Unsurprisingly for a franchise that’s already four games deep, those familiar with Far Cry will find much that is familiar in Far Cry 4. Our mission was to clear out a large Himalayan hilltop fortress somewhat akin to the outposts of previous games, and the game loop was immediately recognisable: scout the immediate area and tag enemies using a camera, sneak around taking down a few from the shadows, let some animals loose and laugh as they maul others, and finally get spotted and go full noise with a large gun.
Things begin with a loadout and location choice: we can stealth it up with a crossbow and sniper rifle, ride in guns blazing on the back of an elephant, or buzz around in the world’s most rickety scooter-size minicopter raining grenades on the masses from above. A stealth approach saw us grapple up the fortress’ wall to get the lay of things. Inside are a number of one and two-storey shacks, some connected by stairs or shaky walkways. A road makes a loop around a cluster of buildings in the middle, and several vehicles sit idle to one side. More to the point, there are AK-toting guards everywhere – on rooftops, inside, on the ground, in the shadows. Two alarm switches sit right in the middle of the compound.
Our reconnaissance is interrupted by a swarm of bees, so it’s time to drop down and start the good old Far Cry stab-and-drag, using stones to distract our victims. Enemy numbers and their thorough patrol routes make a slow, methodical approach the only way forward, but it’s nice to play an E3 demo that isn’t set to easy mode. We sneak into a garage where it’s possible to repair then commandeer a jeep, but snipping the brakes on the one outside – which sits conveniently at the top of a small rise, above a couple of soldiers – is the more tempting option.
It misses its targets, but provides enough of a distraction for us to run to the next building for a new vantage point. We are spotted shortly after, and the volume of reinforcements – at least two jeeps’ worth, plus a helicopter – see us quickly swarmed, our lack of heavy firepower sees us dealt to. It’s clear the ability to co-op these off-mission sections of the game is going to come in handy.
Next up is the less subtle approach – crashing through the wooden gate on the back of an elephant, heavy machine gun blazing. This was less of a success, although equally fun. The loading time of our double-barrelled shotgun was too high for it to be particularly useful after its initial volley, but our tank-like elephant was happy to toss or stomp on anyone that got too close. Unfortunately, there are only so many bullets our tusked friend can take, and we’re eventually bucked off then finished off, mid bandage wrap.
Our minicopter effort ends even more ignominiously, as we prang into a rooftop before we’ve had the opportunity to unleash even a dozen grenades from our launcher. A bit of bait brings a tiger into the fray (it’s never clear how it scaled the fortress walls), but our subsequent all-melee all-the-time tactics are easily thwarted by the headbanded rebels.
And now for a sentence that could be applied to 75 per cent of the games we saw at E3: while Far Cry 4 is fun enough, story and setting will be the things that distinguish it from its predecessors and elevate it from competent to great, because there is little here that's new, mechanically-speaking. The fictional region of Kyrat, situated somewhere close to the towering Himalayas, is certainly inviting, so here's hoping the narrative bests the silliness that was Far Cry 3.