Far Cry 4 hands-on: roaming free in Kyrat

FC4 Screen GLA87 Explosion Preview

Following Ben Griffin's hands-on with Far Cry 4 focusing on the game's single player and cooperative components, Shaun Prescott takes a look at the open world, and mostly gets killed by wild animals.

Here I am in sunny Kyrat and I’ve been invited to "do whatever I want”. I have a bow and arrow, a handgun, a couple of molotov cocktails and binoculars. I have no desire to play Far Cry 4's story missions, so I mostly avoid them. The plot (seemingly) concerns a regular guy roped in to help some desperate people, even though all he wants to do is throw some ashes at some hills (the Himalayas).

There’s an outpost metres from where I’ve spawned, so I take my binoculars out and start marking enemies from the safety of a nearby shrub. At first I plan to quietly tease the baddies out of their nooks before driving my knife through their necks. They’ll never know what hit them. But just as these plans are starting to come together my binoculars fall upon a feature I hadn’t noticed before.

It’s an elephant. Given the option between a) sneaking around sensibly and quietly or b) stomping everyone to death via elephant, it’s difficult to resist the latter. I’d go as far to say that if your immediate instinct isn’t to plow in guns blazing atop an elephant then you’re either a) dead inside or b) an unusually nice person.

Here’s the thing though: once you’ve had your fun with the elephant you’ll probably not want to ride it again. Or else, you’ll resort to the elephant only in worst case scenarios. The reason for this is because Far Cry was, and still is, an incredible stealth game. It’s not as mechanically deep as Deus Ex: Human Revolution or Shadow of Mordor, but plotting out the death of whole factions of baddies from atop a nearby hill is still a barrel of laughs. The elephant may be a novel idea, but in practice it’s kinda awkward. Weaponized elephants are fine, but motorized elephants would be better.

FC4 Screen Coop Elephant Outpost Preview

I spent the bulk of my time with Far Cry 4 running from tigers, unlocking new parts of the map (achieved here by scaling clock towers rather than radio towers) and, most memorably, flying the Buzzer around. The Buzzer is a primitive one-man helicopter which operates kinda like a motorised air scooter. It’s underpowered and incapable of reaching high altitudes, but it’s a surprisingly useful tactical tool, as enemies remained oblivious to me from certain distances. I spent about half-an-hour flying through Kyrat like this, shooting lazily at passing enemies and taking in the view. I was the laziest renegade / mass murderer there ever has been.

The landscape on the south-east side of Kyrat isn’t as mountainous as some of the terrain shown in Ubisoft’s promotional material: that will presumably come with further exploration of the map. Off in the distance spiky white mountains promise new regions to come, but the green region I explored was nestled between huge mountains and cliffs, cut through by a network of wide waterbeds and dotted with the usual shacks, caves, shrines and points of interest.

You won’t get far in this world without finding something to kill, because hostage situations and random enemy encounters seem to occur more frequently than they did in Far Cry 3. It may have just been my experience, but Far Cry 4 feels much less tranquil than its predecessor. There are more humans around waiting to take a chunk out of you.

The wildlife is more aggressive too. In fact, the wolves in certain areas of the map are relentless, often compromising my silent approach by forcing me to take them out with a machine gun round. I quickly learned that it’s best to suss out an area for wolves (or tigers) before choosing an approach, or better still, to use the wolves to your advantage. In the end though, there’s nothing you can do to quell the beasts and that’s one of the series’ strengths: best laid plans can turn sour fast.

Counter-intuitively, the most threatening wildlife are the sniffer dogs. New to Far Cry 4, you’ll want to lure these nasties out quick smart as they’ll sniff you out of cover if you get too close. On two occasions I was hidden inside a shack as I watched the glowing silhouettes of my marked foes, only to be suddenly chewed to death by a canine. You can always swipe at them with a knife but by then your stealth plans are ruined.

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Outposts are generally a bit bigger than they were in Far Cry 3 (the better to march weaponized elephants into) but the trick to taking them out is still the same: remove snipers first, switch off the alarm system and then finish off the rest with stealth takedowns or, um, rocket launchers. Securing outposts was one of the most satisfying aspects of Far Cry 3, and like everything else in Far Cry 4 the ways to do so are not dramatically different to its predecessor.

Far Cry 4 is full of the usual Ubisoft open world cliches but its mix of busywork and unique campaign scenarios is more satisfying than it is in say, Assassin’s Creed or Watch Dogs. This is because Far Cry’s openworld busywork is a lot more fun. In fact, the two campaign missions I played were a bit of a chore in the way they prescribed certain approaches to play. I was forced to be a rough and ready explosives-wielding monster instead of the silent killer I’d much prefer to be. Far Cry 4, like Far Cry 3 before it, is at its best when it’s a stealth sandbox.

That balance between cinematic bombast and quiet, emergent gameplay was Far Cry 3’s drawcard. You'll get that again here, but don't be under the impression that Far Cry 4 will reinvent the series again, or even mix things up dramatically. That was Far Cry 3’s task, and on the evidence of my time with its follow-up the studio is sticking with the template for a little while longer, because it works. Except now there's elephants.

Shaun Prescott

Shaun Prescott is the Australian editor of PC Gamer. With over ten years experience covering the games industry, his work has appeared on GamesRadar+, TechRadar, The Guardian, PLAY Magazine, the Sydney Morning Herald, and more. Specific interests include indie games, obscure Metroidvanias, speedrunning, experimental games and FPSs. He thinks Lulu by Metallica and Lou Reed is an all-time classic that will receive its due critical reappraisal one day.