Beware the Honey Badger
Back in 2012, Far Cry 3 turned out to be a surprise hit for Ubisoft. It became the bestselling title of the series, appearing on many game of the year lists, and also created a rather excellent spin-off title. But with the announcement of Far Cry 4 back in May, many fans were pretty psyched to have a new game exploring another exotic locale, but also surprised to see something come so quickly.
With the reveal and release happening within six months of one another, it all seems like it has been going too quickly, and we’ve never really had the opportunity to digest something substantial for the game. Thankfully, Ubisoft agreed and allowed some extended hands-on time with the upcoming open-world shooter. After experiencing some time with the game’s open-world, I can say that November is certainly going to be interesting month with this title coming to market.
Far Cry 4 (PS3, PS4 [Previewed], Xbox 360, Xbox One, & PC)
Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
Release Date: November 18, 2014
After the release of Far Cry 3, the developers at Ubisoft Montreal took a lot of criticisms and affirmations to their open-world shooter to heart. They received some flak from those who found Jason Brody and his exploits on the Rook Islands to be a bit of an annoyance. By setting the next installment in a war-torn country and giving all the central characters a deep and emotional connection with it, the developers hope that the narrative will resonate with players, and give them a greater sense of the tension and suffering in the land of Kyrat. Though to be frank, the opportunity to include rideable elephants was also a driving factor for this setting. Speaking with game director Patrik Méthé, he spoke at length about the origins of Far Cry 4, and what players can expect.
“After we shipped FC3, we had a discussion about what IS Far Cry. With the past games, we saw that we blended open world with shooting mechanics, while having lots of animals to interact with. After some talking, I said that I wanted to be able to ride an elephant,” said the game director proudly. “At first, the programmers thought it would difficult, but once we agreed upon it we started looking at possible locations for the game. That’s when the Nepal region came in, and with it came the sense of verticality [in terms of terrain and landscape], along with a rich culture and varying types of weather and environments. It was a challenge, but we wanted to turn that into an advantage.”
Set in the fictional Asian country of Kyrat, players take on the role of Ajay Ghale, who returns to his homeland after many years living in North America. Seeking to fulfill his mother’s last wish to have her ashes scattered in her home country, Ajay is soon caught up in a conflict with Pagan Min, a charismatic and sadistic warlord who has named himself Kyrat’s ruler. As the country is tearing itself apart from civil war, we learn that Ajay and his deceased father had deep ties to the country and its people. Ghale soon joins the Golden Path rebellion to fight for the freedom of Kyrat. But in order to take down Pagan Min and his personal army, he’ll have to reconnect with his roots — and of course, learn the ways of a warrior.
At first, it all sounds very familiar. I was watching the cutscenes during my session and engaging in missions, and I felt an odd sense of déjà vu. Of course, the plot and gameplay structure for Far Cry 4 take many influences from its predecessor, particularly the fish out of water trope and along with the now standard Ubisoft Open-World Formula. While this may disappoint those expecting a complete reinvention, I can say that FC4‘s approach to storytelling and the country of Kyrat makes things felt incredibly fresh. In the few hours I spent with the game, I felt more of a connection with Ajay’s struggle with the fate of the country than most of what I experienced with FC3 (which I still enjoyed).
In another lesson learned from Far Cry 3, the developers wanted to ensure that exploring Kyrat would be different from what players experienced on the Rook Islands in Far Cry 3. Visually, the terrain and locales are much more varied, featuring snow, tundra, jungle, and urban locales, and as a result the color palette is much larger. The lush green jungles are accompanied by snow-capped mountains and ancient catacombs decorated with clay statues and ceremonial decor. In regards to gameplay, the mission structure in Far Cry 4 was expanded and reworked. In FC3, the missions themselves were fairly static and finite in nature. If you played long enough, the content would basically dry up, leaving players with only minor mini-games and small skirmishes to entertain themselves with.
“When we saw that the majority of players spent so much time in the single player, one of the first things we did was to put much more emphasis on the open-world,” said Méthé. “So that’s why we came up with multiple types of quests, new types of encounters, new collectibles — everything is much more embedded in the fantasy of the world, to make sure that as a player, spending fifty, sixty, seventy percent of their time in the open world, that they always have new stuff and new surprises along the way.”
During certain story missions, players will have to choose to side with some characters over others, which can cause a rift in your relationships with them. In one mission, I had to choose between helping two of the rebel leaders, Sabal and Amita. Sabal wanted me to break into an enemy camp to save hostages, while Amita wanted me to acquire intelligence instead. Opting to go for the intel, the following mission had me sneak into an enemy location, use my hunting bow and knife skills for silent kills, and acquire the intel. Upon completion, my next mission for Sabal had him reacting to me unfavorably, asking if what I did was worth it. It certainly made me cautious about how we would proceed from here. Choices during the main story matter, and with several different endings, the main campaign looks to be far more developed than in previous FC games.
To oust Pagan Min from power, Ghale will have to take down outposts and cripple the resources for the enemy army. Ultimately, Ghale has to increase the rebels’ power to have a fighting chance against Min’s strongholds in Northern Kyrat. Of course, how to do this is up to each player. The choices include completing story missions for the Golden Path, side-missions for the civilians of Kyrat, hunting missions, the optional and trippy Shangri-La side-story that goes on a journey to a world of myth and legend, or the brand new Karma Missions.
