A major games event is not the best place to discover a new video game.
You’re in a small demo room surrounding by specialist journalists who are clearly better at games than you; it is hot and cramped, and behind you, watching with nervous intensity, is a developer who has spent the last two years of his or her life working 18 hour days to get to this point.
That’s my excuse for getting attacked by a yak.
This is Far Cry 4, the latest in Ubisoft’s visually sumptuous series of open-world action adventures. This time, the madness takes place in the Himalayan region of Kyrat, where an insane dictator named Pagan Min (voiced with barely contained zeal by Last of Us actor, Troy Baker) rules with an iron fist, and a talk show host’s dress sense. You are Ajay Ghale, a prodigal son, returning to free his homeland.
The structure is standard Far Cry – there’s a big, rich, impressively detailed environment to explore filled with indigenous creatures and gun-toting maniacs. There are enemy camps to raid, there are sub-quests and side-missions; there is a story to fulfil. But everything is bigger and brighter and more detailed. Far Cry 4 is beautiful really.
Enemies and animals
There are two missions to try at Gamescom. In the first, you must handglide into an enemy fort and take out the head honcho – but first you have to navigate through his patrolling goons. Enemy AI is now sharper, so they’ll spot you fast, and remember where they saw you; so creeping stealthily through the ruined buildings, which are dwarfed by the surrounding mountain peaks and draped with great snow drifts, is the way to go.
A few feet in and I stray too close to a yak, one of the many new creatures to discover in the game. Before I know it, this great, shaggy monster is butting me across the map, snorting furiously. The animals mean business this time. There are snow leopards that use stealth tactics, stalking up on you then springing at the last moment. Big cats can also climb onto ledges. At the larger end of the spectrum are elephants, which you can ride if you’re brave, and rhinos – these beasts are capable of ramming a jeep and flipping it over. With you in it. Watch out for those guys.
To cope with this savage new menagerie, the game has added an extra item: bait. You can lob chunks of meat on to the landscape, which will divert and guide the attention of carnivorous monsters, as well as guards, weirdly enough. And of course, you can use bait to tempt tigers and bears straight into enemy bases, then watch the graphic horror ensue. Nature is scary.
There are apparently several larger encampments, called fortresses, in the game – many requiring you to shut down two separate alarm systems to prevent reinforcements, who’ll come in various forms, rather than just riding in on a jeep, guns blazing.
Apart from all that, Far Cry 4 feels like its predecessor. The same weapons wheel; the same mix of weapons and items. The skill tree is back, but with new abilities, you still feel like an interloper in a world with its own systems and rules. But now everything looks just gorgeous, from the powdery snow that puffs from mountain edges, to the glowing, flickering flames that quickly engulf the sparse vegetation. And the animal animation is exquisite.
Hit and myth
We also get to see one of the Shangri-Là missions, which are kind of mystical quests in a strange dream world. Here, vast temples are protected by magical warriors, who’ll sprint toward you then disappear in a puff of blue smoke, only to rematerialise inches from your face. There is a woozy red sheen to everything, reminiscent of the drugged out sequences in Far Cry 3. You can even call on a spirit tiger who’ll attack enemies for you.
It’s strange and disorientating, but it fits with the way this series has always delved into exotic legends. Apparently, Ubisoft even sent a design team to Nepal to research the local mythology.
As revealed at E3, the game has a new co-op mode, which will allow players who don’t own the title to hop in and help out – more details on that will no doubt surface soon.
For now, Far Cry 4 is clearly another lush, expansive adventure, with a firm grasp on its habitat and a wonderful sense of scale. Just watch out for the yaks. The yaks are not friendly.
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