Far Cry 4: Redefining insanity

How Ubisoft’s Himalayan sandbox is aiming to tell a story with every second

If Far Cry 3 attempted to explain the definition of insanity, this year sees Ubisoft attempt to redefine it. The madness is there in its shifting tone – shocking violence mixed with outlandish theatricality – and its unscripted chaos, as likely to involve marauding elephants as exhilarating wingsuit flights. And it’s particularly evident in Far Cry 4’s antagonist, Pagan Min.

While you play as Ajay Ghale, returning to the fictional country of Kyrat to fulfil a request from his dying mother, Min is the charismatic dictator who rules the region. You’ll see his face on the country’s banknotes, and he’s responsible for orchestrating the civil war you’re caught up in on your arrival. He also sports a pink suit and a platinum blonde haircut that will surely be adopted by at least one Premier League footballer before the season ends.

In the game’s shocking opening sequence, a group of armed soldiers halt the bus that you’re on, shooting everyone but you. Min promptly arrives on the scene and brutally disposes of one of his generals for disobeying his orders – he only wanted the bus stopped, you see. It’s quickly evident he has much grander plans for you. There ubiquitous Troy Baker is clearly having a ball hamming it up as Min, who switches between wheedling charm and snarling menace in an instant. One only hopes he gets a little more screentime than Far Cry 3’s Vaas, who, after featuring heavily in all of Ubisoft’s promotional material, was rather underutilised in the game.

Min’s right-hand woman is Yuma, a general in the Royal Army. Evidently she shares his love of military chic and eccentric hairstyles.

Not that scripted narrative is going to regularly intrude, with lead designer Alex Hutchinson determined that the game will set up scenarios and then retreat into the background, allowing players to get on with enjoying the series’ unique brand of sandbox exploration, shooting and “goofy stuff”. Kyrat, inspired by places like Nepal, and Bhutan is a beautiful place, but more importantly it’s a sprawling, mountainous area that allows for much greater verticality than we’ve seen in a Far Cry game before. The Himalayas aren’t just a backdrop, but a part of the environment, and as you near the peaks you’ll find the air getting thinner as snow squalls whip up around you.

“You can climb aboard an elephant and ram down the doors of a fortress, trampling troops as you stampede through, tossing jeeps aside.”

You’ll be able to climb and swing to higher ground courtesy of a grapple hook, which has obvious tactical ramifications when you’re engaging in the series’ trademark side-missions. You’ll be liberating outposts, climbing towers, storming fortresses, taking out Min’s men as you go. It’s familiar stuff in a lot of ways, but feels different thanks to the range of new toys you get to use.

Besides the grapple, you’ve got an auto-crossbow for stealthy kills. Though it lacks the range of Far Cry 3’s bow, it more than compensates with its rapid-fire ability: it’s like a gun that happens to fire arrows. Or you can use a gyrocopter to hover above your enemy, raining down fire from above. It’s not particularly sturdy and surprisingly tricky to control, but that only adds to the fun.

Elsewhere, there’s been a small but significant change to the game’s melee mechanics. Look down at an object at waist height or below, and you can kick it. You might, for example, opt to punt a soldier’s corpse from a watchtower to surprise his buddies, or better still, place an explosive on a barrel and then boot it down into a crowd before hitting the detonator. Boom!

You might also be able to rely on the local wildlife for assistance. If you’re not a fan of the softly-softly approach, you can clamber aboard wild elephants grazing nearby and ram down the doors of a fortress, trampling troops as you stampede through the stronghold, tossing enemies and vehicles aside with a swipe of your steed’s mighty trunk.

“Call someone to join you and all solo missions will be instantly switched off, leaving you with the open world and its various asides to tackle as a pair.”

Indeed, it gives a whole new meaning to the phrase ‘riding shotgun’, as you’ll be able to blast enemies while steering any vehicle – whether it’s got four legs or four wheels. You’ll be able to skitter down narrow mountain paths in an alarmingly speedy yellow tuk-tuk, driving one-handed while riddling those you’re pursuing with fire from a lightweight SMG. Better still, you can pull up alongside any vehicle, climb across, throw the passenger out, and then take out the driver before taking the wheel. And if you happen to run out of road, you can always just leap out as the truck plummets down into a ravine, using your wingsuit to glide down to safety.

Those are just a few examples of the brand of silly, unscripted fun with which Far Cry has made its name. It’s a game, says Ubisoft, in which “every second is a story”, and happily it’s one you’ll be able to share with a friend. Call someone to join you and all solo missions will be instantly switched off, leaving you with the open world and its various asides to tackle as a pair. It’s wonderfully seamless: you won’t need to leave your game or select a different mode to play together, while any progress you make here will be saved for when you return to exploring Kyrat alone.

Elephants aren’t the only animals. You’ll be able to throw bait to attract tigers, yaks and even eagles.

If you’re a PlayStation owner, there’s even better news in the form of the Keys to Kyrat feature. Here, you’ll be able to invite friends to join you, even if they don’t have a copy of Far Cry 4. You’ll get ten keys in total, each of which gives you up to two hours together on either the PlayStation 3 or PlayStation 4 version of the game. The idea is obviously to give non-owners a taste of Kyrat that leaves them wanting more, and thus encouraging them to pick up their own copy, but it’s a generous addition all the same.

And why wouldn’t you want to return? For all Min’s machinations – and his New Romantic stylings – it’s Kyrat that is the most important character here. It’s big, beautiful and environmentally diverse, and it’s been built to offer thrills and wonder in equal measure. Ubisoft Montreal might be aiming to redefine insanity, but in simply giving players a larger, more varied playground and more ways to let hell break loose within it, it’s made one of its most sensible decisions in some time.