I have a good view of the ridge up ahead, which is lush and vibrant with swaying cold-hardy trees. A plume of black smoke, a sure sign of an outpost, billows into the cobalt blue sky above, and off in the distance sits the prestigious Himalayas, the piercing white eyes of Mount Everest staring back at me. Not more than 50 yards to my left, a small herd of elephants grazes in a field of tall grass.
At the top of the hill, I look through my camera, studying the encampment below. I mark five guys, including a heavily armored baddy who is equipped with a rather unwelcoming assault rifle. I can attack the base in any way I see fit, but I ultimately assess that stealth is my best option. You find out quickly that the simple combination of a bow and knife can be your best friends. Or, you know, you can go in guns blazing.
As I execute the first three guys, that's when things start to unravel. What I should have done was sabotaged the alarm first, but I got too caught up in thrill of bad guy hunting. A body was found, causing panic among the remaining forces. Next thing I knew the base's alarm was blaring loud. I switched to my AK47 as gunfire began erupting around me.
In the midst of the cackling gunfire, one of the nearby elephants (which can be ridden) suddenly came charging in, stomping and rampaging its way through the war-torn village. Even the heavy gunner, whose helmet I blasted off a moment before, was thrown around like a fluffy baby toy by the 15,000 pound creature. It was over in a matter of seconds.
Bodies were everywhere, and near the main road a car sat on fire, crushed by the elephant's otherworldly power. Overhead the terrifying howl of an eagle echoed off the surrounding misty mountaintops. In what can be a rare moment of calm, I scanned the horizon for movement, careful to avoid stepping into another snake pit, which had already happened on more than one occasion.
That's when I saw it. About 30 yards directly in front of me, a bengal tiger sat hidden among a crop of waist-high brush, the beast crouched down in a pounce position. Before I could even react, its teeth were already tearing at my flesh, the cold and savage embrace of my maker rapping at my door.
There is no shortage of ways to die in Far Cry 4. That becomes crystal clear very early on.
With a Friend
Now imagine that same scenario, but doing it with a friend in co-op.
Announced to much fanfare back at E3 2014, Far Cry 4's Guns for Hire mode allows a second player to drop into a game at any point to help out. If there's a particularly tough outpost you can't take, or you simply want to explore the world of Kyrat with a friend, players can easily summon player two, represented by Hurk (from Far Cry 3), with the press of a button. And this isn't a recycled version of the co-op we saw in 2012's Far Cry 3; you and a friend have the entire open world at your disposal, giving you the freedom and choice to do whatever, whenever.
The integration is incredibly seamless, and in the build I played, very smooth. All the weapon upgrades and skills Ajay earns were still intact; it doesn't start over, and there's no extra separate story created that's contained in smaller chunks. The mode is directly in the main game, and the entire world (as you've explored it in single player) is open to both players; Guns for Hire also allows you to call for AI-assisted backup, too, but NPCs are a little less reliable than a human friend who is capable of backing you up with a grenade launcher while hovering around in a buzzer.
If you've ever thought, Hey, this would be fun with a friend, that's exactly what Ubisoft is delivering. If you want to hunt together, you can. If you want to storm a base atop elephants, you can. The possibilities are endless. Me? I'm a bit of a lone wolf, and prefer to hunt alone and take a stealth approach to any enemies I encounter, but the co-op mode, which I played for about an hour, was good fun. But, even with the help of a friend, Fortresses were still difficult to take down, so there's still a balance to the experience. You still get attacked by animals, and events still randomly emerge around the world.
Far Cry 3, But Better
If you enjoyed Far Cry 3, you're going to love Far Cry 4. That encounter I mentioned above? You'll never be able to replicate that, and that's what makes the game so fun and unpredictable. The open world is a living, breathing character that has a mind of its own; it's an ecosystem where animals attack each other, the weather changes without warning and, yes, armed forces attack without provocation. If you thought the backdrop in Far Cry 3 was beautiful, wait until you see Kyrat up close. It's simply stunning.
Like Far Cry 3, you can still hunt, craft, upgrade your skill set, purchase weapons, and trade-in valuables for money. A lot of the core mechanics are still the same, but more mechanically fine-tuned; controls are tight, menus and systems are easy to navigate and understand, and nothing feels unnecessary or in the way. Best of all, you're not forced to do anything in particular. You can wander and explore, as I tend to do, or charge through the story and liberate the Kyrat people.
