You probably already know that Far Cry 4 will throw us into a massive Himalayan sandbox full of guns, elephants and deeply flammable
people scenery. Having played the slightly buggy (but admittedly not yet optimised) latest build at Gamescom 2014, I can report that the sandbox is indeed massive, the guns fire bullets and everything really does burn rather nicely.
What you might not know, however, is that we'll also be able to cross into a bizarre spirit dimension where we'll hunt demons with a slow-motion bow and mystical pet tiger.
Let's call it 'Fluffykins.' Or 'Mister Bloodwhiskers.'
Between wrangling elephants, swooping through breathtaking ravines in wingsuits and setting things on fire, our protagonist Ajay Ghale can optionally find time to meditate, whereupon he unlocks the memories of the legendary hero Kalinag. Reliving the fables through his eyes, we'll enter the mythical land of Shangri-La to protect it from a demonic invasion, which completely switches up the pace of the game in the process.
Shangri-La is a far cry -- oh yes -- from the main campaign, hitting you immediately with a wildly contrasting colour palatte and art design. The blues, greens and grey of the Himalayas are replaced by vivid red, gold and orange, lending the place a distinctly otherworldly feel. As optional challenge levels that award experience and extra backstory details, stages take the form of compact yet versatile killing galleries layered with multiple elevations, zip lines and flanking opportunities to get the drop on your foes.
Who, you'll quickly discover, are very different from Pagan Min's rank and file. Demonic footsoldiers, clad in ceremonial garb and terrifying masks, can turn invisible at will, granting the illusion of teleportation. Using knives and bows, they'll relocate around the battlefield to strike from unexpected angles, taking advantage of vantage points and your blind spot. Devilish spirit dogs explode when killed, or can be turned into manual mines if stunned and shot at the perfect moment, whereas hulking fire-breathing bosses can ignite entire hillsides and force you to desperately flee to higher ground. Every enemy has been designed to offer a marked change of pace and to present more of a challenge.
Kalinag doesn't have access to the high-tech arsenal that Ajay enjoys. Instead of crossbows and assault rifles, you'll rely solely on a knife and longbow, the latter of which is magically enhanced. Aiming down the shaft allows you to loose volleys in slow-motion, taking down unwary demons or dogs without revealing your location, but you're intensely vulnerable in a stand-up fight. Stealth and clever positioning is therefore the order of the day, facilitated by the smart vertical level design (at least, judging by the section I played).
That said, Kalinag does have one other ace up his sleeve. It's probably high time we talked about Mister Bloodwhiskers. As an ancient guardian of Shangri-La, your big cat companion directly assists you in combat and can be assigned commands using the right bumper.
Most of these commands naturally boil down to eating demons. We're talking about a tiger here. Though Mister Bloodwhiskers can be temporarily taken out of action, timed health regeneration soon puts the killing machine back on its paws, whereupon you can set up some useful distractions or take down priority targets in a pinch. After being at the mercy of killer wildlife for countless hours in Far Cry 3, it's great to be able to directly wield the power of nature ourselves.
So these Shangri-La sections are a breath of fresh air in mechanical and artistic terms, then, but apparently they're also based heavily on real-life folklore and myths from the region, which should help to bulk out and ground Far Cry 4's sense of place. We also suspect that Pagan Min will want some of the region's power for himself... will Ajay Ghale's journey mirror that of his legendary forebear?
Probably. Either way, we're looking forward to getting our paws on Far Cry 4 this holiday season -- and discovering whether it can stack up with the exceptional Far Cry 3.