Karma Missions are dynamic and randomly generated micro-objectives that occur while in the open world. At some point, players will find allies in danger fighting the enemy, being led to an execution, or requiring general support. Such missions yield Karma Points (KP), which levels Ajay’s overall Karma level. Upon leveling your Karma, you can upgrade members of the Golden Path with better armor and weapons and get discounts for the Trading Posts. Of course, you can ignore these objectives and leave the GP members to their fates, but doing so would miss out on Karma growth.
Much the like the one in FC3, completing missions and other objectives yield experience points and currency, which can be used to level up a character and purchase gear respectively. The arsenal Ajay can acquire is vast, ranging from pistols, machine guns, shotguns, sniper-rifles, cross bows, flamethrowers, and more. There’s even a weapon that’s a wonderful nod to last year’s Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon — but I won’t spoil that. Upon leveling up, Ajay can use attained skill points to purchase new abilities, perks, and other augments — now in a much more streamlined two-school skill menu. Skills are sorted in two schools; Tiger skills focus on offensive abilities, while the Elephant skills focus on support perks. I appreciate this attempt to streamline, as the last skill menu felt needlessly spread out and had skills that should have been standard for players.
The dynamic nature of the missions, including weekly updates for the hunting challenges, and constant threats from enemy soldiers looking to retake territory, are designed to ensure that players will stay active even after the main story is finished. Moreover, this makes the world feel alive and reactive to the choices made. With the wildlife constantly on the move looking for new prey — by the way, honey badgers are indeed vicious little bastards — walking tradesmen looking for your business, and enemies waiting for the right time to strike and take back territory, the land of Kyrat feels organic and lived-in.
Back at E3 2014, we got a chance to see the newly designed co-op play for Far Cry 4. Opting to go in a different direction, the developers chose to implement the co-op mode directly into the open world setting of the main story. Those who enjoyed the stand-alone co-op mode with its own side-story from Far Cry 3 will likely be disappointed, but I had a lot more fun than I expected exploring the the open world with a buddy. And going by what the game director says, that’s exactly what they were going for.
“Very early when we had the discussions about what we want to do next, the first thing was that we wanted to put more emphasis on the open world,” said Méthé. “It took only seconds, but we saw that most players just wanted to play with a friend in the open world. What would it feel to take part in quests, to attack outposts with a friend — so that’s why we wanted to explore that.”
At any time, players can activate the Guns for Hire option, which springs up the option to initiate online co-op or call in NPC allies to help. The Guns for Hire option is not dedicated to just co-op, players offline can still utilize this feature and receive help from friendly AI squad mates. But with the co-op, things can get pretty hectic. Once connected, the main story missions are disabled, leaving players to focus on any other objective they wish. The player joining takes on the role of Hurk, a returning character from Far Cry 3 who somehow made his way to Kyrat. During my session, my partner and I engaged in a hostage rescue mission that required stealth and quick thinking. I stayed behind for sniper support, while the other guy snuck in and made quick work of the enemy with a blade.
Or perhaps, players can just drive around and cause chaos, which is exactly what Max Scoville, Bill Zoeker, and I did during our play sessions. We pulled off drive-bys against Pagan Min’s forces in our beat-up compact vehicle. We rode around in the Buzzer, a gyrocopter that was fun to fly, but got us into more hairy spots than we could manage. Flying too far up into the sky will cause the vehicle to malfunction, and unfortunately, we didn’t have a parachute or wingsuit to save us.
Speaking of heights, one aspect of Kyrat that is apparent is the increased focus on vertical gameplay. Throughout the landscape are grapple points that can be used to climb steep surfaces and get the high ground. With the surprise appearance of the wingsuit in Far Cry 3, players began to experiment with ways to explore and engage the enemy. And because of its popularity, the developers plan to give players access to it much earlier in Far Cry 4. Unfortunately, the enemies can also take advantage of vertical terrain to their advantage.
“Right from the get-go, we wanted to make sure the NPCs are able to navigate the vertical environment, ” said Méthé. “In FC3, you could climb a ladder or climb a ledge and you were out of their territory. But in this game, they can use the same traversal tactics as you.”
Not all was great during my journey through Kyrat. I had some issues with the technology powering the game. While this title was running at a mostly solid 30FPS at 1080p, I found that there were some points where the game would become extremely sluggish, which resulted in performance dropping and serious texture pop-in issues. While the developers stressed that the build we were playing was from four weeks prior to this event, I still found a lot to feel a bit worried about.
I also had misfortune of encountering many bugs and glitches during my travels. In some cases, I had to restart missions, as NPC characters I had to meet with were completely absent from the game world. During a mission with Sabal, I followed the waypoint into an ancient temple of worship, with many followers and visitors nearby. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find where to go as the marker pointed to an empty space in the temple. I ran around temples and the jungles outside looking to see if I missed something, only for an attendant to tell me that I encountered a bug.
On one hand, I felt a little disappointed that FC4 largely uses the same formula as its predecessor; on the other, I recognize that it’s a much more refined and developed game. Far Cry 4 does a better job with utilizing space, as the world size is roughly the same as FC3, but is much more dense with content. I was constantly coming across missions, side-challenges, and skirmishes — and it made me want to just drop everything and see what trouble I could get into.
Though we’re still in the dark about the game’s competitive multiplayer mode, I feel that Far Cry 4 already has a lot to offer players come release next month. Though I still do have concerns about the technical issues, and since it’s almost down to the wire with only a month get them ironed out, I’m ready to expect some quirks on launch day. With that said, I came away pretty jazzed with what I played, and with a musical score from Cliff Martinez (Drive, Only God Forgives, and The Knick) — I’m looking forward to seeing what chaos I can cause come release.