The story, however, is much different this time around, though the setup will feel somewhat familiar. You assume the role of Ajay Ghale, who is returning to Kyrat, his homeland in the Himalayas, to scatter his mother's ashes. His return is what kicks off the events of the reveal trailer you saw earlier this year, which introduced everyone to the character of Pagan Min (played by Troy Baker). But, essentially, you're an unwilling warrior thrust into the years-long civil war.
Min is essentially the self-appointed king of Kyrat, and he's completely insane, as early trailers have shown. His regime, which has long been established, is driven by fear and propaganda, giving him control over the one peaceful city. But there's an uprising, known as The Golden Path, and that's how Ghale soon factors into it all.
Instead of having an outsider come into a foreign land, a la Jason Brody in Far Cry 3, Ghale is actually from Kyrat, taken overseas by his mother at an early age. I spoke to the game's narrative director, Mark Thompson, who explained that the developers made a conscious choice to ensure Ghale had a deep connection to Kyrat before the events take place. His parents, come to find out, actually started The Golden Path, while Ghale's father used to be a friend of Min's many years ago.
How much of that history you learn is actually up to you. You get some of the backstory through cut scenes and dialog with other characters. But if you really want to learn about your dad, for example, you'll have to find a series of lost letters scattered throughout Kyrat, which explains Ghale's dad's role in all of this, and how he was eventually murdered by a spiteful Min. Min, by the way, also has a rather endearing connection to Ghale, though it isn't made clear what kind of a friendship the two previously had.
There are a lot of identity politics taking place in Far Cry 4, and that's where some the decisions come in. In an open world shooter, you always have the choice to tackle the game however you see fit. But in terms of the narrative, players are presented with different paths that ultimately affect how the game plays out. One mission I encountered early on gave me the choice of protecting a village of people, or letting them fend for themselves while I made sure certain information remained safe. If you ever played InFamous, the decision system is similar to that; players are given two very different choices, which then help mold the experience you have later on.
Kyrat, by the way, couldn't be any more different than the island location players enjoyed in Far Cry 3. Whereas Far Cry 3's island was bright, colorful and inviting, Kyrat is cold, gloomy and incredibly mysterious. You know that feeling you got when exploring Shambala in Uncharted 2? You get that same vibe, which speaks to Ubisoft's ability to create an immersive and convincing world. As you explore the winding roads and scale mountains, you constantly have this feeling that there are deeper secrets hidden among the temples and dark caves.
So Much To Do, So Little Time
I had the opportunity to play Far Cry 4 for four straight hours, and that barely gave me enough time to scratch the surface, mostly just wandering from outpost to outpost, radio tower to radio tower, exploring the dangerous world of Kyrat. I wanted to craft a larger satchel to carry weapons, so I did that. At one point I stopped on the side of the road to trade items with a Sherpa. Later I found a letter that revealed more information about Ajay Ghale's dad.
Even if you aren't a big fan of the story, or even the game's characters, Far Cry is the kind of game where you find your own entertainment. There are very few scripted moments, which means the replay value is infinite; tackle an outpost using stealth, or storm a Fortress with a friend guns blazing. You can even just walk around the Kyrat lowlands, simply taking in the beautiful landscape. I think it really speaks to a game's quality when you find enjoyment in doing nothing.
While the game I played wasn't quite finished, the experience of roaming the world of Kyrat is already one I won't forget. I was a huge fan of Far Cry 3, if you couldn't tell already, and a lot of what made that game a success makes a return in Far Cry 4. The mechanics are incredibly intuitive and easy to learn, giving players the tools to tackle any situation however they see fit. Throw bait down into a enemy outpost, and watch as a bear comes tearing through. Take a stealth approach with your knife and bow. Or storm the gates atop an elephant. It's all up to you.
And now that the co-op element has been thrown in, Far Cry 4 is shaping up to be the best Far Cry yet. Just, whatever you do, watch out for the Honey Badgers. Not even a bullet to the brain can stop these vicious and demented creatures. They don't care.
Far Cry 4 will hit current and last generation consoles in the U.S. on Nov. 18.
Ubisoft flew me to San Francisco for the day to partake in the hands-on event. Snacks and drinks were provided at the event.
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