We’ve been very eagerly awaiting Far Cry 4 ever since we first got to play a brief section of the game during E3 2014 in June. But while that was enough to give us a small, tantalising taste of the setting and feel of the game, it wasn’t anywhere near enough to give us an idea of the scope.
That’s why we jumped at the chance to spend five hours holed in the basement of a Parisian café with the preview build of Ubisoft’s latest open world first-person shooter. Around two to three of which we’d get to roam about Kryat any way we like, completing story and side missions, with another hour-and-a-half in co-op with a fellow journalist.
It was certainly enough to give us a great idea of what to expect when the finished game releases on 18 November and leave us grinning for an entire Eurostar ride back.
Far Cry 4 doesn’t reinvent the wheel. If you, like ourselves, fell in love with Far Cry 3 (after all, it was a finalist in our Game of the Year category at the Pocket-lint Awards last year) you’ll find the latest sequel to be reassuringly familiar.
There are many similarities, not least in the way that the game handles in combat and when driving vehicles, but the one thing you do immediately notice is how much larger Far Cry 4 is to its immediate predecessor. It is also considerably sharper and wittier, with a funnier main villain in Pagan Min – but who is no less threatening than Vass Montenegro from the last game.
And thanks to the enhanced power of the next-gen consoles (a PS4 in this instance) it is also considerably prettier too.
Ubisoft started us about seven or so per cent through the single-player campaign as a lot of the beginning is designed to ease you into the control system and theme. Instead we were thrown into the deep end with our first outpost clearing target. Scattered throughout Kryat are outposts controlled by Pagan Min’s army and you have to dispatch the guards at each one to seize control for the Golden Path – the good guys, basically. Do so and you unlock a portion of the map.
In addition, there are propaganda broadcast towers that you have to climb and disrupt in much the same way as in Far Cry 3. These will unlock extra side missions and show key locations on the vast open world landscape.
But back to the outpost and we were settled in nicely as we barely had to lift a finger to complete our first mission. One of the great things about Far Cry 4, even from the preview build, is that you are rarely limited by a gameplay style. Yes, it's a first-person shooter, but should you want to use a stealthy approach rather than pegging in all guns blazing, you can. Indeed, sometimes it is necessary.
And should you want to lay waste to an entire outpost by letting an enraged elephant into the camp, well, who's to stop you?
Yep, that's what we did and the elephant merrily battered to death every enemy inside. It made our lives easier and gave us a good luck at another of the game's big features. The animals in the game have AI of their own and you'll encounter them all over the game world. They are mostly dangerous (especially honey badgers, oh yes) and encounters are random and often amusing. Admittedly, you'll occasionally be called on to shoot a puppy in the head, but you can't have everything.
We did a few story missions too, but don't really want to elaborate for the sake of spoilers. We will say that the story cleverly branches depending on decisions you make. If you choose to do one main story mission, you will find a whole path of other missions no longer accessible to you, for example. It depends how you want to play and we feel that will encourage replay at a later stage.
Most of our single-player time though was spent running around doing side missions. A particular favourite was the Golden Path Supplies mission, not least because it allowed us to go bonkers crazy on a quad bike - careening down a hill side like we just didn't care. But in our single-player travels we also rode on a hang glider, took the gyrocopter up for a spin or two, sped around on a jetski and drove many a flatbed truck to the amusing sounds of the local radio.
It's all great fun and the vehicles feel just right, as they did in Far Cry 3. There are seemingly hundreds of tucked away missions and encounters in the wilderness and you can find yourself winding away the hours ignoring the storyline completely.
The second part of our demo day was dedicated to co-op. During the single-player game you meet a bonkers character called Hurk who offers his services to help on future missions. Should you call for him (using earned tokens in the game) you can have a real-life player take control and tackle some of the side missions together.
We were coupled with a fellow journalist and tackled several missions, including an outpost liberation and assassination contract (which we failed time and time again, it must be said). Our favourite was when we liberated a radio tower, not least because it was extremely funny what happened when we decided to shoot a bees nest while our chum was standing above it. We'll let you guess the rest (or you can watch the gameplay footage of the incident we recorded).
And that perhaps summed up our several hours spent with Far Cry 4. It made us laugh as much as it raised our heart rate during dramatic temple raids or touch and go meetings with a rhino or two. Far Cry 3 was a truly great game but on this evidence so far, Far Cry 4 will eclipse it in every way. It is a blockbuster and it wouldn't surprise us that, come final release, it's a contender for game of the year universally.