Elephant in the room
There seems to be conflicting accounts about who screamed “elephants!” first. Game director Patrik Méthé told me it was him. According to the Ubiblog preview of the company’s own game, however, it was executive producer Dan Hay who pitched the first pachyderm fit. Who knows? Memory is an unreliable narrator when it comes to reality, and the brain can edit who said what when like encephalographic Corel VideoStudio Pro. What really matters is that one thing’s clear.
The starting point, the inception moment for everything that Far Cry 4 has become, was elephants.
“I’m going to tell you the Truth, with a capital T,” Méthé tells me during last week’s Far Cry 4 hands-on session. “No matter what anyone else is going to tell you, I’m going to tell you the truth. And the truth is: When we shipped [Far Cry 3], for sure, you look at it, we’re an open-world shooter. But we’re more than that. One of the pillars of Far Cry, at least the reinvention of Far Cry, were the animals.”
Fair to say. Funny glitches involving flying sharks aside, the dynamic presence of Far Cry 3’s wildlife certainly lent itself to the game’s immersion. Beyond how they tied back into the game’s crafting systems, the various animals inhabiting the Rook Islands made me feel like I was amidst a living ecosystem more so than any other game world.
And so, apparently, it was this topic that first needed tackling in order for Far Cry 4 to proceed.
“So, after doing the bears, the tigers, the Komodo dragons, the sharks, we had to take a step back and say, ‘OK, what other animal could we bring into the game?’” Méthé continues. “And for me—I spent way too much time looking at clips on the Web about animals doing stuff—for me, it was a given. It was the elephant. I was like, ‘Imagine if you could have, first, an elephant, roaming in the world. And second, if you could ride it and use it against your enemies. So, it was like, ‘OK, yeah, let’s try it. But where does it fit?’ We started to look at different places, and Nepal quickly came as a really interesting region, because there’s a wide variety of environments in that place, while at the same time, it’s a place where there’s elephants and rhinos and those kinds of exotic animals. So, that’s more or less where the location was decided.”
Of course, that location, realized in the form of Kyrat, a fictional kingdom nestled amidst the Himalayas, informed the rest of Far Cry 4’s additional gameplay features, such as as mountain-climbing gear spilling down from certain rock walls to make vertical navigation fast when on foot, a wingsuit to one-up Far Cry 3’s hang glider, and the need to monitor oxygen levels when hiking up the snowier side of the world’s highest mountain range. But it’s not enough to just build a new setting around old systems and throw a few new ones into the mix. Consideration must be given to what’s stocked in the sandbox altogether.
“One of the things that was obvious after Far Cry 3 was that the open world was the star of the show,” Méthé says. “And now, in Far Cry 4, we wanted to make sure that this time, we put even more emphasis on it, making sure that you have more variety of things to do, of mysteries to discover, but also that it would make sense—that it would be more embedded in the ‘fantasy’ of Kyrat. As opposed to just being a quest, it would be part of the ecosystem of the place.”
To that end, of what I played—about three and a half hours of single-player and about an hour’s worth of co-op—struck me as rife with different types of side missions to help fan the revolutionary fires being stoked in opposition to Kyrat’s certifiably deranged, self-appointed dictator, Pagan Min, more so than Far Cry 4’s predecessor. Of particular note were Watch Dogs–style convoy missions. While cruising around Kyrat, I’d come upon trucks loaded up with Pagan Min–branded supplies that, were I inclined (and I was every time), I could attack, knock off the road, and either destroy or drive back to a friendly location for the rebels, known as the Golden Path, to use.
Another interesting evolution to Far Cry’s open-world formula is main missions with split-choice paths, forcing players to curry favor with only one of the Golden Path’s two revolutionary leaders (who seem to have differing opinions as to what’s best for the future of Kyrat). These are, of course, binary to some degree, and will only ever ultimately lead to one of two scripted conclusions, I imagine, but they do lend a greater sense of player agency. For example, one mission might ask you to choose between rescuing survivors or finding intel—both options possessing their own merit, but there’s only one of you, and you can’t be in two places at once (even with co-op, since Hurk—the redneck renegade from Far Cry 3’s “Monkey Business” pre-order DLC and Player Two in co-op—can’t wander too far from the main hero and star of the show, Ajay Ghale, before being mystically transported back within his proximity).
Far Cry 4, as far as a few hours of hands-on time can impart, seems to have shaped up quite nicely. Then again, I don’t think I ever expected it not to, mechanically. For all its faults and flaws, Far Cry 3 is undeniably fun, and to take that and adorn it with new features or more expanded variants of existing ones is, of course, going to make for an equally fundamentally fun experience.
At this point, the only thing Far Cry 4 needs to prove itself on is culturally sensitivity through a nuanced narrative. Ubisoft has already righted the wrongs that defined Far Cry 3 by making the protagonist a person of color, a native son of Kyrat as opposed to a white outsider riding in to save the day and show thousands of armed rebels how it’s done, one-man-army-style. Here’s hoping Ajay’s story is as compelling as Kyrat’s open world. If it is, Far Cry 4 will be one to remember.
Far Cry 4 launches across Windows PC, PS4, Xbox One, PS3, and Xbox 360 November 18.