both simultaneously aflame, while the bad guys do their darnedest to do the same to you. Once the skies are full of black smoke (your character is too tough to cough, or for his eyes to start watering) the second stage of the mode begins - a Headquarters-style timer starts ticking down to the grand opening of a radio capture point.
The team who've just ignited half the map need the radio to call in a plane with a cargo hold full of petrol to cause even more destruction (for reasons unknown), while the team that's on the back-foot need a plane full of water to douse the flames and reset the battle. Far Cry's fire system is rarely anything but a pleasure and it's certainly a tense mode to play - but you'd certainly worry that its bottleneck finales are destined to provoke drawn matches, while it's a shame that most of the fighting takes place away from the blazing infernos themselves.
Of more concern, perhaps, is the irritating dialogue that bookends every game - Far Cry 3's edginess seems to be of the variety that's desperate to use f**kwords to impress. Before bouts your inspirational faction leader encourages lollygaggers to "Die like f**kin' deserving dogs", while once you've taken (or doled out) enough bullets for the cause a sequence plays out that sees a winning player choose to show mercy or deliver further punishment to captured losers.
I'm firmly of the opinion that swearing can be big and clever (often both simultaneously) but rarely in cases when dialogue is laced with swears like they've been fired from a machine gun. Why would two groups of men who've been repeatedly killing each other for ten minutes suddenly want to show the enemy leader mercy anyway? A war crimes tribunal at The Hague wouldn't buy it for a second...
Another concern, perhaps, is that the game currently has a wants cake/eating it issue with showing you a confusing death-cam of the shots that left you bloodily sunbathing, and simultaneously showing you lying there hammering the gamepad to ensure that you stay conscious long enough for a life-saving injection of magic-juice. You'll spend a lot of time horizontal in Far Cry 3, and generally not in the good way.
There were yelps and occasional real-world battle cries of 'You got me, you bastard' during this play session, then, but no war stories that anyone would necessarily find themselves telling their grandchildren. It very much feels like an adjunct to the main game, rather than a star attraction in itself. The feel of the weapons and the scenery (and indeed the ways the two combine) bode extremely well for the solo experience - but extra spit and polish will be required if Far Cry 3 multiplayer truly wants its place in the sun.
Ubisoft revealed the move via Twitter yesterday. What makes it interesting isn't just the fact that Massive has only ever made strategy games (Ground Control and World in Conflict), it's that in 2008 Ubisoft boss Yves Guillemot said the studio was being put to work in the MMO space
Considering Massive's strategic pedigree, multiplayer track record (World in Conflict was great) and the growing popularity of MMO-like strategy titles like Company of Heroes Online, could we soon be seeing an online, persistent strategy game with the Assassin's Creed logo slapped on the box?
It certainly wouldn't be too big a leap for the franchise; both Assassin's Creed games take place with major armed conflicts raging around them, and the "virtual history" trick of the series means further historical settings could be whipped up should the need arise.
Other big properties like Halo have made the jump from action to strategy game; it shouldn't surprise anyone if Assassin's Creed follows suit.
Then again, the short statement also says Massive is teaming up with another studio on the project, so those with an interest in betting "this could be anything", your odds are still good!