Far Cry has never really felt as immediate as it does now. The previous entries in this franchise always boasted solid mechanics and worlds begging to be explored, but it wasn't until Far Cry 3 that the series made an unshakable claim to be numbered among the marquee FPS greats. Its secret weapon? The introduction of the themes of madness and culpability.
Far Cry 3 plonked players in the shoes of a spoiled Western suburbanite who was plunged into a nightmarish scenario on a tropical island. To survive, he had to become capably violent and bloodthirsty to boot. As the game progressed, it became clear that being the alpha male in ascendance was leading the protagonist to become mentally unhinged. This, in turn, made his friends fear him and his enemies and allies respect him.
One part Lord Of The Flies and one part Fight Club, Far Cry 3 was a power trip that subtly pin-pricked the player's conscious; you were a bad ass, sure, but Far Cry 3 never allowed you to forget that your enjoyment of it did involve stacking a large pile of corpses. It was never preachy, but it made sure you were aware that doling out death came at a cost.
By all accounts, Far Cry 4 seems to be taking these themes and running with them. The E3 trailer unveiled not only Pagan Min, the game's flamboyant villain, but the fact that he expected the game's protagonist to be a willing partner in crime in his efforts to "tear sh*t up". Far Cry 4 seems every bit the deranged power trip its predecessor was, and its Gamescom demo only served to confirm this.
The demo was split along two missions, one in which the player was tasked with assassinating a militia commander in a mountain top base and another that functioned as a psychedelic dream sequence.
The former involved gliding down to a snow-capped peak using a wing suit and parachute. Once inside the restricted area, a variety of approaches opened up; you could glide through the region, using binoculars to tag foes and taking out guards silently with a crossbow and silenced pistol, or you could simply whip out the AK-47 and cut into the bad guys. Players could also use the local animals to their advantage by throwing out slabs of meat from their inventory. This attracts predators that will attack nearby enemies, clearing them from the player's path.
It's worth keeping a weather eye out for the local fauna because they can prove as deadly to the player as they are to their adversaries. Yaks, for example, are content to trundle about contentedly until one moves too close to them or fires a weapon near them - then they stampede. The snow leopard, however, attacks on sight and apparently is one of the toughest animals in the game; we survived its unwanted attention, but just barely.
"Far Cry 4's gameplay pieces are firmly in place and it's a lot of fun to play"
The mountain top mission was further complicated by the fact that the leader of the militia had to be dispatched at knifepoint. Gunning him down resulted in an automatic fail, so tagging him early on - so that his yellow hue distinguished him from those under his command (who were coloured red) - wasn't just a good idea, it was rather necessary.
Anyone who played Far Cry 3 will be in familiar territory here. The FPS mechanics are intuitively mapped and there's a wheel menu where players can instantly access the assortment of weapons they've picked up in the game. We weren't shown any leveling mechanics in the Gamescom demo, but we spotted XP earning pop up whenever we took out an enemy, so it's reasonable to believe Far Cry 3's RPG feature has made it into the sequel. Whether or not they'll take the form of some nifty tattoos remains to be seen.
The second mission on offer switched out the snow-capped mountains of the Himalayas for the mythical valley of Shangri-La. Here, Far Cry 4 takes on an almost psychedelic quality; fields of golden reeds clash against rivers literally running with blood and the landscape is dotted with crumbling, ornate temples. The protagonist changed too. Rather than piloting the alpha male armed to the teeth with weapons, the player now guides an ancient warrior armed with a bow and accompanied by a tiger.
The gameplay in this sequence is equally trippy. Instead of firearms, the player is armed with a bow that has the ability to slow down time for brief periods as they draw a bead on enemies. The player is also able to command their tiger companion to attack any enemies that approach them, although, released on its own reconnaissance, the tiger will attack any adversary that poses an immediate threat. You feline companion can be slain, incidentally, but it'll respawn in a matter of minutes.
How the two missions tie together in the narrative is unclear. In one instance the player is running and gunning faceless goons and in the other, they're cutting a path through a landscape filled with demons.
But we're willing at this stage to be optimistic about Far Cry 4. Its gameplay pieces are firmly in place and it's a lot of fun to play. Now it just needs to tell a decent story. Watch this space...